I wanted to address some comments Kent Brandenburg made a few weeks ago. Writing on the cherished Fundamentalist practice of separation, he states,
Alright, so Charismatic doctrine is unbiblical. I run into Charismatics all the time going door-to-door (I’ve written a very helpful tract to give them too, that we hand them), and they are not only contradictory to the doctrine of our church, but also the doctrine of the church period. The young evangelical I referenced chose to call it an “odd ball view.” Odd ball view? It’s false doctrine. It contradicts scripture. That’s bad enough. We could stop there, but it does far more damage then that, and John MacArthur himself, this young man’s pastor, has written a scathing book against the odd ball views. It was one of MacArthur’s early books, that went into a second printing, and he makes it look very bad and dangerous and hurtful. He’s correct on all fronts. Bravo John MacArthur in your true exposure of these false doctrines!
Writing a book is fine. But what does Romans 16:17 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 tell us to do? It says “mark and avoid” and “withdraw ourselves” from these. I’m not nitpicking. I’m talking about applying what God commanded us to do. Talk to God about it. He’s the one that said it. Are we nitpicking if we report what God said? If so, well, then I guess I’ll be nitpicking. And then he implies that we lack discernment, and that’s why we can’t have guys like Piper preach for us. If he came, we’d get all confused and not know what we believe. Right. No, it really is wanting to obey passages of Scripture—that black stuff on white paper, those words. That’s how we’re sanctified, is by the truth. It’s in those pages we see the face of Jesus, which changes us into His glory. Are we changed into His glory when we don’t do what He said? No.
First off, I appreciate being called young. I was actually flattered a bit; especially seeing that I am probably older than Kent. It’s like that time a couple of Christmases ago when I went into the grocery store to get a bottle of wine for some recipe my wife was making and the lady at the register carded me by asking for my driver’s license. I was befuddled. “Really?” I exclaimed, “I’ve never been carded before in my life! You just made my day, mam!”
But moving along to the point at hand.
Kent was troubled by this post I wrote. Even more so with the comments I left to an individual underneath it regarding John MacArthur’s relationship with the Resolved Conferences, John Piper, and I guess by extension, C.J. Mahaney; but mostly Piper.
Kent represents a vocal group of Fundamentalist finger-wagging gatekeepers who have always been critical of John and his “affiliations” with alleged problematic individuals like Piper and Mahaney. John’s relationship with them is viewed as an insidious form of compromise. As my commenter noted, for John to write a hard-hitting book against charismatics and then embrace a charismatic like Mahaney is confusing to folks.
Let me respond with a number of thoughts. Oh, I should add this one note: I do not speak in any official capacity here. These items reflect my own personal take.
First. Do Kent and his friends genuinely believe John is blissfully unaware of Piper and Mahaney’s “issues”? Or perhaps they think he doesn’t care? Believe me: John knows and he cares. The difference is that he understands the value of what they say on those areas of biblical importance, and when that comes to the Resolved Conferences, those areas are the Gospel message, the glory of God, the life of Christ, etc. Charismatic issues were never at the forefront at those conference. Any “confusing” questions about those issues can be dealt with at other points when they arise.
Second. John and John have been friends and acquaintances for sometime. Long before the popularity of “conferences.” Piper has come a few times over the years to speak at TMS and the TMC. The first time I heard him speak was back in the mid-90s for a TMS morning chapel and it was Piper at his best speaking on the glory of God in preaching. Rather than throwing him under the bus, MacArthur graciously looks past those problem areas and emphasizes those profitable things Piper has to offer Christians as a whole.
Third. That does not mean MacArthur has “no opinion” about Piper or Mahaney. If you would ask him what he thinks of their problematic areas, MacArthur would not hesitate to tell you, all the while doing his best to be gracious toward them. Additionally, I know for a fact MacArthur has spoken with Piper on these things personally, though I am not privy to all that was discussed.
Fourth. Piper has been asked to speak at conferences with MacArthur, not necessarily his church. Though Piper has been in the pulpit at Grace on a few occasions, most of the venues under scrutiny by Kent and his friends are conferences. There is a different tone, feel, and purpose with conferences than worship at a church. Though I am sure Kent will wrinkle his nose at this, I hold who speaks and what is said at a conference more loosely than who preaches and what is preached in a church pulpit. They are in two separate arenas for my discernment filter.
The reason being is that speakers can show up unexpectedly last-minute at a conference or say something off the wall that may not reflect what the conference is about specifically, or the conviction of the other conference participants particularly.
