Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Gnashing of a 1,000 figurative teeth

My pastor, John MacArthur, is no stranger to theological controversy. It seems as though throughout his preaching career there has always been some group irritated with him at one time or another. They didn't like something he said, or didn't say, or said too hard, or whatever.

For example, in the 1970s, John spoke out against charismatic theology and rankled the charismatics. Then he made the feminist angry because he advocated that women should stay home and raise families. He wrote The Gospel According to Jesus during the 80s and upset the non-lordship, easy-believism fundamentalist Baptists. A whole bunch of IFB folks didn't like the way he explained the atonement of Christ and they claimed John taught a "bloodless" gospel, whatever that is. In recent years, John has annoyed the Purpose-Driven Life advocates with choice comments against their view of preaching, and presently, the entire emergent church crowd are bugged by John's recent release, The Truth War, which takes them to task for being squishy on absolute truth.

So, continuing his trend as everyone's favorite gadfly, John opened the 2007 Shepherd's Conference with a message aggravating the amillennialists. The working title of the message is something like, Why Every Self-respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist. Without going into the entire message (a summary can be reviewed here and here), I believe I am on firm ground when I say, as in the biblical vernacular, it has caused no small stir.

Amillennialists all around blogdom are reacting with varying degree of emotion. From saddened head wagging dismay, garment rending lament, to outright disgust, as if John had proclaimed all wives of amillennialists to be fat and their children ugly. There are some folks who are not even at the conference providing their criticisms of John's message.

Allow me to weigh in on John's remarks both pro and con.

First, I believe many amillers are over reacting to John's message and taking it a wee bit too personal. I noted some friendly jabs at amill belief, but I never thought John went beyond that to be ridiculing and mocking as some have suggested.

Additionally, anyone who is remotely familiar with John's preaching ministry knows his stance on eschatology. He has several written books on the subject, including a two volume commentary set on the book of Revelation, so I can't understand why folks are reacting surprised as if they had never known this about John. They are carrying on as if he revealed some dark, scandalous secret about himself.

Moreover, there are at least two or more seminars addressing eschatology, Israel and the Church, and rapture positions every year at the Shepherd's Conference, so that's nothing new either.

Are these amillers (and postmillers as well) of the opinion that John should never express his convictions on these matters at the conference he hosts just to protect the sensibilities of those individuals who may be a slight minority in attendance?

On the other hand, I believe the subject could had been broached in a manner that was not as surprising and unexpected by the conference participants. I don't know how that could had been accomplished apart from a written announcement before hand, but it may had been helpful with heading off any ill spirit.

I also thought John mischaracterized amillennial theology to some degree. Jason at Fide-O has been pointing that out, even though I think some of his comments are driven a bit by emotion. None the less, I think he has room to complain about his position being misstated. Premillennialists do not like to be mischaracterized by their detractors, so they should do their best to respect the amillennialists by representing their beliefs accurately. I cringe just as equally when a amiller misstates premillennial hermeneutics, as when a premiller calls amillennialism replacement theology. In the end, I think there is room on both sides for learning how to frame the discussion properly, with accuracy and fair representation to the other.

I will say that I thought John's comparison of how amillennial hermeneutics tend to spiritualize too much the prophetic narratives, with the manner in which theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists spiritualize the book of Genesis, was right on. I do not think it is a coincidence that the long-age, frame-work theology that puts millions of years into the Genesis narrative are for the most part Reformed in their theology, (M. Kline for instance), and thus their hermeneutics.

But, I do think John will be better served when discussing this issue if he will take the time to interact with modern apologists and thinkers in Amillennialism like Kim Riddlebarger, rather than older writers who are now deceased.

Both sides will serve each other and the Lord if we put aside our condescending attitudes and proud spirit.

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Blogger Mike-e said...

yea, I too, noticed that the amillers were a bit shaken by John's statements. i mean, did John really say anything new? I think its great that people are responding and attempting to refute whatever he said. But we all need to keep in mind one thing--emotional-eschatology is not good.

6:01 PM, March 08, 2007  
Blogger pilgrim said...

I'm a-mil, but I like MacArthur over all, I know we disagree on baptism and escahtology, bur we agree on the essentials and he doesn't cut off fellowship for non-essentials.

He's written some good stuff that's helpful. I just use discernment and check out what he says or writes.

