Personal Reflections on John’s So-called Theological Controversies and how They Shaped My Theology.
As much as this guy wishes to think he is unique as a critic of John’s ministry, he really isn’t. Over the years, as he has faithfully preached God’s Word, John has attracted a fair number of bitter, petty-minded, mean-spirited detractors who believe it is their holy duty before God Almighty to warn every one in the world of the “errors” in John’s teaching. Granted, a good portion of these people are cranks and weirdos, but a few are not; and I have always been amazed at how John’s preaching and writing can stir up such animosity and strife among these folks. In fact, it was the affect these controversies caused with people, that not only drew me to John’s preaching, but also helped to shape my thinking concerning scripture and theology in general. There were two particular controversies that helped shape me personally.
The Lordship controversy: After having been introduced to John’s ministry in college and listening to preaching tapes for about 6 months, the first controversy I can recall was the Lordship issue. Probably the first John MacArthur book I ever read, and the one that introduced scores of Christians to his ministry, was The Gospel According to Jesus. That book was instrumental in my theological development with understanding the doctrines of salvation. Like the scores of other Christians who read it, I came from a Bible-belt, church going culture that believed praying a prayer after walking an aisle at the pleadings of a revivalist made one an instant heaven bound Christian.
Now, that is not to say there are people saved in those situations. The reality is that many are not, and those many returned to a lifestyle of worldliness while at the same time they believed they were saved and heaven bound because of that brief moment at the front of the church at the end of a service. The Gospel According to Jesus helped frame for me the biblical teaching of what Christ meant when He calls people to follow Him. I was around lots of Baptist college kids who saw attending church as a social club and lived some of the most scandalous lives imaginable. All the while they thought they were living for Jesus.
In my simplistic thinking as a new believer, I thought John was right. My heart was delighted to read someone so refreshing who articulated biblically what I was thinking in my mind about the state of affairs among many of the young “evangelical” youth I knew.
It didn’t take long, however, to discover John’s views were despised. I bumped up against people who claimed he was teaching works salvation, that he was too legalistic, and that he was corrupting the gospel. Books began to be written against his position, most of them from men in the independent, fundamentalist Baptist section of the American church who dared to label John a heretic.
But as annoyed as they were with John’s so-called heresy, I began to make friends with folks who saw the similar problems in the church concerning salvation as I did, and who were as equally blessed with John addressing the issue. Additionally, the few people I witnessed to during my college years in which I challenged them to follow Christ as Lord, believed the message, followed Christ, and are still following Him to this day as committed believers.
So the “controversy” of the Lordship salvation issue helped me to not only have a firmer grasp on articulating a biblical view of salvation, it also brought me closer to the pursuit of God’s holiness in my personal life.
The blood of Christ heresy: The next “controversy” I remember surrounding John was – and still is – one of the most asinine: the blood of Christ heresy. Phil Johnson provides a brief historical background to this ridiculously contrived controversy.
In short, it concerned the biblical phrase “the blood of Christ.” The NT phrase speaks to the bloody death Jesus died as a substitute for sinners. John makes that clear in all of his writings. His accusers claimed he denied the efficacy of Christ’s death and in some strange, quasi-Roman Catholic way, attributed magical qualities to the physical fluid of Christ’s blood.
Such a notion is not only weird, but it is unbiblical. It seemed as though these individuals just wanted to pin some “heresy” on John for the sake of sullying his character. Yet in spite of his attempts at clarity, people still falsely accused him of denying the efficacy of Christ’s death in place of sinners.
I remember being down in the kitchen of our college cafeteria baking rolls with a guy who attended another church in town. We started talking about the Bible and theology and other related matters, and sometime during the conversation I mentioned John MacArthur and he reacted with passionate emotion, “That man denies the blood of Christ! He’s a heretic!” This was the first I had ever heard of this “heresy.” I did my best to convince the fellow, who by the way had never heard John preach once in his life, of John’s non-heretic status, but to no avail.
None the less, I was intrigued, and our conversation stirred me to find out all I could about this so-called heresy of John. I picked up an official statement put out by Grace to You on the controversy, and I even read a screeching booklet filled with lots of sentences highlighted in bold and written out in all caps published by KJV-onlyist D.A. Waite who bitterly complained John’s heresy on this matter corrupted the gospel. But Waite’s booklet, and other materials put out by similar critics, lacked in serious argumentation that John needed to be ran out of town on a rail over this “heresy.” If anything, their insistence John was heretical on the “blood of Christ” only made these critics appear small minded and stupid in light of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary of their claims.
John’s response to this particular controversy did show me the importance of using theological precise terminology derived from the proper handling of God’s Word. Accurate Bible study results in an accurate view of God and a godly personal life. Also, how John responded to this absurd controversy helped me deal with my own personal controversies at the time with some folks I knew who had come under the influence of Bill Gothard’s errant teaching, and still others who were imbibing charismatic error.
I imagine there are some other noteworthy “controversies” John has be embroiled with, but these two had a meaningful impact on my doctrinal development. The fact John doesn’t run from controversy, either from a difficult question presented to him at a Q&A session before a large congregation, or having to defend the gospel from genuine distortion by individuals whose damage to the church is very real, has always been an encouragement to me. I can only hope I will exhibit such courage as he has over the years when I am faced with my own controversy.