No doubt, many of you are aware of the recent controversy surrounding Pastor John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll regarding the Strange Fire Conference. For those who want more info, you can read (and see) about it here.
Recently, I read a blog post by Barnabas Piper entitled, “MacArthur v. Driscoll: It’s discouraging to young Christians like me.” I decided it was worth providing another perspective. I'm 33 now so I realize the “young christian” designation is slowly slipping away, but entertain me for the purposes of this article, please. Mr. Piper brings up several points in his article:
1. Piper states, “Sadly, though, it seems both are so bent on their own version of church or the agenda of their respective messages that they undermine the respect young people like me have (or ought to, or want to have).”
There are several things worth noting. Everyone has a standard to which they adhere to and use to discern what is right and wrong in terms of what they believe church should be. Some claim Scripture, others claim an Evangelical personality, some claim prosperity, while yet others claim integration with various religions such as Scientology or Islam. While I disagree with Driscoll on many levels, he has a version of his church which he is convicted about. MacArthur has a standard as well. I don't believe it is wrong to have a standard or “version” of church. In fact, I would argue that the Bible teaches us to have one and to defend it vigorously (2 Tim. 1:13, 1 Cor. 15:2 among others). Piper doesn't explicitly say that it is wrong to have a particular “version” or standard of church. I give him the benefit of the doubt in that I believe he would say that we should have one. My concern is, rather, when he decides to impose which standard both MacArthur and Driscoll (and possibly the rest of us) have to abide by. His standard or “version” is whether a standard “undermine(s) the respect young people like (him) have (or ought to, or want to have).” That, to me, is a real reason for concern. A man who has been in the Pastorate longer than Mr. Piper has been alive must make sure that his standard of doing church not only reinforces Piper's respect as a young person but also those of the young people like him? That is the Biblical standard apparently. Now, like I said, I'm 33. My wife is 26. Our close friends who go to various sound churches range from about 21 to 37. He isn't including us. We're “young,” yes, but we're the outsiders by default because we don't agree with his assessment. According to Piper, the “version” of church that must be adhered to, the only version, is that of the one that gets respect from him and his young friends. Not outsiders. Just him and his young friends. Sorry, Mr. Piper. No can do.
2. Piper states, “To young Christians, like me, John MacArthur is known much more for what he is opposed to than for what he believes in.”
I hear this argument very often, and I am still puzzled by it. At face value, it seems that no one wants to be known more for what they are against than what they believe in. Who wants to be known as a Negative Nancy? Not me. I get it. The question, however, isn't, “Is it bad to be known by what you are opposed to rather than what you are for?” but rather, “Can you be an advocate for something without people also knowing what you are against?” I would argue that if you truly believe there is this thing called “truth,” ie. there is a black and white, right and wrong, true and false on many various issues, then there is no possible way you can be known for what you advocate without others knowing what you are against. One of the best examples I've read of this in a while is a blog entitled… “MacArthur v. Driscoll: It’s discouraging to young Christians like me.” In it, the author spends the majority of his article telling us what he is against. Then, at the end, we learn what he is for. Surely, Mr. Piper appreciates the need to address what he is against in an effort to explain what he is for. This is one of the reasons I stay puzzled: Many of the very ones who place the burden upon our consciences to make us abstain in part or in whole from saying we are critical of something we believe is not Biblical, are in fact the self same persons who are being critical of being critical.
I get it. No one likes a Negative Nancy… but no one likes a Hypocritical Harry, either.
3. Piper states, “When younger Christians look to these prominent leaders, what do we see? We see discord between our shepherds and wedges being driven into the church over personal agendas and theological points that, while important, aren’t the heart of orthodoxy.”
I think Piper addresses one of the biggest problems we have here in the Modern, Tech-Driven church. Because of technology we have access to many new preachers and speakers we would have never heard in our entire life were it not for technology. That is not a problem. In fact, that is blessing. I run a fairly popular Youtube site featuring many different preachers and speakers, and the feedback says that channel is a blessing to many. Because of the site, though, I do often run across people who have a problem discerning their local pastor from someone like Paul Washer, who is not their pastor. Piper says, “We see discord between our shepherds…” I actually see no discord between my shepherds. I am a deacon at Christ Reformed of Anaheim. My pastor is Dr. Kim Riddlebarger. My associate pastor is Andrew Compton. My assistant pastor is Chris Coleman. During this whole Strange Fire debacle, I saw no discord between them. Piper, however, says that “We see discord between our shepherds…” Is he a member of both Driscoll's and MacArthur's church? I do not see how he could make this claim aside from this being true. There is a reason why people go to Driscoll's churches and plants (even the ones within traveling distance to Grace Community Church (GCC) ) and don't go to GGC. There is also a reason why people from GCC don't go to Driscoll's church and plants. It's because they teach and believe different things. That is such an elementary point, I question the need to even make it, but maybe it needs to be stated more often during these times. They believe different things. Because of that, they have disagreements. Because they have disagreements that they believe are pretty serious, they don't fellowship together in a worship context. There's a reason I go to Christ Reformed and not Mariners down the street. I believe different things than them. Driscoll is a pastor of a local church. MacArthur is, too. They are not “our shepherds.” Shepherds? Yes. Shepherds we can learn a lot from? Yes. But “our shepherds?” Emphatically, no.
