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Posts Tagged ‘John MacArthur’


During the sanctification debate that arose last year I read many articles and posts, as well as interacted with a number of people on the subject. There was plenty of heat, and some light. A problem quickly became evident to me.

I’ve long held that the more ardently you argue you position the more likely you are to become more extreme, and say extreme things. You tend to treat one doctrine at the expense of other doctrines. A similar debate, years ago, was the Lordship Salvation question among Dispensational teachers like MacArthur, Hodges and Ryrie. One of them unwisely postulated the “unbelieving believer” in advocating a “once saved always saved” viewpoint (this is NOT the same as the Perseverance/Preservation of the Saints).

In the midst of the sanctification debate among Reformed people I heard/read things like: God doesn’t love you more or less based on your obedience or lack thereof; that a Christian can’t please God, and similar statements.

When we champion on doctrine over another (in this case justification over all others) we flatten the teaching of Scripture, remove biblical tensions and end up having to ignore particular texts or pull a Thomas Jefferson and remove them.

Here ares some texts we have to reckon with:

17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. John 10

Wait! The Father loves the Son perfectly from all eternity. How, then, can Jesus say the Father loves Him because of His death and resurrection?

21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. … 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. John 14

This is similar, but refers to Christians. We only love Him because He first loved us. But if we love Him, we’ll obey Him and He will love us. What? Doesn’t He already love us?

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12

Note the context, the love of the Father for His adopted sons. He disciplines us. Wouldn’t discipline imply He is less than pleased with our conduct, while loving us? Doesn’t this passage teach that God wants us to grow in personal righteousness and works to accomplish this in our lives? Are we to think that God’s responses to us are binary? Either love or hate, and not a love that can be also be angry with the beloved due to disobedience? Are we to think that justification trumps all, or can we have greater nuance that doesn’t deny justification but argues for a more dynamic relationship with God?

10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Ephesians 5

18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Philippians 4

10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 1 Thessalonians 4

See also 1 Timothy 2:3; 1 Timothy 5:4; Hebrews 13:16, 21.

Are we to think that Paul lied and that God wasn’t pleased with that sacrifice or we can’t walk in a way that increasingly pleases God?

During the antinomian controversies of earlier centuries, the Puritans wrestled with these texts and issues. We would be unwise to ignore them. In his book Antinomianism (ebook), Mark Jones pays attention and helps us to recapture a way to understand God’s love for His people that is both steadfast and dynamic. This also helps us to remember and honor the reality of both imputed (justification) and imparted (sanctification) righteousness.

Before I go further let me affirm a statement Steve Brown made at the 1991 Ligonier Conference. My obedience or disobedience cannot add to or subtract from my salvation. I am not more or less justified on the basis of my obedience or disobedience.

The love we experience, and receive, in election and justification was called by Puritans like Samuel Rutherford the love of benevolence. Like all God’s love for creatures, this love is voluntary (He doesn’t have to love them in this way).

“According to this outward, voluntary love, there is a threefold distinction: (1) God’s universal love for all things, (2) God’s love for all human beings, both elect and reprobate, and (3) God’s special love for his people.” Mark Jones, pp. 83.

He notes that this 3rd is called the love of benevolence. It does not arise out of any good in us, but out of God’s own nature and counsel. It is unconditional, and the root of unconditional election and all the benefits of salvation that flow out of that unconditional election. There are no degrees to this love, and it is enjoyed to its fullest by all God’s people. We are completely justified, positionally holy and pleasing to the Father as a result of this love.

But there is another love they argued for in light of the texts we have above. That is the love of complacency, “God’s love of delight or friendship, whereby he rewards his people according to their holiness.” (pp. 84). This is not in place of His unconditional love, but seen in addition to it. God’s people experience both.

If God is our Father and we are His sons we can think of this like an earthly father and son. I love my sons, who were both adopted, unconditionally and conditionally. They will never stop being my sons, and I will love them and want the best for them no matter what they do. This is precisely why their sin breaks my heart. They are not my sons by degree. Neither is more my son than the other. But at times I delight in one more than the other, or delight in one son more at some times than others. When they are persisting in rebellion I am not pleased with them. I still love them! Because of this love I discipline them. When they are obedient I delight in them.

