There Is No Narrow, Pure Stream

Acts 2:1-4. When the day of Pentecost came. Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012.
When the day of Pentecost came. Hewitt

There is a stream of sound teaching, sound doctrine, sound theology, that runs all the way back to the Apostles. It runs through Athanasius and Augustine, through Luther and Calvin, the great Reformation and Reformers, and the Puritans, and everything seems so clear to them. Through the Westminster divines and the pathway of Spurgeon and David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and S. Lewis Johnson, and Jim Boice, and to R. C. Sproul. That’s the stream of sound doctrine. The heroes of this generation are people in that stream. We know who they are. You’ve been hearing about them this week. We go back to John Rogers, and the 288 Marian martyrs. Those are our heroes.

– John MacArthur
Strange Fire – “A Call to Respond”

* * *

This is John MacArthur’s vision of Church History. What a narrow and simplistic view it is!

His portrayal of a “faithful remnant” providing an unbroken stream of sound doctrine has more in common with the Landmark Baptists and their “trail of blood”  than it does with an accurate depiction of the messy and complicated communion of saints across the centuries. It is apparently the Reformed Baptist version of apostolic succession.

Michael Spencer wrote about “the little red book” that describes Church History from the Landmark Baptist point of view. In that post he quoted a passage that brings us right to the bottom line of their view of history:

Only Scriptural Baptist churches can make a legitimate claim to an unbroken succession back to the time of Christ and the apostles. Christ only built one kind of church and that church is described in detail in the New Testament. The only churches meeting the requirements of that description today are true Baptist churches. Baptist churches have existed in every age since their founding by Christ, though they have not always been known by that name. We do not deny that there are those in other so-called “churches” that have been born again by the grace of God. We do deny, however, that these man-made organizations are true churches of our Lord Jesus Christ.

MacArthur doesn’t go nearly that far, but the spirit and approach is the same: define who’s “in” with severely limited requirements and express serious doubts (at least) about everyone else.

One of the problems with this approach is that, like the Landmark Baptists, you have to ignore the details. Just as the LB’s include all manner of groups in their “trail of blood” that they would not recognize if they sat down and talked with them for five minutes, so John MacArthur has to overlook a lot of contradictory evidence to include the members of his “faithful stream.”

Let’s take a few of the “heroes” in the quote above, for example.

  • I’m sure when John MacArthur points to Athanasius, he is admiring his faithful stand against Arianism. But Athanasius is also considered one of the four great Eastern Doctors of the Church by Roman Catholics and is honored as the Father of Orthodoxy by the Eastern Orthodox. Surely they do so with appreciation for many aspects of Athanasius’s teaching and practice that MacArthur would abhor! Would the biblicist MacArthur think it appropriate to participate in an ecumenical church council to determine sound doctrine? Or to appropriate Greek philosophical terms to define a fundamental doctrine about Christ? I doubt he shares Athanasius’s enthusiasm for aceticism and promotion of monasticism. Would MacArthur embrace the apocryphal books that Athanasius included in his biblical canon? The fact is that Athanasius was a leader in a philosophical and ecclesiastical world that John MacArthur would not recognize and more than likely would not accept. The real Athanasius would have little in common with MacArthur’s iconoclastic biblicism.
  • People who call themselves “Calvinists” revere St. Augustine for his teachings on original sin and divine grace. But once again, we are talking about a Catholic Christian who also believed in apostolic succession and the one true institutional Church. I wonder what John MacArthur would think of Augustine’s sermon in which he proclaimed, “No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church.” St. Augustine’s non-literal interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis would be anathema to a young earth creationist like MacArthur. The Bishop of Hippo also rejected premillennialism and became the father of what is now called amillennialism, and how could a dispensationalist possibly approve of that? He believed in purgatory. He wrote more about Mary, the Mother of God, than any who came before him. Does MacArthur know that Augustine polluted the “stream of sound doctrine” with all this stuff?
  • It amazes me when a Reformed Baptist cites Luther as a model of sound doctrine. Surely that gives evidence that he is honoring only a caricature who said “The just shall live by faith,” and not the actual human being who remained a Catholic and a monk, whose teaching on justification by faith included baptismal regeneration, who fought his whole life against anyone who denied Christ’s real presence in communion, who excoriated the Anabaptists for practicing believer’s baptism alone, who spoke uncharitably about certain books of the Bible, and who held a high view of Mary that retained most of the traditional Roman Catholic teachings about her, including her Immaculate Conception, perpetual virginity, and status as Theotokos (Mother of God), and who maintained devotional practices venerating her and said all Christians should honor her as “the Mother of us all.” That’s your great Reformer in the flesh, Pastor John. You can’t just cherry-pick a few of his ideas.
  • And then there’s Calvin. We’ll forget for a moment that, although John MacArthur cites both Luther and Calvin in the same breath, the two Reformers and those who followed them had bitter disagreements, particularly over the nature of the Lord’s Supper. (I guess their common opposition to Catholics is detail enough to include them both.) But of course, like all the magisterial Reformers, Calvin believed in baptizing infants (for different reasons than Luther), which MacArthur and all Reformed Baptists find unacceptable. He was also non-millenarian. Though Calvin certainly did believe God created the universe in six days, he also said that Moses adapted his language so that some things in Genesis 1 reflect the perceptions of ordinary people and not the findings of astronomers, which may indeed be factually different. Though his thinking about civil government planted seeds for future developments in separation of church and state, he most certainly did not advocate religious freedom in a way that modern Baptists would recognize.

We could go on, but let me focus on one name in John MacArthur’s list that I find especially intriguing in the light of the “Strange Fire” conference that John MacArthur has been hosting: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones.

lloyd-jonesIt is puzzling to me that, in a conference criticizing aberrant views of the work of the Holy Spirit, John MacArthur would mention Lloyd-Jones in the stream of sound doctrine. I wrote about Lloyd-Jones’s views on the Spirit a couple of years ago, and MacArthur would definitely not consider his interpretations orthodox.

Lloyd-Jones was no cessationist, and he insisted that there is a work of the Holy Spirit for all believers for all time that is subsequent to salvation, that is “entirely subjective,” that brings deep assurance of salvation. Lloyd-Jones thought the Spirit especially manifested this work in times of revival, and said it is an experience Christians and churches should be praying for and seeking all the time.

