Tag Archives: john macarthur

John MacArthur and Struggling with Biblical Sufficiency, Part 1

think_biblicallyA truly Christian worldview begins with the conviction that God Himself has spoken in Scripture. As Christians, we are committed to the Bible as the inerrant and authoritative Word of God. We believe it is reliable and true from cover to cover, in every jot and tittle (cf. Matt 5:18). Scripture, therefore, is the standard by which we must test all other truth-claims. Unless that axiom dominates our perspective on all of life, we cannot legitimately claim to have embraced a Christian worldview.

John MacArthur
“Chapter 1: Embracing the Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture” (pg 21)
from Think Biblically: Recovering a Christian Worldview (ed. John MacArthur)

NOTE: I had a conversation with Pastor Randy last night (Monday) which amended a few things I understand about him and about MacArthur. This blog post and Part 2 which will be published tomorrow morning, were written before that encounter. I’ll post an update after the publication of Part 2.

I remember when I “discovered” the Bible contained internal inconsistencies that could not be “smoothed out” in any reasonable fashion. I remember when I realized that the different Gospel accounts of the timing of the death of Jesus didn’t match up. I remember hitting a wall, going into a tail spin, and experiencing a classic “crisis of faith.” It wasn’t pretty.

I eventually came out of it and retained my faith, but my view of the Bible has never been quite the same since. Yes, I believe it is the Word of God, His chronicle of the interactions between man and God, but I no longer believe that God literally spoke each word of the Bible in the ear of each of the Bible’s contributors as if He had dictated a series of letters to a series of secretaries (I guess I should say “administrative assistants” in this day and age). I believe that in some supernatural sense, God and the contributors became “partners” in the endeavor of composing what we have in our Bibles. It’s inspired by a Holy God but it contains the lived personalities and experiences of each person who did the actual writing.

Pastor Randy gave me the photocopied pages of this chapter written by MacArthur during last week’s Wednesday night meeting. I made the time last Friday to read the pages and found myself scribbling notes furiously in the margins and highlighting numerous sentences and paragraphs. Needless to say, I have some responses to MacArthur’s viewpoint about the Bible.

It might help before you continue, if you click the link of MacArthur’s name that I inserted above. It leads to his Wikipedia page and you can get a brief sketch of who he is, what he’s done, and what he believes about the Bible, Christianity and so on. That will provide the background for understanding his chapter and what I’m going to say about it.

Since we’re going to talk about the Bible being inerrant and sufficient, I suppose a few definitions are in order, via a bit of linkage: Biblical inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture (PDF).

First, something I agree with.

Christian bookstores are full of books offering advice drawn from sources other than the Bible on almost every conceivable subject — parenting, Christian manhood and womanhood, success and self-esteem, relationships, church growth, church leadership, ministry, philosophy, and so on. Various self-appointed experts who claim to have discovered some deep truth not revealed in Scripture have now become familiar fixtures on the evangelical landscape.

-MacArthur, pp 22-23

I almost never go into Christian bookstores anymore for exactly this reason. The products and marketing of said-products in Christian bookstores is little different from their secular counterparts. Oh, they are “dressed up” with “Christianese” terms and phrases to make them sound more “Biblical,” but the methods and techniques used to transmit information and often the information itself is strictly “Madison Avenue meets the Church.”

Also, many years ago, I attended a church that was all about selling itself. Dissatisfied with its image and how the church was growing, the board fired its Pastor and hired one who actually had a graduate degree in “Church Growth.” Interesting educational emphasis. The new Pastor came in with graphs and charts and statistics showing us how we needed to move locations, build a much larger facility with multi-purpose capacities, target an area of our valley that contained a specific demography of the population, and use other modern marketing techniques to attract a large influx of people “for the Lord.”

I couldn’t get out fast enough and I’ve never been back.

Oh, on top of all that, what MacArthur says about “various self-appointed experts who claim to have discovered some deep truth not revealed in Scripture” is spot on. For the better part of a decade, in one way or another, I was involved in the Hebrew Roots (One Law) movement. While most of the people I had regular fellowship with were good, well-grounded, honest, devoted disciples of Christ, the Hebrew Roots movement is totally unregulated and unrestricted, so just about anyone can pop up, put on a kippah and tallit, and call themselves a “Messianic Rabbi.” Then they get to sell their wares to whatever audience they can attract, based on the particular theological ax they’re grinding, and claim to have received some sort of “special anointment from the Lord” or “revelation of the end times.”

I’ve learned to beware of congregations that are run by “one-man shows” rather than being governed by a board based on a distributed leadership model.

If you can’t back up what you’re teaching with Scripture, then there’s a problem. But even then, lots and lots of stuff is taught that is supposedly based on Scripture, proving you can make the Bible say almost anything if you spin it fast enough.

