Social Network Links
Powered by Squarespace
Search the Riddleblog
"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
« Who Said That? | Main | Let's Just Call the God of the Bible `Allah' »

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”

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 

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (62) wonder so many non-Christians (and indeed Christians who are not interested in these discussions of what they consider "inside baseball") are turned off by such disputes within the church: one group reading another group out of the club because of a disagreement that need not be a division. Kim, I am squarely on your side of the argument, and reading this whole exchange reminds me of why I still have trouble with Dr. MacArthur = his oft misplaced vehemence. Somehow there is a lack of pastoral sensibility in the sections which you've quoted here. Very troubling IMHO.
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterPB
"When it comes to the gospel, he’s on the side of the angels...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.”"

Speaking as a confessionally Reformed amillenarian (thanks, in large part, to KR), I can't help but wonder about some presuppositions here.

It's almost like that Kevin Bacon joke about being a few short hops from him.

If Calvinism, as Spurgeon said, is simply a nickname for the biblical witness...and if that witness is about the Gospel...and if JM wants to tie eschateology to the Gospel (inasmuch as he connects it to Calvinism, which is a dimension of the Gospel) can his understanding of the Gospel be on the side of the angels?

I ask this honestly enough, not to disparage the likes of JM (or even what KR generously and graciously says). If it's all tied together because what we are ultimately talking about here is the very Gospel itself, why does it seem like eschateology sometimes seems sealed off? Is it to be able to say generous things about men we respect? Is this to play into the assumption that eschateology is really up in the air and disconnected from the Gospel? I want to see as much charity as the next person, but are the connections JM makes legitimate? I tend to think so and so am glad for his connection to Calvinism, because he sees it as mattering enough to be so bold. Am I wrong? If I am not wrong, I wonder about the Gospel and angels comment. Would we not make the same claim that amil is consistent with Calvinism, and as such, is consistent with...the Gospel...and as such...something else is...not?

August 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterzrim
Great rebuttal.
On the radio McArthur is often rigid and humorless and I find him often hard to listen to. The quotations from his speach included in your rebuttal suggest he unfortunatley also has a Fox Television approach to actual or imagined debate(ridicule, setting up straw men and a bullying meaness), which is only hinted at in his radio program.

Once again, as in your books, you present an unassailable biblical, logical and compelling argument for the amil eschatalogy. I do not understand how the amil position is not self-evident to so many people and why the relationship between the OT and NT is so difficult for many to understand. As you point out,the Scriptures themselves clearly lead the way. (an unintended pun for JM)

I am grateful the amil camp has an advocate as articulate as you. Well done!

ps- When are you coming out with another book? If you are working on one can you give us a foretaste of its subject?
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterreg
I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Pastor MacArthur and his continued fight against those who deny the word of God and the gospel and the fact he has never been afraid in calling out those who teach either a watered down gospel or outright heresy.I'm currently reading The Truth War , which is Mac at his best .
However when it comes to the issue of the end times , I find myself squarely on the side of the A-mil crowd . Having read what MacArthur said I was a little disappointed that he painted in such broad strokes.To say you cannot be a consistent Calvinist and hold a A-mil position is really odd. I hope that over time he will realize the weakness of his position and allow for charity on this subject. In the matter of eschatology , we need to show Christ like love and debate these matters within the context of Christian love and charity as long as the key elements of Jesus bodily return , the judgment , hell etc.. the core teachings are in tact and continue respecting each other . I have had many debates with my pre-mil and dispensationalist friends and have really enjoyed the exchange but we always ended in a shared prayer that Christ may be glorified in our conduct .
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterReg Schofield
I learned of this lecture the day after it took place. Funny enough, I was using the library at Grace Comm the day before while the conference was in progress. Like yourself Kim, I too was shocked at MacArthur's claim (not to mention the context it was delivered in as you noted). However, at the same time, I was not entirely surprised. Back in 1995, a student at that seminary told me "Calvin would be premill if he only knew." (They often act as if premill = dispensational) I was embarassed for him and suspected that he was merely parroting a prof. I know for certain that MacArthur will at times consult w/ profs for help so my initial hunch is probably not far off target.
In 1994, while preaching in 2 Cor, MacArthur said Satan sold covenant theology a liberal hermeneutic. I couldn't believe my ears. In 1998 I heard him violently misrepresent paedobaptism (and I was baptistic at the time!). I got the tape afterwards to make sure I heard it right and found that this section had been edited out!
In 1999 I said that seminary does not hold to reformed theology. A controversial statement? I didn't think so. But an employee of the seminary exploded when he heard it and tried to claim they are "reformed in soteriology." It's all very sad and deceptive if you don't practice ad fontes.
There was a godly prof there from 1992 - 1995 using Berkhof etc and extolling Puritan theology (though he did not embrace federal theo). He was well beyond the rest of the faculty academically speaking. He spent so long in anthropology and soteriology that he didn't have much time for dispensationalism. Some of the students who came out of the school during that time were a little cooler about dispensationalism. This was rectified by creating a theo course dedicated to expounding dispenationalism which included a rejection of progressive disp.
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterds
When people tell me they're 'Reformed' or 'Calvinists' I now respond, "What do you mean by that?" The two terms have been so co-opted that they can mean almost anything.

