The Truth War: John MacArthur and Emerging Church

UPDATE: Reviewing the Book Part ONE – Is the Emerging Church Really the new skid on the block?

ORIGINAL: Call me a romantic optimist blinded by love if you like but I think John MacArthur’s upcoming book on The The Truth War will not be a destructive atomic fundy-bomb dropped on the emerging church. I think John has softened a little since the days of Charismatic Chaos [pdf] where he was described as ‘excessively dogmatic" and "unaware of most of the church’s history and the legitimacy of differing Biblical viewpoints" [Vineyard response]

but then i might also be horribly wrong. . .

Heres the description of John MacArthur’s next book called The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception.

Truthwarbyjohnmacarthurimage"Right now, Truth is under attack, and much is at stake. In a postmodern culture, Christians are caught in the crossfire of alternative Christian histories, emerging faulty texts, and a cultural push to eliminate absolute Truth altogether. As a result, many churches and Christians have been deceived. Worse still, they propagate the deception that poses itself as Truth! In The Truth War, John MacArthur reclaims the unwavering certainty of God’s Truth and anchors Christians in the eternal, immovable promises found in His Word."

I absolutely agree with John. In fact, just last week I was talking about alternative Christian histories regarding the pagan origins of Christmas and I was recommending John MacArthur’s excellent piece on Christmas trees where he demonstrates his faith that Christmas trees are not pagan at all but . . " even if a pagan background were clearly established, that wouldn’t necessarily mean we could not enjoy the use of a Christmas tree."

Now I just LOVE that – its missiology in action – the redeeming of a questionable practise for God’s purpose which demonstrates a PROPER CONFIDENCE, one that does not waver on known truth but offers an "IF" when historical accounts are suspect or incomplete. There is a place for confidence and dogmatism and there also a place for humble intellectual honesty that presents an "if". And that "if" sometimes opens the door for faith [assurance of things unseen] and dialogue with others who may have alternate pieces of the whole truth.

I hope John MacArthur demonstrates that same sensitivity to varied contexts and alternate histories in his book when he deals with the vast global mosaic called the Emerging Church and the millions of people who are finding new forms of church in the fringe of the emerging culture.

Yes, I realize John has said it is "very diverse and still developing" (Introducing the Emerging Church Part 1) which gives me confidence that his book will be more accurate than that of Don Carson, but John also names the leaders of the EC as the following [all of whom except one are AMERICAN] – Brian McLaren, Mark Driscoll, Spencer Burke, Eddie Gibbs, Tony Jones, Dan Kimball, Kyle Lake, Erwin McManis [sic], Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, and Leonard Sweet. [link]

Now these guys are all great – and i have enjoyed spending time with every one of them . . .except Doug who still owes me $10  . . . but experience and research on emerging church [which is not rocket science] leads me to movements of equal or greater significance both in USA and outside. If you typed in "emerging church" on Google over the past few years, you would notice that the NUMBER ONE HIT is an English site sponsored by a 200 year old mission agency and published by people who have been doing this thing for the past 20 years. That site emergingchurch.info has only just now become second place to Wikipedia on google.com [still number one on Google.co.uk] and it does cause some light to be shed on the international nature of emerging church and whether Carson was correct in calling the emerging church an "American phenomenon". [i think not]

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I love Americans . .  I even married one and now have 5 American children  . .  and I love In-N-Out Burger [God-bless-it]  .. .  but when it comes to things like the emerging church movement, I have noticed that Americans tend to come late for dinner and then leave before dessert. And during that very brief exposure, they manage to publish a thousand authoritative books on their experience. Lets stay hopeful that John MacArthur, famous for his meticulous and exhaustive research, will buck this trend. And if not, we will just have to treat John’s book as a criticism of a very small corner of emerging church which may/may not be relevant to the majority.  . .  like we did with Don’s book.

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I have heard some early responses from Dan Kinball and Bill Kinnon, and I have read Phil Johnsons predictions about the book but  . . really . . .I am not too worried about damage control for the emerging church. If this book is true in all it affirms then the emerging church, with its strong emphasis on the whole truth in context, its disciplined Berean approach of triangulating research to get the skinny, and its uncompromising commitment to proper confidence, should offer a fine example of how to handle truth in our current skeptical postmodern culture. And if the hat fits, it will be a learning and growing opportunity. Of course, there might be one or two emerging churches that buck the trend and give fuel for a few fiery chapters and a few slices of criticism. There always are, especially when you are dealing with the global emerging church –  a 20 year old movement that is comprised of thousands of churches and hundreds of networks in dozens of countries – plenty of material to find a few heretics. But cases of extremity also appeared in Charasmatic Chaos and The Gospel According to Jesus and were dealt by critics as extreme cases rather than the general rule. The latter book is still being discussed at Lou Martuneac’s blog called In Defense of the Gospel.

