Thursday, August 25, 2011

Macarthur's Second Letter To The Young Reformers - The Cessationist Stink (Part 4)

John Macarthur's letters to the "Young, Restless, and Reformed" (YRR) have certainly become a major talking point on the world wide web. It proved strong medicine for this YRR blogger:

The best analogy I could give is that of a young adult being scolded by a parent. When I read MacArthur's post I can't help but feel that he's the dad who is disappointed in how I've turned out (i.e. I'm not like him) and I'm the son who thinks, 'My father just doesn't get me.' . . .

Was that really necessary? Is that really going to win a hearing with the crowd he's 'admonishing'? Or is it merely a dig so that all the MacArthurites around the world can rejoice that they've struck down another foe?

I feel like he doesn't get me. It seems like he's so angry at Mark Driscoll that he hasn't taken the time to get to know me. Like the father who thinks his son is the same as the rock stars on MTV. That's Driscoll, not me.

Sure, for some fashion may be a thing. But it's not for me. I just don't care about clothes, as long as things are done decently and in order. Even his analogies fall short. A lot of people in our generation don't wear suits to weddings or to court. Or to funerals for that matter. It's not that I pay careful attention to Abercrombie; it's just that I don't think what I wear to church is nearly so crucial to the gospel as you.

This series seemed to me like it could be a really good thing. I honestly was looking forward to reading it, once I preached some truth to my heart. But this tone and these opening observations make it hard. Very, very hard.

Correction is always hard. One of the ongoing conflicts that rages in my mind so often is when one of my elder peers warns about the dangers of modern music styles. On the one hand I find myself disagreeing with him because I zero in on the theological content without being concerned with style (though I would say that some styles are so chaotic that the content gets lost in all the noise). On the other hand I remind myself of my fallen nature, that my rebuke is coming from a godly man who is definitely wiser than me, and that I will probably be the wrong party in most of our disputes. But I still don't buy my friend's counsel. I know I could be right but remind myself that invariably I am impetuous and wrong. I have no easy answer in this realm where preferences and hermeneutics collide. I just try to proceed with humble caution and heed Scriptures counsel to extend my undivided attention to those elders who have proven themselves as godly and wise. If in doubt, I almost always lean on their counsel.

One of my Australian friends once said to me that "the most annoying thing about John Macarthur is that he is always right." Granted that is hyperbole, nonetheless Macarthur has stood as a pillar of gospel truth for decades among the shifting sands of evangelical trends and he does seem to invariably get it right in historical hindsight. So let's close our mouths, sit down, and listen to Macarthur's second letter:

Grow Up
Advice for YRRs (part 2)
July 25, 2011
by John MacArthur

If I could impress on Young, Restless, Reformed students just one word of friendly counsel to address what I think is the most glaring deficiency in that movement, this is what it would be: "Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature" (1 Corinthians 14:20).

I'm very glad the ranks of YRRs are growing numerically. Many good things about that movement are full of promise and potential. In order to fulfill that potential, however, this generation of Reformers desperately needs to move past the young-and-restless stage. Immaturity and unrest are hindrances to spiritual fruitfulness, not virtues.

When Paul told Timothy, "Let no one despise you for your youth" (1 Timothy 4:12), he wasn't suggesting that Timothy should forbid people in the church to disapprove if the pastor were to display immaturity, juvenile misbehavior, youthful indiscretion, or other traits of callow character.

Much less was the apostle suggesting that Timothy should cater exclusively to young people while purposely marginalizing the elderly. That, I'm sorry to say, is the kind of advice we sometimes hear nowadays from many self-styled church-growth experts: Pastors must be innovative, stylish, agents of change. You have got to appeal to young people. They are the only demographic that really matters if the goal is to impact the culture.

And if elderly people in the church prove to be "resisters," just show them the door. Give them the left foot of fellowship. After all, "There are moments when you've got to play hardball."