I'd like to see him interact with Kim Riddlebarger on end times--it would be good stuff. I have his book on the Return of Jesus--and it's well presented, even if I disagree with parts of it.

It's a good presentation of the form of premill he holds to--and has value that way.

7:49 PM, March 08, 2007  
Blogger Pickle Boy said...

I think the negative reaction has mostly to do with the fact that reformed folks don't like being told that they're being inconsistent in their theology- period. There's a good chance that will always ruffle their feathers. (did I just use the words "chance" and "reformed" together in the same thought?!)

It's not just a simple matter of them having heard and understood John's premill. views before- and that they therefore should not be acting with such surprise. Rather, it's the suggestion that if they were "self-respecting Calvinists" they'd realize that John is right and if they're amill. then they are wrong. When people invest a great deal of time and energy studying eschatology and draw differing conclusions, you're always going to get a charge out them when you criticize their position, and especially so when you attach with your criticism the notion that they're not thorough-going enough in their Calvinism. After all, us Calvinists can sure get a chip on our shoulders about being so theologically right and precise.

Eschatology can get pretty dicey. People react. It's normal. Any self-respecting premillenial Calvinist should understand that- if they're consistent in their thinking. ; )


7:56 PM, March 08, 2007  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey Pilgrim,

I plan to ask John about Riddlebarger sometime soon. He has been telling us around here at work (GTY) that he plans to launch into a series on eschatology this year. He is currently doing sermons on doctrinal subjects on Sunday nights. In fact, this past Sunday evening he did a message on the problem of evil that is probably one of the best ones I have ever heard.

My contention is that John needs to interact with the newest generation of Amillers and Postmillers who are currently writing on the subject; not keep referring to guys who have been dead forty years or more like Louis Berkhof and Allis. Hopefully, he will take my suggestion under advisement.


5:16 AM, March 09, 2007  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

I think this is a result of people being unwilling to divide over what they term "secondary issues". The problem is that this pressuposition says that secondary issues have nothing to do with the gospel. In my opinion secondary issues grow out of the gospel. A person who understands the gospel correctly will build good theology on that good understanding of the gospel. Correct theology begets correct theology. Bad hermeneutics beget bad hermeneutics. I'm not saying a Christian is instantly perfect either. I'm saying a Christian who has good hermeneutics over the years will grow spiritually. No one can grow spiritually with bad hermenutics because they don't have the truth. This is a huge problem in todays church in my opinion.

10:20 AM, March 09, 2007  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

Weird thing is I diden't even know John Macarthur was going to present that issue. I was over at Fide-O the last three weeks trying to debate against Amillenialism and doing an ok job,lol. I think I'll still read their post but I'm going to lay off posting there for a while.

10:37 AM, March 09, 2007  
Blogger pilgrim said...

I'd never dissuade anyone from reading Berkhof--he was a gifted writer.

But if there was a John MacArthur/Kim Riddlebarger exhange on eschatology in book form or audio form--I'd be checking it out.

7:01 PM, March 09, 2007  
Blogger Jason E. Robertson said...

I really enjoyed fellowshipping with you this week. I am planning to have a big BBQ this spring and will send you an invite.

Thanks for the paragraph about not misrepresenting one another's positions with false definitions. That was my biggest problem as you stated. Why? because it didn't help in starting healthy conversations about the subject, because the audience was now biased against one view and on a false premise to boot. Among my elders more than one eschatological position is held-- we love discussing the subject-- but accuracy in definitions is a must when the goal is to achieve theological clarity and making sure that each one is soundly orthodox-- especially as it relates to the gospel.

Anyway, I hope you get some needed R&R soon. Keep up the good work, brother.

7:10 AM, March 10, 2007  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

I see Fide-o is still at it. John Macarthur really stirred them up. I was over there today and they have about 5 articles in response to John Macarthur. I don't agree with their position. I think they'er being smug too by saying "After hearing John I'm even more Amillenialist now".

2:15 PM, March 12, 2007  
Blogger Hayden said...


The worst case of the "smugness" is the article on Dr. Thomas. I had Dr. Thomas at the seminary and so of the comments seem a little "over the top". He is such a nice and humble man. I wish Jason and company would move on because I like their stuff most of the time.


1:42 PM, March 14, 2007  

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