This is what Rutherford and Charnock, and therefore Jones, is trying to get at.

“God’s benevolent love is logically prior to his complacent love. It could hardly be otherwise, because God’s love of benevolence is the fountain of election and all blessings the elect receive. The love of complacency delights in the good that is in his elect- but that good is only there because of his benevolent love.” Mark Jones (pp. 85)

This threefold distinction is similar to the discussion of the degrees of sin. We can affirm one aspect of the truth over and at the expense of the others. The wages of sin is death, yet we see in the OT that some sins were punished more severely than others, for good reason. All sin is rebellion, but some are a greater attack on the image of God in others (murder, sexual sin) while others involve property rights. If we think all sin is equal then there should be no difference in our response between stealing a candy bar and brutally murdering a person. We have to honor the Scriptures in both cases, love and sin. This means making proper distinctions.

“The threefold distinction in God’s love for his people means that justice can be done not only to texts that speak of God’s election of his people (Eph. 1:4-5) and his justifying acts (Rom. 4:5), but also to texts that speak of love in the context of ongoing communion with God and Christ (John 12:21-23; John 15:10; Jude 21). … The twofold love of benevolence and complacency is only possible in Christ and our threefold union with the Mediator.” Mark Jones (pp. 86)

It is right to emphasis the love of benevolence. We rightly tell people that God’s love is unconditional. We don’t want them to live in an ungodly fear, and uncertainty with regard to their status before God. I need to often remind my children I love them, even when I’m not delighting in them (in other words, when I’m angry with them). But the person who treats their children in the same way with no regard to their behavior will raise a psychopath. God is bringing us to a healthy maturity in Christ, not one that thinks nothing of our behavior. Growing in Christian maturity (sanctification and discipleship) is similar to maturing as a person. We need to experience both kinds of love, as well as understand them to properly interpret our experience.

This reflects even the Father’s love for the Son. We referenced John 10 above, and how the Father loves the Son because of His atoning death for the flock. Thomas Goodwin references John 15:10 to understand this. The Son was to remain in the Father’s love by obeying the Father’s command or charge (Jn. 14:18). The Father promises the sheep to the Son on the condition of His death on their behalf.

“Again, this love has to do with the ad extra will of God with respect to the God-man in his role as Mediator. God delights in his Son, not only necessarily, because he is his Son, but also voluntarily, because Christ obeys the Father perfectly and this brings delight to the Father.” Mark Jones (pp. 88)

In other words, we see this as we see this passage in Luke. Jesus’ favor with God was not static, but growing.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2

Our theology, however true it is, should not be imposed on Scripture to flatten it out, but arise from Scripture to honor its tensions. The recent sanctification debates, in my opinion, have revealed how some teachers flatten the teaching of Scripture with a justification-centered interpretative method which results in a form of antinomianism whether they realize it not.

“I’ve never met an antinomian who called himself an antinomian.” R.C. Sproul (Lectures on the Westminster Confession of Faith, Sanctification, part 2)

A healthy theology which helps us engage in healthy discipleship is one that holds our particular doctrines in a biblical tension, and which makes proper biblical distinctions. In the sanctification debate there are two ditches we can fall into, one on either side. The gospel (not the reductionistic version that emphasized only justification) keeps us from falling into the ditch on either side of the road. Unconditionally loved by the Father and declared righteous because of Christ’s righteousness, we seek to obey and please the Father our of filial love and experience the Father’s joy and delight as we grow in Christ likeness, or His loving discipline as we cling to our sin.

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It has been a long week filled with in-fighting among Calvinist of various stripes. Lines are being drawn in the sand, but I’m not sure what color. There is much about this that disturbs me, and should disturb everyone involved.

Strange Fire is not John MacArthur’s book on Charismatic Theology. I have not read this particular go round. I did read his earlier book, Charismatic Chaos and some of his study materials on 1 Corinthians that touch on the issue. I was a young Christian who had both Charismatic and non-Charismatic friends (and still do).