He called this the “sealing” work of the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) and wrote about it in great detail in his commentary series on Romans. The passage which he expounds in the Romans series, for several chapters and in great detail, is Romans 8:16 — “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” 

Quotes and references in the following paragraphs are from D.M. Lloyd-Jones’s commentary, The Sons of God: Exposition of Chapter 8:5-17 (Romans Series).

First, here is his interpretation of the text, his understanding of the Spirit “witnessing” to our spirits:

dmlj bookThis is something subjective, something which essentially belongs to the realm of feeling and subjectivity, and the emotions. It is something within us at a deeper level than the level of the intellect. That seems to me to be the vital point in this statement. In other words this does not result from certain actions on our part; it is the Spirit that produces it in us. It is not something of which you can persuade yourself. As we have seen, by applying various tests you can persuade yourself whether you are, or are not, being led by the Spirit, but that is not the position here. This is not in the realm of intellectual argumentation or demonstration; it is something of which one becomes conscious. This is — to use the obvious and the simple analogy — comparable to what we know in human love. You do not persuade yourself that you are in love; at least, if you do, or have to do, you are not in love! This is not a matter of persuasion; it is something you know; you become conscious of it. It is on a deeper level than that of the intellect and of reason and of argumentation. This is, in my view, a vital principle. It not only demonstrates the advance in the thought, it also shows us the graciousness of God in giving us these further proofs, these yet more certain proofs. So the nature of this proof is thoroughly subjective, and it is produced by the operation of the Holy Spirit.

Now, to be sure, this is not “charis-mania,” but that is not my point. John MacArthur is a confirmed cessationist and his position is that cessationism is “the historic position of the church and in the Word” (so Steve Pennington, Strange Fire Conference). Having been in cessationist circles for many years, I know that there is little allowance for exceptions when it comes to that doctrine. Any testimony which threatens the assertion that the Holy Spirit speaks only through the Bible is repudiated.

Why then would John MacArthur note David Martyn Lloyd-Jones by name at a conference in which Lloyd-Jones’s own non-cessationist views would be pronounced anathema?

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones stated his positions clearly and repeatedly, taking much of his 438 page exposition of Romans 8:5-17 to do so. He argues that “the baptism with the Holy Spirit” is different than the baptism by the Spirit, by which he puts us into the body of Christ at the time of salvation (1Cor. 12:13). “The ‘baptism with the Holy Ghost’ is not only different, but you can be a Christian without it, as the Apostles were without it until the day of Pentecost,” he wrote.

Interesting, isn’t it, that John MacArthur lifts up this man as a hero of “sound doctrine” even though he argues biblically for a direct and definite supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in believer’s lives, subsequent to their salvation?

Second, Lloyd-Jones reinforces his argument by appealing to Christian history — and this is interesting — specifically by pointing to the Puritans — another group of MacArthur heroes mentioned above. Here is one of his examples:

Take the case of John Flavel, the Puritan of 300 years ago. He was a godly, saintly man, a notable expositor of the Scriptures. He was not only a believer, he also had assurance of salvation. But he tells us in his Treatise of the Soul of Man that one day, on a journey, he began to meditate on ‘objects of faith and hope.’ Ere long he felt as if he was lifted up into heaven. He was taken out of the world and out of time. He says that he even forgot his wife and children, and longed to be taken immediately to heaven. He was given a glimpse of the glory; the love of God was shed abroad in his heart in such a manner that he did not know whether he was in time or in eternity. Flavel was a typical Puritan; not an excitable, emotional person at all, but a quiet, studious, pensive kind of man. But he says that as the result of that experience he ‘understood more of the light of heaven by it, than by all the books he ever read, or discourses about it.”

Lloyd-Jones also points to Jonathan Edwards, John Preston, John Owen, and others in the Calvinistic tradition who teach this direct, sensible ministry of the Holy Spirit, sealing the assurance of salvation subjectively into the hearts of God’s children. He even mentions a leader of the “Strict Baptists” and a staunch Calvinist, JC. Philpot, who said, “But all the children of God have not this direct and immediate witness; many are longing for it.”

Did you read that? A “direct and immediate witness” of the Holy Spirit, a blessing not possessed by every Christian, being preached by a Calvinistic Baptist!

And then there is George Whitfield, whose Journals contain this testimony: “Was filled with the Holy Ghost. Oh, that all who deny the promise of the Father might thus receive it themselves! Oh, that all were partakers of my joy!” And this one: “God’s presence so filled my soul that I could scarce stand under it.”

Furthermore, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points to the Puritans to show that this witness of the Spirit may (or may not) be accompanied by gifts and phenomena. He mentions Robert Bruce, a minister in the Church of Scotland, successor of John Knox, who testified that the Holy Spirit spoke to him “by vocal speeches” that he could hear audibly within himself. “That from a dour Scotsman!” Lloyd-Jones quips.

Congregationalist minister Jonathan Edwards is regarded as the greatest American theologian and a singular intellect. In MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, Edwards’s work on the true signs of revival was cited to make points about how we should “test the spirits” to see if they are genuine. And the points are generally on target; they provide good tests for winnowing out abuses from legitimate manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

But too bad MacArthur didn’t read Edwards more fully. Lloyd-Jones did, and here is one extraordinary experience of the Spirit which Jonathan Edwards wrote about, when God opened the heavens and gave him a spectacular vision:

Once, as I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God as Mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet appeared also great above the heavens. The Person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception, which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust and be full of Christ alone; to love Him with a holy and pure love; to trust Him; to live upon Him; and to serve and follow Him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity.

Another point Lloyd-Jones gleans from the Calvinists is that this work of the Spirit is “not confined to any particular means.” John MacKenzie, another of the “Strict Baptists,” whom Lloyd-Jones describes as “unusually serious and sober people, not given to emotionalism,” said in a sermon,

As to the immediate act of this sealing of the heart and the peculiar feelings under it, they are better known and understood by the sweet experience of them than can be conveyed by words or conceived in ideas….The Spirit is not confined to any particular means in giving this rich blessing. He may give it under the preaching or reading of the Word, or neither. But whatever outward means He may please to use, or should He without any, come suddenly and sovereignly down upon the heart, the soul will feel fully assured it is the blessed Spirit within him.

