The Wildly Popular Bible Teacher Lacks Depth..
There is much to be said for John MacArthur. He has a high view of scripture and he’s not afraid of being unpopular. After waffling a bit early on in the Covid crisis, he opened his church for worship and defied county and state mandates banning group worship. He teaches a Biblical view of sexual morality, even if it sends the alt-sex crowd into a full stop spittle-seizure. Where scripture is clear, he can be counted on to preach scripture clearly.
However, where scripture is silent, or messy, or violent, or even sexy, John MacArthur leans heavily on a neo-pietist lens that makes him sound like a kind of slow-witted bully-prude. His library, on this front, doesn’t run beyond the church pamphlet and tract collection. He doesn’t have the depth of understanding, the training in history and philosophy, demonstrated by the late R.C. Sproul, his old golfing partner and ministry conference friend. Sproul was confident, always, in Christian liberty. He played bridge when the Christian college kids he taught were ordered to shun playing cards. He drank alcohol when John MacArthur was busy trying to turn the wine of John 2 into Welch’s grape juice. It’s not hard to imagine Sproul on the dance floor with his wife. MacArthur on the other hand?
The irony here, of course, is that MacArthur — who likely sees himself as a defender of scripture — leans very heavily on defending his own traditions — that milky mess of pre-millennial pietism that is alternatively obsessed with hyper-modesty, joyless living, and rapturing us out of this vineyard as quickly as possible. “We lose,” MacArthur promises his listeners, describing the life of the Christian church on earth. He actually takes joy in that bold declaration of assured defeat for the church and her flock. He sees a clarity in the thing: A solid Christian, in this life, doesn’t just face “trials and tribulation.” He is never allowed victory, ever. “We lose!”
MacArthur either doesn’t know Christian history or he beats it to death with a defeatist hammer. When Christianity brought an end to fight-to-the-death Coliseum blood sport, was that a loss? When Christianity ended child prostitution, polygamy, slavery, human sacrifice was that a bold argument for a “we lose” version of the faith? When Christianity built hospitals and universities and chapels in every village was that a loss, John? It’s almost as though John sees the faithful Christian before God, at the end of his life, declaring: “I did everything possible to assure defeat.” You get the feeling John would prefer Job had succumbed to death without having his flocks and family restored.
MacArthur, and his disciples, would probably object as follows: of course the church can experience victory, but the victory must be so completely the Lord’s, His servants may not participate at all. This is nothing more than sloth, and cowardice, dressing up as holiness. The Lord used a Charles Martel to turn back the Muslim hordes. The Lord used humble Hebrew midwives who disobeyed and lied to Pharaoh, refusing to kill newborns. The Lord used a left-handed warrior, Ehud, to stick a knife in the belly of the king and call it a “message from God.” The Lord used St. Paul, who refused to obey his jailers and demanded they face the consequences associated with their injustice. The Lord inspired a big fisherman to declare it is better to obey God than man. The Lord used George Washington’s generation of plucky Christians to turn back a corrupt English ministry.
On this front, MacArthur suffers from ignorance of the historical record. He characterizes the American Revolution in absurdly reductionist terms: “Christians .. don’t start shooting people.” Even a few hours of examining the decade-long chronology of that struggle, or even the doctrine of just warfare, might set John straight. The American War for Independence wasn’t a picture of random hot-heads shooting at the King’s soldiers whenever they didn’t get their way. It was a measured, collective remonstrance put forth by sensible and steady men–the vast majority of whom were baptized, communion taking believers. Moreover, it was a struggle between opposing governments, opposing military bodies, not a bar fight. Finally, it took place after a “long train of repeated abuses” and it was waged by a people who were patient, who were willing to endure evil, “while evils are sufferable.” The founders, by John’s way of thinking, committed the heresy of believing our God loves justice enough to allow His servants a role in securing it.
It’s embarrassing to see a minister of the gospel attempt to bring the Word to a subject about which he knows so little, but if you listen to the interview below you may get the feeling, as I do, that even if John knew history a little better, facts would only get in the way of the neo-pietist addiction to passivity. John doesn’t even believe in political protest. “We lose.” Several years ago, he wrote a book for which he refuses to apologize, “Why Government Can’t Save You.” The insulting, sneering straw-man in the title itself points to a dark side of John’s nature. He’s willing to let you believe committed Christian activists — the people who endure pagan hatred and violence on the streets — really believe the government can “save” them.
Shame on you, John. You are scolding the saints for being salt and light.
During that era, some of my pro-life friends were brutalized by “Christian” police officers during a Los Angeles Operation Rescue event. One of them nearly lost the use of his arm. The police officers in question were emboldened to beat and subdue activists by John MacArthur’s “abject and idiotic obedience” interpretation of Romans 13..
In Romans 13:1 Paul established this basic principle: Whatever the form and whoever the ruler, civil government should be obeyed and submitted to by Christians. The Christian has a duty to his nation, even if the ruler is a Nero or a Hitler.
By this standard, the brave Christians who shielded Jews from the Holocaust and the Germans who attempted to assassinate Hitler were guilty of rebellion. One wonders? When Christ declared there was no greater love than that of laying down your life for your friends, what sort of circumstances would require such sacrifice? Would you be more likely to lose your life at a Baptist temperance conference or by demanding the drag queen exit the story hour, stage left?
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?
As a pastor, I believe John sincerely believes in evangelism and prayer and that the simple preaching of God’s Word will change the hearts of the nation and its leaders. Somehow, if we get our doctrine straight, if we get our salvific coefficients all perfectly tuned, then — presto — the whole cultural and political landscape will change for the better. How has that been working out, John? You and some of your neo-pietists friends have been preaching for decades. What is the California spiritual report-card looking like?
I suggest that when a Christian activist actually takes his sanctification seriously, that when he expresses a sincere desire to “rescue those being led away to death,” we get serious about that scriptural wisdom as well. The church won’t be destroyed by the Beth Moores and the Matt Chandlers and Andy Stanleys. The ear-tickling flocks were never in the game in the first place.
John MacArthur’s flock, however, really does want a city on a hill, and if the church is to be injured, it will be by someone who doesn’t believe it can be built. “All authority in heaven AND ON EARTH is given unto me.” It’s time for you to ponder that one, John.