SFPulpit has just started to blog some thoughts from Truth Wars. Start with "Should We Fight For The Truth?"  and keep an eye on Phil Johnson who also blogs at Team Pryo. Phil will have the skinny on the book – [which i believe he edited] and i am sure will be up for some discussion after its release. Hi Phil!!!!

Related:

Tallskinnykiwi: Newbigin on Fundamentalism and Liberalism

Michael Spencer doesnt like the "war" analogy used in the Truth Wars

Masters Seminary series on Emerging Church which I felt was substandard compared to similar treatments by other seminaries. DTS and Westminster, for example, were more scholarly and accurate.

– Don Carson, who was also harsh on the charismatics, published a book on truth and the emerging church based on a lecture series that I was not impressed with.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

36 Comments

  • Having spent the first 15 years pastoring in Southern California, I periodically felt the shadow of the Big John. As a charismatic it was easy to feel that his shadow blocked out the sun.
    Yet these regular diatribes against my own faith system did not bring the desired product of losses to our faith family. Perhaps this book, like others he has written will bring to life the adage that no press is bad press. Certainly tens of thousands of people will be hearing about the emergent movement who skipped happily past it every day, not realizing that we existed.
    I’m not worried about this book. I’m used to being a heretic.

  • Andrew,
    Thanks for remaining level-headed while some of us (myself included) get panicked about the sky crashing down on the emerging church because of threatening books like “The Truth War.” I certainly hope you’re right that MacArthur’s book is “meticulous and exhaustive,” but looking at the two articles posted on MacArthur’s “Grace to You” site, I’m not as hopeful as you are. It appears his depth of research has so far been the Google search which you alluded to. (sigh)

  • Andrew – great post. I think you commented on my blog. My post was only a short outburst expressing my weariness with MacArthur. You did the right thing by taking the effort to be substantive and kind. Thanks.

  • If you’re the romantic in this case I’m the pessimist, or cynic. I say to myself, why would I ever both with a book like MacArthur’s when I could read, oh, I dunno, Simon Blackburn’s Truth: A Guid, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s, Truth and Method, or Harry Frankfurt’s newly published, On Truth? And that’s just to name a scant few! To me it seems like another classic example of Chistianese talking to itself in a bubble. I ask myself, why would I bother with the time it takes to read this? (Unless to talk with those who do read it.)

  • “I love In-N-Out Burger [God-bless-it] .. . but when it comes to things like the emerging church movement, I have noticed that Americans tend to come later for dinner and then leave before dessert. And during that very brief exposure, they manage to publish a thousand authoritative books on their experience.”
    Amen to this!

  • Let me be the first to say, that I have read John’s book and it’s more than a little brutal! Basically anyone associated with the emerging church is a heretic and faces the judgment of hell.

  • dustin . . i have not read the book [will someone dang-well send the flippin’ book] and cannot say what you say . . . but as i already mentioned . ..i am believing the best – as love does [1 Coe 13) but i might be horribly wrong.

  • It doesn’t really suprise me that this is coming out. I read “Charismatic Chaos”, and it got me pretty riled up, but I don’t pay attention to detractors that often.
    What I have found interesting is the amount of Older prof’s I have here at asbury that seem very emergent, they just don’t know that they are. I wish they would maybe get their theories of Triune Theism out a little more and it may give some academic weight into the fold. It suprised me to hear a 65 year old seminary prof use some of the same language as I do, with no idea that it was so relevant.
    In my experience, a sort of intellectual weight is needed inside the EC, and sadly, nothing written by anyone under the age of 50 will work for the critics that I personally know.
    Andrew you are right on the head with Americans assuming that this is “our” thing. I was speaking with another professor this week, recomending the Gibbs and Bolger text, and he had no idea that this was not an american movement and even more that it had almost of 20 years of momentum behind it.
    Thanks for posting about this

  • Andrew – To be fair and seek out things further, I actually bought and listened to the hour long interview on the emerging church they are selling on their web site that the book is going to be like – and I can say that your early optimism is most likely going to be futile. there are statements made and things said about the emerging church and its leaders that are absolutely unbelievable to hear. He makes comments insuating that the “biblical way” would be preaching from a pulpit, he actually subtly mocks and demeans churches that use couches and a casual set up saying it isn’t biblical (I guess the first 300 years of the church meeting in homes wasn’t biblical), emphasizes that only people with degrees and who are ordained should be preaching etc. You will have to listen to it, but I assume the book is somewhat the same. I am truly trying to be open minded and listen, but it is very hard to when statements like I heard are made. I do believe he has good points about making sure we do not throw away the Scriptures. But i don’t know of anyone who does that. He also primarily raised up Brian M. and of course quoted Steve Chaulk as the emerging church lader who says the atonement is child abuse and that then is what we all believe.

