Words matter to God. After all, they are His chosen means of communication. He doesn’t bring people to a saving knowledge of Himself through mystical, subjective experiences. He has spoken clear, objective, propositional truth to His creatures through His written Word.
That’s why Peter—who saw firsthand the profound supernatural power of God, both in the life of Christ and in his own apostolic ministry—pointed to Scripture as “the prophetic word made more sure” (2 Peter 1:19). Even after Peter heard the voice of God from heaven (v. 17-18), his unfailing confidence was in the written Word of God.
Obviously, as fallen creatures not inspired by the Holy Spirit, we are incapable of replicating that divine standard of perfect, authoritative, inerrant communication. Nonetheless, Christians throughout history have deployed written statements as a vital defense in the ongoing war against false teaching. Ancient Christian creeds and catechisms have endured for centuries as constant reminders that the truth of our faith is non-negotiable and worthy of vigorous defense.
The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel (also referred to as the Dallas Statement) was crafted for similar reasons. Troubled by the rapid rise of social justice rhetoric within the church, several Christian leaders drafted the Dallas Statement in response. John MacArthur is a key signatory to that statement and has moved with urgency to further substantiate his concerns in great detail. In recent months he has responded through a series of blog posts and sermons exposing the dangers posed by the evangelical social justice movement. As expected, loud opposition has flowed freely ever since.
What is surprising—even disappointing—about the pushback is the widespread failure of critics to engage with the actual content of what has been stated clearly in the articles, sermons, and the Dallas Statement. Many evangelicals have chosen to argue against what they perceive those declarations to represent—not what they actually say. What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, is candid enough to admit his complicity in not dealing with the substance of the arguments set forth. But that’s because he believes how he feels about the Dallas Statement is more important than what it actually says.
Keller appeals to secular philosophy in order to make his case, using speech-act theory as the key to his interpretive approach (the video can be viewed here).
You can’t just analyze words by what they say, you also have to analyze words by what they do. . . . When I go through [the Dallas Statement]—if you go really, really strictly—I think just about anybody would take about eighty percent of it. . . . But in the end what concerns me most about it is not so much what it’s saying but what it’s trying to do. . . . It’s trying to marginalize people who are talking about race and justice. It’s trying to say, “You’re really not biblical.” And it’s not fair in that sense.
Keller, perhaps unwittingly, is identifying as a postmodern philosopher. Truth, for him, becomes a matter of personal perception—even to the point of inserting ideas into the Dallas Statement that are objectively absent. He’s even willing to go so far as to project motives and concealed agendas onto those who drafted the statement.
If somebody starts to go down it with me and says, “Would you agree with this, would you agree with this?” I would say, “You’re looking at the level of what it says and not at the level of what it’s doing.” And I do think what it’s trying to do—what it’s really trying to say is, “Don’t make this emphasis, don’t worry about the poor, don’t care about the injustice, it’s not really that important.” That’s what it is saying. Even if I could agree with most of it, I don’t like it. It’s what it’s doing that I don’t like.
Make no mistake—Keller has raised the stakes far beyond the debate on social justice. This is an assault on the nature of truth itself. Hanging in the balance is how we interpret Scripture. While Keller’s words aren’t an outright rejection of all propositional truth, that is effectively what he opens the door to when he subjugates the words of the Dallas Statement to his feelings about what has been said.
One can only wonder if Keller has considered the implications of his approach to truth when it comes to his own ministry. Can members of his congregation reject his messages if they feel emotionally wounded by his words—regardless of what he actually says?
Moreover, Keller’s interpretive approach becomes a sinister hermeneutic when applied to God’s Word. Does God’s authorial intent need to be overthrown to make way for the sovereignty of the reader? Keller’s affirmation of speech-act theory opens the door to rampant subjectivity and self-styled religion. In this postmodern culture, such an approach is a gateway drug to apostasy.
In fact, Keller’s stance is emblematic of a poisonous perspective that is already wreaking havoc in the church. The notion that you can disregard truth on the basis of how it makes you feel undergirds most of the heresies, false doctrines, and twisted theologies plaguing the church today. The rise of feminism’s influence, doubts about the Genesis account, the widespread acceptance of homosexuality, the supposed need for fresh revelation from God—these factors and more all stem from a fundamental disregard for and dismissal of the authority of Scripture.
Contrary to popular opinion, our Creator is the sole arbiter of truth. Only the sovereign Lord of the universe is allowed to decree and determine what is ultimately true. And in His infinite wisdom, He chose to reveal His perfect truth to us written clearly, objectively, and propositionally on the pages of Scripture.
In the opening remarks of his commentary on Jude, John MacArthur highlights the critical value of truth and how it is stated in God’s Word:
Solomon’s admonition “Buy truth, and do not sell it” (Proverbs 23:23) reflects the fact that truth is a precious commodity in Scripture. After all, God is the “God of truth” (Psalm 31:5; Isaiah 65:16), having magnified His Word which is truth (Psalm 119:160; Psalm 138:2; John 17:17). The Lord Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; cf. John 1:17), being Himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6; cf. Ephesians 4:21). The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13; 1 John 5:6), sealing the salvation of those who embrace “the message of truth” (Ephesians 1:13). And the church is the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), protecting and proclaiming the truth of the gospel (cf. Colossians 1:5). In fact, it is by believing the truth that people are set free from sin and death (John 8:32).
Although God’s people sometimes forget the importance of the truth, Satan never does. Ever since the fall, the father of lies (cf. John 8:44) has done everything in his power to destroy, hide, and twist the truth—constantly attempting to replace it with falsehood and deception. Ironically, his deadliest attacks do not come from those who openly reject the truth, but rather from those who profess to know and believe it.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Peter & Jude (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2005), 139.
It’s appropriate that John would point out the satanic foundation underlying every assault on clear, propositional truth. Satan’s first interaction with humanity was to inform Eve that it was more important for her to judge why God spoke rather than to listen to what He actually said (cf. Genesis 3:1–5).
That initial deception in the garden is the true origin of speech-act theory. Eve shouldn’t have bought into it, and neither should we.
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