What I Wish John MacArthur Would Have Said: A Reaction to His Sermon on the Race Riots

I am a pastor’s wife. Most Sunday afternoon lunch times begin with my husband asking me how the sermon went and if there was anything he should have said differently. My husband has said how much my feedback has been helpful to him over the last eighteen years.

I don’t know if Pastor John MacArthur and his wife have similar conversations or not, but I recently listened to his sermon How Should Christians Respond to the Race Riots? and I found myself hoping that someone would offer some respectful and helpful feedback. I figured, why not me?

So, here I am with some specific things John MacArthur said and what I wish he would have said instead. (The video links are cued to the exact time stamp so you can see the quote for yourself.)

Systemic Racism and Police Brutality

What John MacArthur said:

…To conclude that there is Systemic Racism and white hatred and widespread police brutality. Those are lies. Those are not true. (see quote here)

What I wish he would have said:

“I know that there is racism and white hatred and police brutality in our country. My heart goes out to those who have suffered because of it.”

The reality of racism and police brutality is fresh in my mind since I just watched Phil Vischer’s video on Race in America. But even without that video, I know that racism and police brutality is real. I saw the George Floyd video. I listened to the NPR segment on the support network for moms who have lost their children to police brutality. John MacArthur has even previously shared that he experienced racism first hand while traveling with Black evangelical leaders in the American South in the 1960s.

You may say, yes, but John MacArthur said systemic racism and widespread police brutality is a lie. Let’s say for a moment that it’s not systemic and not widespread. Even if only a small number of people experience racism, the least we can do as Christians is to acknowledge the injustice and the heartache and the suffering and the pain of those who do suffer. God notices the few. He visited the unjustly outcast Hagar in the wilderness. He removed Lot from Sodom before destroying it. He let Rahab escape the destruction of the walls of Jericho. The Good Shepherd looks for one lost sheep. God’s compassion goes out to the few. As Christians, our hearts should do the same.

Be Happy

What John MacArthur said:

“You only have this life. Be happy. Don’t be part of disruption. Don’t be part of rebellion. (see quote here)

What I Wish He Would Have Said:

Pray for the oppressed. Pay attention to their plight. Go out of your way to extend the kindness of God.  

I agree that people should not be violently rioting. And that God notices the injustices of this world and will take care of them. We don’t need to take vengeance in our own hands. I’m glad John MacArthur pointed this out.

But what should we be doing while we wait for God’s justice. Is going on with your own happy life the only other choice? Throughout his sermon, he fails to offer other suggestions. Christians, there are other options. What oppressed people are near you? How can you reach out to them as an individual or as a church? Give to or volunteer with an organization that lifts up the oppressed in Jesus’ name. Pray for your neighbors. While you are waiting for God’s answer to prayer about what you can do in particular, you can look at the crowds with compassion. Jesus did.

Who is He Addressing?

At times, I had trouble figuring out who John MacArthur is addressing in his sermon. Who is he telling to be happy? In this particular section, he is reading through Ecclesiastes 3 and he is applying verse 22: “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?”

If he talking to those who are angry about racism and are tempted to join in the riots, then it doesn’t make sense to tell them to go on with their own happy lives. That’s the problem…they are trying to let people know that they are oppressed and don’t have the freedom to have a happy life the way things are right now. Plus, did he really have people in his congregation thinking about joining in the race riots that he needed to address them in a sermon?

On the other hand, if John MacArthur is addressing those who are watching the riots from the sidelines, then he is telling them to move on with their happy lives and pay no attention to those who are rioting. In which case, Ecclesiastes 3:22 sounds heartless. In a previous sermon after the George Floyd murder, John MacArthur shares five applications that he gathered from a discussion with Black men in his congregation. One of the points was “we need to listen… Can we keep our mouths closed long enough to hear the heart of someone else?” I am not sure how “be happy” fits in with listening with a compassionate heart.

Fixing a Fallen World

What John MacArthur Said:

“Stop trying to fix the fallen world. The quest for justice is a vanity. It is a vapor.” (see quote here)

What I Wish He Would Have Said:

Although there will never be perfect justice here on earth, we can accompany the Gospel message with meeting the needs of the lost.”

Multiple times John MacArthur tells his congregation to stop trying to fix a fallen world. Each time I wanted to call out: “we can’t but Jesus can!” Finally, an hour into the sermon, John MacArthur does state that Jesus can reconcile people to God and that is the only way we can be reconciled with each other. Then he warns the listeners about falling into the trap of social justice. In other words, some Christians are jumping into the protests with the expressed intention of not sharing the gospel. This is dangerous to the church. I agree! This is counter to what God wants!

