MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

John MacArthur versus the Emerging Church - 5
Review of The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception

I’d like to juxtapose three statements by John MacArthur in order to show that, while MacArthur is quick to label other Christians “false teachers” and “apostate,” these labels can just as easily be leveled unfairly at MacArthur.

Statement #1:
“What we are called to defend is no less than ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ Jude is speaking of apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42) – objective Christian truth – the faith, as delivered from Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit by the apostles to the church…Jude speaks of ‘the faith’ as a complete body of truth already delivered – so there is no need to seek additional revelation or to embellish the substance of ‘the faith’ in any way. Our task is simply to interpret, understand, publish, and defend the truth God has once and for all delivered to the church. That is what the Truth War is ultimately all about.” (p. 75)

So, MacArthur is saying that Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Stan Grenz, John Franke, John Armstrong, Donald Miller, and Chris Seay are all guilty of embellishing the substance of the faith in some way. They are not being loyal to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”

Let’s take this criterion and apply it to John MacArthur. MacArthur is a Dispensationalist, a form of theology that originated in the late 1800s with John Nelson Darby in England and in moved to the United States in the early 1900s when C. I. Scofield began teaching it. Don't miss this: Dispensationalism’s interpretation of the Bible is very novel, less than 150 years old. Dispensationalism insists that God deals with Israel and the Church differently through a dispensational grid and that this grid determines how we must interpret every passage of the Bible so that we can determine whether the passage is referring to Israel or the Church. It insists that the Church must be raptured away from the earth into its heavenly existence so that God can finish His plan for Israel in its earthly existence.

I repeat: This theology is new. It is not the same theological understanding that “was once for all delivered to the saints.” It grew out of a admittedly individualistic interpretation of the Bible (the Dispensationalists insisted that they were reading the Bible literally and letting the Bible alone determine their theology, with little regard for the history of interpretation).

So, using MacArthur’s criterion of whether someone is "seeking additional revelation or embellishing the substance of the faith in any way," Dispensationalists could be included. Now, I’m not saying that Dispensationalists should be included, just that MacArthur fits his own criterion for an apostate. Before he labels others as “false teachers” he had better know that, in doing so, he opens himself up to that same label.

Statement #2:
“Every form of gnosticism starts with the notion that truth is a secret known only by a select few elevated, enlightened minds. (Hence the name, from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge.)…Another dominant variety of gnosticism (know as Docetism) taught that all manifestations of Jesus’ human nature – including His physical body (and hence His crucifixion and resurrection) – were only illusions. God could not really have come to earth in the true material form of authentic human flesh, the Docetists said, because matter itself is evil.” (pp. 89, 92)

Again, if we take this criterion and apply it to MacArthur’s theology, we see that he opens himself up to the same criticism. He talks about Gnostics in general and Docetists in particular, as if those in the Emerging Church are guilty of these heresies. However, it has been largely acknowledged that it is Dispensational theology that is the main culprit of gnosticism in the United States.

  • Dispensationalism stresses the hope of heaven over the hope of the redeemed earth.
  • Dispensationalism stresses the hope of a “rapture” over the hope of a resurrected physical life.
  • Dispensationalism stresses the importance of saving people from the earthly existence and inviting them into a spiritual, heavenly existence.
  • MacArthur’s own books on Heaven are filled with hints toward gnostic ideas that matter itself is evil; that true “glory” is when we move out of the fleshly existence and into the spiritual existence.

So, before MacArthur accuses others of being “false teachers” and “apostates,” he had better know that he opens himself up to the same accusations.

Statement #3:
“Truth (the simple truth of the gospel, to be specific) is necessary for salvation …(Romans 10:13-14). Scripture is clear about this: there is no hope of salvation apart from hearing and believing the truth about Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21). That is why nothing is more destructive than false religion. Mere ignorance is devastating enough: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6). But gospel-corrupting apostasy is the most sinister of all evils.” (pp. 119-120)

In light of MacArthur’s earlier warning against gnosticism, he had better be careful here. Remember that on page 89 of his book, MacArthur wrote, “Every form of gnosticism starts with the notion that truth is a secret known only by a select few elevated, enlightened minds. (Hence the name, from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge.)”