  • It would be a welcome and frankly shocking situation if Johnny Baby is even close to fair or well-researched. I’m glad you’re the eternal optimist, and it would be a good thing for me to be wrong, but I’m neither (A) holding my breath for a fair and balanced work, nor (B) getting a hard hat in case the sky really does fall.
    Carl’s Junior, dude. If you’re going to eat food that would make McDonald’s look like bean curd and tofu, go all the way. I know In-N-Out is the “Christian” grease pit, but who can resist the “don’t bother me, I’m eating” mantra of Carl’s?

  • Andrew I am not worthy to read your blog. I’m not skinny enough. Thanks for your content, discussion, and resources. It’s great stuff. Peace to you and your family. By the way I think the young postmoderns practioners are probably asking…who’s John McArthur?

  • i may just read the book now…..
    well spoken……………..The only Absolute that resounds as an eternal crescendo….. is THAT I AM LOVED BY THE AM.

  • Thanks for the well thought out post. The outright attack on anything emerging by folk like JM wrongly puts those who buy all they say in a posture of fear, mistrust and suspision towards any fresh movements that doesn’t adhere to the debate-o-centric christianity that they are use to. It’s sad really becuase the debate kills dialogue and causes further divison amomg the church.

  • Thanks Andrew, I tend to agree with you and I wonder if it is not what John says in his book about us that is important but rather how we react to John?
    I’ve put some thoughts here http://paulmayers.blogs.com/my_weblog/2006/12/when_i_read_abo.html
    which simply challenge myself to not fight ire with ire but try and remember that Jesus said it was by love for each other that people would know about him and that our forgiveness allowance for my crassness is pretty high so something maybe i should extend to others…
    So I think little need to panic maximum need to love…

  • Not wanting to be mean, but maybe this is John’s last ditch desperate attempt to be heard.
    Unfortunately, for such a bible scholar as he is, he has become more known for what he stands against, than what he stands for.
    And as for only seeing what is American, that is an American characteristic. One of their greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses.

  • I have read most of John MacArthur’s books on things he is a against. There are miracles in Christ, but I doubt there has been much of a change. I expect the book to be well documented and for John to come in with guns blazing. I completely agree with the earlier posts that it has more to do with the Emerging group’s reaction than anything John has to say. He’s preaching to his choir and I really doubt he will change many minds.

  • In & Out Burger? I have been there and I dislike it. Everything is the same with no variety. The hamburgers are gressy and the fries are two. I never get the In & nOut thing.

  • I think the ECU problems of being misunderstood is the problem with ECU itself rather than John. The phrasiology “begs the question” that John mentions. The phrasiology of ECU is ambiguous and if they truly want to get people like me and John on their side and others of diverse backgrounds the phrasiology must change. why use missional when we have discipleship. Why live praxis when we can use Sanctification or other words that might be better than that. Missional as opposed to Evangelism. ECU’s quickly say the gospel is more than saving souls. No one disagrees but the Gospel DOES include saving souls. So it is a matter of including 100% multiple emphesis’s rather than rejecting one for a different one.

  • Andrew
    Over at Phil’s place he proposes that the three of us meet. Lets beat him to it and you and I get together first. I think we may have more in common than you might think – we both like Mark Driscoll for a start!
    Drop me an email if you like…

  • Hey Kiwi —
    At what point can the emerging church stop dodging the bullet? Here’s what I mean by that question: the oldest complaint from the emerging church about criticism of its outworkings is “he didn’t represent everything about us”. That complaint has now (in your post) blossomed into “the emerging church is a global movement, so if you’re going to complain, you’ll have to do it in 27 languages and cover all that source material” (metaphorically speaking, since your big concern is that somehow this UK organization has never been placed under the WatchBlog mircoscope).
    At what point does the emerging church have to answer questions like anyone else rather than simply look down it’s nose at criticism? Is it the only entity (such as it is) which has the right to criticize?