But there is another option. We can both share the Gospel message and meet the needs of the lost…even if what they need at the moment is our public acknowledgement that we know they are suffering. Other times they need more than that. When Jesus ministered here on earth, he met needs and shared the good news. He fed the 5,000 with bread because they were hungry. Then he declared that He is the Bread of Life. He healed people’s bodies and showed that He could heal their souls.

John MacArthur is my brother in Christ and we are on the same team. We are both people who love Jesus and want the world to know the grace of God. All the feedback I give above are given with respect and love.

How do you think that Christians should respond to the race riots? Has God brought any particular Bible passages to mind in the last couple of weeks? Please comment below!

12 thoughts on “What I Wish John MacArthur Would Have Said: A Reaction to His Sermon on the Race Riots

  1. I appreciate your honest thoughts. John MacArthur’s teachings have shaped my life for the good. But we all need to pursue balanced perspectives in these national conversations. I especially appreciate your ending that says we are on the same team, and we need to speak with both love and respect. Wise words, Rachel!

    1. Thank you, Sarah! So many people have learned so much from him. It’s definitely not my intention to tear him down, but just to encourage us all to listen to any sermon or teaching with discerning ears. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I believe that, while there is certainly freedom for peaceful protests, the rioting, destruction, and violence cannot be pleasing to God, no matter what label you put on it ( The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy..) Our identity must be first in Christ to truly unite us.

    1. I agree that the destruction and violence cannot be pleasing to God. However, I don’t think it’s sufficient to say “let’s just get on with our happy lives.” That totally ignores the problems that our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing.

  3. Excellent, Rachel. Good, deep, Bible-centered thoughts. It is easy to just listen to someone who is widely-respected as a Bible teacher and not remember that he, too, is fallible and may miss some things. He clearly did in this, and I appreciate your taking the time to address those missteps. Bless you, friend!

  4. I found your post meaningful and encouraging (to know other Christians feel this way). I recently read The Color of Compromise, which talks about how the Church went along with and sometimes even supported racism. Perhaps if more Christians *had* stood up against it, and stood alongside those that were suffering, there wouldn’t be so many angry, hurting people rioting today. Maybe we are reaping what we sowed…

    1. Another friend recommended that book to me recently! I will have to check it out. That sounds like it will be helpful in bringing to my attention how the Church went along with things at times. I am in PA and many times I just figure that racism is a Southern USA problem, but it would be good to learn more if it is otherwise.

  5. Rachel, thank you for your thoughtful and godly perspective in response to John MacArthur. I have learned a great deal from his teaching and preaching over the years. I was extremely disappointed upon hearing his view of the current goings-on in the USA. His stance seems to be that Christians should recognize that we live in a fallen world and be happy while. That is truly only a perspective that I believe a white man living a life of privilege in our country could have. I am a Christian fully committed to Jesus as my Lord. I am African American, mother of male children and grandchildren. I know my sons and grandsons are in real danger of harm at the hands of police. So, I can’t just be happy while I wait to be with Jesus forever. As I wait, I must see the suffering of others, address that suffering as God directs and allows, love the unloved and introduce as many as I can to the One who changed my life, Jesus. John MacArthur is wrong. Systemic racism is real. It remains in place because those with positions of power (government officials, pastors, organizational heads, et al.) know that a major key to maintaining power is to keep particular groups of people from elevating their status. Ultimately, I know that God is sovereign. He is just. He will reveal all truth in His time. Thank you for allowing Him to use you, Rachel, in the process.

    1. Thank you so much, Karen, for sharing your perspective. I like that you said our responsibility is to see the suffering of others, and address that suffering. The more I read Scripture, the more I see that God wants us to speak up and notice injustice!

  6. SO very happy I ran across your article – I am African-American and sometimes, it’s not what IS said, but…..what ISN’T. I was raised in an evangelical atmosphere and the blatant rejection of black Christians in places like Bob Jones University and scores of “bible-teaching” churches saturated in the south were NEVER addressed by mainstream bible teachers in church OR radio.
    It would be healing just to hear an acknowledgement of sins and an invitation to work together.
    I heard one of John MacArthur’s interviews and of American slavery, he casually states, “that was a long time ago – I don’t know what happened.” but then in meticulous detail, lecture about ancient history LoL!!

    1. Thanks for your comments and sharing your perspective, JE. I often don’t know what to say so it’s good to know that an acknowledgement of sins and an invitation to work together is a good start. 🙂

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