Additionally, planners for conferences may not, if ever, solicit the opinion of the other conference members about who it is they are inviting and who will speak with them. Hence. Just because MacArthur is on a platform with Piper or Mahaney does not mean he endorses either directly or by the so-called “platform association” the unspoken “problem” areas of their theology.
And yes, I know my detractors will say: “But you are inviting them!” Indeed we are, but again, it’s a conference not church.
Fifth. Because I make that distinction between conferences and church, if Piper was invited frequently to preach at our church, and his odd-ball beliefs – (which by the way go beyond any charismatic tendencies like his inviting Rick Warren to speak at his Desiring God conference and his embracing of Mark Driscoll) – were to be taught from our pulpit and encouraged by the leadership at our church, then I think Kent could have reason to be concerned and write the criticisms he has. Because that is hardly the case, so I think his critique is petty and misdirected.
Sixth. After reading a series of posts that Kent wrote up, I am often left wondering if those individuals of a Fundamentalist stripe have ever learned any ability to genuinely discern. Do all our “associations” without exception have to fall in line under our stated theological convictions? Or is there any room for disagreement or covering over of those areas where our association may be “off”?
Take for instance a relatively unknown association MacArthur has been involved with for a good number of years. Back in the early 90s, shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the doors opened to the West, Russian Baptist leadership began to seek out John to get more exposure to his teaching. That led to the planting of seminaries modeled after TMS and led by TMS grads, as well as a number of speaking engagements and Russian pastor conferences like what we have here in the U.S.
Those Baptist leaders who early on sought out John are for the most part Arminian in their theology. Moreover, they have weird traditions, like the notion that women can be literally saved by the number of children she has. Certainly there could have been Reformed folks who would nit-pick about John’s “association” with hardshell Arminians, and I guess one could say there were other issues of concern with those dear Russian saints. But rather than avoiding any involvement with them at all, John cautiously took the initiative and so began a tremendous partnership that has had amazing impact for the Gospel in Russia.
Seventh. The “separation” passages Kent uses to prove his point are woefully taking out of context. I’ll break them down for you:
Romans 16:17 says, Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
Kent writes that no one wants to obey those words and it is not “nitpicking” to demand that we do so. However, in the next post in his series, Kent writes, It’s not plain that Romans 16 is talking about people outside of the church. It seems like he’s talking about people in the church, people who call themselves brothers, because they cause division.
Is that what those little black words say? In the following verses, Paul writes,
18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
19 For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.
20 And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. (Rom 16:18-20)
There are a few characteristics of those so-called “brothers.” They are distinguished from the “brethren” mentioned in verse 17. They “do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ.” They intentionally deceive. It is implied they are not obedient in contrast to the “obedience” of the “brethren.” The “brethren” are exhorted to be wise in what is good as opposed to that which is “evil.” And Paul seems to imply that those who are to be separated from are identified with Satan in verse 20.
Nothing suggests that they are genuine Christians, because of these characteristics. Additionally, if they were genuine believers, why would Paul NOT offer correctives to their divisiveness? Is that implying that they were doctrinally sound in faith and practice in other areas of their life, but their “divisive behavior” just puts them on a banned list for all the other Christians? I don’t think so. What Paul is saying here suggests a purging of unbelievers by the means of church discipline.
What about 2 Thessalonians 3:6 which states, But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.
That is another verse that isn’t a stand alone comment from Paul. It is part of a greater context that extends to nearly the end of the chapter. That being, Paul’s exhortation to separate from individuals who no longer worked and were acting like gossipy busy-bodies as Paul describes them in verse 11. More than likely, they were individuals who were of a “survivalist” cult-like mentality. They were no longer “working,” but had given up the real life to sit around in the desert and wait for Jesus to show up. In a manner of speaking, the original Family Radio/Campingites.
The situation Paul recommends is to place them in church discipline in which they are admonished (vs. 18).
Now. As far as I am concerned, Piper is a Christian. Hopefully Kent isn’t saying Piper is a lying, false brother who is deceiving the simple minded. And, I don’t think Piper has ever set a date about Jesus coming back to the point he created some wacky survivalist cult.
Does he have problem areas in his theology and practice? Certainly. But the Resolved Conferences are no longer and to my knowledge MacArthur isn’t involved with Piper in a conference anytime soon.
So let’s have a bit of perspective. Do you all seriously think John has compromised 40 years of faithful ministry to the point of disrepair because he had John Piper speak at a Resolve Conferences? Are Fundamentalist so feeble-minded when it comes to practical discernment within ministry that they have to twist and turn Scripture in order to concoct artificial “qualifications” so as to identify various lines of demarcation for whom to separate from? Honestly, that mind-set can be just a serious a problem as Piper and Mahaney’s alleged issues.