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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.

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21 Responses

  1. I love unity.

  2. No chance that the BGEA is changing? No chance that Franklin isn’t Billy just like Stephen isn’t Jr, just like you aren’t Hyles?

    I don’t agree with MacArthur on plenty of things (some of his “prophetic” utterances are just ridiculous, like “everybody’s a dispensationalist.”) But what I still can’t figure out is why it’s ok to talk with a group widely regarded as schismatic (fundamentalists) but it is not ok to talk with a group widely regarded as improperly inclusive (new evagelicals).

    Whether you fall off the horse on the right or the left — you’ve still fallen off.

  3. I am grateful for this post. Once again you cause me to think more carefully about issues from a wider lense and future consideration. Thank you.

    Question: What is your opinion of Al Mohler’s “Triage” paper? It is specifically about separation issues.

  4. Bob,
    Using Joel’s taxonomy, maybe BGEA and its leadership are C’s?

  5. Bob,

    Good article. I’m prayerful and hopeful we’ll get some clarity as to what’s up. At best this is confusing…unless this is John being Prophet-like…which he’s done before. At worst this is “out-to-lunch-not-consistent!” with what Nathan B just presented in the Shepherd’s conference many of us just attended.

    Sam,

    For myself I’ve viewed the BGEA to the left of type C’s. That is a Type C can only be Type C if he is militant in the face of compromise. It’s been a while since the BGEA has been militant in the face of compromise. I have had several evangelical friends who have said that under Franklyn the BGEA will be much more consistently “evangelical” than it was with Billy over the last decade or so. But to Bob’s great point, “so what does that mean?”

    Straight Ahead!
    Phil 3:12-14

    jt

  6. It looks as if the love-in over convergence is now come to a close, and the worst suspicions of the BJU separatist-mongers are perfectly confirmed.

    In one fell swoop J-Mac has destroyed everything the young fundies thought possible between the separatists and the CE crowd.

    It’s over.

  7. It looks as if the love-in over convergence is now come to a close, and the worst suspicions of the BJU separatist-mongers are perfectly confirmed.

    In one fell swoop J-Mac has destroyed everything the young fundies thought possible between the separatists and the CE crowd.

    It’s over.

  8. I’m well aware that BGEA is not separatist/fundamentalist. My comment was meant with a hint of irony…I guess too little…Maybe so-called C’s aren’t any sort of fundamentalist at all? Is that a possibility? Having said that, one action does not a pattern make…or is it already just another action in the pattern? I am prayerful, but not optimistic…JMac has already proven inconsistent on the matter of music & worship…

  9. Bob,

    Is MacArthur only speaking, or is he participating on a more involved level?

    While a senior at Faith Baptist Bible College (a fundamentalist institution), I served as an interim pastor at an American Baptist church in northern Iowa. We both know that denomination has serious doctrinal and practical issues. Yet, because the church allowed me to preach as I wished to preach, I embraced the opportunity–as did several of my professors.

    Perhaps MacArthur’s opportunity parallels mine. If he can preach and teach with freedom, I’m not sure I understand the issue. It’s not like he is inviting these men to share his pulpit.

    Perhaps I’m a bit dense here …

  10. Bob-
    Help me out here… did you read what JMac is speaking about… the scriptural use of the slave/master analogy. This would seem to be a phenomenal place to share this particular truth which is central to the biblical gospel. I am failing to see how JMac’s actions communicate any endorsement of the BGEA other than taking an opportunity to instruct pastors that need it… and probably don’t get it often enough.
    If the BGEA became aware of something MSBC did that they were challenged by and invited you to instruct a group of pastors on it… you would be speaking your message as clear and passionate as you want to preach it… you would pass because they are sponsoring/hosting it?

  11. One would have to have his head buried in the sand to imagine that the BGEA is seeking Dr. MacArthur come and set them aright. Rather, as per the custom of all conferences, it is rightly assumed that the conference organizers are the ones who set the agenda and have selected the best teachers for the job.

    While I certainly agree with the BGEA that John MacArthur is a worthy teacher, it is a bit disingenuous to portray itself as a teacher (by virtue of the fact that they have organized the conference) of whatever John is going to teach while they have yet (as far as I know) to repudiate some of the egregious statements of their beloved founder.

  12. Keith,

    Allow me to interact with your question:

    [W]hy it’s ok to talk with a group widely regarded as schismatic (fundamentalists) but it is not ok to talk with a group widely regarded as improperly inclusive (new evagelicals).

    It’s not the same.

    For an outsider to be invited to a sectarian and schismatic group there is no confusion in anyone’s mind. In everybody’s mind he is the outsider.

    To be invited to an inclusivistic group is to be invited as an insider. It becomes incumbant on the invitee to prove other that he or they are the outsiders. Otherwise, there is no way that the acceptance of such an invitation would be viewed as anything other but affirmation.

