For a long while, Phil Johnson and John MacArthur have been perpetuating a theory of Christians and government summarized by the title of the latter’s book (which the former, no doubt, edited), Why Government Can’t Save You: An Alternative to Political Activism. I’ve always wanted to write the rejoinder to that book, which I would entitle, Why We Never Thought It Would, but that’s more snarky than I care to be with my first book. Plus, Wayne Grudem more or less beat me to it.
I have great affection for both Phil Johnson and Dr. MacArthur. They have done a tremendous service to the Kingdom of Christ over the course of their decades long career. As a youth, I recall the instructions of Dr. MacArthur well as they poured out of my parents’ radio.
Still, to their own admission (I am sure) the great work they have done expounding the Scriptures does not make them infallible. And, when it comes to Christian political citizenship, I part company with them – as friends, but we part nonetheless.
Perhaps this is the subject for a future edition of Engaging the Issues, but for now, I wanted to highlight Phil Johnson’s latest shot across the politically active evangelical’s bow – and I hoped to do it by contrasting it against a current event.
Johnson’s article, “Salt of the Earth” was published in January’s Tabletalk magazine, a monthly publication of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries. Johnson begins his piece with what I believe is a rather cheap shot:
Say the phrase “salt and light,” and the typical evangelical starts talking politics as if by Pavlovian reflex.
That’s a dangerous and unfair assumption and the comparison of well-meaning, convicted evangelicals to a dog responding to Pavlov’s bell is simply unnecessary. But, in fairness, Johnson rightly continues:
But look at Jesus’ statement carefully in its context. He was not drumming up boycotts, protests, or a political campaign. He was calling His disciples to holy living.
Exactly. And that is the thrust of the rest of Johnson’s piece (and MacArthur’s book, by the way): the way we act as salt and/or light in the broader culture is by being examples of holy living. Thus, he concludes:
So this is not about wielding political clout. It’s not about organizing protests against ungodliness. It’s not about trying to make society righteous through legislation. It’s about how we live. It’s about exemplifying the same traits Jesus blessed in the Beatitudes. That’s how we let our light shine, and that’s the saltiness we inject into an otherwise decaying and tasteless society.
I 100% agree – which makes it all the more ironic that I’ve already confessed that I disagree as to Christian political involvement with Drs. Johnson and MacArthur.
This seeming contradiction is resolved when you understand that I think they setup a false dichotomy for Christians. They make Christians and politics an “either/or” proposition, when, in fact, the very words they use lend to a,”both/and” conclusion.
Thus, you could summarize Johnson’s article thusly, “Either Christians engage in holy living in obedience to Christ’s command to be salt and light, or Christians engage in politics.”
This makes little sense.
About Jeremy Dys
Jeremy Dys is the FPCWV's President and General Counsel. In addition to his duties of providing strategic vision and leadership to the FPCWV, Dys is the chief lobbyist and spokesman. Dys is regularly featured in local, state, and national print, radio, and television outlets. He lives close to Charleston with his wife and growing family.