Read that carefully. The Spirit may use the Word. He may not (though Lloyd-Jones himself thought he usually does). He may use means. He may not. It is an immediate act. He may come suddenly and sovereignly as he wills. This is a Calvinistic Baptist of an even more sober variety than John MacArthur who is speaking!

Third, there is something else about Lloyd-Jones’s approach, something I find appealing, and that I can’t imagine would win John MacArthur’s approval. Not only does D.M. Lloyd-Jones expound the Scriptures, and not only does he cite the experiences of the Calvinistic Puritans as historical verification of his doctrine of the Spirit, he also gives accounts from people in other “streams” of Protestant Christian tradition. He gives testimonies from Methodists like John Wesley and Howell Harris, American Presbyterians Edward Payson and Charles Finney, Swiss Reformed pastor Merle d’Aubigne, evangelist D.L. Moody, and even Plymouth Brethren J.N. Darby, C.H. Mackintosh, and William Kelly.

In other words, in teaching about the Holy Spirit and in countering false teaching about him, Lloyd-Jones does not appeal to a narrow “stream” of doctrinal conformity to make his argument. Instead, he makes his point by being intentionally more ecumenical. He recognizes that the body of Christ and the work of the Spirit in Christ’s Church is bigger than any narrow “trail of blood” which I might limit to those who I think are “right.”

Fourth, one final point from David Martyn Lloyd Jones: should we be seeking this experience?

I answer: Certainly, obviously, it should be sought, and for reasons which should be quite self-evident. If this experience is open to all Christian believers in this life, and any feel that they have not known it, surely they should seek it. Every Christian should always be seeking the best and the highest. We should never be content with anything less than what is described as possible to the Christian in the New Testament.

Lloyd-Jones then quotes the great Puritan preacher Thomas Goodwin, who exhorted his congregation,

We are said to “receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14). Believe there is such a thing, aim at it, wait for it and serve God day and night in all humility to obtain it. Rest in no other lower and under assurance, and in the Lord will give it. The reason why men attain it not is because they rest in other assurance, and they do not aim at this. They content themselves with bare believing and that their consciences are quieted. But, my brethren, there is such a work as sealing by the Spirit, if you have faith.”

In this light, Lloyd-Jones appeals again to George Whitefield, who stressed that anyone who does not have “an immediate assurance” through this work of the Holy Spirit “ought to labour after it.” Then, in an interesting note, he records Whitfield’s observation that some “are taught that it does not belong to Christians in these last days.” David Martyn Lloyd-Jones joins George Whitfield in disapproving of this “cessationism.”

At least with regard to teaching about the Holy Spirit, I can’t see that Lloyd-Jones, Whitfield, or any of these other people fit into John MacArthur’s “stream of sound doctrine.”

* * *

I do not post this to argue that what David Martyn Lloyd-Jones or the Puritans taught is what today’s “charismatics” are teaching and practicing. In fact, in MLJ’s Romans commentary he thoroughly deals with false and inadequate teaching about the Spirit as well as making a clear distinction between legitimate experiences and abuses.

I also don’t post this to commend Lloyd-Jones’s specific interpretation to you, as though I were taking his side or approving everything he taught about the Holy Spirit. Analyzing his position and the views of those he mentions is a subject for another day.

I post this to show that Martyn Lloyd-Jones and many of the Puritans, whom John MacArthur cited as members of the stream of faithful teaching down through the ages, held views of the Spirit and his work that clearly contradict what McArthur himself holds to be sound doctrine.

  • They were not cessationists.
  • They acknowledged a direct experience of the Spirit subsequent to salvation and compared it to what the apostles received at Pentecost.
  • They taught that the work of the Spirit was immediate, direct, and subjectively experienced.
  • They taught that means were not necessary.
  • They taught that it may or may not involve the use of the Scriptures.
  • They taught that it may or may not be accompanied by supernatural phenomena.
  • They taught that the sealing of the Spirit is an experience that holds the greatest blessing for a believer in this world.
  • They taught that believers and churches should be ever seeking this gift.

D.M. Lloyd-Jones took a serious and in-depth approach to the subject of the Holy Spirit. He was no enthusiast, and I have no doubt that the good Doctor would be as critical of “charismatic” Christianity as John MacArthur is. In fact, I am too. But the reasoning here and the approach that MacArthur and other cessationists are taking is poor, without nuance, and unhelpful.

It undercuts the credibility of what may be an important prophetic message to the Church when we present it like this.

A hubristic, uninformed view of Church History like the view revealed in the above quote shows me that folks like John MacArthur don’t actually have human heroes from Church History. Their “heroes” are, in reality, the ideas that they themselves hold and believe to be right. The names from Church History they cite are just pegs on which to hang those ideas. They either don’t know about or choose to ignore whatever these people taught or practiced that doesn’t fit their “pure stream” paradigm.

But history, theology, and life consist of more than mere ideas, especially cherry-picked ideas. The reality is always more mysterious, more human, more complex, and messier. It doesn’t fit inside our neat little doctrinal systems.

Sort of like the work of the Holy Spirit.

111 thoughts on “There Is No Narrow, Pure Stream

  1. Though I am no Calvinist I love John MacArthur and believe his theology to be both Biblical and inspirational. I must part ways here for the simple reason that Paul the apostle did not condemn nor divide from those who abused spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church. MacArthur has helped teach me to think Biblically and to have a high view of Scripture but his posture on this issue does not meet his own criteria.


  2. One this I’d like to say is that when referring to “Catholic” church, a pre-reformation man like Augustine was likely referring to the actual meaning of the word, “Catholic”, (katholicos in the greek) which simply means, “universal”. He is simply referring to Christ’s church, not to a distinction between Roman Catholic or otherwise.

    Secondly, when you say that reformers such as Calvin and Luther remained “Catholic” it seems a bit misleading. After all, the aim of the reformers was not to create a new branch of christianity (i.e. Protestantism), but rather to “reform” the “Catholic” (universal) church.

