John MacArthur's opening lecture at the Shepherd's Conference created two main points of contention. The first has to do with the on-going debate over eschatology (specifically the millennial question). MacArthur--who is an ardent dispensationalist--stated and defended his position. That's OK and no one is surprised or upset about that. But people are upset because MacArthur so badly misrepresented amillennialism, and because he defined "premillennialism" as though it were dispensationalism. Not true. The loud howls of protest to MacArthur's dispensationalism coming from historical premillennarians is proof. We'll talk more about this matter in the coming days.
The second point of contention is MacArthur's questionable attempt to co-opt "Calvinism" from amillenniarians and claim it for the dispensationalists. This is seen in MacArthur's remarkable claim that amillennialism is inherently "Arminian."
As I thought about drafting a response to this claim, it occured to me that it has already been done. In 1993, Richard Muller--who was my Ph.D. dissertation advisor and acknowledged by all as the leading authority on Reformed scholasticism and Calvin (Click here: Amazon.com: The Unaccommodated Calvin: Studies in the Foundation of a Theological Tradition (Oxford Studies in His)--published a short essay entitled, "How Many Points?"
In this essay, Muller demonstrates why people like MacArthur are not Reformed. MacArthur may hold to the "five points", but Muller shows why MacArthur is not "Reformed" nor a "Calvinist" in any meaningful or historical sense of those terms.
Before you read Muller's essay, please remember that the issue he's tackling is not whether those outside the Reformed churches are truly Christians (they are, if they are trusting in Christ). Muller is not saying that they have nothing good to contribute to the cause of Christ, nor any other such thing.
The specific issue Muller tackles is "who is Reformed?" And John MacArthur is not.
How Many Points?
By Richard A. Muller (and published here with his kind permission)
I once met a minister who introduced himself to me as a "five-point Calvinist." I later learned that, in addition to being a self-confessed five-point Calvinist, he was also an anti-paedobaptist who assumed that the church was a voluntary association of adult believers, that the sacraments were not means of grace but were merely "ordinances" of the church, that there was more than one covenant offering salvation in the time between the Fall and the eschaton, and that the church could expect a thousand-year reign on earth after Christ's Second Coming but before the ultimate end of the world. He recognized no creeds or confessions of the church as binding in any way. I also found out that he regularly preached the "five points" in such a way as to indicate the difficulty of finding assurance of salvation: He often taught his congregation that they had to examine their repentance continually in order to determine whether they had exerted themselves enough in renouncing the world and in "accepting" Christ. This view of Christian life was totally in accord with his conception of the church as a visible, voluntary association of "born again" adults who had "a personal relationship with Jesus."
In retrospect, I recognize that I should not have been terribly surprised at the doctrinal context or at the practical application of the famous five points by this minister — although at the time I was astonished. After all, here was a person, proud to be a five-point Calvinist, whose doctrines would have been repudiated by Calvin. In fact, his doctrines would have gotten him tossed out of Geneva had he arrived there with his brand of "Calvinism" at any time during the late sixteenth or the seventeenth century. Perhaps more to the point, his beliefs stood outside of the theological limits presented by the great confessions of the Reformed churches—whether the Second Helvetic Confession of the Swiss Reformed church or the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism of the Dutch Reformed churches or the Westminster standards of the Presbyterian churches. He was, in short, an American evangelical.
To read the rest of this essay, Click here: Riddleblog - "How Many Points?"
Dr. Scott Clark has weighed in on what he calls the recent "breakthrough in Calvin studies coming from the San Fernando Valley."
Scott addresses the theme of "What Would Calvin Say?" i.e., about premillennialism -- Click here: http://www.oceansideurc.org/ - The Heidelblog (Scott Clark).
The Heidelblog is always worth reading, especially if you want to know what confessional Calvinism is all about. Scott is currently going through the opening questions and answers of the Heidelberg Catechism.