I had the unfortunate privilege of listening to John MacArthur’s lecture on Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist should be a Pre-millenialist. ((You can find some links about the sermon here and here.)) It was undoubtedly the worse lecture I have ever heard from John MacArthur. If I had paid $300 for this conference I would be asking for a re-fund and some apologies. I am rather convinced that the late Jack Hyles was not as arrogant as MacArthur was on this disgraceful sermon. I must admit at the outset that this post is somewhat odd in comparison to my usual writing, however, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts in light humor, anger and theological conviction. Be aware that every bold word or italicized phrase bears a crucial amount of significance to this critique of MacArthur’s abstruse message. The following requirements are necessary to understand the crux of this message: a) A fundamentalist background. b) A familiarity with fundamentalist evangelists. c) And finally, you must have a great love for dispensational brothers from all stripes, while at the same time despising their hermeneutic and what they have done in destroying the evangelical church (If you are not able to strike a perfect balance in this respect, then you are probably not prepared to read this post).
I do remember that in earlier days I was extremely attracted to John MacArthur. On a hot summer afternoon in college, ((Though I refuse to make mention of what college I went to; I will say that its initials are CCC)) I sat down with his introduction to Lordship salvation entitled Saved Without a Doubt. While my forehead perspired profusely, I read the 200 pages in about 5 hours or so. I recall how impressed I was with his exegetical skills and ability to shatter antinomian reasoning. Since then, I still find many of his arguments compelling. ((Please note that I have just given him a compliment here)) Over the years my theological convictions have changed immensely and I dare say continue to change in some respect. Nevertheless, here is one element that has not changed, and that is, the insatiable opposition to self-professed calvinists who claim to be a Calvinist while at the same time affirming a relentless affection for things anti-Calvinistic. Allow me to asseverate a few troubling contradictions in this MacArthuresque dilemma:
a) Dispensationalism is the most consistent approach to eschatology available today.
b) Dispensationalism offers a literal approach to the Scriptures that is not found in any other system.
c) Dispensationalism does full justice to ethnic Jews.
Anytime anyone affirms that a particular system that is not older than 200 years is the most consistent form of anything has made the most puerile assertion in the last 2,000 years. What leads someone to throw away Church History to embrace his autonomous self-professed calvinistic ((If I am consistent enough in this post I will refer to MacArthur’s calvinism with a little “c.” That is only because I have not yet figured out how to diminish the “c” to a 2 font.)) hermeneutic. Tom Farrell, the evangelist, once mentioned that if you don’t embrace the Lordship of Christ now, there will be no time for you in the Tribulation to do so. Believe it or not, I was sitting there in the front row when I heard that staggering statement. I froze and wondered, as I still freeze and wonder 7 years later and ask: what does the idea of Lordship and a Dispensational scare tactic called the Tribulation have in common? ((For those wondering, my understanding of the Tribulation goes back to a particular date in the first century…anyone familiar with the date?)) Answer: dictatorship. These two ideas can have no connection with each other. The idea of Christ as a dictator fits much better with this hermeneutic. Christ says submit to my way ((For MacArthur, submission to Christ’s Lordship also means don’t drink and don’t smoke and support Israel)) and you will not feel the terror of a one-world order dominated by an anti-christ figure who will scar you with a man-made tattoo or a chip, if you prefer. Gary North was right when he said many years ago that Dispensationalism was on its deathbed. Professor Bruce Waltke was also right when he said in 1991 that Dispensationalism is destined to die unless some academic hero saves it from its predestined doom. So far, MacArthur does not fit the bill…maybe Tommy Ice, but again Ice is a calvinist, who works with Tim Lahaye. Try figuring that one out.
MacArthur asserted in his infamous sermon that Amillennialism is better fitted for Arminians. In his words, it is a much better eschatology since Arminians believe that you can be saved and then not saved. According to MacArthur, since Amillennialism believes that there is no longer a future plan for ethnic Israel, then they must be denying the exhaustive sovereignty of God in election. Did you follow this logic? This must make perfect sense for MacArthur…at least to him and the dozens of fans at his Shepherd’s conference. It is somewhat ironic that even when he appears to be minimizing the abuses of Dispensationalism like the Left Behind Series and the Clarence Larkin charts ((Enjoy Dispensational humor? click here)) one still wonders in what serious ways would MacArthur disagree with these men? Of course, Phil Johnson probably can’t write as good a novel as Tim Lahaye or Jenkins. I guess in the end MacArthur is probably not as artistically inclined to draw intricate charts, though I assume someone at Master’s must be gifted with that desirable gift. Lest I forget, it should be noted that Arminians are not, well, at least for the most part, they are not Amillennialists. Nevertheless, the invitation is open for some Amillennialist to affirm Arminianism in the comment section. ((Maybe Hank Hanegraaff will drop a note))
A second devastating critique of Amillennialism ((Have I mentioned that since MacArthur does not know the difference between Post-Mil and A-mil, he lumps both theologies together; well, I am at least glad he mentioned the ever dangerous Post-millennial theology of victory)) according to MacArthur is that Dispensationalism offers a literal approach to the Bible. A literal approach indeed! According to one reliable source “literal” means: “being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical.” MacArthur says that if we take the first few chapters of Genesis literally then we have no right to take Revelation in any other fashion. I am curious to hear MacArthur’s literalism triumph when he encounters phrases like “for the time is near.” ((Revelation 1:3)) Well, of course, this cannot refer to a first century event since Revelation was referring to a future event. Well, that is only if you believe that “near” and “quickly” and “soon” are not literal, that is, not a strict meaning of the word.
This distinction between literal and allegorical is one of the most faulty theological distinctions ever made. It is so ridiculous that to make such distinctions is to nail your theological grave. Every system, if they intend to be in any sense Biblical, will apply both methods. To assert that Dispensationalism is literal and other systems are allegorical or symbolic is pure non-sense. In the words of Vern Poythress, the main difference between these systems is not literal vs. allegorical, but how one system sees the anticipation and the fulfillment of certain events taking place. Dispensationalism sees national Israel as a distinct body from the church, whereas Covenantal Theology sees the Israel of the Older Covenant as a type of the New Israel, or the Israel of God as Galatians 6:16 makes clear. But of course, MacArthur has a perfect response for Galatians 6:16. He believes that it refers to saved Jews. But how can this be when the letter is addressed to the churches ((Notice a bold and italicized word means very important)) of Galatia? (Galatians 1:2) Somehow that did not make it into his critique.
The final assertion is that Dispensationalism does full justice to ethnic Jews. This is truly bizarre. How many Jews die in the Tribulation period anyway? The beauty of Covenant Theology is that the ethnic Jew saved by grace is adopted into the universal church. The distinctions have been erased; the walls of partition are torn down like the walls of Jericho, and the Jew no longer can claim exclusive privileges except for the fact that they speak Hebrew and then there is the Romans 11:36 dispute between Amils and Post-Mils, which MacArthur seems to believe are the same system. Beyond that, where is the justice in dividing the church of Christ? It appears, rather, that Dispensationalism minimizes the unspeakable sacrifice of our Lord to bring the church into oneness. ((John 17)) Speaking of Christ’s sacrifice, why are the sacrifices re-instated in the Millennial age, when the ultimate sacrifice has already taken place?
The absurdities could continue for ever and ever and a millennium. Suffice to say, MacArthur has proven once and for all why every self-respecting Calvinist should never be a Dispensationalist.
A Self-respecting Calvinist.