John MacArthur and John Piper: lessons from a disagreement over doctrine

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The reverberations from the Strange Fire conference held in southern California at John MacArthur's church last October go on. The conference was to illustrate the need for a rebuke against the Charismatic movement, which allows for unbiblical practices and so many excesses that the sufficiency of the bible was unknown to millions of people who hold to the ideas within the movement.

As a result, the Strange Fire conference forced the issue. Too many people had either been silent or on the fence as to whether they believe the miracle gifts (tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing and prophecy) are continuing since the first century, or had ceased. (Contnuationist v. Cessationist).

Pastor John Piper is one of those. He believes the miracle gifts continue, and is cautiously open to them as occurring today by the Spirit using men as the vehicle for their manifestation. (Most people believe that God directly performs any and all miracles at any time for His good pleasure and purposes).. Piper is known as a 'cautious continuationist.' So is Wayne Grudem, who believes that prophecy is and can be uttered today as a direct revelation from men, but that it can be fallible.

The Strange Fire conference had several goals. One was to present the biblical truth that the miracle spiritual gifts have ceased (healings/miracles, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues.). To this end, the Pastors and speakers at the conference carefully exegeted the passages relevant to the issue and clearly showed that this is so. In addition, the men said that in MOST cases, people who followed these teachings and people who taught these teachings were not saved or that their salvation was in serious doubt. It's Charismatic Chaos out there as a result, and it has to stop.

The other goal of the conference was to call to account two camps:

--the camp of silent elders of the faith who refuse to condemn the Charismatic Movement and its unbiblical practices, and,

--to address the camp of elders who are trying to stay in the middle, i.e. John Piper.

John MacArthur and the others were firm that opening to the door to the modern day gifts mentioned above was a devastating attack on the sufficiency of scripture. Either the canon is closed and God has ceased speaking new revelation, or He has not. There is no middle ground. Even opening the door a crack in believing there can be new revelation lets in the eventual flood, and that is where we are today.

At one Q&A during Strange Fire, MacArthur was directly asked a pertinent question: "What about Piper?" Piper is on record as seeking the gift of tongues, and of being open to the notion that visions and direct revelation are happening today. He is a continuationist. MacArthur answered that it was a tough question. That Piper no doubt is a brother, and that though Piper personally sought the gifts but doesn't teach them, he doesn't promote them nor the unbiblical practices that go with them. MacArthur said "Piper is an anomaly."

As a rabbit trail to the point I'm making, this brings up an interesting question I've been mulling for some time.

--Piper is a continuationist.
--Voddie Baucham is an amillenialist and preaches Revelation as symbol and allegory, not literal
--Martyn Lloyd Jones became a Charismatic-Lite at the end of his life
--John Stott became an annihilationist at the end of his life
--RC Sproul is a post-tribulationist

HOW can such men, all of whom can clearly be seen as brothers of the faith, err on such clearly defined biblical orthodoxy? What does it mean? How can this be? It is completely perplexing.

I contend that in Piper's case, given his unbiblical stance on continuationism, it opens the door for other less
orthodox things, which Piper has in fact been exhibiting, i.e the Mark Driscoll debacle, the Lectio Divina debacle, and more. But this is a side note. Back to the point:

Piper heard of MacArthur's comment about Piper's anomalous stance on the miracle gifts, and responded in writing on his website.

However, in Piper's response, there were assumptions and misinterpretations Piper made in the piece, not having heard MacArthur directly via the mediacast now available. So MacArthur addressed the issue, both Piper's continuationism, and Piper's misinterpretation of MacArthur's comments, on a 4-part blog essay in much further depth. Here they are-

Piper reaction #4

MacArthur speaks eloquently about the church and protecting the purity of her doctrines, and of keeping boundary lines set for who belongs in it and who don't belong in it. He is very biblical on church discipline in his personal dealings at Grace Community Church, and very firm on the issue in general across denominations especially concerning doctrine. Phil Johnson said in this essay for MacArthur said a few years ago about "Unity Across Denomination Lines"

"The limits on this trans-denominational unity are set by Scripture itself. We cannot welcome into our circle of fellowship people who deny truths that are essential to the gospel (2 John 7-11); and we cannot embrace people who affirm a gospel Scripture condemns (Gal. 1:18-19). The gospel and all truths essential to it are therefore nonnegotiable points of doctrine, and unity on these matters is a prerequisite to any other kind of unity."

The issue of whether the miracle spiritual gifts were ceased or continuing has become a global phenomenon and a divisive issue which was confusing the sheep and undermining the sufficiency of scripture on such a widespread basis that MacArthur called it a 'flood'. There are no boundary lines anymore and suddenly, everything is acceptable.

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MacArthur said that his primary concern with the Charismatic movement is that though it claims to be a movement of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit does His work through the Word, not through miracles.

"He does His work through the scriptures. What that mean is, through a true interpretation of the scriptures. The meaning of the scripture IS the divine revelation. If you don't get the meaning right, you don't have the powerful revelation. So, how can you have a 'move of the Holy Spirit,' and have a wrong understanding of scripture?" (source)

That gap is exactly where John Piper falls. He has not only been silent about the ridiculous Charismatic excesses in our denomination and within conservative circles, but has perpetuated confusion by seeking tongues and claiming we hear from God via the Roman Catholic practice of Lectio Divina. And the issue is such that when our elders have such drastically wrong interpretations of scripture (Piper on tongues, Grudem on fallible modern prophecy) it causes division and confusion for those who are younger, weak or stumbling. That was the question the man at the Strange Fire Q&A was asking. "What about Piper?"

