Applying intellectual honesty toward religion, politics, health, and the environment. This is a free and safe space to think, emote, critique and re-examine currently held perspectives. Please join in on the conversation :-)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

John MacArthur's Black and White Syndrome

John MacArthur was once my hero. I was a loyal MacArthurite. I went to his school, I read virtually every one of his books, I listened to hundreds of his sermons, and took thorough notes every time he was in chapel. I bought most of my friends and family his study Bible; my first commentary set was the one he produced. He is an expositor of the Bible. He does interpret verse by verse and utilizes the language, the background, and the history. I learned to love truth under his tutelage.

However, as I have continued to read and study I now notice a tendency he has, a habit, a very unfortunate flaw. John MacArthur will not, can not, and does not tolerate uncertainty. He mocks, ridicules and seems to despise those who do not act as if they possess the Absolute Truth. The emerging church, which freely acknowledges that interpreting ancient texts is difficult, realizes that equally educated scholars disagree about interpretations is condemned by MacArthur. Sadly, and very ungraciously, he accuses those who disagree with is perspective of being sinful. His basis is that this intellectual humility is really masked pride and arrogance. In fact he says, "this is a kind of arrogance that turns fast into blasphemy," and then quotes Romans 1 (The Master's Current, Vol 12, No 1, Pg 1).

First of all, how can anyone prove their ultimate motive? This is a charge that is indefensible. Anyone can say that about anyone, how would they prove otherwise? He goes on to accuse those who identify with the Emergent Church (those that admit that their understanding of Scripture is based on an interpretation) of loving darkness (The Master's Current, 1). MacArthur, who has written books on discernment apparently can't discern between malicious sinful behavior and someone with a real disagreement about a biblical text. He assumes that anyone who disagrees with his interpretation of Scripture is a lover of sin and has a moral problem. I am sure he would qualify this by saying that this applies only when there is disagreement with him about the essentials, but as far as I know, the Emergent Church is in the process of re-assessing historical doctrines, but have not universally rejected any. Even if they did, does that prove that they love sin? This seems like a cheap tactic to avoid really dealing with the differences. If his followers just see those that have different opinions as sinful, prideful, arrogant blasphemers, discussion and true reflection comes to a standstill. No progress is made, dialogue is destroyed, and communities are isolated from one another.

MacArthur avoids dealing with the Emergent Church objection that sheer dogmatism and unwavering devotion to doctrines regardless of the amount of evidence is not honorable. Again he accuses the movement with having a moral problem, "not an intellectual one" (The Master's Current, 1). Who is this man to know this with such certainty? Does he have evidence of wickedness? Does he have absolute certainty that there are not real intellectual problems? Furthermore, how can he characterize an entire movement? I am sure that everyone in the movement is not the same, nor do they necessarily hold the same perspectives for the same reasons. What moral issue does the Emergent Church possess? MacArthur does not say, but just believes that there is one, somewhere, something. All of this seems to stem from his conviction that his interpretation is the one true interpretation. He should know better, for even he has changed on rather big issues, including the eternal generation of the Son.

I really, truly hope that he begins to deal with other perspectives without this quick and easy escape route. I suppose any of us can use the same tactics against him. The reason why he possesses such a high degree of certainty, absolute certainty for that matter is because he has a moral problem. At least we can say what it is. He is not being intellectually honest. It is obvious by reading the best evangelical commentaries (I'm primarily thinking of the Word Biblical Commentary)that there are multiple interpretive options for most ancient texts.

John MacArthur, you may not agree with the Emergent Movement, but treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve. The very reason many people have moved toward the Emergent Church is because of the false assurance that many like like yourself have created in their their minds. Once people realize that godly individuals can disagree on even the most essential of issues, and many times the absolute true meaning of ancient texts can't be perfectly acertained, they feel betrayed by their absolutely certain teachers. No more black and white, there is a lot of gray in life, especially in texts written thousands of years ago. We have no divine interpreter, so let's display grace, besides, mercy triumphs over judgment.