The Gospel According to John MacArthur at The Shepherd’s Conference Summit 2017

When I first started blogging in 2005 one of the first blogs I ran across was, at that point, Phil Johnson’s blog: Pyromaniac. Later, in 2006, Phil Johnson expanded his efforts and turned his blog into a team blog, renamed: Pyromaniacs. This new and improved team blog was staffed by, of course, Phil, but also with his primary compadres: Frank Turk and Dan Phillips. They doubled down on their efforts and produced a blog tour-de-force. If you don’t know, Phil is Executive Director of Grace To You Ministries, and primary editor of all of John MacArthur’s books and publications; johnny-mache is also a staff pastor at MacArthur’s church Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA (Los Angeles County).

I was a recent graduate of Seminary, and Bible College not too long before that. My background is North American evangelical on the “conservative” side of that spectrum; and my formal training and education was steeped in that tradition. But the thing is, for me, I was never a 5 point Calvinist, and in fact I was quite antagonistic towards 5 point Calvinism; particularly of the MacArthurite kind. You see, I also grew up in Southern California (Long Beach, CA), and while MacArthur’s reach is international, the intensity of his reach in Southern California is very deep. I knew people who sat under MacArthur (at his church), or I knew of churches that were impacted by MacArthur’s teaching in heavy ways. More close to home, our home church, for awhile, was split (in 2004) by a Master’s Seminary graduate who we think intentionally came to split our Conservative Baptist church with the “truth” he had recently received from sitting under MacArthur’s teaching and his proxy professors at his seminary. Like I said, I was a recent graduate of seminary, and I found the theoblogosphere. My training, particularly in seminary, had me steeped in historical theology (and NT studies), and so I understood the history of ideas and the church history that funded the theology that MacArthur was pushing; even if he was pushing it in a watered down way.[1]

All of this made me rife for an encounter with these guys, and it ended up happening over and over again; they didn’t like me. I challenged them, primarily on their inability to admit that they read the Bible through interpretive tradition; like we all do! I informed them of what that tradition was, and where many of its themes came from, from within the development of Post Reformed Orthodox theology. They didn’t like that, and would never admit to any of that; that’s because they believe that they approach Scripture on Scripture’s terms alone; that they simply follow what the Bible teaches at the most basest of levels. This type of encounter went on with them for years and years; if you don’t believe me go peruse their comment metas from years past on various posts and you’ll see our exchanges and how they went down.

I supply all of this background information simply to note something that has not changed, not at all. If you’re unaware, MacArthur’s church puts on what they call The Shepherd’s Conference Summit annually; this year’s just kicked off today. It is a conference for pastors of churches from all around the country intended to provide a type of retreat and edification for these pastors; and I would say more negatively, intended to keep many of these pastors indoctrinated with the mood and teaching of John MacArthur. The conference is made up of plenary sessions, break-out sessions, so on and so forth.

Today, guess who?, but Phil Johnson spoke at one of the plenary sessions, he was assigned Galatians 1:6–7, titled No Other Gospel: The True Gospel of Christ. This is right in the wheelhouse of Johnson; he loves this type of passage.[2] I actually listened to his whole talk (in front of 4,500 pastors/men), but I didn’t really have to. You see, Johnson, on his blog, and his cohorts, on their team blog, bandied this passage about as if it was their life proof-text.[3] Basically, the way Johnson&co. use passages like this, particularly Galatians, is justification for being sectarian and calling everyone else out for not actually teaching The Gospel According to Jesus. Remember earlier I noted that they believe they have a singular and simple hold on the genuine teaching of Holy Scripture; that they have the genuine approach and mood that should be associated with presenting the Gospel? Well, to no surprise of mine, Phil stuck to the usual marching orders and called out everyone under the sun—i.e. if they don’t follow the Gospel according to MacArthur&co.—for not necessarily teaching and proclaiming the genuine Gospel of Jesus Christ. He called out the hipsters, the academics, the progressives, corporate styled evangelicalism, etc., and asserted, essentially, no one but he and his styled cohorts actually teach the Gospel; in fact he said anyone who does not teach the Gospel the way he does, and MacArthur&co. does, be damned! In other words, he took the mantle of the Apostle Paul in Galatians 1 and anathematized every other Christian in the church catholic who does not comport and conform to the 5-point Calvinist Gospel (in idiosyncratic MacArthurite drag) as proclaimed and articulated by the magisterium in Sun Valley, CA. Phil and his cohorts have used passages like we find in Galatians as justification for being sectarian bullies in attitude and act towards fellow believers world-wide for a very long time.

I wanted to note this, not because I haven’t over and over before, but because I haven’t for a long time. You would hope that after some time there might be some sort of enlightenment for folks like MacArthur and Johnson et al., but the reality is there hasn’t been (and me saying this would prove to them that I ought to be damned). They are slavishly and egotistically committed to their idiosyncratic form of Christianity, and they will go down swinging and bludgeoning as many people as possible as they live their ecclesial lives at Grace Community Church. They are intent on indoctrinating as many pastors as they can to ensure this process and self-styled Christianity continues on long after MacArthur moves on; that’s what the Shepherd’s Conference represents to me.