At the time, I found some of what I learned in the 1 Corinthians study to be helpful. Some of that was undone with Charismatic Chaos. What I found in that book was disturbing to me. Among the things I read was the suggestion that my friends were being influenced by evil spirits. While I am still not convinced in what is normally called “speaking in tongues” is what happened in the Scripture or produced by the Spirit, I’m just not comfortable going there. That seems, to me, to be an unwarranted leap of logic.

The second thing that really put me off was the use of Straw Men in his argumentation. I doubt the average Charismatic would say that John MacArthur understands his position on this issue.

With his new book and conference, MacArthur has claimed that this book is not about most Charismatics. It does not apply to men like John Piper and Wayne Grudem. It might apply to Mark Driscoll, especially after his stunt. He says he’s going after the extremists, particularly the Word of Faith movement. But in his closing arguments, he said it really wasn’t about the extremists, and that he thinks most Charismatics are not Christians (and he’s not just talking about Oneness Pentecostals). Getting confused? Me too.

Part of the problem is that he confuses their continuationist theology with their prosperity gospel, Roman Catholicism or modalism. He fails to distinguish these theological errors from the continuationist theology they also hold. They are separate matters. In other words being charismatic does not mean that you hold to either the prosperity gospel, modalism, and Roman Catholicism. The prosperity gospel is found among some Charismatics. Neither modalism nor Roman Catholicism lead to being Charismatic. He is confusing correlation with causation as they say in statistics. He therefore does us a disservice.

Another problem is that he writes polemical theology. He tends to writing critical books instead of books that affirm positions. Not all of his books are that way, but many of them are. The problem with polemical theology is that you tend to move toward a more extreme position. As a result, the Charismatics I know get tossed under the Word of Faith and Oneness Pentecostal bus even though they don’t belong there. How he argues his points is part of the problem.

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In the first part I examined the fact that all pastors will have to talk about sex from the pulpit because the Bible talks about sex- often. But how often a pastor needs to talk about it will differ according to the needs of the congregation. John MacArthur probably doesn’t have to talk about sex often. I’m not sure I’d want him to talk to me about sex, that would be like talking about sex with my father-in-law. Just doesn’t seem right. Mark Driscoll, who pastors a church filled with young converts, will have greater need to address the subject.

How should a pastor speak about sex? That is the topic I want to pick up now. Just because you should talk about it doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind.

When I was taking classes for my counseling degree we had a course on sex. I know you won’t believe me, but sex comes up often in counseling situations. One day we spent time on an exercise. We split up into small groups of both men and women. We had to practice saying “penis” and “vagina”. It was incredibly funny for me because one of my classmates was really struggling to say them in mixed company. That was so far out of her comfort zone. But when you try to do this, it can be weird for anyone.

We were trained to use the proper terms for things, not slang. We called oral sex just that- not a Lewinski or any number of other terms.

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The Cessationist-Continuationist debate is not one I enter into often.  You can find far too many straw man arguments.  And personal attacks.  Cooler heads rarely prevail. It is not really a position you can “proof-text” and it polarizes people.

People often have a hard time distinguishing the ordinary from extraordinary.  This distinction is made in the Westminster Confession of Faith with regard to means God uses to bring someone to saving faith (XIV, 1).  For instance, should the ordinary means of hearing the gospel not be available, God may use extraordinary means to convert a person.  Those cases are rare, and are not to be expected by us.

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As a movement, the “Young, Restless & Reformed” crowd has some issues.  They are, after all, young.  They are on the road to maturity.  Technically I’m a tad too old, I think, for the moniker but I appreciate what most of them are trying to do.

John MacArthur is not so appreciative.  As part of the generation before mine, he’s been quite critical of them in a series of posts.  Some of them have made the circuit.  I’ve stayed out of it.  I don’t want to contribute to a blog war- see, I’m getting older and maybe even maturing.  (comments have been closed, so I can’t respond there.)

