I’m far from perfect. I have made many mistakes in my life, both before and after Christ. If perfection is the requirement to sound an alarm then you should stop reading now. I have not met that standard. I stand only because of the grace of God and the perfect record of the spotless lamb, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins (past, present and future).
I also want to affirm that I will never forget my time at The Master’s Seminary. The things I’m about to say, do not negate the reality that I was shaped and molded for four years of my life in this environment. I cherish many memories and the example of many individuals. By God’s grace, the dividends are numerous and the impact will have lasting effects for the years to come. I’m grateful for Dr. MacArthur, the staff of the seminary and college, the local churches my wife and I were a part of, and the multitude of friendships that were forged through the ups and downs of that season of life.
However, the presence of true and real blessings does not mean the absence of some alarming realities. Unfortunately, people who can’t wrap their mind around the previous statement will struggle with the criticisms I levy in this post. They will only see the “heads” side of the coin, unable to comprehend that “tails” even exists. They will use phrases like “how dare you speak negatively of our great president” because of all the “good” that TMUS, Grace To You, and Dr. MacArthur have done over the years. Life should and must be examined from multiple angles from which we can appreciate elements that are helpful and reject the things that are not. We should be able to affirm both Peter’s miraculous preaching in Acts chapter 2, and his need for correction in Galatians 2 for being out of step with the gospel. As the saying goes, we have to be able to “eat the meat, but spit out the bones.” People who live among minority cultures understand this reality because much of life around us is facilitated by majority culture systems and individuals. Being a minority operating in majority culture can be like trying to build a house using the Imperial system of measurement (i.e. feet, inches, and pounds) when you have been trained your whole life with the Metric system of measurement (i.e. meters, grams).
For 11 years (4 as a student/staff at TMUS & 7 as an alumnus/church planter) I have kept my concerns mainly to myself, daring to share them with only a small group of people who’ve encouraged me to keep moving forward or whom I felt could actually bring about change. For many years I have “bitten my bottom lip” publicly, so to speak. In an attempt to honor those who have impacted my life, I have applied such force and pressure to that lip as to cause the shedding of blood. Yet quietly over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to keep biting that lip and wiping away the blood, and tears.
Since leaving seminary and planting a multicultural church in the inner-city of Montgomery, AL, my appreciation for the gospel and how it impacts racism and justice has only grown. As I watch the perseverance of my neighbors, live among them, and see the tangible struggles of their lives, Christ in me rises up and issues a call to action. As I see believers from various cultures and economic backgrounds forge real gospel community, deferring to one another and believing the best of one another, my appreciation for the gospel in action strengthens. To hear Dr. MacArthur and Grace To You say/write narrow-minded, inconsiderate, and frankly unbiblical things about the intersection of the gospel and racism has had a profound effect on me. It has impacted me to the point of saying, “Enough is enough.” I no longer care that I’m a low level nobody challenging a giant. I no longer care if, like others before me, I’m labeled a “black sheep” by TMUS for lovingly articulating concerns. As a matter of fact, the cavalier attitude of Phil Johnson (executive director of Grace to You), and Dr. MacArthur make it perfectly clear that even if I remain silent, I’m already a “black sheep.” Their comments/writings do nothing to consider the circumstances of anyone other than upper middle class, Republican-leaning white men (I’m neither republican nor democrat), and minorities who are accustomed to that culture. So in reality, my comments today cannot make me what I already feel like, “a black sheep”. I’m just graduating from a “black sheep” to a “blacker sheep.” It’s a promotion that I’m finally willing to accept.
Therefore, no matter what Dr. MacArthur says about the gospel and social justice in his current series hosted by Grace to You, certain truths will not change. No matter how few people hear or agree with what I have to say, the reality of the difficulties many have experienced at TMUS will remain. No matter how they try to change the subject from the real elephant in the room (probation and the potential loss of accreditation by WASC for a lack of integrity mixed with a culture of fear and intimidation) to the issue of social justice, the truth doesn’t change. It is worth noting that the vast majority of the data of the WASC report was given by my white brothers and sisters who are also hurting. I’m speaking up to encourage them, and to let them know they are not alone. I leave my thoughts with you not to change your mind, but to ensure that before God I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t shrink back from saying hard things about beloved institutions and individuals. I write and make my thoughts public to fight for many others, who have not yet been heard or who, for a host of reasons, do not believe that they can speak up. The truth is Dr. MacArthur’s own leadership and institutions show little concern for the African American community and other minority students who grew up in an African American minority context. Every time Dr. MacArthur tells his 50-year-old civil rights story about “his good friend” John Perkins and visiting the murder scene of MLK, I often wonder why those experiences have translated into very little consideration towards marginalized people. Please consider the following realities.
