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April 15, 2009

John MacArthur has kicked off a bit of controversy with his posts on Song of Solomon and, in particular, with his rationale for doing so—addressing pastors who, when preaching through the book, “employ extremely graphic descriptions of physical intimacy as a way of expounding on the euphemisms in Solomon’s poem.” In his first two articles he has singled out Mark Driscoll as one he considers a prime offender. This will be the last time the name Driscoll comes up in this article; I really do not want his name to sideline any discussion.

As I wrote in yesterday’s A La Carte, I think this is a discussion that we will all benefit from. I look forward to hearing what Dr. MacArthur has to say about Song of Solomon and a proper, biblical way of understanding, interpreting and preaching it. I think his long and faithful ministry has given him the right to speak out and speak up. We’d be foolish to immediately write him off as old and irrelevant and out-of-touch (as some are doing, based on what I’ve seen in blog comments). There is no need to be defensive here! The men he is writing against are all big boys and can handle what he says and the discussion that will ensue.

And already I have read some interesting discussion. For example, Erik Raymond gave me some things to think about when he gave two reasons that he is uncomfortable with all the talk of sex coming out of evangelicalism today. Here is what he wrote:

1. The emphasis upon sex has become so strong that it has begun to sound like our message. The danger here is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is regrettably assumed, neglected or forgotten. When many evangelicals begin to ride the waves of media popularity and are given a platform to speak, they sound more and more like sex coaches than ministers of a message. Somewhere along the way that which is of first importance gets shelved.

2. Most of the way in which these pastors handle the text is just flat out troubling. Often times we are given a reading of a verse or a section and then the pastor launches off into sexual advice and counsel. And when there is something that is legitimately debated among Bible teachers the issue is not dealt with responsibly (in my view) but rather quickly. The text then, which has not been adequately unpacked within its context, is then made prescriptive for the Christian.

I have listened to a couple of sermons of the kind MacArthur is reacting against—sermons which tend to look at Song of Solomon line-by-line, expressing how each metaphor, each poetic device, describes a particular part of the body or a particular sexual act. I have been bothered by such sermons for two reasons. The first lines up with what Erik wrote above: the poor handling of the text. Turning Song of Solomon into a how-to manual that describes or prescribes certain acts is to miss the point of the book. As MacArthur says, “It is, of course, a lengthy poem about courtship and marital love. It is filled with euphemisms and word pictures. Its whole point is gently, subtly, and elegantly to express the emotional and physical intimacy of marital love—in language suitable for any audience.”

The other reason is one for which I’d be interested in feedback. Song of Solomon is poetry and as such, should not be treated, exposited, in the same way as prose. Not too many people would disagree with this. It strikes me as well that Song of Solomon is substantially different from other kinds of biblical poetry. If we compare one of David’s Psalms to Song of Solomon we see that they are tangibly different. So while it may make sense to progress line-by-line through Psalm 119, interpreting each line, it seems to me that Song of Solomon does not give itself to this kind of interpretation. Song of Solomon is an expression of wonder, an expression of joy, an expression of mystery. Or that’s certainly how it appears to me. I don’t think we are supposed to understand it in a word-by-word, line-by-line sense as we might the book of Romans.

MacArthur quotes a few lines. They are worth reading just for the beauty of the poetry and the creativity of the imagery:

A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.
Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
With choice fruits, henna with nard plants,
Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
With all the trees of frankincense,
Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices.
You are a garden spring,
A well of fresh water,
And streams flowing from Lebanon.”
Awake, O north wind,
And come, wind of the south;
Make my garden breathe out fragrance,
Let its spices be wafted abroad.
May my beloved come into his garden
And eat its choice fruits!”

MacArthur says it right, I’m sure, when he says “Let’s face it: overall, the Song is about as far from explicit as the writer can get.” Had the author wanted to be explicit, he could have done so. Instead, he wrote in poetry, in metaphor, carefully crafting a poem that is full of mystery. “Song of Solomon is incredibly beautiful precisely because it is so carefully veiled. It is a perfect description of the wonderful, tender, intimate discovery that God designed to take place between a young man and his bride in a place of secrecy. We are not told in vivid terms what all the metaphors mean, because the beauty of marital passion is in the eye of the beholder—where it should stay.” To remove the veil is to remove the beauty!

So here is what I am wondering. Don’t we do damage to the Song of Solomon when we seek to interpret and explain every line? To use an old cliche, don’t we miss the forest for the trees? Isn’t it better to leave some mystery in the Song, understanding themes but ultimately finding satisfaction not in drawing a one-to-one comparison between metaphor and act, poetry and body part, but rather in seeing it as one man’s attempt at expressing the joy, the wonder and the mystery of sex and sexuality? Isn’t the very reason he had to use poetry was that prose just couldn’t express the wonder? The beauty and the mystery of the Song go hand-in-hand. To remove one is to remove the other.

September 14, 2005

Twelve Extraordinary Women.jpgJohn MacArthur wears a lot of hats. He is a pastor, theologian, author, teacher and president of a seminary. He also speaks at conferences and hosts a daily radio program. I assume he also finds time to spend with his wife and family. While he clearly excels at all of these roles, the one for which most of us know him best is simply as teacher of the Bible. And honestly, I cannot think of any man of this generation who does a better job of expositing the Scriptures. MacArthur has the amazing, God-given ability to make what is difficult seem simple. His years of passionate, careful, deliberate study of the Scripture have served to bring untold blessings to the body of Christ.

John MacArthur is one of my favorite teachers and his books have had a profound influence on my life and have done much to shape my theology. I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to preview his upcoming book, Twelve Extraordinary Women, which is due for publication later this year.