4. Piper states, “It hurts to see beliefs and agendas wielded like weapons.”
God states, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)
I don't doubt Piper's sincerity regarding what he wrote in this article. I doubt his sincerity toward the basic tenets of the Christian faith if this article is a glimpse into what he believes and practices. For a Christian believer, many of the things he says he takes issue with are the very things that define us a Christians, namely love. That is, love in the Biblical sense of letting your yes be yes and your no be no, declaring right from wrong, and not allowing error in your or other people's lives if you can help it; not love in the sense of pretending like error doesn't exist so you can have “peace” at the expense of Christ. I'm not interested in that kind of “love,” and Christ wasn't, either.
Why MacArthur v. Driscoll is Encouraging to Young Christians Like Me
1. It Shows that Popularity Doesn't Matter to Everyone
Driscoll is one of the most famous “Reformed” pastors today (whether or not he is actually reformed is a topic for another time). That fact alone is a reason why many, many people will never consider critiquing anything he has said or will say. In fact, that holds true not only for Driscoll but many in Evangelicalism abroad. This conference, however, has encouraged me in the fact that substance does matter. What a person teaches and preaches from the pulpit does matter. They don't always get a pass because they sell a lot of books, are well liked, or popular. At the end of our age, there is the Judge, and He won't care about your temporal standing in the eyes of the rest of your fellow redeemed and non-redeemed sinners. It's always encouraging when you get a glimpse of that by way of a pastor speaking plainly about error regardless of who the person is making the error.
Another encouraging thing I've witnessed that would fall under this heading is hearing from a number of Driscoll supporters who watched the “confiscation” video and decided that Driscoll wasn't exactly the most truthful in his assessment of the situation. They could be honest with that fact even while saying that they support Driscoll and think MacArthur is less than desirable as a teacher. That was pretty encouraging. There are still the few faithful drones who will say a particular person is right no matter what they do, but I've witnessed personally, in this situation, popularity isn't the arbiter of truth for a lot of fellow believers, and that is encouraging.
Finally, I saw posts from several people… YOUNG PEOPLE (gasp) who knew the security at the event saying that the head of security is one of the most stand up guys they know. They backed him throughout the incident. They could have said, “Well, this girl I like at Thursday Night Youth Pizza Group is really into Driscoll, and if I say publicly I believe security cause I know his reputation and have seen the video, I will probably be ostracized a little.” Well, apparently that wasn't on the mind for the young people I saw post about the event who are affiliated with GCC or Master's in some way. In summary, it was very encouraging that truth matters more than popularity to many more young people than I previously thought before this episode took place.
2. I'm Reminded That, No Matter How Bleak it May Look at a Time, the Truth Eventually Wins Out
3. People Are Talking About Theology Again
Confession: I have perceived a lull in the recent couple years with my desire to read, discuss, and debate theology. It's not that I didn't care about those things during that time, it's just that I didn't have as much a desire to get myself immersed in it as I did at another season in my life. If situations presented themselves, great! But my desire to seek out those situations wasn't what it was about 5 years ago. A couple close friends of mine have also told me the same. That, however, has started to subside this year. I'm really curious to know if anyone else has experienced this as well. I'm assuming so. My Twitter Follow Feed isn't as theological as it once was. Regardless, it seems the Strange Fire Conference has awakened in many a desire to discuss Theology instead of Personality again. I must admit, hearing about which person put out a new record, which person is speaking at which conference, etc. has worn me out a bit in recent years. It's not that these things are bad, but it's just that discussing things like limited atonement and justification interest me a lot more than discussing who plays basketball and also believes in Jesus or who is hanging out with famous rappers these days, etc.
This whole MacArthur v. Driscoll ordeal has made it pretty clear who wants to talk about doctrine and theology and who wants to talk about themselves. MacArthur et al caused a guy to drive from Long Beach, CA (where Driscoll's conference was) to GCC (not a short drive) because MacArthur et al discussed theology. In return, Driscoll arrives, social media's his whole visit (including posting pictures of him praying in public for others and claiming security “confiscated” his books, etc.). He then posts a blog post called “See You in Seattle, Pastor John MacArthur?” About theology? No. It's about many things, but suffice it to say it's an open letter explaining his actions and asking MacArthur to come to Seattle to talk. Even Driscoll's new book is said to be about getting together for “love's sake” instead of defending the truth for God's sake according to this post (“Mark Driscoll is promoting his new book, in which he is calling out Christian leaders for being too confrontational and fostering too much infighting… “). Now, these things are fine in their own time (aside from that book synopsis), but my point is that, for the longest time, this is what the popular sites have been attempting to feed me aside from a faithful few. I want to discuss the eternal things more and not whether so and so is liked by so and so or whether this or that. MacArthur, from what I know, hasn't made it personal with Mark, but Mark has surely made it personal with MacArthur. Enough of that. I would prefer to hear Driscoll have his own “The Fire Conference” where he addresses MacArthur's cessationism if he has such a problem with that. All this other stuff is superfluous.
So, as a “young” person, it encourages me to see that theology matters… and lay people are talking about it a lot more than I've heard in recent times not just because of this conference or because of this incident, but certainly not in spite of either event.
4. There is a Clearer Distinction of Where People and Their Character Stand After This
Regardless of what side you come down (Driscoll v. MacArthur) you can't come out of this whole situation without having clearer view of, not only where other people stand on certain issues, but where you and me stand as well.
5. Fads Fade
This debacle has reminded me that eventually, when we're in heaven, we won't care about personality quirks, but we will care about truth v. error. Everyone there will. It's a given. Even some of the personalities mentioned in this article who are pretty well known for riding a fad or two, while still influential, aren't as prominent as they were just a few years ago. So this event reminded me that fads eventually fade, but the truth remains the same no matter who the person is presenting it.