    Overall, though I really appreciate this article and the time and thoughtfulness that you put into it. It was very helpful.

    This entire debate has been disappointing to me, as I feel it distracts the Church (universal) from Christ’s mission on the earth. The end is approaching and every single day, more that 250,000 people die and step into eternity – most without saving faith in Christ. We have a job to do brothers and sisters, and it’s time we be about doing it…


  3. His dispensationalism might not be a mirror image of the early Chiliasts, but to say their is no link is an overstatement, I would say. Up until Origen in the 3rd century, all early church fathers that wrote on the subject were clearly premillenialists.


  4. It seems to me that some Calvinists are very keen on thinning the herd, pushing away or saying goodbye to people for their perceived heresies, yet all the while they hold at the heart of their theology what could be the most blasphemous misrepresentation of God held by any heretic in the entire history of the church. (smh at the tulip)
    If you are a calvinist… no need to reply… I must not be elect…. just tell me “Goodbye”


  5. This strange fire conference is troubling. While some of the teaching JM gives is very helpful on some other topics, I found his earlier book called “Charismatic Chaos” to be so unfair and full of baseless generalizations that I actually threw it away. (My wife will tell you I do NOT throw away books. I have many representing a variety of views on many topics….)
    It seems his new work is much the same. Not much truth and no love.


  6. I just continue to find it amazing, Robert, that so many Christians I have known consider him to be such a solid, in-depth Bible teacher.

    I’m sure there are more, but two ingredients that I think push toward this:

    1) he looks and sounds the part, see Robert F’s comment just above; he sounds/seems like he knows what he is talking about (can’t escape that “Saul standing head and shoulders above the rest” thingie…. hmmm)

    2) the system he operates within, and helped construct, does not take kindly to rigorous scrutiny or questioning; pushback is some sort of affront to GOD anointed/selected leadership, some kind of rebellion.

    3) a bonus ingredient: maybe there is a part inside of all of us that is wondering if SOMEONE , anyone, has it all figured out, has the answers, knows the score; maybe we all long for this kind of security. You either grow up and figure out this “security” comes with a lot of baggage (esp. as it regards leadership) OR you find someone(s) to play that role…. and then another… and another….

    pre-lunch ramblings from Greg R


  7. This is great stuff! When God saved me I got to bypass any and all of the above mentioned church fathers. I have no spiritual genealogy in the flesh. I love reading about them and learning their take on God and His word but they can’t convince the Holy Spirit of anything. Thanks for polishing the dark mirror I can bear witness to!


  8. I was part of a church for several years that was Calvinistic and charismatic. In some ways the experience was refreshing. However, as CM points out, the BIG question that is never really asked and often never enters anyone’s mind is Where Is The Authority? As long as ultimate authority in Protestantism resides in the conscience of the individual relative to what the individual thinks about God, then chaos and fractionation will be the norm. Each little “non-denom” church start is the attempt by an authoritative individual to control the immediate chaos. In the end, the refreshing Calvinistic charismatic congregation we participated with self-destructed in its efforts to control the chaos by turning to an “authority” by the name of New Frontiers who then “suggested” dissolving the church because the leaders had no confidence in each other’s leadership.

    BTW, NF was getting ready with a new “church plant” in our city, and who needs the competition anyway….


  9. Paul was very thorough. He wanted people to understand both sides of an issue. Problem comes when people quote only one side of his lesson.


  10. The Apostle Paul didn’t write nearly that smooth. Doesn’t he hold the world record for longest run-on sentence in Koine Greek? Somewhere around the first chapter of Ephesians… possibly into the second… and all while talking out of both sides of his mouth.


  11. I suggest a historically rooted critique of Charismatic dogma. There are fairly legitimate reasons why the Church had no place for a certain type of hijinks for 1800 years or so (aside from the fact that we pretty busy dealing with other hijinks 😛 ).


  12. The biggest problems with cessationism, imo, come about when you deny the sacraments. Historic cessationism views the work of the Holy Spirit as something that is ongoing through the Word and Sacrament ministry of the church, or through the Word in it’s many forms: incarnate, written, and visible. You take out the means of grace, and all you have left is some ink on a page. It really does functionally reduce the Trinity to Father, Son, and Holy Bible. This also reflects on the shallow doctrine of the Word that permeates Evangelicalism which reduces the Logos to a dictionary. Are Christ and His Spirit still living and active in the world today, or did they just leave us a map to find our own way? While I don’t put much stock in tongues (for many reasons which served as acceptable explanations for millennia), I don’t believe holding to historic cessationism necessitates disbelief in God performing miracles and healing today. What happens in Baptism and Holy Communion is the greatest miracle and the deepest healing you can experience in this life.


  13. Has MacArthur been told that someone left the cake out in the rain? And he’ll never have that recipe again?

    I’m sorry; I just couldn’t help myself, hard as I tried.


  14. I’m not very familiar with the world that MacArthur occupies, but I have heard him on radio a good number of times, and he has a certain authoritative way of presenting himself, as well as a deep, sonorous voice. He sounds serious, he sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, he sounds like you wouldn’t want to get in an argument with him, and, unfortunately, such stylistic mannerisms give the impression of gravitas even where there is no real weight.

    And, sadly, that just might be enough to account for his popularity, and the seriousness with which he is taken by his followers.

    In other words, the cessationist, ironically, is relying on charisma.


  15. Although he may have had serious limitations as AoC, Williams is a profound, articulate, literate and irenic theologian, and a gentle Christian soul. I admire him; he inspires me, and gives me hope.

    Despite that wilderness of a beard.


  16. Your question raises issues bigger than this one area of theology.

    This is the “protestant question.” Where is authority in the church? Who has authority to make such decisions?

    MacArthur cites Athanasius as one of his heroes. How about a good old fashioned church council?

    In our dreams.


  17. Comrade O’Brian, Inner Party: “Where does the past exist?”

    6079 Smith W, Outer Party: “In historical records and the minds of men.”

    Comrade O’Brian, Inner Party: “And We, The Party control all history; We, The Party, control men’s minds. So We, The Party, control the past, and We, The Party, control the future. Long Live Big Brother!”