Preview

Twelve Ordinary Men, John MacArthur’s book on the apostles, was a surprise hit. After the book stayed on the bestseller lists for over a year, Thomas Nelson suggested publishing a second volume, this one dealing with some of the best-known women of the Bible. MacArthur accepted the challenge and drew up a long list of possible subjects. “I admit that I chose the twelve women featured here by a completely unscientific process: I weighed their relative importance in biblical history alongside the amount of material I had already developed on each of them as I have taught through various passages of Scripture. Then I chose the twelve women who were most familiar to me.” Twelve Extraordinary Women is not exactly a sequel to MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men, yet it bears many similarities. Like its predecessor (and unlike the majority of MacArthur’s books), Twelve Extraordinary Women is not primarily expository. Instead, it is a series of brief character studies. Like Twelve Ordinary Men, it is ideally suited for personal or group study, and is intensely practical.

The women MacArthur chose as subjects for this book are: Eve, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, Mary, Anna, The Samaritan Woman, Martha and Mary, Mary Magdalene and Lydia. “My prayer for you is that as you read this book you will share their faith, imitate their faithfulness, and learn to love the Savior whose work in their lives made them truly extraordinary. Your life can be extraordinary, too, by His wonderful grace.”

The format of the book will be familiar to those who have read Twelve Ordinary Men. MacArthur spends a chapter discussing each of the women (though Martha and Mary share a single chapter) and shows that what made each of these women extraordinary was nothing they brought to God, but the work of the Savior in their lives. Each of them had a deep reverence towards God and trusted His promises, whether they looked forward to a time when the Savior would come, or whether they looked back at his death and resurrection. Some of them stood between the New and Old Testament eras, even witnessing with their own eyes the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

By way of introduction, MacArthur writes about the high position given to women within Scripture. Women are never relegated to a secondary status and, unlike so many other religions, are never degraded and considered less important than men. From the beginning of the New Testament era to the close of the canon of Scripture we see God granting extraordinary privilege to women. There are countless women in the Bible who stand as examples of faithfulness, integrity, hospitality and every other admirable virtue. “The faithfulness of these women is their true, lasting legacy. I hope as you meet them in Scripture and get to know more about their lives and characters, they will challenge you, motivate you, encourage you, and inspire you with love for the God whom they trusted and served. May your heart be set ablaze with the very same faith, may your life be characterized by a similar faithfulness, and may your soul be overwhelmed with love for the extraordinary God they worshiped.”

Each of the subsequent eleven chapters is a study of a particular woman, with MacArthur shining light on the Scriptural accounts of each subject. Each chapter is practical, showing how the virtues exemplified in the lives of the women can be applied to the life of the reader. The reader is show how he, too, can be extraordinary through the power of God.

What Others Are Saying

At this point I have not been able to find any endorsements for this book. It seems to me that with John MacArthur’s long track-record of successful, biblical books he hardly needs endorsements!

Content

Preface
 Introduction

1. Eve: Mother of All Living
2. Sarah: Hoping Against Hope
3. Rahab: A Horrible Life Redeemed
4. Ruth: Loyalty and Love
5. Hannah: A Portrait of Feminine Grace
6. Mary: Blessed Among Women
7. Anna: The Faithful Witness
8. The Samaritan Woman: Finding the Water of Life
9. Martha and Mary: Working and Worshiping
10. Mary Magdalene: Delivered from Darkness
11. Lydia: A Hospitable Heart Opened

Epilogue

Conclusion

Twelve Extraordinary Women is a worthy successor to Twelve Ordinary Men. This book is both informative and inspiring. It will lead the reader to understand what each of these twelve women surely knew, that God was the truly extraordinary one, as He conformed such ordinary women to the likeness of their Savior. I highly recommend this book for both personal and group study.

Availability

Twelve Extraordinary Women is being published by Nelson Books and according to Amazon will be available on the 1st of November, 2005. It is already available for pre-order:

It appears that in addition to the book, Thomas Nelson is publishing:

  • A Study Guide (which is not yet available at Amazon). For future reference, the SKU for the guide is 1418505579. The guide will contain “Insightful Questions for In-Depth Study, Places to Journal and Guided Prayers.”
  • An Audio CD. You can pre-order it from Amazon here.
August 23, 2005

Battle For The BeginningSeeing John MacArthur on Larry King Live tonight reminded me that the very first book review I ever wrote for this site (and to post at Amazon) was for his book Battle for the Beginning. I still count it as one of my favorite MacArthur books. It was a formative influence in my belief in young earth Creationism. What follows is my review, posted a little over two years ago.

John MacArthur wrote Battle For The Beginning primarily to address the world’s origins from a Biblical viewpoint. The book is aimed at a Christian audience and is not so much a defense of creationism as it is a defense of a literal six-day creation. This is not a book that primarily focuses on convincing unbelieving evolutionists of creationism, but rather it focuses on convincing Christians who believe that in some form of evolution (such as old-earth creationism or the Gap Theory) that the only valid reading of Genesis one and two is a literal reading. MacArthur bases much of the book on the view that Evolution is itself a religion that is completely opposed to Christianity. Creationism and Evolution, therefore, can never be mixed. We must believe in either one or the other.

After giving many reasons why Evolutionism is antithetical to God and His design, the book spends a chapter on each of the days of creation. In each chapter the author shows why anything other than a literal six-day creation is impossible. In so doing he gives many wonderful examples of the wonders and marvels of creation. Much of the book is focused on refuting the arguments of Hugh Ross, the most prominent of the theistic evolutionists.

I would highly recommend this book to any believer that is struggling with the conflict between creationism and evolutionism. MacArthur’s ability to accurately draw teaching from scripture and using God’s word as the ultimate teaching tool makes this one of the best books I have read on the subject.