Friday, September 13, 2013

Preaching to the bathroom mirror

John MacArthur has ruffled some feathers. I'm alluding to a post by Adrian Warnock:
Adrian's post is entitled "John MacArthur accuses half-a-billion Christians of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit"
Although I disagree with MacArthur's allegation, which I will get to shortly, I don't think the numerical objection holds water. For instance, classic Protestants regard the church of Rome as an apostate church. Now the number of Catholics worldwide is estimated at 1.2 billion. Of course, that includes boatloads of nominal Catholics who were simply baptized by a priest as babies. But my immediate point is that if somebody like Eric Svendsen said the church of Rome was a false church, I can imagine a Catholic apologist posting an indignant response entitled "Eric Svensen accuses a billion Catholics of belonging to a false church!"
Well, suppose he did? So what. Numbers are irrelevant. What's relevant is the truth or falsity of the accusation. And, if anything, the more adherents who are deceived, the worse.
Adrian then quotes MacArthur as saying:
the Holy Spirit has been under massive assault for decades and decades, and I've been asking the question 'where are the people rising up in protest against the abuse and the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?' 

Here I think MacArthur leaves himself wide open to legitimate criticism. "Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" has very specific connotations. It's a loaded phrase that alludes to an accusation which Jesus leveled against his opponents. Unless MacArthur thinks that the Pentecostals in question are guilty of the same (or crucially similar) offense, it's very careless of him to bandy that phrase around. It's especially ironic for him to be theologically sloppy when that's what he's faulting Pentecostalism for. 

In the same context, Adrian quotes MacArthur as saying:

Why don’t evangelical leaders speak against this movement?  Why is their such silence?…The only thing I can suggest is that they have been literally backed up into a corner by intimidation that they need to be loving and accepting and tolerant and not divisive in the body of Christ, thats been the mantra. . .

In some cases, I expect MacArthur's insinuation of cowardice is probably true. That said, I think think of other reasons why they don't speak up or speak out against Pentecostalism. 

i) MacArthur is tacitly assuming that deep down, evangelical leaders see things the same way he does. But there may well be evangelical leaders who don't share his position because they don't think he's a serious scholar. Consider D. A. Carson's assessment of MacArthur's commentries: "These books often betray too little time and care with the text, so that they cannot be read as a reliable commentary."

MacArthur has a reputation for caricaturing the charismatic movement. Picking on the worst representatives rather than the best representatives. That may be one reason he isn't taken seriously by other evangelical leaders. 

ii) Apropos (i), another reason his protest may be ignored is the lopsided nature of the argument. Consider the Strange Fire conference. Don't all the guest speakers think alike on this issue. Weren't they recruited with that in mind? 

Now, there's nothing inherent wrong with a one-sided presentation. There's nothing inherently wrong with hosting a conference in which you only give your side of the argument. 

However, that's not a persuading anyone who wasn't in the tank for you going in. It's just a pep rally before the game to gin up the fans for your team. 

MacArthur takes a wholly insular approach, then is baffled by the fact that his approach lacks appeal to outsiders. Isn't that predictable?

iii) Apropos (ii), look the roster of the Strange Fire Conference:

These may all be wonderful folks, but on the face of it, not one of them has any expertise on the evidence for or against modern miracles. 

If he wants to mobilize evangelical opposition to charismatic theology, he needs to win the argument before he can win the war. He's debating an empty chair. Empty because he didn't invite a single opponent to fill it.

If he's serious about recruiting new converts to his cause, why not host debates between Master's faculty and leading exponents of charismatic theology like Craig Keener, Gordon Fee, Graham Twelftree, and Max Turner? Otherwise, he's preaching to the bathroom mirror. His methods are at cross-purposes with his objectives. 

Adrian quotes MacArthur as saying:

How do they do it? By attributing to the Holy Spirit words that He didn’t say, deeds that He didn’t do, and experiences that He didn’t produce, attributing to the Holy Spirit that which is not the work of the Holy Spirit. 

There's certainly some truth to this accusation, especially among TBN televangelists and their fawning followers. 

However, is misattributing something to God the same thing as "blaspheming" God? Let's take a comparison. Take thanking God for answered prayer. I assume MacArthur thinks Christians ought to give God the credit. Express their gratitude for answered prayer.

Yet providence can be inscrutable. Certainly there's the possibility that we mistook an outcome for God answering our prayer. That we misread God's providence.

Does MacArthur think a Christian is guilty of blasphemy if he mistakenly thanks God for answering his prayer, when the result was not an answer to prayer? 

Endless human experiences, emotional experiences, bizarre experiences and demonic experiences are said to come from the Holy Spirit…visions, revelations, voices from heaven, messages from the Spirit through transcendental means, dreams, speaking in tongues, prophecies, out of body experiences, trips to heaven, anointings, miracles. All false, all lies, all deceptions attributed falsely to the Holy Spirit . . .

Notice that MacArthur is assuming what he needs to prove. Take commentators on Acts 2:17ff. and 1 Cor 13:10,12 who don't agree with his cessationist interpretations? And you don't have to be charismatic scholar to disagree with his interpretations. What about Jas 5:13-18? 

MacArthur whines about how his warnings go unheeded, but his hidebound tactics are self-marginalizing. Same thing with MacArthurites who form a circular cheer-leading squad. 


  1. Thanks for the posts on the Strange Fire conference.

    I noted in a blog post how J. I. Packer assessed the charismatic movement in a much different manner than MacArthur. Packer applied some tests derived from Jonathan Edwards and argued:

    "That the charismatic renewal has had the same fivefold effect is beyond dispute; therefore, it too must be adjudged a work of God. No doubt human folly breaks surface in it, as happens in all movements involving human excitement; no doubt Satan, whose nature and purpose is always to spoil any good God produces, keeps pace with God in it, engineering lunatic fanaticism within it ranks as he did in the Great Awakening. But to diagnose human and satanic disfigurements of this contemporary work of God is altogether different from seeing it as intrinsically the fruit of psychological freakiness or satanic malice."

  2. Good quote Richard,

    And good website too.

    So would you agree that MacArthur is being 'careless or exercising too little care' in his critique of this movement? By accusing this movement of a "satanic malice" rather than "satanic disfigurement"?

    Was also wondering what MacArthur says in his commentary on Mark 3:30.
    Seems to me that this is the verse that carries the "specifics" that Steve is concerned about. That MacArthur may be bearing false witness if this allegation doesn't have the "very specific connotations" ("unclean") that this verse carries.