This is one of the best. posts. ever. on this blog. Clear up a lot of questions for me, including how to respond to Hageeists who tell you you're a heretic because you believe in 'replacement theology.'
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWalt

As a former pastor of mine always used to say, "Paul's eschatology is inextricably linked to his soteriology." I think you have a point.
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWalt
Re: Kim's reply to MacArthur...

August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Rohde
Nice thorough response Kim. Lets get this published in paperback form (like Clark's "Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace") and *accidently* leave a few hundred copies on Grace Community Church's doorstep!!!

But seriously, this is the informative and well written piece that we've been needing in response to MacArthur's lecture. Thanks a ton!
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Compton
We are with you Wayne.......Amen, Amen, and Amen. Very well stated Kim. I wonder if anyone would send this over Johns way and he'd read it........who knows. Atleast he'd see how we really believe.
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterplw
Great and Biblically accurate response.
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterFrank
I do have a lot of respect for John Macarthur overall. I do own several of his books and tapes. I have profitted from them in many ways--including ones I disagree with. I have recommended many of his books to others, but I am careful which ones I recommend and will give disclaimers if needed.

And I do disagree with him here. His eschatology and dispensationalism have always sat a little uneasy with me. And as I grow more in my knowledge of amillenialism they rest even more uneasily.

It is a reminder to not make idols of Christian teachers--which is easy to do. Too often we do that, and when that man (or woman) disappoints us in one area we may be inclined to toss all of their works out.

I am not ready to do that with MacArthur (throw out all his works, that is.) But I have certainly expanded my range of reading. Ironically it is Macarthur I should credit for that--he introduced me to Arthur Pink, Charles Spurgeon, and several puritans.

I enjoyed the responses--they were well written and dealt with the flase views put forth by MacArthur. Thanks for posting this. ANd one of these days I will be getting a copy of Man of Sin. I hope to pick up a copy of that and Michael Horton's God of Promise next month.
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterpilgrim
I am a Reformed amillennarian and member of the URC. I have a Master of Divinity Degree, practiced chiropractic for 20 years, grew up a Roman Catholic and in my young adulthood was a Scientologist. Not just a Scientologist but a teacher/lecturer/ Mission Holder. So I am no novice of confusion nor incapable of change.

Dr. MacArthur has been instrumental in my progression to Reformed and in fact Covenantal Theology. In fact although Dr. MacArthur may not understand completely himself, he spoke the most powerful sermon describing the Covalent of Grace in his 1997 Ligonier lecture that has every been delivered! In fact I would argue that although he may not recognize it “yet” John MacArthur has given the strongest apologetic in existence defending Covenant Theology and Presuppositional apologetics.