In the entire TMS curriculum, which is 98 credit hours and approximately between 100 – 150 required books to read, not one book is written by a person of African heritage. Additionally, very few people of African descent are even explored within the historical theology classes. We traced the history of Christianity from 100 A.D. to our present day. Of all the historical figures we studied, I only remember Athanasius being identified as someone from African origins. What majority culture Christians don’t realize is that their world is dominated by Christians of European heritage. Minorities are often looking for faces and contributions of people who share their ethnic identity. Not for the sake of being superior. We simply long to understand how people of a similar ethnicity have contributed to redemptive history. You would think that since Dr. MacArthur is such “good friends” with John Perkins we would have read at least one of Dr. Perkins books or even learned about his legacy. However, even our classes that covered the history of Christianity in the United States were void of African American contributions.
Why does this matter? It sends a not so subtle message that the only great thinkers are European thinkers. The only great thoughts are European thoughts. Thus, Christianity is inadvertently portrayed as the white man’s religion. It’s heartbreaking and hurtful. When African Americans or people of color are in fact mentioned, it’s usually in a derogatory way for having bad theology, etc.
The truth is that Christianity would have struggled to survive tremendously without Northern Africans and even African Americans. I just had to learn of them on my own time. My seminary didn’t think those contributions were worth mentioning. I was furious when I was made to write a review of my almost 700 page American Church History book. I read the book intently looking for black or brown people and their contributions. I did not find them. But I did find that Bob Jones was included in the book as a hero of the faith. Bob Jones University refused desegregation until the early 1970’s, and then only conceded at the threat of losing their tax exempt status, which occurred in 1983. They did not overturn their rule banning interracial dating until the year 2000. This was also selfishly motivated to help the then candidate (George W. Bush) win the presidency, who took heat for giving a speech at a university that had a ban on interracial dating. (I reluctantly visited Bob Jones University in April, 2018 and I was pleasantly surprised by their repentance in living out the gospel among all people).
Again, I was furious. I noted my frustration in a blistering review of the book that could devote pages to Bob Jones’ positive contributions to Christianity and could not so much as include a couple of paragraphs on any black person with significant Christian contributions even if they were not perfect. Clearly, Bob Jones wasn’t perfect. I’m sure the professor remembers the book review because I doubt he has received many like it. You can also ask Dr. Paul Felix (the only full-time African American Professor who is now retired). I ranted in his office behind closed doors many a days with many tears. If not for him and his care for me as an African American student with a heart to one day impact the African American community, I would have surely quit. I specifically remember him telling me after ranting, “Calm down before you get kicked out of school.”
Imagine that…being in such a state of anger over how whitewashed your seminary education is that you say things that flirt with the possibility of getting you kicked out of school. I know if myself and many of my African American brothers felt this way, some of my brothers of Asian and Latino descent felt the same way or worse. I pray they will tell their stories too. Their perspectives are often left out of these conversations, but their voices are much needed.
It is hypocritical for Dr. MacArthur or anyone to say “just preach the gospel” thinking that will solve all issues. It doesn’t even work in his own church and the institutions he leads. It certainly will not work in your communities and churches. Hear me well. The true gospel is sufficient. The true gospel makes peace and destroys dividing walls of hostility. The true gospel looks racism and partiality in the face and condemns it to the pit of hell from which it came. It does not build barriers. We have a gospel that gives dignity and value and worth to all peoples. Shouldn’t our institutions that train us to take the gospel to all nations do the same? I distinctly remember when Peter, a Jew, first preached the gospel to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home. Peter was awestruck by a divine revelation. “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Then why is there so much partiality at TMUS under the leadership of Dr. MacArthur in curriculum decisions? In my next post I will continue making my argument of partiality in their preaching/worship curriculum and much more.
Terrence Jones is the pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park in Montgomery, Alabama. Originally from Norman Park, GA, he attended Tuskegee University on a football scholarship and The Master’s Seminary (M.Div. 2011). Terrence is married to Thais and they are the proud parents of 6 children.