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John MacArthur Wants Us to Grow Up

John MacArthur is in the midst of penning a series of articles that will address (and encourage and scold) the Young, Restless, Reformed movement—this thing they call the New Calvinism. I have one great concern about this. I will tell you what it is, but only after I give a brief overview of what MacArthur has said so far.

MacArthur’s series will extend to four parts (after which there will be a couple of follow-ups by other writers). In the first article, which serves as an introduction, MacArthur showed the direction he intends to take the series: He will tell this Young, Restless, Reformed movement (YRR) to “Grow Up. Settle Down. Keep Reforming.” After showing that the allure of postmodernism, best exemplified by the Emerging Church, has largely proven futile, Dr. MacArthur says:

But young, restless, Reformed students (YRRs) still seem to be multiplying and gaining influence. I’m very glad for most of what this movement represents. It seems to be a more biblically-oriented, gospel-centered, theologically-grounded approach to Christian discipleship than this generation’s parents typically favored—and that is most certainly to be applauded.

YRRs have by and large eschewed the selfishness and shallowness (though not all the pragmatism) of seeker-sensitive religion. They are generally aware of the dangers posed by postmodernity, political correctness, and moral relativism (even if they don’t always approach such dangers with sufficient caution). And while they sometimes seem to struggle to show discernment, they do seem to understand that truth is different from falsehood; sound doctrine is opposed to heresy; and true faith distinct from mere religious pretense.

But it isn’t all good. MacArthur has some concerns.

It is overall a positive development and a trend to be encouraged—but the YRR movement as it is shaping up also needs to face up to some fairly serious problems and potential pitfalls. So I have some words of encouragement and counsel for YRRs, and I want to take a few days here at the blog to write to them about their movement, its influences, some hazards that lie ahead, some tendencies to avoid, and some qualities to cultivate. (A few men on our staff will also join the discussion with a few thoughts of their own.)

This introductory article sets the tone. Yesterday MacArthur posted the first of the 3 articles that will form the heart of the series. He titled it “Grow Up.” He gets straight to the point:

If I could impress on Young, Restless, Reformed students just one word of friendly counsel to address what I think is the most glaring deficiency in that movement, this is what it would be: “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

I’m very glad the ranks of YRRs are growing numerically. Many good things about that movement are full of promise and potential. In order to fulfill that potential, however, this generation of Reformers desperately needs to move past the young-and-restless stage. Immaturity and unrest are hindrances to spiritual fruitfulness, not virtues.

Now, with that context in place, let me share my great concern. It is this: That we will not give MacArthur a fair hearing. The irony is that this would just go to prove his point. The unwillingness to listen to the counsel of older men, the inability to be lovingly rebuked—this is a sure mark of immaturity (which Dr. MacArthur has already said is a mark of this YRR movement). And while we tend to pay lip service to those who are older and wiser, I am not convinced that we, the New Calvinists, listen very well. We are awfully excited about what the Lord has been doing in us and through us, but I am not so sure that we are seeking counsel and seeking wisdom from those who have accumulated it over many years. Are we seeking them and listening to them, even when it hurts and even when what they say seems old-fashioned?

I say this largely to the young contingent in this Young, Restless, Reformed movement—people who may be in their mid-thirties like I am, or those who are even younger. I think we can tend to discount this kind of critique when it comes from an older man. It is easy to assume that he is out of touch with culture (we all know he must have consulted with someone before writing of “HCo. clothes and hipster hair…”) or that he is trapped in the past. This is always a temptation. And it is a temptation I have already seen and heard in connection with MacArthur. In my travels and in many conversations with people like you, I have come to realize that many people discount MacArthur as a man whose time has come and gone. “He has finished the New Testament; he fought the theological battles of the 1980’s and 1990’s, but it’s time for him to stop. He doesn’t get it anymore. He’s stuck in the past.” It may not come in those exact words, but that’s the sentiment I’ve heard time and again. His much-publicized comments about men like Mark Driscoll and Darrin Patrick have just confirmed what people already believe.

A couple of weeks ago my mother penned a short article I titled 4 Remarkable Things about John MacArthur. One of the things she found remarkable about him, based on reading Iain Murray’s biography, is his level of insight. She said, “The first [remarkable] thing is the level of his insight. Love of the Bible and a love of church history—MacArthur has both—always make people insightful. They enable a bottom-line, ‘essence of the essence’ judgment of issues that seems prophetic. In reality, it is the weighing of alternatives on a very finely balanced biblical-historical set of scales.” If you know the ministry of John MacArthur, you know that this is the case. He has the ability to get to the essence of the essence, and this is one of the things we love about him. He is a staunch defender of the truth who has a great love for Christ’s church.

We know all of this, and yet I am concerned that we still will not give him a fair hearing. We love it when he scolds Joel Osteen or when he critiques church growth. But are we willing to let him speak to us? To stop our ears at this point would be utter folly. This would be the most foolish thing we could do—to believe that we do not need the wisdom of those who are older than we are and to believe that this man’s time has come and gone.

If anyone has earned the right to speak to us; if anyone has earned the right to speak about us; if anyone has earned the right to be heard, it is Dr. MacArthur. We do not necessarily need to agree with him—he could be wrong!—but it would be the very height of arrogance and folly to not listen at all.