Thursday, June 07, 2007

(Part 2) The Truth War - John MacArthur and the Fallacy of the Excluded Middle

Bifurcation, or the fallacy of the excluded middle is a common fallacy among Christians, and particularly among Christian leaders and preachers. The scriptures themselves appear at times to validate the use of the excluded middle, and set all issues of doctrine, morality, and Gospel presentation into black and white, us versus them positions. The Truth War by John MacArthur is a classic example of this Christian tendency toward bifurcation.

"He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." (Matthew 12:30 see also Luke 11:23) In this passage Jesus appears to present a radical excluded middle argument, which sets all actions, and all beliefs into two categories: Those for God, and those against God. If indeed it can be shown that Christ views all actions, and beliefs in this radical dichotomy then we as Christians may have no choice, but to view our response as a warlike battle against all things in this world. This is the stance John MacArthur appears to take in The Truth War. Christians are divided in to the obedient warriors for truth, and the disobedient who refuse to rise up against every postmodern idea, and everything in the Emergent Conversation as error to be battled and condemned. There is no serious potential for identifying ideas of postmodernity or Emergent as accurate critiques of modernity, or modern church culture.

"For he that is not against us is on our part. (Mark 9:40 see also Luke 9:49-50) Strangely, perhaps paradoxically, we find Jesus saying what appears to be the opposite of His previous exclusion. The disciples have seen men who did not follow Jesus casting out demons in Jesus' name, and want to know if they should be stopped. Jesus appears to have no interest in their doctrinal purity, or the methods and style of their ministry. Instead Jesus tells the disciples to let them be. If they are not against Him they are working on His behalf. The Truth War appears to give no place for people of different doctrinal stances, or those questioning the practices of today's contemporary evangelical church culture. In MacArthur's worldview those who are not with him are against him. 20 years ago it was Charismatics. Today it is Emergents.

MacArthur gives tacit approval for people to think differently on non-essential issues, and outlines the essential issues - on page 47 MacArthur says, "These nonnegotiable evangelical doctrines include the doctrine of justification by faith, the principle of substitutionary atonement, and the absolute authority and perfect sufficiency of Scripture...(...included in that short list are a number of other vital doctrines including Christ's deity, His virgin biirth, and His bodily resurrection.)" Yet a few paragraphs later MacArthur berates the evangelical movement for "acting for a long time as if our main duty is just to keep in step with the fads of worldly culture." (emphasis his)

On page 155-156 he says, "...we're forbidden to pick fights with one another on secondary issues." Citing Romans 14:1.

Once again on page 157 the author lists the historic basics of the faith: Biblical authority containing truth for God's glory, salvation, faith, and eternal life; humanity's fall, the bondage of sin, Jesus' deity, His full humanity and sacrifice for sin, salvation by grace and not by works, and the Great Commission.

Immediately following his list of essentials and his insistence that only essentials are points for warring, he begins to berate those who practice things not found in his own list of essentials, showing us that in John MacArthur's book of life few actions fit into the non-essential category.

He lists the following items as examples of a denial of the Lord's "headship over the church": Open Theism, human psychology, self-help therapy, the idea of 'recovery', twelve-step programs, and entrepreneurial styles of church leadership. Whether I agree with any of these items or not is not of importance, yet to describe them as good for nothing eternal but destined to be burned is a judgment of non-essential doctrines, and personal and corporate behavior without discretion. For example - although I too have seen the horrors of CEO corporate leadership in the church, I do not assume that every action taken by every leader working under that model is corrupt and hellish. Such absolute statements on nonessential values create a sense of making those values fundamental issues of the Christian life, and is not a good model of critique, or logic for any Christian to follow.

I believe in sound doctrine and truth. I believe that there are times in which there is no middle ground, but to remove middle ground which does exist makes an argument a fallacy. MacArthur's critique of the Emergent Church might have better been served if he kept his own advise on page 155. "Now, obviously, we cannot righteously be dogmatic about every peripheral belief, or matter of personal preference."

to read Part 1 of a response to The Truth War


Uncle Les said...

"Now, obviously, we cannot righteously be dogmatic about every peripheral belief, or matter of personal preference."

The problem is that if this advice were upheld the Christian publishing industry would find itself in a lot of trouble.

Pastor Phil said...

Or non-existant? You crack me up Les.

Anonymous said...

Reading what you've said of the book, he does seem to contradict himslef rather a lot. All gruff and little substance would seem to be his approach. I've not read the book and I'm not sure it would mean all that much to me, a non-christian anyway. So perhaps I'm mising something.



Anonymous said...


I forgot another name, whom if was still alive, would in my estimation, give a fair, theological and philosphically sound critique of the emgergent church...(i.e. Walter Martin).

I do agree, however, that there is certainly room for diversity according to the Scriptures regarding "non-sacred" teachings among those in the emergent church. I am sensing a bit of what some emergent leaders have been saying for a while about one's theology. It can either transform you into the image of Christ, or your theology can relect you and your beliefs in a way that is perceived negatively. Perhaps, this may be a little bit of what is happening here with Mac. I think that Mac would have simply been better off to stand firm on the essentials (apologia) and point out some of the strengths and weaknesses with some solid, but graceful analysis and commentary. But, that is just my humble opinion. Thanks for your thoughts Phil! I am thankful to read your perspective on his book and look forward to reading more of your blog! Thanks

Adam Gonnerman said...

When the Messiah says it, it's one thing...when anyone else says it, it's something entirely different.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Mike,

Recognizing inconsistency perhaps you see more than many Christians.

Pastor Phil said...

Hi WillHylander,

I am a fan of the ol' Doc Martin too.

There is something to be said about what we become through our theology, and this point of praxis carrying sufficient weight in our doctrine has become critical for my evaluation of doctrine itself. I suppose it is the good and bad fruit evaluation element.

Yet, that does not make me want to espouse the latest pop theology decrying perceived oppression simply because it sounds gentle.

Pastor Phil said...

Hey Adam,

I think I'll leave final judgment to the Master nyself. ;-)