Rethinking John MacArthur

Rethinking John MacArthur November 22, 2019

I’m afraid that John MacArthur might be right.

Oh, I know he’s right about a lot of things. He’s been a pillar of sharing the Gospel clearly and forcefully for the last half-century in the Evangelical world. In a time when Christians were turning to mushy theology (if we can even call it theology) and gimmicks to draw people into the church, MacArthur was standing solidly on uncompromising expositional preaching of God’s Word. His commentaries and study Bible are fantastic, and his sermons are always worth listening to, even where I disagree with some of his theology.

And yet, there have also been times in the last decade where I’ve rolled my eyes at things he has said and public positions he has taken and written them off as just MacArthur being MacArthur. His “Social Justice and the Gospel” statement, for example (my thoughts here) wasn’t the most helpful thing on earth. And the Strange Fire conference (and, I assume, book–which I’ve admittedly not read, though I did watch all of the conference) was something of an exercise in re-hashing the oddities of the extremes of the charismatic movement. This seemed wrong at the time and seems wrong to me now–just as I wouldn’t want others judging my Calvinism by the statements/actions of hypercalvinists, or the Dutch Reformed church of South Africa during the mid-20th century, so I don’t know that we should judge charismatics by the few weirdos rolling in the aisles.

Image: Crossway

And then I picked up a copy of Ashamed of the Gospel. As with many of his books, it is excellent and worth reading in full. In it, he tackles the methods of the marketers through the filter of Spurgeon. Just as Spurgeon faced the down-grade controversy in his time, today, MacArthur argues, we face the challenge of those who would compromise in order to draw the world into the church. While we must not fail to legitimately evangelize the watching world, MacArthur (and Spurgeon before him) argues that pandering to nonbelievers is slowly, or quickly, replacing Biblical doctrine and practice.

Any regular reader of this blog will know that I am sold on MacArthur’s argument. (David Wells makes this same point repeatedly in his series of books, and he’s right too.) And frankly, I’m going to be a hard sell on any of this being controversial in 2019.

Ashamed of the Gospel was originally published in 1993.

It was republished in 2010, and then again in 2018. But MacArthur was making these points nearly 30 years ago. The question that I kept thinking about while reading this book was: if I had read this book in 1993, and if I hadn’t been ten years old at the time, would I have written this off as just MacArthur being MacArthur? Would I have rolled my eyes and assumed that he was just engaging in his normal expansive assumptions, and that we shouldn’t judge this side of the Evangelical world as a whole by the absurdities of the fringes?

I suspect that I might very well have done this. Which raises the question: have I dismissed MacArthur’s concerns too quickly today? I don’t know the answer, but it’s definitely something I’ve been spending time thinking about.

Even if it didn’t raise those questions, Ashamed of the Gospel is still a worthwhile read, not least because Spurgeon is a much-needed voice in the 21st century. As is John MacArthur.

[Important disclaimer: this was written and scheduled before the dustup about Beth Moore. Since I didn’t want it to sound like I’m stepping into that mess, I’ve bumped it a couple of weeks past when I had originally intended it to post. I have not, however, chnaged any of the content. Except of course the addition of this important disclaimer.]

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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