[Editor’s note – this post has been revised after a commenter pointed out that the blog post by John MacArthur was one of a series.]
I recently read an article about the outcome of the recent Debt Ceiling debate in the US which questioned whether Obama was psychologically suited to win in Washington. The writer suggested that President Obama’s maturity and detached insight into the game of politics was the reason why he was unable to win the political and legislative war to decide the course of action the US would take to deal with its debt crisis. The article states that his aides describe him as ‘the only adult in the room’ during policy meetings. Essentially the writer is saying that Obama would not bring himself to engage in the emotive and foolish rhetoric that both Democrats and Republicans typically resort to in order to try and win support for their policies. The upshot of all this was that Obama was overpowered in the debate by Republicans who fought with more passion and aggressiveness than the even keeled President who saw through the foolishness of both sides of the argument but was unwilling to resort to their strategies.
If this is true I can sympathise with the President. Not in the sense of being the only adult in the room but certainly in the sense of not wanting to engage in an argument that is fast becoming more rhetoric than substance. I believe I can argue, expostulate, reason, dispute, evince, squabble and verbally wrangle with the best of them. But so often I am simply discouraged and put off by the increasing trend of making emotional pitches to those who already support the speaker that even when I am confronted by issues that I am passionate about I find myself struggling for motivation to get involved. This goes every bit as much for debates within the church as it does politically based arguments.
For example, I recently read this blog from John MacArthur. MacArthur is a conservative by any measure, both from a worldly and from a church perspective. Perhaps more than any other he has been a voice of concern and opposition against what has been dubbed the young, restless and reformed (YRR) movement. MacArthur is a voice well worth listening to and I would recommend him as part of any balanced reading list for those who consider themselves reformed. I agree with his assertion in the above blog that Christians should not be overly concerned with the world’s opinion and that we as Christians should primarily seek to be known by our holiness and pursuit of Christ not our willingness to drink beer, gamble and get tattoos. But I disagree with the way that he has painted with a broad brush those who fall into the YRR movement.
Straw man generalisations like the one MacArthur subtlely constructs are, I think, detrimental to the church and the ability of different camps therein to learn from one another. MacArthur implies that those who are leaders in the YRR movement and dare to proclaim that beer, wine, tattoos, smoking, gambling and mixed martial arts are not sinful in themselves are prone to drunkenness, worldliness, and driven by the concerns of man more than the concerns of a holy God. This is undoubtedly true in some instances but it is unfair and borderline dishonest for MacArthur not to acknowledge that this is not the case for all or even the majority. [Amendment: MacArthur does praise the YRR movement and states that he considers it a positive move on the whole here. This changes my perspective slightly but I still feel as though my statements about how MacArthur argues his point are valid.]
MacArthur attempts to preempt any argument that his views are legalistic and therefore dismisses the notion without actually addressing the argument in any real form. He then cites examples of sinfulness and idolatry and pain that I believe all members of the YRR would agree are destructive and not acceptable in the least. Finally Macarthur attempts to briefly deal with the fact that the bible condones the drinking of wine, that Jesus ate and drank with sinners and that the bible does not say that the above practices are sin.
My point is not to argue for the consumption of alcohol either recreationally or in ministry. Nor is it to argue for any of the other above activities that MacArthur criticises. My point is to criticise the way that MacArthur has sought to make his points and the division that it encourages. I would be equally critical of anyone who would identify themselves as YRR and who would seek to stereotype those who believe that Christians should not drink, dance or gamble as immature legalists who are repressed and terrified of anything they can’t control. That would be equally unhelpful and unfair.
I believe Mark Dever is a terrific example of someone who would share many of MacArthur’s concerns and is relationally connected to him but who engages with the YRR and seeks to teach why he believes what he believes and not simply characterise and criticise within his own camp. I have heard him question and criticise the likes of Mark Driscoll, quite strongly at times, but he has also been willing to sit down and recognise that for the most part they are in agreement on the big stuff.
As Christians we are not to be quarrelsome or engage in foolish debates. I think this probably means as well that when we debate with each other that we should do so with a heart to educate and learn and pursue truth, not use argumentative method in order to ‘win’ the debate.
When you differ with another Christian are you arguing and debating with the pursuit of truth in mind or are you simply wanting to win a war?