I am not writing to defend the YR&R movement.  I’m not even going to point out the inconsistencies of John’s argument (a blogger friend who was unjustly singled out has done a good job of these things).  What I want to do is address his selective use of Scripture.  JM, in writing this critique of the movement, is also acting like a role model of sorts.  How he handles the Scriptures is VERY important.  He deeply cares about the Scriptures and expositional preaching has been a hallmark of his lengthy ministry.  But here he does not handle the Scriptures well, and we need to help see why.

Taking Texts Out of Context

Contrary to the current mythology, abstinence is no sin—least of all for someone devoted to ministry (Leviticus 10:9; Proverbs 31:4; Luke 1:15). It is, of course, a sin to give one’s mind over to the influence of alcohol or to bedeck one’s reputation with deliberate symbols of debauchery. As a matter of fact, drunkenness and debauchery are the very antithesis of Spirit-filled sanctification (Ephesians 5:18)—and men who indulge in them are not qualified to be spiritual leaders.

JM rightly notes that abstinence is not a sin.  At times it may be wise, but that doesn’t mean it is always wise.  His claims go beyond the text however.

 8And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. Leviticus 10

It was not an absolute prohibition.  They were just not to drink on the job.  In light of the recent death of Aaron’s 2 sons, you have to wonder if abusing alcohol was one reason they offered up “strange fire”.  But JM speaks of abstinence.  They were not required to abstain for drinking wine, except while serving.

4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,  it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, 5lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Proverbs 31

Once again the encouragement is not absolute.  But when the king is working, making decrees or deciding cases, he should not be under the influence of alcohol.  JM overstates his case.  Oddly enough, see what the next verses say:

6Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,  and wine to those in bitter distress; 7 let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. Proverbs 31

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"Fix your eyes upon Jesus..."

The length of worship services has been an issue for as long as the church as existed.  Paul preached so long at one evening gathering that a guy fell asleep and dropped out the window.  Most of us are used to people falling asleep on us.

Some shared an article from our cousins over the pond about the length of worship services.  The basic point of a bishop was that more people will come more regularly if the service is shorter.  At one point the Anglican service was about 50 minutes.  Knowing they celebrate the Table each Sunday, I find this hard to believe.

But the Bishop of Lichfield thinks that servies have become too long and too complicated.  As a result, non-regular church goers are increasingly confused and unwilling to show up.  One survey indicates that Anglican clergy are preaching for as long as 42 minutes and services have crept up to 90 minutes.  But it isn’t just the sermon that is longer.  They are singing and praying longer (perish the thought- discipline these hacks!).

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I can’t remember where I saw it.  It was a blog post on questions to ask a prospective pastor.  Many of them were good, convicting questions.  One of them was regarding sermon preparation (a standard question on many forms I filled out).  In answering the question, he made some good points for churches to consider.  But something was nagging at me.

His suggestion was 16-20 hours maximum for sermon preparation.  He made the very good point that a pastor can’t spend 40 hours on a sermon and fulfill his other responsibilities.

What I say now is not to refute anything he said, real or imagined ( this won’t be a John MacArthur-Darrin Patrick thing especially since I’m no one important and I don’t even remember who he was though they were more important than me).  It is to supplement.

Part of it is born of experience, including this week.  Sermon preparation is not a formula.  Certain tasks are required (working with the original languages and translations to exegete the text, reading a few trusted commentaries to make sure you exegeted it well, exegeting your congregation and community, thinking about the application and sermon structure).  Those tasks take time.  But they do not a sermon make.

The work of the Spirit to illumine the text is essential.  You can do all the “academic” prep work you want, but until the Spirit shines the light on what pulls it all together and points it toward Jesus- all you’ve got is the beginnings of a paper for seminary or Bible college.

Different Decade, Same Experience

This week I’ve been pounding my head on the table, wall and any other hard object I can find.  I did my analysis in Hebrew, looked at parallel passages, read 4 commentaries and a book about this portion of Scripture.  Yet, I left the office Wednesday without a “Big Idea” and therefore no sermon structure.  I was at an impasse.

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