One signature motif throughout MacArthur’s book is that he continually insists that what saves you is the knowledge of the truth. This, again, is a form of gnosticism: it teaches that Christians have a secret knowledge (gnosis) and that people are saved from this earthly existence by believing the knowledge that we can explain to them.
  • For MacArthur, evangelism is explaining what he knows is the truth to others.
  • For MacArthur, salvation is when someone accepts and knows this truth.
  • Therefore, according to MacArthur, the key to Christian ministry is the proclamation of specific truths, so that people will hear these truths, accept these truths, in order that they too will be “in the know.”

MacArthur is quick to point out that Jesus is truth incarnate, and that we need a personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved. THIS is the gospel. I wish he said this more often in the book.

However, the way he elevates “knowledge” as the key to salvation over and over again in this book opens him up to the accusation that he is the one that is hedging toward the apostasy of gnosticism, for it is not a secret knowledge of the truth that saves, it is a relationship with Christ that saves.

If MacArthur wants to point fingers at other teachers and accuse them of apostasy, MacArthur had better be ready for some of the same treatment in turn.

This is the basic problem with this book. MacArthur is seeking to label people "apostates" when they do not, in fact, fit the description. The proof is in that MacArthur himself fits his own description!

The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

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Anonymous said...

MacArthur, an apostate?! Now there is a joke for the ages. A couple of things should be good to mention. First, the emerging Church movement often claims to be above criticism and reacting negatively to it, but you do it anyway. At the risk of oversimplification, I cannot possibly understand why so-called postmoderns have such a difficult time with criticism? Disagreeing, people having differnt opinions. Really.

And second, at your risk of oversimplification, don't pretend that you've done fairly explaining dispensationalism. For that matter, you've done very little to make MacArthur's views actually known in their entirety in order to take snipets from his books so that you can attack him. Granted, you have a blog and therefore, don't intend to cover things systematically so that you don't find big faults in your own publications, but neither do you write books specifically targeting you opinion about MacArthur.

From what I've read from emerging authors, I don't see that that would help any. For the most part, they're generalized, not saying much just saying, while protesting modernism.

MacArthur, a Gnostic? Are you serious. I've heard few things in my lifetime more laughable than that. Of course, you'll call me mean for saying that, probably delete my comment or try to turn it against me. Fair enough. I've come to expect that. I just find it hurtful and discouraging that the church, that knows the truth of the Word of God, his judgments, his salvation, would so willingly say to the word, we don't really know the truth. But then again, if that is your chief argument against MacArthur, then I guess you need it, because MacArthur is the real enemy in the world, not Satan, not sin, not dirty lies that have infiltrated the contemporary church making less of God's Word and more of the person you were created to be.

I love the emerging church for two things. It sincerely attempts to evaluate the times and keep the church from being an ignorant of those times. And also that it is a conversation, at least in theory willing to embrace truth as it is found.

But that makes me also troubled by it. One it seems to emphasize that we are more enlightened now than ever before because we don't know as much as we thought we did. What makes this time better than the past? Two in the conversation, it doesn't seem that it is actually willing to embrace any truth once it's found, because we can't really know it.

Yes, an oversimplification. Just like you did on MacArthur. If MacArthur is an apostate, then I suppose so was Edwards, Luther, Lloyd-Jones, Boice, Rogers, Paton, Moon, Carey, Polycarp, Clement--all passionately believed in the truth of God's Word and would be ready to defend it if it was attacked. Paul was like that too when he wrote the Galatians. Then, to put things a little more grey, they were sinners too. Not always right, but certainly, if you know Christ, then you can know the truth as the Holy Spirit gives illumination as you read the Bible. It can be known, or else, if not, then I guess none will known whether they are saved or not, whether they are in error or not, whether Christ is real or not. You might not be that happy that there is objective truth and it can be known, but since I know some things about myself, I'm glad that it's not all subjective, because if it were, I'd be lost altogether.

Bob Robinson said...


First, I shouldn't respond to your comments since you have not identified yourself. Next time, please "Choose an Identity" as "Other" and tell us who you are. This is not meant to be a nameless ugly debate. MacArthur is known and I am known. Anybody who wants to discuss what I've written or what he's written should be known as well.

Second, I didn't call MacArthur an apostate. I simply said that, according to his own criteria for calling Bell, Grenz, McLaren, Franke, Armstrong, Seay, and Miller "false teachers" and "apostate," he too could be called one. Re-read this post. I clearly say, "these labels can just as easily be leveled unfairly at MacArthur."

Third, I've never said that the Emerging Church should be above criticism. I've leveled enough criticism at it myself. However, there is criticism and there is calling people apostate. Criticism graciously states where one disagrees. MacArthur has called people in the Emerging Church apostate.

Fourth, you are mistaken in that you presume that my intent is to attack MacArthur, that I see MacArthur as the real enemy in the world, not Satan or sin. Let's be clear here. I didn't write a whole book attacking brothers in Christ; MacArthur did. If MacArthur is willing to do this, then he had better be willing for someone like me to read it, interact with it, and even find fault in it. He had better not be above criticism if he is willing to write books like this.

Fifth, you make the classic mistake of critics of the Emerging Church in presuming that we are all hard postmodernists, rejecting any ability to know any truth at all. One need only read this blog for a little while to know that I believe in the existence of truth and that I affirm that Jesus Christ is truth incarnate. I have written quite extensively on evangelism and apologetics here, as well as on a Christian response to postmodernity.

Anonymous said...

I was just looking up your blog to post a comment and show you this link: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/am/v2/n4/emerging-church

It is an article that Answers in Genesis did on John MacArthur and his attacks on the Emerging Church, and I wanted to be sure you saw it. So, I came on here and saw you had a post already about the book he wrote. Still thought you'd like to read the article.

Crista Quinn

joe said...

i think what is going on here is a little bit (or a lot of ) the conversation that was happening tonight. it is a story of metanarratives and power grabs that result in violence.

just thought i would throw that in there.

Bob Robinson said...


Thanks for the link. As you can tell from this series of posts (see the links that I now have placed at the bottom of this post for the entire series), I feel that MacArthur is sadly mistaken in his labeling the Emerging Church as being full of hard postmodernists who are apostate false teachers.

Bob Robinson said...

For an excellent analysis of the Emerging Church, please read the manuscript from Scot McKnight's lecture at Westminster Seminary, entitled "What is the Emerging Church?"

It is available for viewing and/or download at my Emerging Church page.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I guess I really ought to break down and read this book. My mother has a copy of it. It doens't look like it would necessarily take long to read it.

But I think John MacArthur, servant of God that he is, is in error in some ways himself, and is also in error in the way he has gone after others at times.

JR Woodward said...


I have to say that I appreciate how you are graciously going about your critique of John's book. I haven't read all your entries on the topic, but if this one is an example, I look forward to reading the others. You are both loving and clear; demonstrating that we should be willing to be judged according to how we judge others. Thanks for the entry, I plan on sharing it with my readers as well through a link soon. Shalom.

centuri0n said...

Bob --

I have an extended critique of your essay here.

I would be interested in your feedback.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

I find this entire conversation to be totally flawed. First, it isn't clear, from what MacArthur is saying, what consitutes "tradition" that cannot be changed in any way. Obviously, he thinks "interpretation" is in bounds, and "revision" is not. So firs that's the first problem. Second, it seems to me Bob's critique further propounds the problem by citing an instance of "inovation" in Christian thought that is embraced by MacArthur. Any sort of doctrinal progress is thought to be condemned in MacArthur's thought. But is that an honest representation of what he is saying? It doesn't seems that way from the quotes, because MacArthur has not been clear. Third, I think representing MacAurther as someone who merely believes in assent to propositional truth for salvation is highly dubious. Anyone who has meager understanding of MacArthur's thought will know this is not true. He is after all the primary expositor of what has been called "lordship salvation."

Bob Robinson said...

After further review, I've written a rejoinder on this post. Please read what I've written concerning this post here.

brad brisco said...

Bob, great post and even better reply. Keep up the great work!

Cdero said...


Thank you for your article. It seems like John MacArthur is use to making himself the standard of truth rather than Jesus Christ. Another MacArthur blunder is his promotion of expository preaching as the only way to understand the Bible. One has to ask if even his way of understanding the bible was even the Authors of scripture's way of understanding scripture. Well, it is not. The author's themselves would not even know about what John MacArthur means with what he calls, 'Expository Preaching.' Check my article called.."Bible Monopoly" at http://cdero.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/bible-monopoly/

Anonymous said...

I attended Grace Community church back in the 70's. I am still recovering from the bad doctrine I learned while listening to Johhny Mac. All I can say is, my walk with the Lord is MUCH MUCH closer since I got out of the hate and judgment based teaching of lol, Grace community church, which has always been a few quarts low on grace.