Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A review of Why Government Can’t Save You. By John MacArthur.

Nov 28, 2001

Word Publishing, 2000.

I enjoy many of the books by John MacArthur. He often writes sensibly and incisively. However in this book I think he forces us into a wrong understanding of the issue of Christian social involvement.

While John MacArthur acknowledges that Christians should not escape cultural and political involvement altogether, his basic thesis is that our main calling is “spiritual” (evangelism, worship, etc.) while other tasks (social reform, political participation, etc.) are at best only of limited value and at worst are “worldly” and a waste of time.

Thus the essence of his argument is to make a dichotomy – in my view, a false dichotomy – between spiritual work like evangelism and earthly activity like cultural renewal. He just sees these as polar opposites and forces Christians to make a choice. What is it, evangelism or social reform? What is it, doing things God’s way, or man’s way?

But many, including myself, see this as a false dilemma. We believe that Christians are to do both. It is not a question of either-or but both-and. That has always been the case with the Christian church throughout history. Wherever Christian missionaries went, they both preached the gospel and did social good. Hospitals, education, prison reform, improvement of the welfare of women and children, etc. have been part and parcel of the Christian mission. Thus the Christian church has been at its best when it has been up to its ears in social reform.

MacArthur would have us believe that attempts to alleviate social wrongs are a diversion or worse. I am glad William Wilberforce did not heed the advice of those who said he was wasting his time, or being unspiritual, when he took on the slave trade because of his Christian conviction of the dignity of all human life. If he had listened to the nay-sayers like MacArthur we would still be fighting slavery today. I am glad Wilberforce ignored such advice and fought what looked to many to be a losing battle. Thus today we do not have to re-fight the battle over slavery (at least not in the West).

The point is, the Christian message is to be holistic – all areas of life are to come under God’s sovereignty. That means being salt and light in a dying and decaying world. Of course we don’t give up on evangelism. Of course people need inner transformation. But that does not mean we stop doing what is right, whether that means working in a secular job to feed our children, or running for political office to be salt and light. Whatever God calls us to do, we should do it.

MacArthur simply forces us into an either-or position that Scripture does not require of us. For a better discussion of the Christian’s role in society, see the works by Charles Colson or Janet and Craig Parshall.

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2 Responses to A review of Why Government Can’t Save You. By John MacArthur.

  • No theonomist ever said Government could save anybody!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • This rebuttal on Government Can’t Save You By John MacArthur is put very well. I could not really add to that.
    Thank You, Tony Couppee

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