With all of the above said, am I saying that we should not be critical theological thinkers? No, just the opposite! We need to admit that we are all theological, that we all approach Scripture through interpretive tradition, and constantly be willing to test and re-test our exegesis and theological conclusions as we encounter the reality of Scripture, the living Word of God in Christ. This is precisely what you will NOT find in the mood and attitude at any and all of MacArthur’s venues of influence; and unfortunately this Gospel of Sectarianism is being spread far and wide through MacArthur’s reach and exposure. I realize some think it’s minimal, but it really isn’t. The fact that MacArthur has 4,500 pastors at a conference, from all over the country and world should demonstrate otherwise; that’s not to mention the viewing audience online. His impact is actually quite ubiquitous.

Since I believe what MacArthur et al. is communicating is ultimately damaging, I will continue to stand against it, as I can. Not in the ways I used to, but here and there I will post blog posts like this one, just to remind people of who MacArthur&co. are, and to challenge their theological foundations at the core.

 

[1] In other words, MacArthur pushes his “Lordship Salvation,” which is really nothing other than a baptistic styled 5-point Calvinism. His approach, really, is rather idiosyncratic, since he is also a hardcore classical pre-trib dispensationalist. So his approach isn’t even really rooted in the historic confessional Baptist tradition. Nonetheless, he pushes 5-point Calvinism and classical Reformed theology-lite towards his parishioners. Culturally, MacArthur is just a step above, maybe, Independent Baptists; in other words, the culture he has created through his church, seminary, college, and teachings is legalistic and a performance focused Christianity, with a commitment to a nuda Scriptura or solo Scriptura focus on Scripture; versus actual and historical sola Scriptura.

[2] His pastor after all did write a book entitled The Gospel According to Jesus.

[3] Which makes me wonder if Phil was really “assigned” this passage, as he made it sound (like it was random).

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9 comments

  1. […] via The Gospel According to John MacArthur at The Shepherd’s Conference Summit 2017 — The Evangelica… […]

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  2. I’ve listened to John for many years, and was discipled by his dad, Jack MacArthur, who convinced me to attend seminary. The seminary I attended was dispensational, a position I bailed and replaced with amillennialism five years after graduation. John’s take on the millennial kingdom is fairly disturbing I think; trying to convince his readership in his Matthew commentary that the Sermon on the Mount refers to the dispensational – millennial Kingdom. That is just simply off-base. And some of the sermons that I’ve heard from him when he first began preaching were equally troubling in some areas, especially in terms of prayer and sovereignty. But I would suggest that he is reforming his theological positions ever so slowly. I think there was even a time when he held that the son of God was not the Son from eternity, a position Servetus undoubtedly regretted. John does not seem to hold to a lot of the tenants he held to back in the late 1980s any longer. I would say that on the whole, what he teaches needs to be looked at with a discerning eye, like everyone else who preaches, and gaged for its content. In some areas he is really quite good; and as is often the case with someone that is that popular, and widely read, he tends to be way off base on other issues, and the reason we know that is because everyone’s talking about it. The more one knows about theology the easier it will be to recognize where his strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve been recently begun reading many of your blogs Bobby and I would make this suggestion: on the whole MacArthur is much easier to follow than you are. Granted, I don’t hold the fascination that you do for Barth or Torrance. But honestly, rarely, or probably never, do I find myself not understanding what MacArthur is saying; that is not the case when I read a good percentage of your posts, and I would consider myself fairly well-read in reformed theology. But I do appreciate your posts if for no other reason then they challenge me to think beyond my comfort level.

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  3. Hi Rick, thanks for your perspective. I understand that John had softens on some of his past dispensationalism and even holds to a small “p” progressive dispensationalism. I’m fairly up to date on his views, and as I’ve noted been in contact with people directly related to him. The problems run deep at a fundamental, particularly in regard to the differences between Mac and say what we are doing with evangelical Calvinism. One reason MAC is more accessible is because he is doing sermons and teachings directed at the laity, what I’m doing here at the blog is not for that same audience; so I won’t expect it to be as accessible. Not only that but the content we typically cover here at the blog is obviously much more technical and deeper at material levels. It would be possible for me to make it more accessible, but that would require that people pay me to put in that kind of work. 🙂 My blog in the main is simply a place where I reflect on what I’m reading in a very raw way.

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  4. Rick,

    Out of curiosity, how did you ever find my blog?

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  5. Actually I don’t really remember. Maybe because I was reading Rishmawy’s blog, and saw it there?

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  6. Yeah that could make sense.

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  7. You’ve struck an important note, and it’s one that has really pushed me further and further away from any sort of ecclesial environment like MacArthur’s (or TGC’s or Acts 29 et al.). Like you pointed out, a movement away from -that- is not therefore a movement away from theological rigor. If anything, my shift away from the evangelically reformed world of media has been nothing but beneficial to developing my own perspective.

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  8. Hi Joshua, thanks for sharing. And this is encouraging to hear. In many ways I feel like a lot of that is just a contemporary version of the good ole’ boys club.

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  9. […] recently I offered a spade of posts (three of them: 1, 2, 3) where I offered criticism of the idiosyncratic form of John MacArthur’s 5 point Calvinism. […]

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