Friday, January 21, 2011

Slander Among the Saints: John MacArthur, Darrin Patrick, and the Need for Godly, Older Examples

John MacArthur needs to repent!

That's a strong statement, I know. And before I explain why I feel this is the only appropriate response to his statements earlier this week about fellow Pastor Darrin Patrick, I should probably preface my thoughts with a few clarifications.

First of all, if you lean left theologically and you think you are about to read an attack on Dr. MacArthur's theology, save yourself the time and look for such attempts elsewhere. I love to hear Dr. MacArthur preach the Word of God. Early in my ministry, he was a shining example to me of Biblical faithfulness in the pulpit. I'm currently on my second, dog-eared copy of The MacArthur Study Bible. Although I have not always reached the same conclusions as he, I have for the most part learned much from his exegetical precision, hermaneutical skill and homiletical appeal. He is a faithful servant of Jesus, and I thank God for the incredible influence he has had on my own ministry.

Second, I write this post on my 39th birthday. While I'm not sure a guy who is now officially less than a year from being 40 can still be called a "young leader," I am writing from that perspective nonetheless. As such, I admit taht my initial reaction to MacArthur's words were more visceral than the words you will shortly read, primarily because I believe older men should set an example for younger men, and I believe Dr. MacArthur dropped the ball. Big time.

Third, this post isn't an attempt to defend Darrin Patrick or his book (which I have recommended highly to anyone aspiring to start a church, or even pastor an established one!). I'm certain Darrin can take care of himself. Furthermore, MacArthur's attack on its contents should be automatically suspect to any thinking person who discovers that this same work bears the endorsements of Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, and Tim Keller. This post isn't about the book. This post is about John MacArthur's responsibility to practice what he has so often faithfully preached.

The simple fact is that Dr. MacArthur ripped a statement from Patrick's book completely out of context and in the process, falsely accused a brother in Christ and fellow pastor of doctrinal error. Patrick's point in saying that young pastors and planters should develop their own theology was not to encourage reckless and niche-marketed doctine, and anyone who reads the context of his work sees clearly that Patrick emphasizes sound doctrine saturated with Scripture, and in the vein of historic Christian orthodoxy. His point was not to encourage pastors to create their own truth. His point was to encourage deep, Berean reflection on EVERYTHING one hears--even if it comes from the lips of your spiritual heros--and in the process to develop onesself theologically in a way that moves one closer to Jesus and more in harmony with the text of Scripture.

But MacArthur obviously read something very different into Patrick's words, and in the process reacted strongly:

"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."

If you listen to the entire interview with Phil Johnson, a strange irony becomes apparent. Prior to this charge against Patrick, MacArthur was sharing how the thinking of theologians such as J. Gresham Maechen, B.B. Warfield, and Cornelius Van Til had helped him, in essence, "develop his own theology." In short MacArthur spends several minutes describing his own development as a theologian, only to conclude by blasting a younger pastor for doing exactly the same thing! Apparently, developing your theology is OK as long as its done in a way that doesn't include cultural relevance or efforts to contextualize the Gospel so that its offense is crystal clear to those who will hear it.

MacArthur's statement is the classic example of the "cheap shot," leveled in an attempt to emphasize in a negative way a point you are trying to make. But to make matters worse, MacArthur goes on to address the "buzz" created by his remarks by again arguing against a point that Patrick never makes; namely, that theology should be developed at least partially from the perspective of entrepreneurial business principles.

So here is my big suggestion: No more explaining or clarifying. John MacArthur should simply apologize to Darrin Patrick for misrepresenting Patrick's words in order to score points with his audience at Grace Community Church. John MacArthur should repent, and for several reasons:

1. It is the right thing to do: When you misspeak, you should correct yourself. When you mischaracterize someone else's position, your should rectify your mistake by simply saying "I got this one wrong." Yet admitting wrongdoing, or wrongthinking, is something that seems to come very hard for MacArthur. Listening to the podcast interview, I picked up on a subtle hint of this issue.

2. It sets the right example: Frankly, there are a lot of older men in ministry who preach repentance but do not practice it. From personal experience I can testify that many pastors and denominational leaders from the "builder" and "boomer" generations simply have a hard time admitting when they are wrong. Instead, they "explain" or "clarify," when a simple "I'm sorry" would suffice. Then these same men scratch their heads in bewilderment wondering why most younger men refuse to follow them. Thankfully, this is not true of some older men, and there are many who set the right example for the next generation. The fact is, young leaders are hungry to be mentored by older, godly men, but they need more than words. They need an example. (Hebrews 13:7)

3. It illustrates Grace: We don't have to always be right, but when we are wrong, we need to state it plainly and seek forgiveness from the One who IS always right, as well as others we may have offended. As followers of Jesus, we are trophies of the grace of God, and when we are transparent about our own mistakes, we display a supreme confidence in that grace.

Again, I love John MacArthur. My desire is to see him repent, not for any vindication on my part or anyone elses, but for the sake of greater cooperation with others who preach the same Gospel. We need men like John MacArthur. Spiritual fathers are rare, and over the years, he has been one of the best. I pray he does the right thing.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Well put. MacArthur should spend more time critiquing himself than others. That might lead him to the repentance you're calling for. The least he could do is make it seem like he read Patrick's book.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I don't know that repentance is really the right word to use. Did he sin against Darren? Maybe you think so, but does MacArthur? And if not than wouldn't be Daren's job to go to him and say, "you sinned against me"? It think that all these squabbles over blogs and comment threads need to stop. It makes Christianity look utterly ridiculous. It's like we disagree with a guy and now the rest of the world should know about our disagreement. If we have a "following" then we need to be extra cautious how and what we respond to. Now with all the wikileak stuff it's like the public always needs to know about our beefs....I just think it's getting out of hand