Paul's Passing Thoughts

Pastor John MacArthur’s Unfortunate Second Legacy and the Need to Make a Living

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on November 12, 2019

ppt-jpeg4By the time I had been a Christian for three years I was totally frustrated. The frustration came from personal Bible reading set against what was going on in the church. Truly, my faith is totally in God or I would have walked away from the faith. Then one night I turned on the car radio and heard John MacArthur Jr. His historical grammatical preaching didn’t have the practical application of Jay Adams’ counseling construct, but it was certainly heads above everything else that is/was out there. Then the Neo-Calvinist movement happened. MacArthur had a choice (my best guess is circa 1992); and he decided to capitulate to the evangelical industrial complex. More than likely, Dr. Michael Horton and John Piper showed MacArthur what Calvin and Luther really believed about soteriology, and MacArthur chose Calvin and Luther over God. As someone who looked to MacArthur for some sort of biblical sanity while New Calvinism was dragging the church down to hell, I would watch in agony as MacArthur gradually compromised until his coming out party at a T4G conference (2008 if I remember correctly). Hence, there is a lot of confusion about where MacArthur stands which is totally understandable since he has retained a lot of his non-Reformed theologies except those central to justification (salvation).

This brings me to the point of the post. MacArthur is a hybrid theologian which makes answering a question about him on Twitter mostly impossible. Someone reposted the following quotation by MacArthur on Twitter yesterday: “Sinners think they have free will, but the Bible defines the sinner as in bondage to sin. It is a bondage to sin that is so profound that the only thing they can choose is which sin.” I responded this way: “Um, be honest and add the fact that MacArthur is also talking about believers.” This resulted in someone asking when MacArthur has said that; ie., believers are in bondage to sin just like unbelievers.

Well, the short answer is MacArthur’s  post-1990s definition of what a sinner is. Prior to the 90s Macarthur believed in a literal new birth that changed a believer’s nature. MacArthur even rejected the idea of two natures within the believer and got a lot of grief for teaching that—even by Baptists. So, by virtue of the fact that he believes “sinners” include both the saved and the lost, he pretty much said it in the quotation I commented on but I will expand a little more. Prior to the 90’s, and after his more literal view of the new birth in the 70s, MacArthur took on the idea of realm yielding, that is, the idea that believers have the pressure of two realms on them and they “yield” to one or the other. This interprets Romans 8:2 as two realms rather than the Spirit’s two uses of the law and the two different relationships of the law for unbelievers and believers brought about by the new birth. MacArthur often framed this in the two different masters/slaves construct but it boils down to the basic idea of yielding. This change to a more passive view of sanctification primed him for his compromise with the New Calvinists.

MacArthur is now an avowed Calvinist, and has sponsored conferences extolling Martin Luther at his church; both of these Reformers were strict proponents of justification being a “legal declaration” only with no change in the “believer’s” nature. This ministry has supplied truck loads of citations on that and noted also that Calvin and Luther believed the total depravity of the saints is the linchpin of the very gospel itself.

So, if an unbelieving sinner is in bondage to sin, and a “believer” is still a sinner, obviously, “believers” are likewise in bondage to sin. This is my reasoning for stating what I did on Twitter and now the long answer follows.

This is why the Reformers believed that Christians still need to be saved, and why John Piper states such often. ANYONE who still needs salvation is still in bondage to sin and not free from it. I distinctly remember MacArthur saying on the radio sometime in the 80s that, “You are not only declared righteous, you are righteous.” Is this something he believes presently? NO, NO, NO, NO. To the Reformers, this idea of a believer being righteous as a state of being is the crux of all false gospels. The tradition is to refer to it as “infused grace” and claim that it is a Catholic doctrine. In fact, the question of “infused grace” is where everyone finds agreement on the following: this debate is what launched the Protestant Reformation. But here is the dirty little secret: the debate was totally driven by the competing world philosophies of the day. So right, the whole Sola Scriptura folklore is a bunch of boloney.

MacArthur, like all those of the Reformed tradition, believes that ALL righteousness remains outside of the believer. He also believes in the doctrine of Double Imputation and this is the idea that our sin was not only imputed to Christ, but that Christ came to live a perfect life so that His righteousness can be imputed to our sanctification. Hence, Christians only experience the works of Christ but are not the ones performing the work. This is a Martin Luther doctrine contemporarily referred to as “the objective gospel outside of us experienced subjectively.” Or “objective justification experienced subjectively.”

According to Luther, as we experience life, we have no way of knowing whether it is us initiating the action we partake in, or the Spirit. Hence, it’s subjective. BUT, EVERY action we initiate is evil, so, we have no way of knowing whether or not our “love actions” actually came from us or the Spirit, but if it came from us, it’s pseudo-love and totally evil. Tim Keller took a lot of heat some years ago for telling Christians that they believe a false gospel if they don’t “repent of good works,” but that’s actually sound Protestant orthodoxy. I listened in horror to MacArthur state in a Q and A that Christians obey God’s law without knowing it because it is really the Spirit obeying Christ and not us. This is a common way for Reformed teachers to explain that particular doctrine. I articulate the sad occurrence and the doctrine behind it here: John MacArthur’s Showing Without Telling: The Reformed Way of Preaching Progressive Justification.