Which brings me to MacArthur’s quoting from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647 CE):

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” (emph. mine)

-ibid, pg 22

It’s that “may be deduced from Scripture” part that makes things a little hazy. What MacArthur calls “deduced” could, in theory, be just about anything depending, again, on how hard and fast you spin the Bible. I know MacArthur probably had Judaism in mind when he mentioned “traditions of men”, leveraging the classic Christian view of all Pharisees making stuff up out of whole cloth and that the Rabbis being the direct inheritors of traditions and hypocrisy.

BiblicallyBut to be fair to the Rabbinic sages, they believe that they are actually “deducing” stuff from the Torah (Bible) in order to make the contents applicable to different generations and different circumstances (apparently) not anticipated by the literal text (using microwave ovens and driving cars on Shabbat comes to mind). According to MacArthur, this would be against the rules and that the Bible does anticipate all contingencies, circumstances, and technological advances. The Bible is sufficient. End of story.

Let’s drill down into a specific example using an issue that MacArthur definitely has strong feelings about.

Scripture reveals the deepest thoughts and intentions of the human heart, so that “all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Thus, the Bible can do what psychoanalysis can never do. It is sufficient to penetrate and lay bare the deepest part of a person’s soul. (emph. mine)

-ibid pg 27

Never mind that psychoanalysis, a therapeutic model based on the theories of Sigmund Freud that, to the best of my knowledge, is no longer practiced due to the amount of time it takes (years), the sheer expense of the treatment, and the fact that insurance companies don’t cover the costs involved. I think MacArthur probably means psychotherapy, but let’s continue.

He is also an advocate of Nouthetic Counseling, which stresses the Bible as a sufficient tool for counseling people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. MacArthur rejects psychological theories and techniques, considering psychology and psychiatry as contrary to the Bible…MacArthur criticises “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he claims “Such a thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes is nonexistent.” Concerning people who consult secular mental health professionals, MacArthur believes “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”

MacArthur has argued that “True psychology (i.e. “the study of the soul”) can be done only by Christians, since only Christians have the resources for understanding and transforming the soul. The secular discipline of psychology is based on godless assumptions and evolutionary foundations and is capable of dealing with people only superficially and only on the temporal level… Psychology is no more a science than the atheistic evolutionary theory upon which it is based. Like theistic evolution, Christian psychology is an attempt to harmonize two inherently contradictory systems of thought. Modern psychology and the Bible cannot be blended without serious compromise to or utter abandonment of the principle of Scripture’s sufficiency…. ”

His stance has caused several controversies, the most notable of which was the first time an employee of an evangelical church had ever been sued for malpractice. The case failed to come to trial because a judge ruled the case as having insufficient evidence.

Wikipedia: MacArthur on Psychology

Wikipedia doesn’t give a clear picture of MacArthur’s education, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t include psychology, psychiatry, social work, or similar disciplines. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Counseling with fifteen years of post-graduate clinical experience (before switching careers) and I have a little bit of an understanding of mental illness and its treatment. I can tell you that it is quite possible to provide successful treatment of a variety of disorders without consulting the Bible. This isn’t to say that I find the Bible useless in addressing our emotional and spiritual woes (and the Bible is uniquely able to address our spiritual hurts), but I know that I and many, many other mental health practitioners have successfully alleviated the painful struggles of countless men, women, and children who were suffering from depression and anxiety related symptoms.

Phobias are a perfect example and they can be treated with rationally based desensitization techniques that gradually enable the person who can’t even think about driving, getting in an elevator, or whatever without breaking out in a cold sweat, to do the very thing that formerly caused them to experience fear and dread.

john-macarthurGranted, it’s not a perfect tool, but even medicine “isn’t an exact science” (I remember the first time I heard a doctor tell me that, and it came as quite a shock). Nothing works perfectly all the time, but to do nothing at all would not only be immoral and unethical, but terribly cruel. Although MacArthur doesn’t speak about psychopharmacology, I suspect he’s against it, and that is even worse. Depression, for example, is very treatable using various medications and many depressions have a clear physiological basis. And let’s not get started on psychotic disorders which cannot be addressed without medication therapy. You can’t “talk” a person out of hallucinations.

I could spend all day on this one disagreement, but there are other issues to discuss, which I’ll get to in Part 2 of this article in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

140 days.

Judging Outside the Box

thinking-inside-the-boxCourage enables a person to say what is on his mind. This is wonderful for someone who has deep respect for other people. He realizes that each person is created in the image of the Creator and therefore he has a basic respect for every person he encounters.

This is wonderful for someone who consistently sees the good in others, and even though he is aware of faults and limitations, he focuses on the good and the potential good. This is wonderful for someone who is on a high level of love for other people and therefore would never want to needlessly cause anyone pain.

For courage to be valuable, the owner of that attribute needs to be sensitive to the feelings of others. While he has the assertiveness to say whatever he feels like saying, he would not feel like saying something that is needlessly painful. He will be careful how he says whatever he says. He pays attention to the outcome of his messages. Since there are always a multitude of ways to word any message, he will choose the most sensitive approach.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Courage for Good”
Daily Lift #810

I can see people calling others names on the blogosphere again. Actually, it’s just two bloggers who’ve done this recently and I won’t draw any further attention to them by mentioning their names or the URLs to their blogs.

