Everybody’s favorite charismatic-hater is at it again.
Last weekend John MacArthur hosted a conference called “Strange Fire” for the express purpose of shutting down the charismatic movement once and for all. All sorts of Reformed heavyweights, including R. C. Sproul and Joni Eareckson Tada, put in appearances. Reformed blogger Tim Challies, who has made a career of live-blogging Neo-Reformed conferences, was there and he took copious notes. (Nice work if you can get it.) If you are into that sort of thing, you can read his notes here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
The conference was not without drama, as Mark Driscoll crashed it and handed out copies of his latest book. Reportedly they were confiscated by security. Wouldn’t you love to have been there to see that? That alone would have been worth the price of admission.
But today we are going to key in on a remark MacArthur made in his closing address.
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.
There’s MacArthur’s vision of church history. His idea of the narrow, pure stream of sound doctrine has an awful lot in common with the Landmark Baptists and their “Trail of Blood” (kids: Wikipedia).
I am not a fan of the Landmark Baptist idea that all of church history traces back through all these weird sects and movements that dwelt on the fringes of orthodox Christianity, if they could be called orthodox at all. Many of these movements probably believed and affirmed things which today’s Baptists would find downright repugnant if not completely unrecognizable.
Neither am I a fan of that “faithful stream” of sound doctrine and teaching to which MacArthur alludes. Go through the list of people whom MacArthur names, and you will find that a lot of these people hold beliefs which are completely contrary to anything MacArthur would affirm. Chaplain Mike at internetmonk.com lists several of these along with good reasons why MacArthur would not be so enthusiastic about them if he considered all of what they were really about. Athanasius, who stood faithfully against the Arianism of his day but is revered by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox for reasons contrary to anything MacArthur would affirm. St. Augustine, whose teachings on original sin and divine grace attract unabashed enthusiasm from Calvinists the world over but who rejected premillennialism, took a non-literal view of Genesis 1 and 2, and proclaimed that “No man can find salvation except in the Catholic Church”. Luther, who said “The just shall live by faith” but baptized babies, taught the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, spoke uncharitably about certain books of the Bible, and held a very exalted view of Mary that would push most Protestants over the edge. Calvin, who is mentioned in the same breath as Luther but had profound disagreements with him, chiefly on the nature of the Lord’s Supper. And then there’s Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. Chaplain Mike goes on for several paragraphs about why MacArthur would not have included Lloyd-Jones if he knew anything about him.
Chaplain Mike brings it home by saying that the names mentioned in MacArthur’s quote were not real people, but rather pegs on which to hang a few of his pet ideas. The actual people were much more complex and had many beliefs which go against anything MacArthur would affirm. When you reduce people to ideas, especially cherry-picked ideas, it is never a good thing. The real stream of church history is much broader, and yes, much messier than anything MacArthur would like to believe.