Shep-Con Q&A: What We All Missed


If you run in conservative evangelical circles, then you are well aware of the debate that has been swirling around the issue of social justice and how it relates to the Gospel.

If you are ignorant of this controversy, a cursory glance at Twitter will quickly fix that.

To ever so briefly summarize, over the summer a group of theologians crafted a statement on social justice and its relation to the Gospel that made waves throughout evangelical Christianity.

Some well-known theologians signed it. Some didn’t. It caused a bit of a stir for a while, but (at least to me) it seemed like things settled down once the holiday season hit.

But then last week, the Shepherd’s Conference happened in California. During the conference, there was a Q&A with Phil Johnson, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, Sinclair Ferguson, and John MacArthur.

Inevitably, questions about the relationship between social justice and the Gospel were asked. Cue awkwardness, defensiveness, and a clear line of demarcation between the men on the panel - something we haven’t seen much of in the last ten or so years of their relationships.

Since then, there has been endless analysis, debate, specualtion, and the like. There have been accusations of liberalism, racism, and a whole host of other issues. Questions about denominational splits and institututional disagreements swirled about, and cries for clarity emerged from both sides. Chaos, disarray, and disunity are words that come to mind.

However, in all the analysis that I’ve read, I haven’t heard anyone focus on something John MacArthur said somewhere in the middle of the panel.

(Just to note here, as far as I know the panel is currently unavailable for viewing. It was on Facebook and a few other platforms for a while, but since then it has been removed. It is yet to be seen if it will be re-released once the tech crew for ShepCon edits/masters it. If you want to watch bits of the panel and learn more, both James White and Todd Friel have released analysis/commentary videos on YouTube.)

MacArthur offhandedly remarked that he had received considerable criticism for inviting the men who hadn’t signed the Social Justice Statement to the conference (Dever, Mohler, and Duncan specifically). Later, he mentioned that he didn’t want to fight his friends and insisted that the men were in lock-step theologically. And to me, that is super encouraging. Even a man like MacArthur, who has strong opinions on these issues, is not ready to draw hard lines of separation between himself and those who see differently on this issue. And he was willing to risk his reputation with certain individuals to have men at his conference who he not only agrees with theologically, but calls his friends.

I think that should be a point of focus for us. Even in the midst of this controversy, there is a huge amount of unity amongst those on the different sides of this debate. I think it’s important for us to remember that.

It will be a while before this controversy is sorted out and greater clarity is reached. But until then, I think we need to exercise grace and patience and remember that there is far greater unity amongst these men than the panel made it seem.

Questions? Comments? What were your thoughts on the panel? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter @1689millennial!