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I Think I’m Disappointed with John MacArthur. I hope Not.

I can’t understand John MacArthur.

Why is he speaking at the Billy Graham Training Center’s Pastors’ Institute?

I would like to post at length about this in the near future, but I want to be quite clear about several issues:

Unless John MacArthur is planning on going in like the unknown prophet that approached the altar at Bethel to rebuke that entirely compromised organization, the organization of a man that he just recently denounced for apostasizing, then my respect for him has been diminished.

Not my gratitude. My respect. I will always be grateful for him. But these kinds of speaking engagements do not increase my respect for John. They diminish it. At some point, it’s fair to hope for explanation. I don’t think John is obligated to explain, I just think it would be nice.

It smells of either naive evangelicalism or reckless schmoozing; naive because fifty years of evangelicalism has proven that you don’t cozy up to determined ecumenicalists and succeed in changing them, and reckless because MacArthur seems to dismiss the effect his associations will have on a whole new generation of people who are ready to take a strong stand for the gospel.

The genius of the failed New Evangelicalism of the 1950s (remember, they don’t perceive of themselves as failures) was to hitch its wagon to every star in evangelicalism, right or left, in order to draw into its ever-extending orb of influence the thousands of followers that came in the wake of their bedazzled leaders. And no-one could do it better than Billy Graham. How brilliant of the BGEA to schedule one of the foremost leaders of conservative evangelicalism who is so strong, so outspoken, and so conservative that he even has referred to himself as a fundamentalist. How genius to do it literally one week before the increasingly head-turning conference on the gospel, the “Together for the Gospel Conference,” where more and more conservative and fundamentalist leaders are finding a brotherhood around the uniqueness of the Gospel.

The BGEA, always alert to the times, says, “Hey! We like John MacArthur too!” And thousands of soft-headed evangelicals and spineless fundamentalists say, “Well, you must be ‘together for the gospel’ with us!”

What evangelicals have failed to realize for over fifty years now is that anybody will say they’re together for the gospel — anybody — as long as its where all the action is. Opposition never presents itself first as opposition. It always presents itself as cooperative.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard heard that they descendants of the captivity were building the house of the Lord God of Israel, they came to Zerubabbel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do and we have sacrificed to Him. . .Ezra 4:1-2 (emphasis added).

Hey, John, why don’t you come on over to the Cove and talk to us about “Christ alone.” We know that gets your motor running and, hey, we love Jesus too, John! Yes, Sir! Like one of our friends in Pilgrim’s Progress said, ”Tis true we somewhat differ in religion from those of the stricter sort, yet but in two small points: First, we never strive against wind and tide. Secondly, we are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers; we love much to walk with him in the street if the sun shines and the people applaud him.’ And, well, you know it sure seems like thousands of people are really applauding whatever is happening over the hills there in Louisville.

Why do you go to a pastors’ retreat hosted by Byends of Fairspeech? Especially when you have gone on the record as approving the conclusion of Ian Murray’s “Evangelicalism Divided” and at the last “Together for the Gospel Conference” publicly rebuked Billy Graham? Could it be that the BGEA is attempting to massage the one most likely to point them out at the next Together for the Gospel Conference? How slick of the BGEA to cordially invite the very man, and the only man, who was the clearest at the last T4G about the need to articulate a separatistic stance toward those who were compromising key elements of the Gospel.

Sometimes the best answer to an invitation to cooperate is Zerubabbel’s answer: “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to the Lord our God” (Ezra 4:3).

I’m sure the JMac camp will have a rationale to offer to their fundamentalist fan base in order to assure us that they really are the separatists that have figured it all out. Their blogging machinery will explain this if enough people ask, but I think that it is naive to think that speaking at the BGEA Pastors’ Institute is as profitable for the Gospel as declining to speak there.

In the meantime, three observations:

1. The “emerging middle” of Gospel will continue to evolve, but the leadership of this development will not be the old guard of either side. John MacArthur is a has-been on the evangelical side of the middle just like most institutional fundamentalist leaders on the fundamentalist side have already shown themselves to be. And this, by the way, goes for Piper and others of his generation as well. I don’t mean to imply that they won’t be greatly used or that their influence will diminish. I hope not. But I do mean that they have yet to show any understanding of how to embrace the sweeping changes in their side of the emerging middle that is finding a key component of Gospel expression to be separatistic. Which leads to my second point….