  13. Well, if you look at the rest of the schedule, the next three day’s following the Pastor’s Institute, MacA will be teaching a seminar on the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son at the Cove. Entitled “The Great Joy of Jesus” this seminar will give you “a fascinating look into the heart of the Good Shepherd” as the promo says.

    It doesn’t sound like this is a one shot prophetic deal, but part and parcel of a whole program of participation.

    FWIW

    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  14. Bob,

    At the outset, I want to state clearly that my interactions here are not intended to defend Billy Graham. I disagree with plenty that he has done and said. Plus, he and his circle (of which I am not a part) are more than capable of defending him.

    I am curious though why the BGEA has “to repudiate some of the egregious statements of their beloved founder”? It has been argued by various present day fundamentalists that it is anachronistic to expect them to repudiate the errors of the earlier fundamentalists. We are just supposed to evaluate them on present stances and approaches. Why doesn’t the same apply for Franklin Graham? I mean, come on, he’s having John MacArthur speak. Something must have changed.

    I guess I can concede the difference you note between involvement with schismatics vs.inclusivists. It doesn’t address the fact that fundamentalists like you, who do repudiate various parts of traditional fundamentalist practice actually are fundamentalist “insiders” — you are viewed as affirming the “movement” even though you critique it, but I won’t digress any further in that direction at present.

    I will say that the difference you note doesn’t seem to address my concern/question. I’m asking the following: If schism is sin (which I think it is) and inclusivism is sin (which I think it is), why is fellowship with the inclusivist sinner any worse than fellowship (even sharing a name with) the schismatic sinner?

  15. As I recall, the BGEA not only affirmed BG’s choice of tying in with apostate sponsorship 5 decades ago, but have affirmed it today. They are in the image of their founder. FWIW, FG has been more careful about the nature of the exclusivity of Jesus Christ to salvation than his father (re: the Schuler/Graham conversation). But separation from apostasy is still not a priority of the BGEA today. JMac would do well to go there with a clear dissenting opinion–something which a so-called “C” “fundamentalist” should do eh, Joel? 😉

    By way of contrast, Doran interacted with conservative evangelicals recently–in a manner of which JMac should take note…

  16. I am amazed, and even grew a little bored, as I read through this dialogue and the speculation-laden debate that followed. I think tjp’s comments sum up the alarmist, Chicken Little reaction some of you are having to this speaking engagement. To declare that this single act of speaking at BGEA (an act still not even “committed”) confirms that “the love-in over convergence is now come to a close” and that suspicions of critics are “perfectly confirmed” is so over-reactive and paranoid that it reveals the thoughts of an unreasoning separatist. To declare that JMac has “destroyed everything” in a “fell swoop” is certainly an overstatement. “It” is not over. Unless you conclude that “it” only works so long as those with something to stand for can only stand for it within the sheltered safety of those that already agree.

  17. I am amazed, and even grew a little bored, as I read through this dialogue and the speculation-laden debate that followed. I think tjp’s comments sum up the alarmist, Chicken Little reaction some of you are having to this speaking engagement. To declare that this single act of speaking at BGEA (an act still not even “committed”) confirms that “the love-in over convergence is now come to a close” and that suspicions of critics are “perfectly confirmed” is so over-reactive and paranoid that it reveals the thoughts of an unreasoning separatist. To declare that JMac has “destroyed everything” in a “fell swoop” is certainly an overstatement. “It” is not over. Unless you conclude that “it” only works so long as those with something to stand for can only stand for it within the sheltered safety of those that already agree.

  18. I contacted some folks about this and found that the Cove gave JMac an open invitation to speak on whatever he wanted so he is going. It is concerning as Bob said because rubbing elbows with inclusivists seems to tie yourself to them. We will just have to see what Dr. MacArthur actually says while there.
    BTW, Glorious Easter to everyone! He is really risen!!

  19. I contacted some folks about this and found that the Cove gave JMac an open invitation to speak on whatever he wanted so he is going. It is concerning as Bob said because rubbing elbows with inclusivists seems to tie yourself to them. We will just have to see what Dr. MacArthur actually says while there.
    BTW, Glorious Easter to everyone! He is really risen!!

  20. chiming in late here and i will claim almost total ignorance about most of everyone involved, so my question is: who has the low-down on franklin graham?

    he came to kiev a while back and did a big evangelistic crusade, and we went one night. it was a salvation message that dr. bob, III, would’ve preached. very clear and truthful. it wasn’t ecumenical, no catholics waiting in the wings, etc.

    so is he in charge of this school? and what’s he like?

  21. chiming in late here and i will claim almost total ignorance about most of everyone involved, so my question is: who has the low-down on franklin graham?

    he came to kiev a while back and did a big evangelistic crusade, and we went one night. it was a salvation message that dr. bob, III, would’ve preached. very clear and truthful. it wasn’t ecumenical, no catholics waiting in the wings, etc.

    so is he in charge of this school? and what’s he like?

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