But for heaven's sake don't dress for hardball. HCo. clothes and hipster hair are essential tools of contextualization. The more casual, the better. Distressed, grunge-patterned T-shirts and ripped jeans are perfect. You would not want anyone to think you take worship as seriously as, say, a wedding or a court appearance. Be cool. Which means (of course) that you mustn't be perceived as punctilious about matters of doctrine or hermeneutics. But whatever you do, do not fail to pay careful attention to Abercrombie & Fitch.

I sometimes think no group is more fashion-conscious than the current crop of hipster church planters—except perhaps teenage girls.

But, someone protests, Scripture does say, "Let no one despise youthfulness."

We frequently hear that text cited to make that argument. But Paul's point to Timothy was precisely the opposite: Don't give anyone a reason to criticize you for being immature, "but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." Paul was not suggesting that Timothy should exaggerate his youthfulness or wear it as a badge of distinction; he was urging the young pastor to cultivate maturity beyond his years.

Charles Spurgeon understood the principle. He became pastor of London's largest and most famous Baptist congregation at the age of 20, less than five years after his conversion. But he consciously and diligently sought to display maturity beyond his years—especially in his manners and his approach to ministry. At age 40, he reflected on the brevity of his own adolescence: "I might have been a young man at twelve, but at sixteen I was a sober, respectable Baptist parson, sitting in the chair and ruling and governing the church. At that period of my life, when I ought perhaps to have been in the playground . . . I spent my time at my books, studying and working hard, sticking to it."

As I have shown elsewhere, evangelicalism's childish fascination with teenage fashions, milk rather than meat, and trivial entertainment rather than serious doctrine is deeply rooted in a pragmatic ministry philosophy. It is not "Reformed" in any sense but is a classic expression of man-centered free-willism—what Colossians 2:23 refers to as "self-made religion." It is the antithesis of the Bible's emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the unadulterated gospel as the power of God unto salvation. Instead, it begins with the assumption that the lost must be won by sheer gimmickry—through the cleverness of human ingenuity or the supposed appeal of worldly fashion.

That, of course, is precisely the philosophy Paul rejected and refuted in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

One might think any movement that formally affirms Reformation doctrine would be at the vanguard of opposition to the jejune faddishness that has plagued evangelicalism for the past few decades. But that has not always been the case with today's Young and Restless Reformers. As the YRR movement has taken shape, some of the best-selling books and leading figures in the movement have been completely uncritical (and in some cases openly supportive) of seeker-sensitive-style pragmatism.

Worse, the fads and gimmicks some prominent YRRs seem to want to be known for are much more sinister than the shallow diversions that seeker-friendly churches were playing around with twenty years ago. Judging from certain church websites and pastoral blogs, a sizeable core of young men in the YRR movement are perfectly happy to give the world the impression that cage fighting, beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, hard-partying, and other forms of bad-boy-behavior are the distinguishing marks of their religion. Meanwhile, many others who identify with the movement evidently think any talk of holiness—not to mention any concern for taste or propriety—is tantamount to the rankest sort of legalism.

Such an opinion reflects a carnal immaturity that must not be encouraged. When smutty talk and lascivious subject matter from the pulpits of 40-year-old pastors are routinely defended by an appeal to the "youthfulness" of the offender, someone's maturity meter is badly askew. It is a serious problem. The movement cannot survive or prosper under leaders who are stuck in perpetual adolescence—no matter how much they talk about manhood and thump their chests to demonstrate their machismo.

Those who exhibit such behavior are out of their element claiming to be Reformed. Maturity is a necessary virtue for those who would be truly effective in ministry. "Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Hebrews 5:14). That is a desirable—and honorable—goal: Strive for it.

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way" (Philippians 3:12-15).

As we will see, this letter is certain to ruffle plenty of reformed feathers!

Go On To Part 5
Go Back To Part 3
Go Back To Part 1

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was not aware of the drinking issue.