16 March 2007

See, here's the thing:

by Phil Johnson

ince the opening day of my original blog, I have steadfastly declined to make John MacArthur the focus of controversy here. I am not suggesting—nor would he—that he should be exempt from anyone's criticism or contradictions. John himself is well known as someone who doesn't back away from controversy—especially when some vital point of truth is at stake. And he does make careful distinctions between fundamental and secondary doctrines—the fundamental ones being those cardinal truths that are of the very essence of the gospel.

But as he demonstrated so graphically last week, he also has firm opinions on certain key doctrines he himself acknowledges are matters of secondary importance—not principal tests of orthodoxy or inviolable requirements for Christian fellowship (see John MacArthur, The Second Coming [Wheaton: Crossway, 1999], 19). He doesn't necessarily mind taking a controversial, public stand on such matters.

Excedrin headache number 5,364Fine. I'm still not going to sponsor a debate about it in the little corner of the Web I manage. I have profited immeasurably from his teaching for exactly 30 years; he has been a good friend to me for some 27 years; and he has been my pastor and employer for the past 24 years. None of that is a secret to anyone who reads this blog. My respect for him is well known, and it's not something I would ever try to disguise. So I'm certainly not going to change my longstanding rule at this juncture and suddenly sponsor a forum for controversy about my pastor's beliefs so that people who are already angry about something he said can use my blog to vent. That's not a policy that has been imposed on me; it's my blog; it's my own decision, and it's final.

It's not a new policy, either. One thing that became clear quite literally on the day I first launched my blog is that certain people, if permitted, would love to hijack the comment-threads here to air all their petty (and in some cases, contrived) complaints about John MacArthur. A few noisy hoodlums were already waiting in the wings the day I made my first post, itching to use the meta of Phil Johnson's blog for that very purpose. They kept at it relentlessly for several days. In many cases, the garbage they posted was not even remotely germane to the subject matter of my blogposts. After trying to be polite and dealing with their escalating mischief as gracefully as possible, within a few days of my bloglaunch, I posted this:

BTW: for future reference: Deliberate personal disparagement of my pastor, my church, my wife, my dog, my children, or the ministry I work for will be deemed outside the parameters of Christian civility and therefore a violation of Rule 2. Say whatever you like about me (as long as you keep your language clean), and I'll let you post it. Take a cheap shot at someone with whom I have a personal relationship of love and respect—whether it be John MacArthur, my dog Wrigley, or anyone in between—and I'll delete it.
Since then, I have done exactly what I said I would do: I have deleted nasty remarks or comments from disgruntled people who want to target my pastor, my place of employment, my church, etc.

So that's a well-established, long-term policy. To keep it fair, I have also generally tried to avoid constantly waving John MacArthur in the face of my blogreaders. In two years' time I've posted approximately three or four guest blogposts from him, and his name naturally comes up from time to time—but ordinarily only in relatively non-controversial contexts. I do assiduously try to avoid citing his name as a way of wielding artificial clout. I use Spurgeon instead for that purpose.

I have another personal rule of thumb that heretofore has been inviolable: I don't get involved in ugly arguments over eschatology with people whom I agree with on practically every other vital point of gospel truth.

Today, however, I'm going to bend both rules in a way that some readers might deem grossly unfair. I'm going to make one extended remark about the current brouhaha, and then I'm going to disallow all readers' comments on the matter. This is, I think, the first time I have ever made a post and closed the comments, but I'm sticking by that decision. Comment elsewhere if you like. I have neither the time nor the desire to monitor this thread today to keep the vandals at bay. If you really, really are bursting to say something, both Dan and Frank have posts on this issue where you can leave comments. They'll appreciate the traffic, I am sure.

Now, here's my comment:

John MacArthur's premillennialism is not an opinion he developed recently or kept secret until this year's Shepherds' Conference.

John has always been a premillennialist, holding to a pretribulational rapture. It's not a view he recently adopted in secret and suddenly unveiled. It's what he has always taught, and those self-styled experts in the realm of eschatology who seem most shocked and outraged today surely ought to have been aware of where he stood. He has written several books and a couple of commentaries outlining his perspective on eschatology.

Various eschatalogical hobbyists, cranks, and fanatics representing practically every other conceivable point of view have tried from time to time to persuade John MacArthur that their view is the correct one. Evangelists for diverse points of view have ranged from the relatively new "pre-wrath" position of Marv Rosenthal to Gary North's doomsday-flavored postmillennialism to Harold Camping's unique date-setting, escapist brand of amillennialism to the most fanatical hyper-preterists. But John's opinion on this matter hasn't really wavered at all since the start of his ministry.

Moreover, in all the years I have known John MacArthur, he has never pretended to be "Reformed" in the technical sense of the word. He does say that his perspective on soteriology is essentially Reformed and Calvinistic, because that's a fact. He might even say he thinks many who call themselves capital-R "Reformed" aren't (small-r) reformed enough in some of their opinions.

But, despite the persistent caricature frequently batted around the dark side of the blogosphere, neither he nor I have any wish to coopt the capital-R label "Reformed" in the sense of "Truly Reformed." Nor have we ever claimed that we own the legitimate copyright to the R-label. In fact, to whatever degree the epithet "Reformed" reflects the attitudes and opinions of certain overzealous sacramentalists and puerile "Reformed Catholics," we have every wish to repudiate it as forcefully and explicitly as possible.

SmeagolSo for the record, when you hear some of the same people who profess to hate the "Truly Reformed" mentality now breathlessly intoning the verdict that John MacArthur is not "Truly Reformed"—as if they have finally exposed a dark, secret heresy worthy of a major headline at all the "TR watchblogs"—just bear in mind that I have been insisting I'm not "TR" ever since I was first tagged with that moniker. And it should be no surprise to anyone who is moderately sober that the pastor of the church I attend isn't "TR" either.

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