John MacArthur is a prominent Baptist pastor and biblical scholar who is currently celebrating fifty years in pulpit ministry at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.
Sadly, that legacy is only part of why he’s in the news today.
Last week, MacArthur took part in a panel discussion at a Truth Matters Conference hosted by his home church. Emcee Todd Friel asked the panel for a one-word or “pithy” response to certain names.
Friel then started the discussion by saying “Beth Moore,” in reference to the prominent Southern Baptist author and speaker who has made waves recently by teaching at churches on Sunday mornings.
MacArthur responded by simply but clearly saying, “Go home.”
Those in attendance responded with laughter and applause.
While some might be tempted to dismiss MacArthur’s statement as playing to the crowd or the result of poor judgment in the moment—it certainly fit the “pithy” characterization that Friel was looking for—it’s important to note that the pastor took more than thirty seconds to craft his response. It was clear, in both his answer and the later explanation, that his words represent what he believes.
My purpose today is not to expound upon the proper role of women in the ministry (for more on that question, see Dr. Denison’s “What should be the role of women in Church?“). Rather, it’s to look at the way John MacArthur delivered his indictment and see what lessons we can learn regarding how to better disagree with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Can we still agree to disagree?
As Dr. Todd Still wrote concerning MacArthur for the Baptist Standard, “Even if MacArthur were to be correct in his assertions and assessments, in his disparaging remarks and condescending comments regarding Moore he fails to follow the very Scripture he proclaims.”
Dr. Still is correct, and I encourage you to read the entirety of his response.
We cannot afford to miss his point considering that, both inside and outside of the church, we seem to have forgotten how to disagree with people without vilifying them in the process. If we cannot engage with different views on their merits alone, then it speaks volumes to just how loosely and poorly we hold those views.
With that in mind, I’d like to discuss three reasons why John MacArthur was wrong to speak of Beth Moore as he did, as well as what we can learn from his example to do better.
Three better ways to disagree
The first lesson we must learn stems from how MacArthur attacked Beth Moore the person more than her views or actions.
His later explanation focused more on her as an example of a larger movement within Baptist life toward an elevation of women beyond what he sees as their proper role. But, before he got there, he likened her to someone who has an audience “because you have the skill to sell jewelry on the TV sales channel,” thereby completely dismissing the fact that most of those who engage with her do so because they value her biblical teaching.
That’s not to say her beliefs are always correct, but, by completely discounting the possibility that she is a genuinely good teacher, MacArthur substantially undercuts his argument.
There will be times when people around us, both Christian and non-Christian, gain an audience less because of what they present than how they present it. In those instances, we cannot simply deride them as people of little substance. We must instead be willing to explain why their argument lacks merit. Engaging with their beliefs and demonstrating from that perspective why they are wrong will always be the more biblical and effective approach.
The second error MacArthur made was belittling those who might disagree with him.
While he was clearly playing to a friendly audience, comments like “There is no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher” stand little chance of actually convincing someone to change their views.
MacArthur has been preaching long enough and has engaged with a wide enough variety of Christian thinkers to know that what he said is false. If what he meant by that statement was that there is not a biblical case to be made that he finds convincing, then that is an intellectually honest and appropriate response.
Unfortunately, that’s not what he said, which inevitably led to his third mistake.
The third flaw in his approach was shutting down the dialogue.
After saying that there was no biblical merit for women preachers, he continued with “Period. Paragraph. End of discussion.” In so doing, he made it clear that this was not a topic about which he was interested in entertaining any dissenting views.
As Christians, there may come a point in our conversation with someone when it becomes clear that neither side is willing to change and it is no longer profitable to continue the dialogue. When we reach that point, however, we must be wary of conveying it with the same disrespectful finality as did MacArthur lest it be the end not only of that discussion but of any discussion that might have otherwise followed as well.
How did Jesus disagree?
Given the pervasive nature of social media and the ease with which we can now engage in lively discussions with people from around the world, it’s incredibly important that we make sure that both our message and the manner in which it’s conveyed are in accordance with the heart of our Lord.
While there were times when Jesus was curt and antagonistic toward those who disagreed with him (Matthew 23:13–36), even then he did so by addressing the substance of their message and with a call to change.
His heart was always that both they and those around them would come to see the truth of the gospel and repent. That’s simply not going to happen if we conduct ourselves in a manner that personally attacks and belittles people while shutting off the chance for further conversation.
We can and must do better.
Fortunately, all of us are likely to have the opportunity to do just that in the near future.
Will you be ready when it comes?