  • Just a note to Rusty B, fwiw.
    I attended a workshop in September for Christian Retailers, and one of the breakout sessions was a “getting conversant with emergent” session which had Doug Pagitt and Chris Seay (among others) there. They spent 40 minutes talking about how tired they were of talking about post-modernity, and in the mix made sure to mention that (in their view) the Baptist church has reduced the book of Romans to 4 propositions and a prayer.
    Needless to say, they were not received very well — it was the most polite indignation I ever saw in a group that large.
    I say that to say this: I find it utterly ironic that “emerging” types can turn out really shallow critiques of others like that and then refuse to answer criticism that they think is “shallow” — and for them to say they are tired of discussing Pomo philosophy smacks of carelessness because they are the ones who brought it up. It wouldn’t come up if they didn’t bring it to the party — at least, not in the way it provides context in these discussions.
    The Gospel is still the most important thing. Period. But the Gospel is good news and not good coffee or a good bookstore or a good blog. In that, what constitutes the Gospel demands that those who say that have it or are promulgating it be compared to it.
    Hear me clearly: I think institutional Christianity has a problem because it is married to method. But sadly, I think the emerging church has the same problem: the methods they say they are implementing are unquestionable, and if you question them you must not love either Jesus or people enough.
    Thanks for thinking about this with me.

  • Centurion, thanks.
    What you say about Chris and Doug is unfortunate. As a Baptist (SBC), i would find myself defending the 15+ year legacy of Baptist emerging church efforts in USA and would show examples of where i see them as more wholistic than was illustrated.
    and you are right – i do whine on about how the emerging church is a global movement and is constantly being colonized by the Americans.
    In this case, because of your comment, and because John MacArthur clearly designates the people he has a beef with [which Don Carson did not do], I will do my best NOT to bring that whole argument into play.
    If MacArthur has a good strong argument against this group of people, [which i think he may] then a good strong DEEP response is required.
    Since i am not mentioned in the list, i dont see myself in that role. I will probably be another observer in this conversation, hoping to bring balance and learning from the experience.
    appreciate the goading.

  • I think it is crucial to see Johnny Mac in the wider context of the global Church. He’s not that big of a deal. Neither are most of the “gatekeeper” critics in the U.S. Lots of bark, no bite.
    You kind of have to take what he says with a POUND of salt since he’s disfellowshipped himself from charismatics, “seeker sensitive” types and the such.
    That unloving, finger pointing undermines the integrity of his critiques and the attitude of much of his flock only highlights his own failure as a leader.
    Honestly, I think we should just shrug and ask, “Who cares?”

  • I am scratching my head thinking why you call Phil Johnson’s “predictions.”
    Phil Johnson is the editor of the book, and he is much more familiar with what is in the book than anybody here on earth including John MacArthur himself, and I don’t think Mr. Johnson denies it.
    So what he says about the book does not amount to “predictions.”

  • is this emergent church really a unified body? from what i have seen there is a range of shades of this cultural christianity.
    my problem with the e.c. that i have seen is that it dumbs down the power of the gospel by not explicitly sharing scripture, makes listeners comfortable rather than faced with the teachings of the bible, and conforms….rather than transforms.
    …and it becomes very defensive when faced with those who challenge it. please tell me i am wrong about these things…it’s just what i have personally seen.

  • Ariel. Tell me which church you saw and i might be able to ask them about it. i would be curious to know.
    my experience and research shows the opposite of what you have found but i am very open to be corrected.

  • Sounds a lot like don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If the bathwater is poison and kills the baby, where are you then? The emerging church is the bath water. I wouldn’t put my baby in it!

  • Andrew,
    I am knee-deep in a church filled with people who greatly respect John MacArthur. So, it was inevitable that I had to respond his book, The Truth War.
    My five part series is found at Vanguard Church. Here are the links:
    John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
    Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
    Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
    Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
    MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate

  • andrew
    the american emergent experience = whatburger
    fresh expression = in ‘n out
    what truly fascinates me is the backyard burger fries that are happening far out of range of mcarthur’s voice or doug’s or even your’s
    those burgers are tasty

  • bob – you would be surprised how much under-the-radar church i am involved with. most of it is not blogged.
    but you can always throw me a bone when you see something worth knowing about . . .

  • Has emergent been around before, I’ve been reading alot, and man, I see alot of “post-modernism” laced throughout their discussions, am I missing something? Being at a secular college I can’t help but notice the similiarities.

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