Friday, August 17, 2007

A Reply to John MacArthur's 2007 Shepherd's Conference Lecture on Self-Respecting Calvinists and Premillennialism

“John MacArthur on Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Israel and Hermeneutics: A Few Comments”

by Kim Riddlebarger @

In April 2007, I made my way through Dr. MacArthur’s controversial lecture, “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is a Premillennialist” (given at the Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church, on March 7, 2007). The lecture can be ordered here (
Click here: MacArthur: Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist « Faith by Hearing).

Regrettably, I am just now getting around to completing my response–my day job kept getting in the way. Better late than never, perhaps?

As we have come to expect of him, Dr. MacArthur spoke with great passion, covered much ground quickly, and had a great deal to say. No question, Dr. MacArthur commands authority. One can easily see why Dr. MacArthur is so widely-respected. When it comes to the gospel, he’s on the side of the angels. When it comes to eschatology, however, I must beg to differ.

As a Reformed amillennarian (who was raised a dispensationalist) I had a powerful gut-level reaction to Dr. MacArthur’s lecture. While this lecture was well-received by the friendly and largely dispensational home court audience to whom it was delivered, surely Dr. MacArthur knew that his words would amount to picking a fight with those Reformed amillennarians who may have been present. This was not the playful jab that conference speakers often take at one another at such events. No, this was a warning of sorts–a shot fired across the bow.

My take is that this was MacArthur’s attempt to go from being on defense to switching over to offense. Despite the self-assurance with which the lecture was delivered, in many ways, the lecture seemed like a rather desperate attempt to stem the rising tide of interest in Reformed amillennialism in the Reformed-evangelical conference circuit, where many are now openly rejecting MacArthur’s beloved dispensationalism. At least that’s how it seemed to me.

As I worked my way through the specific points raised by Dr. MacArthur, it was very hard not to become exasperated. The lecture seemed out of place at such a conference and would have been a much better fit at a conference devoted to dispensational eschatology. At least the audience would have known what was coming in advance.

More to the point, “Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist Is a Premillennialist” was a rather strident attack upon something that I as a Reformed amillennarian don’t believe. In fact, it was hard to recognize my own position as Dr. MacArthur made his case. Sadly, this was clearly an attack upon something that Dr. MacArthur truly believes that Reformed amillennarians believe. The same circumstance was true, no doubt, for those historic premillennarians, who likewise embrace Calvinism and arrived at the “Shepherd’s Conference” only to be told that in order to be consistent to Scripture and God's sovereignty, they too must embrace MacArthur’s dispensationalism in addition to being premillennial.

That Dr. MacArthur is a premillennial dispensationalist comes as no surprise. He has every right to state and defend his position, especially before his home church. But I am sure that many in the audience gathered for the Shepherd’s Conference were taken aback by the fact that he picked this particular forum--especially when a number of Reformed amillennarians were present and when several well-known amillenarians were invited to speak at the conference–to make the point that unless you adopt the dispensational hermeneutic you are unable to understand much of the Bible (certainly the eschatological portions).

With a rather striking measure of audacity, Dr. MacArthur went on to argue that unless you are a dispensationalist, you cannot be a “consistent Calvinist.” Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that as soon as live-blogger Tim Challies posted his initial report about MacArthur’s lecture, emails began to fly and the blogosphere went nuts! “Did you hear what MacArthur said about Calvinism?” “Did you hear what MacArthur said about amillennialism?” “Did you hear what he said about Calvin?” Thankfully, things have now calmed down a bit and we can look at these matters more objectively.

To read the rest of this response, Click here: Riddleblog - A Reply to John MacArthur

No comments: