It's late. I can't really sleep now, even though I've spent the day at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and my son was getting a kidney transplant. So after having sent out messages, and thanks for prayer, and updates, I thought I might respond to the book I read yesterday, since that is a goal over the next week anyway.
I read The Truth War in a day. It is easy reading. I do not recommend it to any undiscerning reader, and wouldn't have bought it except that I felt compelled to respond to it.
I did not come to this book unbiased. I am from a Pentecostal background, and have seen the writings of MacArthur, and heard his diatribes on my own variation of Christianity slammed by faulty logic before. Since I identify with the Emergent Movement to some degree currently - jokingly calling myself a PentEmergent, but really thinking of myself as some combination of Pentecostal, Anabaptist, and Emergent, I thought it would be best to respond in some way to his critiques of a movement I am beginning to find some identification with.
I will respond in a short series of posts, and try to keep each post a simple refutation of one of the many fallacies I have observed in his (what I view as) pontifications.
In MacArthur's attacks on Charismatic Christianity 20 years ago, I observed a solid Biblical teacher (excellent on some issues, and dreadful on other issues), commit a series of ad hominem attacks on Pentecostal Christianity. This is a fairly easy thing to do, since Pentecostals include a spectrum of wild to mild, and charlatan to honest characters. With some frequency in print, and on air he used examples of the most extreme, and sensational characters, and their behavior to make broad sweeping statements about the entirety of the movement. These attacks on individual behavior were even used as proof of the doctrinal error in teachings concerning the current usage of the gifts of the Spirit, and the doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. In Logic this is a fallacious argument called Argumentum Ad Hominem. The bad behavior of an individual, or even a group of individuals does not prove that a doctrinal position they hold is automatically false.
Having seen this otherwise decent Bible teacher utilize poor logic in the past against those with whom he disagreed, I assumed the same might be true in his attack on the Emergent Conversation. I was unfortunately more correct on this point than I had imagined, and will therefore take a short series of posts to cover these thoughts.
So, here's my first observation:
John MacArthur's lack of understanding, and shallowness of knowledge on the Emergent Conversation causes him to create a potentially false dichotomy. This is called the fallacy of the excluded middle.
"Excluded Middle (False Dichotomy, Faulty Dilemma, Bifurcation):
assuming there are only two alternatives when in fact there are more. For example, assuming Atheism is the only alternative to Fundamentalism, or being a traitor is the only alternative to being a loud patriot."
For more examples of faulty logic see this list of Fallacious Arguments.
Even a reading of some basic material such as Scott McKnight's article in Christianity Today, (I posted on this sometime back here) would have shown MacArthur that the Eemrgent Conversation was far more divergent in thought than he assumes in his book. He might have understood that it included liberals and conservatives from most denominations of Christianity. That people were joining it for reasons doctrinal, and for reasons primarily evangelistic or missional. I fall into the latter category, and so the statements of apostasy and heresy are gross generalizations concerning someone like myself.
Here are a few examples of MacArthur's inability to see that the Emergent Church is more complex than he understands, and is not simply a truth evading, fad chasing, corrupt movement - as he tends to demonize it:
"As always, a war is being waged against the truth. We are on one side or the other. There is no middle ground." Introduction page xxiii By itself this is a fine statement. Placed in context of assaulting an entire movement without clarification of the complexity of the group this is a fallacy of the excluded middle.
"We will examine why defending the faith inevitably requires warfare, rather than the gullibly sanguine stance many Christians seem to favor today." Introduction page xxv Here we are given the opportunity to be a part of one of two responses, without consideration that there might be a third option. Otherwise we join John, or we are gullible.
...by suggesting that contemporary Christianity needs to reimagine, update, or simply jettison some supposedly obsolete doctrine...They are actually working toward the wholesale demolition of the entire structure." page 80 The context of this paragraph hints that something as innocuous as updating a service is on par with challenging fundamental doctrines, and is an assualt on the basics of the faith. This theme is repeated a number of times in the book.
MacArthur's faulty logic makes itself fully known early in the book with his own observation on the "excluded middle." On page 14 he says, "The reason behind postmodernism's contempt for propositional truth is not difficult to understand. A proposition is an idea framed as a logical statement that affirms or denies something, and it is expressed in such a way that it must be either true or false. There is no third option between true and false. (This is the "excluded middle" in logic.)" At this point MacArthur idenitifies the pattern of attack he will continue throughout the book. His insistance that the Emergent Conversation, and the Seeker Sensitive Churches (which he erroneously lumps together throughout the book - perhaps not purposely, but certainly by inference, and repetitious connection) are regularly on the wrong side of "The Truth War" establishes his use of the excluded middle as a logical argument. With his ignorance at best, or at worst his outright pretention that a more complex community of commited believers does not exist in the Emergent Church, he repeatedly makes the mistake of using the fallacy of the excluded middle, and even trumpets his pleasure in using it as a solid logical argument. With his use of the argument of the excluded middle MacArthur proudly displays his faulty logic as though it were sound intellectual supremacy, and allows this fallacy to rule the basic premises of his book.
I am amazed that an otherwise solid theologian can make such a basic error in logic, but this certainly is not the first time for John Boy.