Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why Every Self-Respecting What? Is a What?

Few contemporary writers have generated as many books as John MacArthur. With more than 26 commentaries, 43 books, and over a dozen study guides released under his name, the productive pastor of the Grace Community Church (Sun Valley, CA) has impacted today’s evangelicalism in many and varied ways. But, for many pastors, a highlight of the MacArthur ministry is the annual “Shepherd’s Conference,” held at the church. Last year, however, brought a surprise, as MacArthur variously delighted and outraged his standing room only audience of clergy. The topic? "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist."

The logic of the message was clear. Calvinists believe in the sovereignty of an electing God who acts monergistically. What eschatology better reflects the genius of such unilateral divine action than the one that is built on unconditional promises made to Abraham and to his descendents? In other words, what MacArthur was saying was that “every self-respecting Calvinist” should be a “premillennialist.”

But, here Dr. MacArthur uncharacteristically minced his words. For the oldest version of the view that Jesus would come to inaugurate a millennial rule on earth, the so-called “historic premillennialism,” has much in common with the other types of second coming schema popular in Christianity for the last two thousand years.

The historic premillennialist does not build a doctrine of last things upon a distinction between Israel and the Church, but upon the interpretation of a few verses in Revelation 20. Rather, it is only the dispensationalist type of premillennialism, with its unyielding differentiation between Israel and the Church that MacArthur thinks should be the position of every “self-respecting Calvinist.

Now a card-carrying Calvinist, DR. SAM WALDRON, one of the pastors of the Heritage Baptist Church of Ownesboro, Kentucky, and the Professor of Systematic Theology at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies, responds to MacArthur’s “manifesto” with a detailed analysis of the message. (MacArthur’s Millenial Manifesto: A Friendly Response, Sam Waldron, Reformed Baptist Academic Press (2008), 172 pages).

In one of the most irenic rebuttals ever penned, Waldron shows continual respect for MacArthur and his ministry and tackles his topic with great gentleness but systematically dismantles the logic of the much talked about Shepherd’s Conference address that is actually printed as an appendix to the book.

If there were ever a book showing what contemporary amillennialists (those who contend that Jesus will return in a singular way at the end of the age to resurrect the dead, to judge the world, and to usher in the new heavens and the new earth) actually believe, this would be it.
Waldron carefully sweeps away the accumulated misunderstandings, mischaracterizations of the position by opponents, and mean-spirited polemics. Relying upon a command of the Bible, hermeneutics, and two millennia of Christian theology, Waldron writes with simple clarity in some of the shortest chapters in memory. He details why he thinks that MacArthur's dispensational eschatology does not tally best with the teaching of the Bible. The cumulative impact is to make any honest premillennialist want to become, if not an amillennarian, at least a more careful teacher on the subject of the return of Christ.


dougbeyer said...

Hi Dennis,
I'm pleased whenever fellow evangelicals dispute issues with more light than heat. Millennial issues have not been my hot button since I wrote my Th.M. thesis at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on A Critical and Evaluative Analysis of George E. Ladd’s Interpretation of the Thousand Years in Revelation 20 Compared with Representative Amillennial Thought. Not a pivotal paper in theological history, but I like to think that it may have nudged that historically amillennial institution a little closer to the premillennial side.


Amill-Presup said...

I'm working on a follow-up book to MacArthur's called "Why Every Self-Respecting U.S. Navy Seal Is an Al Qaeda Operative." I mean, come on. Dispensational Calvinists? Sure, we expect to bump into them in the pew if they've sat under two pastors or professors without realizing the two were at odds.

I've never understood the positive buzz--much less the hero-worship-- around J.M.


And the last few things he's written have been so sloppy, they're just embarrassing.

Doulos said...

Interesting read--but not particularly convincing, specifically did not handle Acts 1 very well. Mike

ZSB said...

Ever since the dog stopped barking at the ABC-USA, he seems to have very little to say. :)

Dennis E. McFadden said...

How true! For several reasons:

1. My job is a lot more complicated. We are trying to pull off a $45 million expansion.

2. Nothing like deep grief to provoke the spilling of much ink. Three years after the fact, my grieving is largely over and Trans Min is doing GREAT! So, why pick on Ole Roy? He recently preached at an AWAB church and lauded them lavishly. The pastor commented:

“During the luncheon following worship, Dr. Medley spoke to a number of issues within our denomination, beginning with the 'recent unpleasantness' on matters surrounding the issue of sexual orientation. He upheld the twin historic Baptist emphases upon the 'authority of scripture' as well as the final role of the 'local congregation' in scripture’s interpretation. He recognized that standing for these principles cost the denomination the loss of one region but added that we could not surrender these convictions of conscience. Dr. Medley’s assertion of the primacy of these principles in the ongoing life of our denomination was deeply reassuring.

“Dr. Medley went on to share some other observations about our life together. He spoke of the 'catholicity' of the American Baptist family, recognizing we are the broadest and most inclusive band of Baptists in the country, spanning a greater diversity of theological belief, race and culture than any other national gathering of Baptists. He encouraged us to reclaim the joy of living together, out of this diversity, as we simply share in the work of God. He also celebrated the many relationships that are growing between us and other Baptists as seen in both the Alliance of Baptists and the New Baptist Covenant. He added, 'Excluding different views is not how we conduct our life.'

“Finally, I was keenly impressed by the leadership and initiative Dr. Medley is taking in building an 'ecology of relationship' between our denomination and the Islamic Society of America. He is particularly emphasizing dialogue on how we can work together to insure peace and dignity for all, a prophetic stance in this time of growing anti-Islamic prejudice.

If an "ecology of relationship" with gay advocacy and the Islamic Society of America is what "conservatives" in the ABC want, they deserve it and are entitled to enjoy it in peace (at least from this barking dog).

3. I have been posting on a theological message board (3,800x so far) and find it more interesting and less narcissistic than blogging.