Since my last post, I’ve had a lot of questions and comments in regard to the issue of Interfaith Dialogues (IFD). One of the recurring questions is, “Why bring GTY into this debate?” and “Why do you want John MacArthur to comment on this issue… Why does he have to clarify anything?” I wanted to take the time to address these questions.
First off, before I get to any of the details, I do want to clarify something. I grew up attending Pastor MacArthur’s Grace Community Church. Even after my family moved away from California, that was always considered our home church. Most kids grew up with their parents' favorite music playing in the background; I grew up with Pastor John MacArthur’s sermons playing in the background. Then, when I got married, my wife and I attended Grace for two years while we lived nearby. I’ve also attended Shepherds' Conference twice and streamed it online every year, and Phil Johnson was always one of my favorite speakers. I’ve never had an issue with Grace, Phil or MacArthur. I didn’t leave the church because I was angry, but simply because I moved away from the area. On social media there’s been insinuation that I have beef with the church because of my history with them. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
When it comes to this IFD issue, there’s been a lot of contradictory statements and positions from Grace To You, John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, and their staff. This is why there needs to be actual clarification. The problem is, the “clarifications” from Grace To You, Grace Church & Phil Johnson have focused more on attacking Brannon Howse than clarifying their actual position. Now, the reason for the need for this type of clarification is for the benefit of those who follow their ministry. These people take their cues from GTY and JMac, and there’s been a lot of confusion within their following. I know this, as I have grown up in the JMac crowd.
Historically, Pastor John MacArthur has always stood against interfaith dialogues and entering into any spiritual enterprise with non-Christians. 2 Corinthians 6:14-17 states,
"Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you…”
Pastor MacArthur, speaking about this passage, stated, “The primary application of 2 Corinthians 6 is with regard to spiritual enterprise. The primary warning is to never link up with an unbeliever in spiritual pursuits.” I would argue that not only are the IFDs entering into a spiritual enterprise, but the years of a “mentorship” relationship with Yasir Qadhi would also fit the description. Or wanting to co-write a book with Mr. Qadhi. Or wanting to make a video with Mr. Qadhi to educate Christians on Islamic theology. That no longer is an evangelistic endeavor, but the ultimate definition of being unequally yoked.
In his book The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, JMac wrote, “In reality, there is nothing in Scripture that justifies embracing people from other religions as 'brothers or sisters' (Note from Jeff: Or mentor or kindred spirit) or holding this kind of interfaith dialogue. In fact, Scripture emphatically forbids us to seek spiritual common ground or cooperation with false religions (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).”
I emailed Grace To You for clarification on this issue. Their response was confusing. “John MacArthur has not changed his views, nor do his views on ecumenical dialogues have any bearing on James White's ministry because that is not what he does. James White does not engage in interfaith dialogues, nor does he attempt to ‘create community’ with false religions.” The interesting thing is that Mr. White himself and his followers describe it as an Interfaith Dialogue, and he states that he wants to create community with Muslims because our world is becoming more secular. GTY continued, “If you haven't yet, I would encourage you to watch James White's debates and interactions to see what his purposes and goals are. I think you will find them helpful, encouraging, and instructive as James White boldly and unashamedly proclaims and defends the truth of God's Word in the face of opposition.” The interesting thing here is that James White never “proclaimed” the Gospel, and glossed over repentance, never once calling for Muslims to repent for their false religion and turn to Christ. This response was very troubling and confusing.
On Phil Johnson’s clarification on his website romans45.org, he stated that, “I don't like the idea of public dialogues with teachers of false religion.” The issue that caused him to interject himself into the debate was the fact that Brannon Howse posted a video comparing and contrasting James White’s words from the IFD vs John MacArthur’s sermon on 2 Corinthians 6:14-17. In an email to me regarding this video, Pastor Johnson said, “I would have said nothing at all if Howse were not already actively trying to give the false impression that MacArthur agreed with him.” Based on that sermon and previous notes, we would think that Pastor MacArthur would agree with Brannon on this issue. But, according to Pastor Johnson, that is not the case. So the question is, what does Pastor MacArthur disagree with?
I just wonder, why would Phil be upset that someone is using Pastor MacArthur’s sermon to bring biblical clarity to the issue of IFD? He made it extremely clear in his sermon that we should not enter into ANY spiritual enterprise with a non-Christian. Not sure what Pastor MacArthur disagrees with. Or are his sermons only to be applied with written permission from Phil Johnson? When someone quotes John MacArthur, it is a sign of respect to his Biblical interpretation of that passage. It seems like they have no problem when someone uses a JMac sermon to refute a Charismatic, but as soon as it’s a member of the Good Ole Boys Club, that’s a problem?
Is tone the issue that Pastor MacArthur has with Brannon’s critique of James White? Is the issue that he disagrees with Brannon’s view of IFDs? What exactly does he disagree with?
This is an important issue that needs to be addressed and clarified by John MacArthur about IFDs and whether they are an appropriate means to share the Gospel. This is especially important because James White is encouraging more pastors to participate in these types of “evangelistic” dialogues with Muslims.
I hope that Pastor MacArthur will clarify his position on this important issue.