  18. So, take away the strawmen, scapegoats, and power-grabs. What should a respectful yet serious discussion of the charismatic/neo-charismatic movement look like? Obviously there are abuses and extremes within the charismatic movement that have affected almost every denomination over the past 40+ years. The current worship circus/rock show has its root in the charismatic movement. What is the plan forward, besides putting down the charismatic movement to promote ones own agenda?


  19. I just continue to find it amazing, Robert, that so many Christians I have known consider him to be such a solid, in-depth Bible teacher. The illusion was shattered pretty quickly for me, way back in the days when I was a young pastor, and I read stuff from him that left me scratching my head.

    He has always had a tremendous popularity among Bible college and seminary students training to be pastors. The evangelical schools teach (or used to teach) that the pastor’s main job is to be the congregation’s theologian and teacher. MacArthur modeled that for many of us. He has focused almost exclusively on preaching, teaching, and writing and insisted on not being “distracted” by other pastoral duties so that he could devote himself to that. IMHO, I think it not only hurt his pastoral work, it hurt his teaching tremendously.

    One of the reasons I think he likes to point to Lloyd-Jones as a hero is that MLJ was renowned for his in-depth teaching style as a pastor. The Romans series that is available in book form was the result of a 13-year Bible study that he led in Westminster Chapel! However, MLJ’s biography, one of my favorites, shows a man with a pastor’s heart who not only did the study and teaching, but the visiting and the mundane pastoral tasks as well.


  20. “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ ”
    Nineteen-Eighty-Four, chapter 3


  21. It’s not so bad being an inconsistent thinker; sometimes inconsistencies can be the seedbed of great creative insights and perspectives, which in turn can rise to the level of profound paradoxes.

    But being unaware of one’s inconsistencies is another thing altogether. I think it’s fair to call such unawareness ignorance, and to note that MacArthur is speaking out of ignorance.

    But, CM, did you really expect either consistency or awareness from MacArthur? Never mind profundity or paradox.


  22. Athanasius is a part of MacArthur’s take on the “Trail of Blood,” huh? The same Athanasius who wrote a laudatory biography of St. Anthony, the first of the Desert Fathers? The same Athanasius whose, “God became man so that man might become a god” is a cornerstone of the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of Theosis? Exactly how much Athanasius has MacArthur read?


  23. > “Reformed Christians talk transformation up a storm, and do anything but in reality.”

    Like the quote – “Everyone want a life-changing experience, so long as it does not change anything.”

    It is hard to be too critical of the aforementioned for this indulgence. It is currently at near pandemic levels in all corners of our society. From churches to political parties down to what phones/tablets someone uses [Lord how dreary that is, if I have to hear one more person use the word “intuitive” to describe what-they-are-used-to so help me…..].

    How much even mainstream humor is really this when boiled down? How grateful we are that we aren’t so stupid as to believe X. Or enlightened enough to NOT care about X. Or common-sense enough to not get up in arms about Y. Or enlightened enough TO care about X. Or classy enough to not talk like Z. And on and one it goes. Meanwhile… doing nothing of note. At the end of the day this is just thin and cheap identity politics; with a healthy side-salad of self-gratification. And it always carefully cherry picks the distant evils/sins/foibles to criticize, that clearly nobody in this audience would be tempted by.

    Nothing new here.


  24. Working from memory, what he stressed and stresses is the Church as community of reconciliation and forgiveness, the community which began when it encountered the Risen Lord, the only pure victim, not as one returning to bring rightful judgment, but as One extending forgiveness and reconciliation to the compromised little band that had gathered around him. The Church as a new way of living in the midst of a world of depredation and violence, the Church as the place where the old life of retribution and exclusion ends, and new life of mutuality begins.

    He said that this new way of living together is what marks the Church as belonging to Jesus’ Kingdom, despite the glaring historic failures of the Church to live into its calling. And he said that we partly begin to do this by continuing in difficult and dialoguing fellowship, particularly with those with whom we disagree, and by taking ownership of the historic sins of the Church as our own sins, since we stand in communion with that sinful Church.


  25. “I think MacArthur would benefit from heeding the former AoC”

    As would many of us.

    Thanks for a summary of William’s address. How did he think our differences should be addressed?


  26. Thank you for the excellent article.

    Sometimes I wonder if these “heroes of the faith” have more credibility with some people than . . . . let’s say . . . .Jesus?


  27. I said something similar on Phoneix Preacher’s thread. Personally I can’t believe people respect CJ Mahaney given some of the behavior he has exhibited over the years. What I find appalling is how for years SGM predecsscor taught a very narrow view of what faith was while coupling that faith with the Shepherding Movement of the 1970’s. So for all these years up until the mid 1990’s people were disciplined, shunned, disfellowshipd, etc.. by PDI under the guise that “this is the faith or correct doctrine”. THEN PDI went the “Reformed” route because that is where the money is and it was the newest fad. So now you have all this doctrine, theology suddenly changed, and new doctrine being upheld as correct doctrine. When a church or organization makes such a change like that I fail to see how how that’s no different than how the Mormons opened up the preisthood to blacks in 1978. When you consider what the LDS faith taught about blacks for nearly 100 years and then there was this sudden shift, it makes you want to ask…who was wrong? God or Brigham Young? Same with CJ Mahaney and the way they changed doctrine and faith. Who was wrong? The Holy Spirit of CJ Mahaney in the early part of PDI’s history. Sovereign Grace doesn’t have much credibility these days anyway. Its brand name is soiled by the lawsuit. And with the Nate Morales trial starting next month here in the DC area I wonder what else I’m going to read about Soverieng Grace in the Washington Post.


  28. Remember John MacArthur took Driscoll to task for his take on the Song of Songs. That was the start of the tension. Mark Driscoll’s contribution to Christianity is the “Pornification” of faith. It could be SOS, his book Real marriage, to calling Esther nothing but a slut. The fact that people think Mark Driscoll is worth respecting make me want to oll on the floor and laugh.


  29. When you think of Reformed Conferences (though I would argue that the term Reformed has been hijacked) you have to remember that more many of these are mere businesses and venues to sell books….nothing more. What would that include? Acts 29 “Act Like Men”, T4G, The Gospel Coalition, etc…. Its the “Reformed Industrial Complex” at its finest.