Again, my argument is the traditional Protestant understanding of what a sinner is: the Protestant definition includes both believers and unbelievers. Hence, both are in bondage to sin. And, MacArthur stands firmly with those who state this Protestant belief in no uncertain terms. It is hard to know who states it clearer, but perhaps it is Matt Chandler or John Piper. On August 22, 2015, John Piper prayed at a Christian anti-abortion rally at a Planned Parenthood location in St. Paul, Minnesota. In that prayer, he stated:

“And we acknowledge in the face of your holiness and power that we are sinners. Everyone standing here in this gathering is a sinner in desperate need of salvation that you offer in Jesus Christ. We know that our conscience condemns us, and if our own consciences do, how much more your holy law. So we have not lived up even to our own standards, let alone to your standards. And we confess our sins corporately before you as individuals.”

Shockingly, this statement includes the overt caveat of declaring that “believers” are still under the condemnation of the law which explicitly defines the unregenerate according to Scripture. On John Piper, other than the fact that MacArthur will speak with him at the 2020 TG3 conference as well as many other who proclaim the total depravity of the saints, he said, “I would affirm my love and appreciation for C. J. Mahaney, Wayne Grudem, John Piper, and other conservatives in the continuationist camp. I consider these men to be friends and allies for the sake of the gospel.” In a Resolved conference hosted by John MacArtur’s church, CJ Mahaney declared that believers hate God and remain His enemies.

When these guys use the word, “sinner,” they are speaking about believers and unbelievers both.

In a 1992 message on Justification by Faith, MacArthur states, “justification is a forensic, or purely legal, term. It describes what God declares about the believer, not what He does to change the believer. In fact, justification effects no actual change whatsoever in the sinner’s nature or character.” Got it? Justification does not change the “sinner.” The justified are still sinners. It is also interesting that Protestants declare justification a “legal declaration” when the apostle Paul said it is a “righteousness manifested APART from the law.” How is a legal declaration apart from the law? Other statments by MacArthur in this same message are equally stunning yet still very Protestant.

MacArthur continues:

“Justification is distinct from sanctification because in justification God does not make the sinner righteous; He declares that person righteous (Romans 3:28; Galatians 2:16). Notice how justification and sanctification are distinct from one another:

– Justification imputes Christ’s righteousness to the sinner’s account (Romans 4:11b); sanctification imparts righteousness to the sinner personally and practically (Romans 6:1-7; 8:11-14)
– Justification takes place outside sinners and changes their standing (Romans 5:1-2), sanctification is internal and changes the believer’s state (Romans 6:19).
– Justification is an event, sanctification a process.”

This is how Protestant scholars deny that they teach progressive justification. Yet, they also admit that it is sanctification that makes the person righteous as a state of being. So, in other words, the person is made righteous progressively. There are many biblical problems here. In the Bible, righteousness, justification, and salvation are used as synonymous terms. You cannot say with any logical consistency that progressive rightousness differs from progressive justification or a progressive salvation. This is a word shell game that would be the epitome of cutness if not so demonic.

Furthermore, please remember that the internal righteousness they speak of is only a perception or an ability to see the holiness of God as set against your own wickedness, and not an actual internalization of righteousness. On the one hand, they speak as if we are actually made righteous internally while complaining that Catholics propagate infused rightousness on the other. It’s confusing doublespeak on steroids. So, these guys look and sound like they know more than us, so we throw in the towel and accept what they say as gospel. I have come to believe it is deliberate deception.

Before I forget, one should also note that the imputation of Christ’s righteous to our sanctification, according to justification by faith,  is predicated on His substitutionary works of perfect law-keeping imputed to our sanctification through our “participation in Christ,” viz, the “ordinary means of grace.” In other words, church ritual that results in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our sanctification progressively. The iconic RC Sproul even said that Christ had to earn His righteous standing through perfect law -keeping in order for it to be imputed to us.

Other than the fact that Christ is righteous by virtue of who He is, how is that a righteousness apart from the law? And why would Christ do that if there is not a law that can give life according to Galatians chapter three? This would also make the law an additional “seed” instead of there being one seed as Galatians chapter three states. The truth is in the fact that the new birth makes us righteous and changes our relationship to the law per 1John chapter three. We are made righteous as a state of being, internally, because we are born from above. This doesn’t mean that “under grace” means we are not under a law, it means that we are no longer “under law” and its condemnation. CLEARLY, Protestantism maintains that “believers” remain under the law, incessant Protestant doublespeak not withstanding.

Then we have Protestant scholars throwing the Catholic curveball. It is true, Catholicism came to believe that salvation made the believer righteous as a state of being…through the sacraments. According to Protestantism, this means the trading of Christ’s righteousness for individual righteousness. In other words, Protestants object to the idea that the new birth imparts God’s righteousness to the believer in the same way that the father’s DNA is transferred to any newborn. In essence, Protestantism contends that God’s like righteousness is not transferable to others. This is the crux of Luther’s “alien righteousness” soteriology. God’s eternal righteousness cannot be imparted to mortals. Otherwise, it’s a righteousness that belongs to the individual and not God, viz, the dreaded “righteousness of our own.” This is like saying we had the ability to give life and birth to ourselves and now we have a life that has no part of our parents’ DNA. Yet, the Bible states that we were born of an “incorruptible seed” that is “inside of us” and accordingly, we “cannot sin” (1John chapter 3). This doesn’t mean we cannot fail to love resulting in our Father’s chastisment, but it DOES mean that we are no longer under the condemnation of the law.

Here is a major problem with all of this:  if there is NOW…NO condemnation for those in Christ, what do we need church for? We don’t, and…

…what in the world would John MacArthur et al do for a living?



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