I’ve had an interesting journey over the past few years. I have made the trip that some of you have, from run-of-the-mill Arminian who was that way simply because that’s all we’d ever known, to angry, argumentative Calvinist, through the gymnastics of “theological precision,” from “High Calvinism” to “Low Calvinism,” and finally, to reformed (with a little “r”), missional and, I pray, gospel-centered.
It’s been an odd experience, because as I’ve moved through certain theological circles, I have gleaned tremendously from certain groups and individuals who, later, only seem to say they would no longer have me. The Southern Baptist Convention’s move across the nation against Acts 29, public comments asking to ban Mark Driscoll’s book from Lifeway stores have led me to infer that the SBC doesn’t want me.
John MacArthur has been a tremendous theological influence throughout my formative years. Though I have never aligned with his Dispensationalism or some of his views on the role of a pastor (it seems to me that he is fully content spending 40 hours a week in the study, which is a teacher, not a pastor. Pastors pastor; among people, which requires you get out of the office) he has helped me understand theological nuance, partly because I don’t always agree with him.
But lately, it seems as though MacArthur is saying to a myriad of young men who have benefited from his teachings that, while that’s nice, he doesn’t want anything to do with us. MacArthur has had harsh words to say about Mark Driscoll, saying that he “rapes” the Scriptures and more recently, MacArthur made reference to Acts 29 Vice President Darrin Patrick. As my friend Steve McCoy has pointed out, MacArthur was recently interviewed by Phil Johnson,. After railing against Piper and Grudem for their non-cessasionist views, and telling us that this is why what he does is so important, and that Phil Johnson actually writes much of the more controversial material, MacArthur had this to say:
You know, there’s a new book on church planting written by a guy named Darrin Patrick and it says if you want to be an effective church planter, develop your own theology.
You know when I read that I just almost fell off the chair. What? I mean, can you think of anything worse than to have some guy develop his own theology? This is ultimate niche marketing. Develop your own style, your own wardrobe, and then your own theology.
I’ll be honest, as one who has benefited from MacArthur, and one inside the Acts 29 camp (though I am not writing for them in any way), this breaks my heart. After having learned so much from MacArthur positively, it now seems that I’m forced to learn from him in the negative. His comments are not only careless, they are against Scriptural mandates regarding how we should treat one another. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, Paul goes to great lengths to show us that:
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.
Earlier in the same chapter, Paul warns against knowledgeable men who do not demonstrate love:
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.
In 2 Timothy 2:22-26, Paul warns us to avoid ignorant controversies and to restore false teaching with gentleness seeking the restoration (or salvation) of the one in error. I could certainly be wrong, I don’t know MacAthur at all, but as an outsider looking in, it seems to me that recently, not only has he chosen to pursue controversy with fellow believers, he has not believed the best about those with whom he disagrees.
I have to wonder if MacArthur has read Patrick’s entire book or listened to him preach, or really taken time to look at Acts 29 as a movement. His notion that Patrick was somehow advocating that every person come up with their own unique theology is simply laughable. I have rarely been around guys who take theology as seriously as my brothers in Acts 29. Patrick was warning against simply adopting other people’s theology, we must make it our own; we must do the hard work of wading through concepts, understanding nuance and weighing Scripture carefully until it is our own. It would seem to me that if MacArthur has actually read the book or listened to Patrick preach or spent much time around Acts 29, he would know that what he condemns is not what we are advocating. Not in the slightest. Acts 29 and Patrick are very firm in holding to the historical, confessional faith.
MacArthur’s comments are careless and they break my heart, if only for the fact that, at least from my vantage point, they don’t seem to believe the best about Patrick. If Patrick worded his assertions poorly then shouldn’t MacArthur give the benefit of the doubt? If anything, MacArthur’s comments have forced me to examine my own heart and attitude, especially in theological debates. I have a tendency to care more about making a point than the person I’m speaking with. At least MacArthur is still teaching me, albeit now by forcing me to examine my own faults by displaying his.
- Read Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission by Darrin Patrick
- Listen to Theology and Ministry: an Interview With John MacArthur