2. The evangelical side of the “middle” is beginning to understand, appreciate, and embrace the logic of secondary separation; not as it has been abused and mishandled by so many fundamentalists, but as it is rationally explained in the real-life actuality of daily ministry. In other words, I know a lot of conservative evangelicals that would be just as burned as I am that John MacArthur is speaking at the BGEA Pastors’ Institute. The successes of some Evangelical teachers has resulted in devotion for the doctrines they revived.

God’s truths are humble and they wait in line, often one at at time, to be revealed to dull men. But they generally go in a prescribed and logical order. The truth about how one gets to heaven (soteriology) is usually revealed to men before the truth of the importance of going to church (ecclesiology). Sometimes these truths make their impact one generation at a time. God’s truths are not only humble; they are patient. Therefore, my third point:

3. American Evangelicalism was given by God excellent Bible teachers like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and John Piper. This generation of leaders gave to a small part of the compromised and dying evangelicalism that had bought the New Evangelical dream a biblical soteriology. God used this generation of leaders to restore sound thinking on the doctrine of salvation.

A younger group of leaders followed in the steps of these excellent teachers with another emphasis that naturally followed the recovered soteriology: ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. This is nowhere more vividly illustrated than in the collection of speakers at the last T4G conference. There, four younger men (Dever, Mahaney, Mohler, and Duncan) invited some of their “heroes” to speak. The great contribution of those younger men to evangelicalism has been in the area of the church. Just consider their works.

This is natural. Martin Luther was used by God to recover the biblical doctrine of soteriology. Once people are saved, however, they need to congregate. It was Calvin (and then later the divines of the English Reformation) as well as some great Anabaptists who advanced the doctrine of the church on the foundation of justification by faith.

This discussion is wonderful, especially for fundamentalists who have little teaching in the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, who have been taught to abhor unity, and shun anyone who was outside of their sect. But the “church” discussion is not finished. It is still in its embryonic shape. For when the church is discussed it is then necessary to discuss who’s in and who’s out. And when that discussion has begun in earnest, the logic of biblical separation will once again have to be addressed. Thus, two questions haunt me:

1. Will history repeat itself and separatists fail to articulate a biblical rationale for separation that is accompanied by a bold expression of commitment and love for the unity that is already given to all those who are in Christ Jesus?

2. Will history repeat itself and evangelicals continue to shun the obvious teachings of Scripture that the false teachers are to be avoided and alienated and the obvious logic that calls for a separation from those who refuse to separate from them?

If today’s younger pastors cannot answer these challenges with their own convictions, they are doomed to repeat the last fifty years. And it has to be our generation that addresses these particular challenges. So far it seems apparent that most of the current leaders in Evangelicalism/Fundamentalism are hopelessly locked in yesterday’s discussion: on the one hand, a shrinking group of separatists huddle together in their denomination-like sub-culture while, on the other hand, a shrinking group of strong evangelicals refuse to acknowledge the fact that you really can’t be serious about the gospel if you’re going to hobnob with those who have squandered it.

Venues are significant. I cannot say that John MacArthur is sinning to go to the Pastors’ Institute. I just cannot see why and I really hope for a good explanation. But I do know that prophets are used by God wherever He sends them. Prophets usually went to venues uninvited. They just popped in, pointed their finger, and left. If they were invited, they often preached in such a way that secured for them the assurance that they would never be invited again. God’s prophets understood that deluded people would only perceive their presence as affirmation unless they spoke in such a way that was so clear they couldn’t escape the meaning.

Will MacArthur’s visit be affirming to the BGEA? Of course. Unless, of course, John gets prophetic as he is sometimes known to do.

If God has written Ichabod over the door of a house, John, why enter it unless you’re going there to preach in such a way that you will be absolutely sure that you are never invited again?

If possible, I’ll order the recording just to see.