By Elizabeth Prata
I wrote yesterday that I had enjoyed the hour long interview conservative talk podcaster Ben Shapiro had conducted with pastor-teacher John MacArthur this past Sunday. I had never listened to Shapiro before (confession: I don’t really enjoy podcasts of any kind) but I tuned in because MacArthur is wise and always worth listening to. It was also exciting because many people listen to Shapiro who are likely not saved (as Shapiro himself isn’t) and we always get excited when the Gospel is presented to people, and on Sunday it certainly was.
I enjoyed that Shapiro asked a question and did not interrupt the answer. Also I liked that it was just the two of them, not a panel, so there was nobody else butting in or chomping at the bit to butt in. The topics covered were wide ranging, but centered squarely on Jesus and theology. Here is the link, I recommend listening to the interview. It’s really good.
Most people, no matter their flavor of theology, recognize that MacArthur’s ministry is a Spirit-filled, God-given, Jesus-centered ministry without moral blot or doctrinal failure. In this day and age, that is quite an achievement, especially for one as long lasting as MacArthur’s. He is weeks away from his 50th year of preaching at one church.
Yet this day and age also has its theological nitpickers. It seems that no matter how sterling the ministry, no matter how well the minister presented the Gospel, no matter how many people were blessed by hearing it, there will be some who take issue. This past Sunday was no exception.
One of the biggest criticisms I read about the interview were charges against MacArthur’s “dispensationalism.” One person wrote on social media that he had decided, in the end, to listen to the interview despite MacArthur’s “blatant dispensationalism.” Wow.
The definition of dispensationalism is
belief in a system of historical progression, as revealed in the Bible, consisting of a series of stages in God’s self-revelation and plan of salvation
Another explanation of dispensationalism from GotQuestions is
a theological system that emphasizes the literal interpretation of Bible prophecy, recognizes a distinction between Israel and the Church, and organizes the Bible into different dispensations or administrations.
When many Christians, especially male theologians, refer to dispensationalism, it’s uttered as a dirty word. It’s spoken of as if it’s something to either avoid, a cause to look upon that theologian as sketchy, or to dismiss him altogether.
That’s wrong. On so many levels, too.
But I’ll get to my editorializing in a moment.
Characterizing John MacArthur as a dispensationalist is to mischaracterize him. He calls himself a ‘leaky dispensationalist,’ if one must call him anything at all. He takes care to distance himself from the dispensationalist doctrines that are man-made and faulty.
I try to distance myself from what most people think of as dispensationalism. You know, the seven different dispensations, new covenants, to the difference between kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. … Those are convoluted kinds of things imposed on the text.
I simply believe, and this is the sum total of my quote-unquote “dispensationalism”, I simply believe that there is still a future for Israel the nation as an entity in the purposes of God. Because, that’s what’s promised in the Old Testament. And that’s it. … I take the Old Testament at face value and I’m unwilling to change my hermeneutics when it comes to those passages, and make promises made to Israel become promises to some other entity, including the Church.
In the 2-minute clip, MacArthur went on to say,
Everybody believes in dispensations. Everybody. We all understand pre-Fall/post-Fall, we understand pre-Law/post-Law, pre-Cross/post-Cross. We understand this age and the age to come. So we all understand that there are different economies in which God has operated. … It’s making sure that the distinctions are biblical distinctions and not some kind of external distinctions imposed on the text.
Based on his own declaration of what he believes, I think it is unfair to characterize MacArthur as dispensationalist. Based on what what the Bible says, and at root we’re all dispensationalists, one can just call him, and us, biblicists.
Now for my editorial. Everyone has their limits to what they can tolerate. I know lots of Christian brothers and sisters are tired of the negativity. I do OK with that, or did, up until the Social Media reaction to JMac’s interview with Shapiro. Naively, I thought that people would be so thrilled that the Gospel was going to be presented on a secular program, they’d be basking in joy. I thought, foolishly, that JMac as elder statesman with his wisdom and skill in presenting difficult theological concepts concisely and accurately while speaking extemporaneously, that the brethren would be tickled. Most were, to be sure. At the least, I thought that people would be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). I thought, ingenuously, that people would simply be happy about this.
I was wrong.
While I was disappointed with the nitpicking, and I thought the discussions would have better served the body to be held in private messaging, I was terribly upset at the name calling. Not harsh names, none of the Christians I saw called MacArthur anything bad. I’m talking about the pigeonholing kind of name calling. I’m tired of people hurling around titles as if they define a person. “He’s a dispensationalist”. “She’s a Calvinist.” “They’re amillennialists.” “He’s an Arminian.” “She’s Reformed.”
Do we have nothing to learn from Adrian Rogers, a conflicted Arminian-almost-Calvinist? Or RC Sproul, an Amillennialist ? Or MacArthur, charged with the crime of dispensationalism? Or Spurgeon, a Calvinist? Why define these men by these terms, all of which relate back to the Gospel anyway? Unless you believe a dispensationalist, Arminian, Calvinist, amillennialist is not saved. Then, don’t listen to them.
You know what? We’re all brothers and sisters. I am weary of the pigeonholing and of arguing from the pigeon’s holes. The only name we will call each other when the Kingdom finally comes, is family. What a day that will be.