The friendship between these two elders of our faith, MacArthur and Piper, is just as strong as ever. Both men will appear at the Together 4 The Gospel conference in Louisville KY next week. MacArthur considers Piper a brother and Piper is grateful for MacArthur. In this way, though doctrine is important to contend for, the exhibition of patience and grace between the two men as they have this very public discussion is a worthy one to follow and its pattern to adopt.

Ultimately, doctrine matters. You know, the Gospel is doctrine. The Word must be interpreted rightly, and defended strongly because it is our fence around the boundary of the church. That's why these things are so important to talk about.
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  1. Glad to hear Piper isn't condemned to hellfire.

    (That's not a criticism of you, Elizabeth :) I just recall that you had some harsher words for Piper before (which I agreed with) and I'm basing my evaluation of Piper on the conclusions you draw, since I don't have the time to look up his goings-in and goings-out myself)

    1. I'm concerned but not separated from him yet. I'm getting close though,. I liked Sunny Shell's essay "Why I no longer follow John Piper or Desiring God ministry".

      She observed that his theology was getting less holy and more pot-holey, and following him took more discernment than she possessed.

  2. Cristian M. Rogers-RosalesApril 2, 2014 at 6:07 AM

    Hi Elizabeth!

    Firstly, love your blog! You have some great posts on current events and how they relate to Scripture, and our calls for discernment. It's sorely needed, and I applaud you for trumpeting it so faithfully! Discernment is something that my fellowship strongly encourages in its teachings members, whether it's idolatry of abiblical signs and wonders, of experience, of apostasy, or of the exclusivity of certain sects or theological systems above that of other true members of the Body. All which are damaging to the Church, within and without, and need to be challenged and witnessed to whenever possible, as the Lord leads. :D

    However, despite our stalwart stance on classical doctrine, proclaiming the Gospel clearly and meaningfully, and the verse-by-verse exposition of the Word of God, we remain lumped into the "charismaniac" fold due to our continuationialist views on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It truly does hurt to hear that brothers and sisters in Christ, especially that, because of our views on the Holy Spirit (or music, or reasonable attire, or service arrangement, or our non-reformed position), we risk losing our salvation or are already doomed to hellfire. We have the same core, essential doctrines, same Head, Spirit, Father, Savior, Scriptures, and Gospel of salvation through by repentance and grace through faith in the finished work of Christ, and we reject the excesses of the extreme charismatics and apostate emergents. Nevertheless, because we don't subscribe to their minor points, we're misguided or even anathema. Talk about ouch, and perhaps confusion on the part of others in their priorities in discernment.

    So at any rate, the video link below has one of our leading pastors and our general response to the conference (and a few other statements) to clear up what exactly we believe and where we are in regards to the views of our detractors:

    Sorry for the wall of text! I love your blog and thank God for it, but it hurt to see brothers like MacArthur (whom I otherwise love as a teacher) take us on when we are far from the caricature in which he described us. You seem to hold similar views to his, so I figured you'd at least hear us out before passing judgment.

    Grace and peace and love to you, sister, and keep up the great work for Kingdom!

    1. Hi Cristian!

      Thank you so kindly for the note. Thank you deeply for reading the blog! I want to note that I took out the video link. The cessationist stance is biblical and I don't want to confuse the brethren by presenting something unbiblical.

      I have a couple of comments in response. I hope I can do it as gracefully as you did. :)

      1. "We have the same core, essential doctrines, same Head, Spirit, Father, Savior, Scriptures, and Gospel of salvation through by repentance and grace through faith in the finished work of Christ,"

      And unfortunately you hold an unbiblical position on the miracle gifts, denying the sufficiency of the bible and the closed canon, and opening the door to all kinds of mischief and excesses.

      2. "and we reject the excesses of the extreme charismatics and apostate emergents."

      "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." (Galatians 5:9)

      When you open the scriptures to the stance that God is still talking to us, you deny the sufficiency of the bible. It doesn't matter if you personally or your congregation opens the door a crack, it's open. And that's all it takes to pollute the doctrine of the completed canon, and the doctrine of biblical sufficiency, and even the doctrine of inerrancy. You opened the barn door.

      It doesn't matter that you're not a Benny Hinn, you can't bemoan that all the horses left the barn, not only the kind workhorses, but also the wild and unmanageable stallion. You ARE lumped in, because it's all the same. Either the bible teaches the miracle gifts have stopped, or it doesn't. Either the bible shows that the miracle gifts were for a purpose which ceased, or it doesn't. Either the cessation was correctly interpreted for 1900 years or it wasn't (Asuza Street 1906). Just as you can't be a 'little bit pregnant' you can't be 'a little bit charismatic' either. That was the point of Strange Fire.

      3. I've already passed judgment. Here's why I don't need to watch the video you offered. I've read John Piper's reasons for continuationism. I've read and listened to Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology and his reasons for continuationism. I've read the Puritans on it and Spurgeon. I've listened to 19 Strange Fire sermons directly expositing cessationism and refuting continuationism. I've read the bible regarding each of the verses on both "sides." I've prayed and I've thought. I came to a Holy Spirit led conclusion. I don't need more because I'm settled on the issue that the miracle gifts have ceased, and I'm confident with it. :)

      Grace and peace and love to YOU, sister, as well :)

    2. Here is an essay just posted this morning:

      "reckless faith seeks spiritual truth apart from Scripture".


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