This is another thing that bugs me about “religious people” (and I’ve mentioned these sorts of problems a time or two before). In the name of being right or telling the truth or whatever we think we’re doing, we behave as if anyone we disagree with is bad or wrong or even evil.

I suppose it’s one thing to have someone criticize us and then to respond with anger. That’s still wrong but it’s understandable and all too human. It’s another thing entirely though, to seek out someone else, compare your position to their’s on some matter, and then go out of your way to write a blog post telling the world how bad that person is in your eyes, specifically calling them denigrating names, and then defending your poor behavior when someone calls you on it.

Although the next example isn’t quite what I’m talking about, in researching an article I recently read that was authored by John F. MacArthur, I read the following on his Wikipedia page:

His writings are critical of other modern Christian movements and ministers such as those who run “seeker-friendly” church services such as Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren.

He has criticized popular mega-church pastor Joel Osteen, whom he has spoken of as a quasi-pantheist and proclaimed his teachings to be Satanic…

MacArthur has referred to Catholicism in previous speeches as the “Kingdom of Satan” and holds to the confession that the pope is the antichrist.

We live in a nation where we have free speech rights and so MacArthur has a right to his opinions and to express them in public. No question about that. I’m also not a fan of the whole “megachurch” model and think it’s a bad idea that doesn’t serve the needs of its members as much as it does the needs of its leaders. It’s OK to be critical of this style of offering the Gospel, but calling someone “Satanic” or referring to the Pope as “the antichrist” is not only non-productive, but inflammatory. I suppose you could spin the Bible to justify public name-calling, but there are plenty of scriptures that talk about loving other believers and even praying for your enemies.

Using the above-examples, it might be more “Christian” for MacArthur to pray for those he disagrees with than to call them names.

But I don’t really want to pick on MacArthur much (though Wednesday’s and Thursday’s “morning meditations” will focus my comments on material he’s written), since I’m supposed to be talking about better ways of addressing situations where we disagree with each other in the world of faith. Name calling isn’t on the board nor should it ever be.

Judge NotThere are principles in Judaism that advise we judge people favorably (something I’ve written about before) and see the merit in everyone (see Rabbi Noah Weinberg’s article, Make Others Meritorious). That’s not easy to do. Our entire world is constructed around crushing your enemy and seeing the worst in everyone. From the news media, to politicians, to dealing with your next door neighbor and his noisy dog, we’ve been taught that we must come out on top, we must be a winner therefore others must be losers, and we can only be good when other people who are different are bad.

Is that what the Bible says?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 13:34

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14-21

If you value the Word of God at all, you can’t ignore these teachings. But how do you put them into practice? None of us are spiritual Pollyanna‘s, as much as I suppose we should be. We all have our darker sides, our “sin natures” that stand in-between us and a life of righteousness and holiness.

I’ll put myself on the hot seat. I haven’t publicly offered my criticisms of the chapter MacArthur wrote yet, but I do need to reframe and rethink what I say and think about him. If I disagree with his position on a number of matters (not that he’ll ever know about it or even know that I exist), what should I do? It’s appropriate to write book reviews or “chapter” reviews as long as the disagreement isn’t personalized and I don’t call MacArthur bad names.

I don’t think he’s satanic and he’s probably a nice person. If I met him, I would probably like him. I can see that he values honesty, he certainly values the Word of God, which I admire greatly, and he’s serious about studying the Bible and encouraging others to do so as well. These are all very fine qualities.

HumbleWhat about the parts I don’t agree with? Beyond writing critiques and exercising my free speech rights, I need to pray, not only for him but for me. I’m not a perfect person and I don’t have all the brains in the world, so it’s possible for me to misunderstand something. I must turn to God, who possesses all knowledge and all compassion and ask Him to help me and to help all of us break out of our little boxes and to consider how God thinks about us and how He sees us.

I’m sure if we could see ourselves as God sees us, even for a second or two, it would be a tremendously humbling experience.

Maybe that’s how we do it. Maybe we learn to see the best in others by realizing God’s grace means He’s seeing the best in us. More than that, He’s seeing the best in the human life of Messiah as the best in us, though we hardly deserve it.

In religious Judaism, you sometimes hear that Jews are granted a favor in the merit of the Patriarchs or some similar statement. In Christianity, we tend not to think in those terms. We think instead of Jesus and what he’s done for us. But we also have a place in the world to come in the merit of our Master, the Messiah, Yeshua. It’s the same concept looked at from a slightly different point of view. To see it though, we had to get outside our box for a moment.

Before I’m critical of someone else again, I’ll try to remember that they look differently to God than they do to me, and therefore, I need to see the merit in them and to judge them favorably…even when I disagree with them.

“Never argue with stupid people, they drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

-Mark Twain

142 days.