  30. When Rowan Williams addressed Lambeth some years before he became the AoC, he said that one of the hardest but most necessary things we must do, for the sake of working toward true church unity and embracing the historic catholicity of the church, is to acknowledge and try to understand how it is that, both in the present and in the past, there are and were Christians with whom we strongly disagree not only in matters of important doctrine but also in fundamental moral matters; that they truly were and are Christians, no matter how wrong we may think them to be in important areas; and that we suffer a crippling loss ourselves, and cause a grievous trauma to the church, if we try to sever ourselves from them out of concern for our own purity, because they are part of the Communion of Saints, however hard we may find that to believe at times, and to disavow them as members of the Communion of Saints is to harm ourselves and the wider church by cutting ourselves off from the very conditions that make the Church a community of forgiveness and reconciliation (I know, I know; my sentence is running on and on and on….).

    I think MacArthur would benefit from heeding the former AoC


  31. In environments where history is subjective facts can be whatever they want to be. “Facts” can be re-written, redone, remade to whatever the movement states or wants. I grew up Catholic and heard about Augistine and classic works such as “City of God” In it Augustine clearly defines some early Catholic traits and the relationship between the sacked Roman state and the Catholic Christian church. I’ll just come out and say this, but given what Augustine taught about the Catholic church I’m amazed that someone like John MacArthur would quote him and quote him heavily; while attacking the Catholic church on the other side of his mouth. have any of you guys listened or read on the Graceless to You Website about what MacArthur teaches about the Catholic Priesthood? If memory serves me correctly he calls it Satanic. And yet MacArthur is going to hold up Augustine who pens such works as City of God which I would argue is one of the finest written works in Catholicism? John Piper does the same thing as John MacArthur. There is a Desiring God video on Youtube in which he calls into question the Pope’s faith. And then while attacking Catholicism he is going to hold up and revere Augustine?!?

    I don’t get the logic to that at all….

    The way John MacArthur and John Piper re-write and re-edit history is heinous in my opinion. Their methods are more appropriate in the communist states of North Korea, East Germany (GDR) Poland, or Ceausescu’s Romania; than Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California or Bethleham Baptist in Minneapolis. (Though to be fair Jason Meyer is calling the shots though he will always live under the shadow of Piper)


  32. Friend of mine tipped me off re the Baron of Arizona. Vincent Price starred in a 1950 movie that dramatized the attempted swindle (details fictionalized but general overview pretty close to what happened) and the incident itself should be listed on Wikipedia.

    You got to hand the Baron of Arizona one thing; the guy did NOT think small. The stakes were claiming personal ownership of the entire land area of central Arizona (fictionalized in the movie version to the entire Arizona Territory).


  33. “There Is No Narrow, Pure Stream”.

    I couldn’t agree more.

    MacArthur certainly is not in a narrow, pure stream; nor are the Pentecostals; nor the evangelical/fundamentalists; nor the Anglicans; nor the Lutherans; nor the Roman Catholics; nor the Eastern Orthodox; etc., etc., etc.

    The stream, like any stream, like the world itself that Jesus came into, is multifaceted, changing, wider here, shallower there, narrow and dangerous elsewhere, swiftly moving in many places and turgid in others

    But the living water is there, as free as the Spirit that blows where it will, and plentiful, and it’s hard not to get soaked by grace in the stream, even along its widest, most fetid, most unlikely stretches.

    “Everything is grace.” Georges Bernanos


  34. You are spot on about the insular cheerleading nature of Reformed conferences. I attended more than my share back in the day, and the only one that still lives in my memory is one in Annapolis over 15 years ago. Os Guinness spoke in sharp rebuke of that very insularity – “Reformed Christians talk transformation up a storm, and do anything but in reality.” I don’t recall his being invited back the next time around.

    One nitpick, though; I don’t think the “laughing revival” is the best example of Reformed prejudice. I actually visited a Rodney Howard-Browne service when the movement was at its height. If anything, its’ cessatonist critics were guilty of being too kind…


  35. I agree with the comments here that affirm CMs post. I shall never forget J Macs book “Charismatic Choas”. I graduated from a well known cessationist seminary. In the 80’s I was using the book as study material for the adult SS class that I was teaching at my first pastorate. I was having a great time picking out the craziest stories he recounted about charismatics in each assigned chapter for the week. Really got into the mocking and proudish criticism of it all. Then…one Monday morning while walking alone in the city park the Holy Spirit smacked me with an experience that I had often made such a mockery of and left me with an attitude of repentance and humility towards other christians in a way I had never known before.


  36. While I hadn’t heard of the Baron of Arizona, the other examples are spot on. This mythical revision of history reminds me of the similarly mythical ‘American Founders were Christians/American nation’ dominionism.


  37. I had a chance to meet John MacArthur in his home. My clients wanted to buy his house and I sat at his (John Mac’s) dining room table negotiating with he, his wife, and his agent. What a nice man.

    But he’s a terrible preacher and theologian. He is an assurance destroyer. He never fails to rip the heart out of the gospel and replace it with the law.

    He might as well take his Bible and tear the New Testament out of it.


  38. Jeez, Frank! That second sentence of yours needs some work! Do you always write in clunky, awkward, borderline run-on sentences? I’d respond to the substance of what you said if I could just get past how poorly worded it is! 😉


  39. My guess, mainly because I hear it all the time in these types of circles, is that his is an “apersonal” succession- it amounts to grabbing hold of ideas that are de-historicized, vaulted loftily into the air above the real world, and then grabbed ahold of by those lucky/intelligent enough to have picked them out from the heap of false ideas, and the ridden them to glory without any priority given to the real humanity through which the words are made flesh.

    i.e. a Purely Theoretical Theology. Like the Purely Spiritual Pneumatis of the Gnostics or the Purely Theoretical Ideology of Marxism-Leninsm.

    Much like your analysis: “The names from Church History they cite are just pegs on which to hang those ideas.”

    Citing sources for Justification, whether the sources cited have any bearing or not.

    Taken to an extreme, one theoretically might never have actually met a Christian, or spent time with them in interdependent life, or be baptized, or been included in a practicing community. Just a foggy “faith” that asserts the required facts for personal salvation.

