Depending on who it is you listen to, John MacArthur is either the last preacher standing against cultural Marxism and the ever-looming progressive downgrade or a legalistic jerk drowning in a cesspool of pride.
It seems as though everyone who heard MacArthur’s comments on Beth Moore, made at the recent Truth Matters conference, took one of these positions, with little discussion given to the nuance of the actual issues at hand. We all want to root or jeer when our favorite heroes—and favorite punching bags—get involved in an online blowout, but the truth is usually more complex than we’d prefer.
As MacArthur often teaches, context is everything when it comes to interpretation. The context here is that Todd Friel, a former comedian and all-around boisterous guy, interviews several pastors in what appears to be a laid-back panel discussion. That’s kind of the nature of conference panels: they give you off-the-cuff remarks shot from the hip, not prepared speeches, sermons, or statements. The crowd is pastors, friends in ministry, all gathered around to hear a less formal John MacArthur, a MacArthur with his hair down, as though throwing back a few non-alcoholic beverages with some pals.
Friel explains the game: he’ll say a name and the speakers give one- or two-word response. MacArthur immediately knows he could get in trouble, suggesting to Friel this is all a big setup. Friel then gives the first name they need to respond to: “Beth Moore,” acknowledging that this may open up a huge can of worms.
MacArthur gives a tongue-in-cheek response: “Go home.”
I admit I winced a bit at that line. It seems unwise, it seems brash, it seems harsh. And I do think it may be those things, but it’s not evidence that MacArthur is a misogynist or an arrogant, woman-hating Westboro-type preacher straight out of the ‘50s, no matter how much you want it to be.
It’s pretty obvious to me that MacArthur gave a half-serious response there, suggesting that Beth Moore needs to address the criticisms leveled at her theology and methodology—in MacArthur’s view, by giving up her position in the spotlight and sitting under the authority of the local church. So while the “Go home” soundbite got the Twittersphere buzzing, the real substance of MacArthur’s position followed shortly after in the discussion.
To summarize, MacArthur takes these positions:
- Women are not allowed to preach, per the Scriptures
- Skills, charisma, and personality don’t qualify someone to preach
- Evangelicals are caving to feminism
- Feminists desire power, not equality
- We cannot let the culture exegete the Bible
- Evangelicalism (especially the SBC) as a whole is caving to intersectional ideas and Marxism
Phil Johnson (the Robin to MacArthur’s Dark Knight), claims that Beth Moore is narcissistic and preaches herself into Scripture. Johnson quotes her as saying that she looks for herself in the narrative.
MacArthur’s response seemed broader, using Friel’s prompt to launch into a discussion about feminism and cultural Marxism as a whole, while Johnson had some more specific beef with what he sees as troubling aspects of Moore’s teachings.
Other than a few details cited by MacArthur (there is more nuance to SBC Resolution 9 than he suggests), none of what he said should be controversial for complementarians, or at least it wasn’t until the last few years. We can assume, if pressed, MacArthur would clarify his “no woman preachers” position to give exceptions for preaching to other women and children. So he doesn’t give a very nuanced response, but these kinds of events don’t really encourage this kind of nuance.
So I’m left wondering where the controversy is here. John MacArthur is gonna John MacArthur, as the kids say, and nothing in there should shock anyone who’s listened to two minutes of a Johnny Mac sermon or taken even a passing glance at one of his books. He’s a hard complementarian and has never wavered on that point.
I’m forced to think a lot of the pearl-clutching is due to the fact that MacArthur’s brand of complementarianism is simply out of step with culture. Maybe MacArthur’s right here: maybe we’ve swallowed so much feminism that an uncontroversial stance of 10 years ago is shocking today. That’s the leftward march of progressivism, moving the window of what’s acceptable in polite discourse forward at warp speed.
At the same time, are there legitimate complaints to be made about MacArthur’s comments? Yeah, I think so. I believe Grace to You would do well to set some guidelines for these Q&A events and not make them so conducive to machine-gun fire responses that don’t do anything but add fuel to the fire. To the eavesdropper on YouTube, their tone comes off as flippant and mean-spirited, even though I’m sure any of these men could write an even-handed and fair critique of Moore if given the space.
MacArthur does some of the best in-depth Q&A sessions I’ve ever heard, so these kinds of word association games don’t do anything but get MacArthur and the boys in trouble without much benefit compared to a standard format. If you’ll recall, the same word association exercise led to MacArthur calling Steven Furtick “unqualified.” It didn’t derail Furtick’s ministry, though. Quite the opposite: Furtick skyrocketed to fame and even wrote a book appropriately titled Unqualified.
For all we know, Beth Moore is currently inking a similar deal with LifeWay for a hot new Bible study book called Go Home. So if history and the current evangelical discussion on Twitter are any indication, this is going to do nothing but encourage Moore and galvanize her base. Many may have legitimate issues with her theology, and her brand of loose complementarianism is concerning to many who fear it represents a slippery slope. She herself has mischaracterized and attacked her detractors on Twitter from time to time. How serious these problems are probably depends on which side of the evangelical fence you hang out on.
But no matter what your opinion is of Moore, MacArthur and the GTY gang are not going to win her over with a zingy one-liner and some chuckles. I’m not convinced that was the point of the panel discussion, of course, but if that’s the case, maybe it should be scrapped altogether.
So, yes, MacArthur came off too harsh from the outside looking in, and this whole circus was probably unhelpful. Beth Moore’s not going to take down Christ’s church just because a few men hear her sermon from time to time. She’s not going to single-handedly topple Christianity because she’s a little looser in her interpretation of 1 Timothy 2. You are more faithful to try to win her over if you try to refute her from the Scriptures than tear her down with some buddies at a conference.
On the other side of the coin, in an age where nine out of ten preachers are Charmin soft, I think Christianity has room for a straight shooter like John MacArthur. Let’s tone down the rhetoric and not dismiss a faithful preacher’s countless contributions to the church because you thought he was too mean at an event you weren’t even at.