John MacArthur on Exponential

No, John MacArthur is not, I repeat NOT, at the Exponential conference and if he was, he wouldn’t be headed off for a beer with all you backsliders!

But if you want to really know about the heart of the exponential idea, I suggest you listen to John MacArthur’s superb message last week at TG42010 called “The Theology of Sleep” [Download]. John mentions the word “exponential” a few times, although not in reference to the conference. Although it does seem particularlarly well-timed. Hah Hah.

In teaching on the parable of the soils, MacArthur suggests that if you plant a pure gospel seed in good soil, you can go away and sleep because God will take care of the rest. And that growth will be exponential. Or in his words, God has determined an exponential outcome.

And he is right. Sometimes we call this concept “autopoiesis”which is related to emergent behavior and scale-free networks, neither of which John MacArthur got into in his excellent message. Some of the guys teaching at Exponential might get into this: Look out for Neil Cole who is all over this and has a new book called Church 3.0.

de evilAutopoiesis” literally means “auto (self)-creation” (from the Greek: auto – αυτό for self- and poiesis – ποίησις for creation or production), and expresses a fundamental dialectic between structure and function. . . . The term [Autopoiesis] was originally introduced by Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in 1972 [from Wikipedia]

The guy who nailed this idea from the parable of the soils and its relation to this all-by-itself-kind-of-growth called autopoiesis was Christian A. Schwartz from Germany. Check it out in his book called Natural Church Development, 1996. [PDF – yes! its a free download]

Previously on TSK: Exponential 2010: Attend or Avoid


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Joanna says:

    I wonder if as people begin to get into gardening and growing vegetables more they will begin to understand the principle of preparing the ground? I think we have got into the habit of liberally scattering seed all over the place but not preparing the ground first and then wonder why the plants are not healthy.
    My husband spent two years digging an allotment by hand, getting rid of the weeds that were in it. Now we can turn over the land with a rotavator because we know that there are not as many weeds waiting to come up and choke the plants we sow.
    Anyway just a thought.

  • tsk says:

    great thought. My friend Christine Sine is an avid gardener in Seattle and she also teaches on spiritual gardening. much to learn.

  • Danny says:

    Hey have you had the chance yet to listen/watch the Wright Conference in Wheaton?

  • Andrew,
    I read Maturana and Varela’s aptly titled Tree of Knowledge in the 1990’s. It will likely go down as one of the more important science books that will inform human cognition and our understanding of the way we process reality. Emergence isn’t just a fad but a biological process that happens whether we like it or not.
    Much love

  • Peggy says:

    Andrew, just finished reading Church 3.0. So well done; so encouraging.
    Yes, preparation of the ground (including discerning the effects of location and access to water and sun) is where everything should begin. Taught many a lesson on breaking up dirt clods…. lol!
    I learned lots of lessons about life and ministry from growing roses (and other gardening stuff), but recently learned from a master-gardener friend that too much tilling actually disrupts some important organic structures under the top soil.
    Lots of food for thought there…

  • Douglas says:

    An Examination of Rick Warren’s Teaching on “Exponential Growth”
    by Brian Jonson
    Good ol john MacArthur, he knows the true Gospel, a?
    Exponential growth is God’s business and God’s business alone. Man cannot add one single soul to the family of God. Jesus Christ adds to HIS Church daily the number that are being saved. It is He that causes the growth through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit of God. Puny, sinful, depraved man does not need to continually run around the countryside here, there and everywhere attending conferences on Exponentialism. Complete waste of time and resources. What Christians are in desperate need of is sound doctrine, sound doctrine and more sound doctrine. Did I mention sound doctrine? One cannot beat sound doctrine. There is so much unsound doctrine around today one does not know where to start, a?
    Here’s a good place I reckon:
    Here is an excellent essay, brilliant even:
    Jesus Teaches Monergistic Regeneration
    The Unambiguous Teaching of our Lord that Regeneration Precedes Faith
    by John Hendryx
    You love all the sound doctrine to be found there don’t you Bro? Best site for sound doctrine on the Internet I reckon. Keep one busily engaged studying sound doctrine forever. In-between proclaiming the true Gospel far and wide, sound creeds, faith followed by good deeds, loving our enemies and working to feed our families. True? 🙂
    New Zealand
    soli Deo gloria

  • OK, my gardening is terrible, but I still get the picture! Excellent article which can be applied all over the church. As a worship leader, I will be planting a pure seed and expecting exponential growth in my team and church. Thanks for the thoughts!

  • Andrew – first time “poster”, long time reader. Good stuff. Interesting how we take Jesus’ simple observation on 4 types of soil and turn it into a) a book on gardening and b) a complete theology of church planting. He never tells us how to identify good soil or distinguish it from bad soil. And how many times have you or I worked with a “promising unbeliever” whom we thought was “good soil” only to discover that the good seed we planted withered and died. People are individuals, not potted plants.

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