    The end state of a Revivalist Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation:
    “Just Say the Magic Words” Salvation = Sinner’s Prayer(TM) + Once Saved Always Saved(TM).


  40. Seriously though, Frank, one needs only ask what the fallout would be if MLJ would stand in J Mac’s pulpit and say that people there should be seeking a specifically defined second work of the Spirit that is purely experiential and that may be accompanied by supernatural phenomena, and that furthermore may or may not come from direct engagement with the Scriptures. Methinks the manure would hit the fan.


  41. I heard CJ Mahaney was there. If this is true, why would MacArthur invite him? Doesn’t he lean toward the charismatic side? Also, I don’t understand why Driscoll crashed this party because wasn’t he first welcomed into this calvinist fold by John Piper? I am really confused by all of these factions. Does anyone have an answer?


  42. For me, the most profound statement of the article is this:

    “Their ‘heroes’ are, in reality, the ideas that they themselves hold and believe to be right.”

    Wow. So true of many, many Christians (with finger pointed at self). Jesus should be our “hero,” yet we put him second to all sorts of theological and doctrinal beliefs. We’d rather die on hills that don’t matter than dying on the hill that does, alongside the true hero of our faith, Jesus.


  43. Like you mentioned, it’s the MacArthurian version of Apostolic Succession. Being relatively unschooled in that doctrine though, I would like to see a perceptive comparison of it to MacArthur’s version- the historic “stream” that he’s defining here.

    My guess, mainly because I hear it all the time in these types of circles, is that his is an “apersonal” succession- it amounts to grabbing hold of ideas that are de-historicized, vaulted loftily into the air above the real world, and then grabbed ahold of by those lucky/intelligent enough to have picked them out from the heap of false ideas, and the ridden them to glory without any priority given to the real humanity through which the words are made flesh.

    Much like your analysis: “The names from Church History they cite are just pegs on which to hang those ideas.”

    Taken to an extreme, one theoretically might never have actually met a Christian, or spent time with them in interdependent life, or be baptized, or been included in a practicing community. Just a foggy “faith” that asserts the required facts for personal salvation.

    One might even have gotten away with succeeding at Christian theology without there ever having been an Incarnation, were it not such an explicit rejection of orthodoxy to even say so. You just sort of “mind-science” your way into heaven.

    Which is theosophy more than anything else. It’s why Messiah was necessary, not just Socrates. It’s why someone (John) had to be standing at the foot of the cross, rather than have a bunch of personally absent thinkers who merely heard about the Cross later parse out an atonement theory and label it ‘orthodoxy.’

    I definitely don’t like the view of the Spirit that charismatic Christianity presents, but I’m guessing MacArthur’s view of his work is hyper-individualized (“Heroes of the Faith!!” (TM)) and de-humanized. The Spirit’s work is a currency of theories with which you buy(or “prove,” or whatever…) your salvation/sanctification. As opposed to the locus of the Spirit’s work being the Church in its corporate human life, which includes but isn’t limited to doxis. And in which doxis isn’t defined principally by a bunch of ideas but by controlling story- the historical divine life.)

    Attempts are probably made to show that we’re “reading the Bible just as it’s written” or whatever, but in the end it’s “Bible as collection of proof-texts” for my pet ideas about how one gets “In” the club.

    I’m not sure if I’m clearly making my distinction here, but it’s something I’ve been trying to verbalize for awhile.


  44. MacArthur’s description of Church history conjured up an interesting image, which is that of a river.

    When you go to the source of a river, it’s something very small and unimpressive. But, when you get to where the river ends, it is something broad and deep.

    MacArthur’s view of church history starts wide and gets narrower and narrower as it goes along. I’m struck by the fact that the river of Church history gets wider and deeper as it flows on–with no end in sight (with no apology to Left Behind expectations).


  45. “he also gives accounts from people in other “streams” of Protestant Christian tradition.”

    Very true of Wesleyan Christianity. This thread of Christian thought goes to the idea of the Holy Spirit indwelling or filling a person subsequent to regeneration. Sometimes it is referred to as a second work of grace involving sanctification. Probably a safer understanding is to see it as a subsequent filling of the Spirit in the life of a believer. Also Wesley was a strong believer in the doctrine of “assurance” meaning that the Holy Spirit gives direct witness to our spirit that we are children of God, based on Romans 8:16 and other passages. The problem with this arises with the subjectivity involved. But who is to say that all subjectivity should be ruled out of the Christian life? Just asking.

    Another strain of this doctrine is to be found in the Keswick movement which started sometime in the 1870’s. In many ways this is very similar to the Methodist teaching, however involved other traditions as well. Anglicans, Baptists, Quakers and others were participants. This movement is still underway, but not sure how strong it is.


  46. The only thing this built up was the pride and smug self righteousness of the hearers. I call this tickling their ears, and pandering to their needs…

    That is called Fanservice.


  47. I would describe it as much as Mythic history as fictional history. He’s trying to establish a Mythical justification for My Way, establishing himself as the True Heir of the Apostles. Like all those ancient kings who traced descent from the gods. Or those Medieval kings who traced Divine Right from the Patriarchs and Apostles in the Bible. Or all those pretenders to European thrones throughout history who traced descent from older Royal houses. (And the “Baron of Arizona” who almost pulled off the Peralta Swindle in 19th Century Arizona, claiming descent through marriage from the holder of an original land grant.)


  48. These days it’s not just “a synonym for Calvinistic” but for “More Calvinist Than Thou” or “More Calvinist than Calvin” or “More Calvinist than Calvin could ever imagine”.

    P.S. I like you pointing out the Landmark Baptist similarity. I remember the original Internet Monk’s essay on the subject. And the “Trail of Blood with the labels painted over” I was exposed to intermittently during my own time in-country. (How convenient that every “Trail of Blood” always ends with the tracer’s denom as THE One True Church in the trace. That alone is enough to mess up its credibility.)


  49. Excellent article, i would also add dismay at the fact that John MacArthur and leaders of his bent tend to hold conferences about errors that no one in his circle of influence is really susceptible to falling into.

    I once attended a very conservative Reformed conference where speaker after speaker referred to the Toronto blessing heresy and constantly refuted the laughing revival as it was called then.