So let’s give Dr. MacArthur a break! Geez: He went to Bob Jones University! He is hung up on Israel and the Church being separate! But in spite of that he preaches the depth of the true Gospel of Grace better than most Reformed Theologians will ever hope to!

I think unfortunately his 1997 lecture on election is out of publication. The most powerful thing that defenders of Reformed Theology could do other than prayer is to petition that Ligonier makes Macarthur’s lecture again available and maybe even send a copy to John!

Grace to you! And Dr. Mac!
Jon Gosche, MDiv. DC
August 17, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJon Gosche
Jon, such serious error as this must be exposed, particularly when those that are in error, such as Dr. MacArthur, teach errors (false doctrine) with such authority. If Dr. MacArthur understood covenant theology he would not have said in that sermon "In Genesis 15, God puts Abraham in a deep sleep and passes through the halves of the animals Himself. This symbolized God making a unilateral covenant with Abraham. Therefore, there is nothing that Abraham or any other Israelite could do to nullify the promises of God for them.” It's wonderful that Dr. MacArthur understands that God makes the covenant and will keep it. However, dispensationalists do not understand who the true children of Abraham are! A multitude of pastors and teachers that hold this position don't even know who God made His covenant with! That's very sad. It goes to show how little letters after a name really mean.
August 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTony
Thank you!! Yes, better late than never. : )
August 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Addison
Since Google's Blogger doesn't do trackback, I'm posting it in this comment:

Deep gratitude for your marvelous work, Kim, from a Reformed house church leader.
August 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterEd Hurst
As someone who grew up with, and has spent alot of time around premils, this is a perfect demonstration of how they tend to hold up their eschatology as an idol. MacArthur tends to attract those who are especially self righteous and condemning of those who disagree. Just count the number of books he's written attacking someone. Perhaps they would be amused to learn their scolding leader once denied the doctrine of eternal generation.
August 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJIM HALE
Mr. Jim Hale,

With all due respect, that's quite a statement you made. You wrote, "As someone who grew up with, and has spent alot of time around premils, this is a perfect demonstration of how they tend to hold up their eschatology as an idol." Just how many premills do you know? Would you include the likes of D.A. Carson, John Piper, Mark Dever, George Eldon Ladd, etc. in that premill-idolization camp?

I am also curious to know how many books MacArthur wrote attacking someone. Have not Calvin, Luther, etc. have done the same?

Please don't get me wrong. I owe a debt of gratitude to Calvin, Luther and even MacArthur for they have mean tremendous means of God in my sanctification. But, and again with all due respect because you are a brother in Christ, I think your generalization is unfair and even attack-ful.

August 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMC

I personally know dozens of premils, and have attended their churches with congregations in the thousands. But I should have made clear that I was talking about premillenial dispensationalists, which would exlude Piper and Dever from your list. And I believe that Ladd also subscribed to historic premillenialism, which is a far cry from the modern brand of Left Behinders who seem awfully preoccupied with those will be "Left Behind."

I've read four of MacArthur's books, all of which are in the error-exposing genre, and you are simply not being honest if you think that his devoted followers aren't the most outspoken, "attack-ful" bunch of brothers on the internet. Just check out Phil Johnson's (Mac's right-hand man) website where he goes to great lengths to actually rate who he deems worthy or unworthy:

Debating MacArhturites is dangerous business, but it's about time someone took him to the woodshed. This posting was long overdue, and much more gracious than his "attack-ful" remarks. It will be loads of fun when they find their way to this site and demonstrate their legendary thin skin!

August 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJIM HALE
Actually. there was a 'premil' in the mix at Dort-Johann Heinrich Alsted. He was one of the delegates from Germany. My late professor of theology at T.E.D.S., S. Lewis Johnson Jr.(who was a historic premil) had in his library Alsted's 'Diatribe de mille annis Apocalyptics' which he wrote in 1627.
August 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterGLW Johnson

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
All HTML will be escaped. Hyperlinks will be created for URLs automatically.