John MacArthur can be brassy. You’d have to have guts in odd places to get up in front of a room filled with Calvinist scholars, many of whom subscribe to Amillennailism, and proclaim that they are not self-respecting unless they change their end-time views to meet his. But that is exactly what MacArthur does at the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church, on March 7, 2007.
I must admit that from an outsiders perspective I found this debate particularly fascinating, and as an Amillennialist/Free Will theist I allow some of MacArthur’s rhetoric to slide knowing that his intended audience are primarily Calvinists. But he certainly stirred a hives nest among his co-Calvin-Reformers which eventually resulted in two major responses. The first came from Calvinist Amillennialist Kim Riddlebarger (author of Case for Amillennialism), you can find Riddlebargers response to MacArthur here. The second is by Samuel Waldron, author of MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response. Waldron’s book is particularly helpful because he provides the complete transcript of MacArthur’s lecture in the back of the book. But if you prefer you can purchase his lecture here.
Single Deadly Sin
It has to be pretty embarrassing when a renown Biblical scholar gets up in front of other Biblical scholars and builds an entire argument on a single false premise, deduced by a bad source and accepted out of ignorance. That’s what I believe MacArthur does, but it is doubtful he is embarrassed – that would require discovering his error. Unfortunately the part of the crowd that laughed and cheered at MacArthur’s charismatic manifesto must also have been in the same delusion, because had they been aware of MacArthur’s mistaken premise, they would have sat in silence – unamused by his rhetorical and obnoxious claims.
As Kim Riddlebarger writes:
In fact, it was hard to recognize my own position as Dr. MacArthur made his case. Sadly, this was clearly an attack upon something that Dr. MacArthur truly believes that Reformed amillennarians believe.
Why couldn’t Kim Riddlebarger recognize his own position as MacArthur made his case? Because MacArthur, while making a case against something, was certainly not making a case against Amillennialism! Rather, MacArthur grossly confuses “Covenant Theology” with “Replacement Theology”. (This is almost as bad as confusing Arminianism with Pelagianism or anything of the sort – but that discussion is for another occasion ) As Riddlebarger pleads:
Let me put it simply so as not to be misunderstood. Reformed amillenniarians do not believe that the church “replaces” Israel. Repeat, we do not believe that the church replaces Israel.
I believe MacArthur’s confusion is created when he attempts to mesh together a Dispensational worldview with Covenant theology without understanding the hermeneutics of the New Testament. MacArthur is unable to get over his dispensational way of reading the Bible (i.e. Israel must always mean national ethnic Israel), and consequentially he confuses Covenantal Theology with Replacement Theology. This confusion is a major area of ignorance.
The situation only becomes more bleak when I discovered that MacArthur’s “authoritative” source is Diprose’ book on Replacement Theology (Israel and the Church: The Original and Effects of Replacement Theology), from there things only go from bad to worse when he highly recommends this goulash mess of confusion to everyone else. About a year or so back I was investigating Replacement Theology, and one of the books I picked up was Diprose’ book. What stunned me about the book was how Diprose casually crossed the impenetrable line between Covenant Theology and Replacement theology at will as if no line existed and they were one in the same. So I now understood where MacArthur’s enthusiastic ignorance came from.
Let me be as crystal clear as possible:
Replacement Theology: The Christian Church categorically replaces national ethnic Israel so that while in the Old Testament God only saved ethnic Israel, so now God only saves Gentiles. No ethnic Jew can be saved.
Covenant Theology: Jesus is the embodiment and representative of “True Israel”. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the whole Old Testament points to him. Jesus is the seed of Abraham and those who have the faith of Abraham are also his seed, i.e. the people or children of God. Jesus destroyed the wall of perdition which divided Jew and Gentile so that the two are made one “in Christ”. This one man is called “the Israel of God”. Jews may be saved today just as non-Jews may be saved – by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The “Church” does not “replace Israel”. Israel is the People of God. Always has been, always will be.
John MacArthur has written some really great stuff in the past. My favourite is Twelve Ordinary Men (except the last chapter of course), and the Gospel According to Jesus. This is why I am all the more baffled by what he did at this conference. It only goes to show that no one is beyond stooping to low levels of caricature on the one hand and to blinding bias on the other. I have always been told that if you are going to present an opposing view you ought to make every effort to present that view as if you yourself held to it. MacArthur does not present the Amillennial view in his attack on it. That is so sad, because he will be held accountable for the people who swallowed his hook.