    The only thing this built up was the pride and smug self righteousness of the hearers. I call this tickling their ears, and pandering to their needs, and the root of it is the same dynamic that results in compromising teaching in other areas.

    Sin operates in orthodox circles as well as unorthodox circles, and it’s time we recognized this.


  50. Great piece. This fictional history that JM holds to, more than any particular doctrine, is what bothers me about his approach to theology and church.


  51. Macarthur would say that the holy spirit still leads us all into truth, just not through visible signs…

    Though the Plain Reading of His Word (as interpreted through Johnny Mac, of course).


  52. Exactly the same Church History as the Mormons. And the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    And GOD didn’t fall fast asleep “for a century or two”, but for FIFTEEN TO NINETEEN CENTURIES, from the Time of the Apostles and the Book of Acts until Our Founding Apostle restored the REAL New Testament Church. Whether that Founding Apostle Led By God is named Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russel, or Johnyy Mac.


  53. Unless you redefine history as thoroughly as The Party in Oceania. And the more I read about Johnny Mac et al, the more it looks like that’s what’s happening.


  54. Mike — I think you have misunderstood cessationism pretty throroughly in this post, and also misunderstood MLJ’s continuationism.

    I have to admit I always am uneasy when anyone starts talking about a single stream of pure and narrow orthodoxy for the reasons you list in this post, but if that’s what you and I agree on it ought to be then applied to how much more MacArthur and MLJ have in common than to say that MLJ was somehow not a deist but what MacArthur is advocating for omits the Holy Spirit from active and living work in the body of Christ.


  55. Absolutely. In including Luther and the Marian Martyrs in his statements, JM is forgetting that Luther’s objective wasn’t to leave Catholicism, but to reform the Church. Cranmer, Hooker, etc., wanted to establish/restore the orthodox nature of English faith. I won’t say that many English reformers didn’t have Calvinist leanings, because that would be inaccurate; I also won’t say that all of them did, because that would be wrong, as well. Don’t be lumping me in with people who burned rood screens and icons, just because I admire some of the reformers. Just because you had a Central London address in the 1500’s did not make you Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist.


  56. I was replying specifically to Damaris’s point “I guess if he doesn’t believe the Holy Spirit is still leading us into all truth.” Your article was good, and I am not defending Macarthur.


  57. Macarthur would say that the holy spirit still leads us all into truth, just not through visible signs – strictly through sanctifying people and calling them to God. I don’t buy this at all (even though I am suspicious of the charismatic movement), but let’s represent him accurately.


  58. “Don’t call yourself a Charismatic Calvinist. John Calvin would reject that. He did reject that. You’ll have to drop the Calvinist part.”

    You could just as easily replace “Charismatic” with “Baptist” and apply it to Johnny Mac.

    Macarthur is a dispensational, low-church baptist, Calvinist. That’s fine for him, but he seems completely unaware that this is really a rather recent, idiosyncratic, and unusual combination to be policing everyone from.


  59. The 288 Marian Martyrs? Hmmm…I’m finding that a bit of a stretch in and of itself, on some levels. It seems that JM is attempting to lump all of those English martyrs into the Calvinist camp, but this just isn’t accurate. The English reformation did not come about because everyone wanted to abandon Rome in favor of reformed theology; instead, the English reformers believed that the Catholic Church, in it’s state during that time period, had abandoned the catholic faith of the patristic church. The English Church favored a great deal of Catholic practice, in terms of baptism, liturgy, apostolic succession, veneration of saints, the teachings of the early fathers of the Church, etc. Even today, an Anglican Church would “feel more Catholic” than say, a Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist body. I don’t think that JM’s theology would be in line with Jewell’s “Apology for the Church of England”. I also find it interesting that guys like JM and Piper never, ever, ever mention the influence of St. Bernard of Clairvaux on Calvin, even though Calvin himself admired Bernard’s writings greatly. I wonder what they would have to say about Bernard?


  60. Yes, it has become a synonym for Calvinistic, rather than an accurate designation for an historic tradition. Michael Horton wrote about that a couple of years ago and suggested that the Calvinistic, baptistic, non-denominational or newer denominations should not use Reformed to describe themselves.


  61. Thank you Mike for the research and articulation.

    I’ve been puzzled of late by the use of the term “Reformed” which seems to be used much more narrowly to define Calvinism only. Looks to me like another failure in historical perspective…


  62. and …irony of ironies…. this sounds so MORMON… the very group that GTY likes to bring out for comparisons to whatever flavor they are bagging on in the moment: it’s as if GOD fell fast asleep for a century or two


  63. One of the problems with this approach is that, like the Landmark Baptists, you have to ignore the details.

    I would have said “facts” rather than “details.” 🙂

    Great essay!


  64. Very helpful analysis, Mike. Again one must ask how MacArthur would explain his 1000-year plus gap. However, I guess if he doesn’t believe the Holy Spirit is still leading us into all truth, it’s easier to accept that for over a millennium there were not “real” Christians; in other words, there were no people who were “correctly” reading the Bible.

    I’d love to see MacArthur face to face with Athanasius — that fierce and passionate man would be no American pastor’s poster child!


  65. Good article Mike. I read the initial accounts of Pastor McArthur’s remarks and was quite puzzled.

    I grew up in an IFCA church in Chicago. In the late 1970’s the church split over what I now view as hyperdispensationalism. Everybody in that church was a strong dispensationalist but there were significant numbers who took it to extremes. That faction left the church when John McArthur’s father became our pastor.

    I liked the senior Pastor McArthur but he constantly taught and preached against the charismatic movement. It was interesting because there was not a person in the congregation who held any Pentecostal beliefs. Decades later, I’m puzzled by this.

    I wish John McArthur well but he is too dogmatic for me.


  66. To call MacArthur a “Reformed Baptist” IMHO is not accurate. He is a strongly Calvinistic Baptist, but of a definite and clearly stated dispensationilist view that for most RB’s that I know would put Mac outside of the pure RB line of history…

    That said, your post does illustrate how messy historical theology is,and how we need to be careful of how we speak of our heros in our huberistic attempts to score points in theological argument and discussion…. Church history is not the only branch of history that gets abused in this way…



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