A Dispensationalist and a Kuyperian Walk into Church

To be clear, no one has been begging for my thoughts on this, including Tucker Carlson. But God tells us to give thanks, and to give thanks publicly, and also to honor those who He’s used to help us grow in the faith. So I’m thankful for John MacArthur and Douglas Wilson.

They are not the only two, but they are two living men whom God has used to shape my thinking as a Christian and as a shepherd. They also represent good examples of Kuyperian Dispensationalists, though not because either one is one, if you know what I mean.

I would not be where I am without God’s use of John MacArthur in my life. I had started studying to become a pastor before I knew about exegesis and preaching verse by verse through books of the Bible. When I got serious not just about Jesus but about His Word, I was attending various Bible colleges that were not doing much for my spiritual substance. Reading MacArthur books, and even his commentaries like regular books, was a huge part of my ballast. When I graduated college, it was either move back in with my parents, grow a beard, and work in a factory, or move to Los Angeles and try to get into The Master’s Seminary.

That’s what I did in January of 1997. I not only came away from my time in CA with a seminary education that constantly pointed to the Scriptures, I also came away with some pastoral experience at Grace Community Church (and with a wife who loved theology more than many of my classmates). If I were to liken my Bible/theology understanding to a room, God used MacArthur to build at least two of the walls.

God has used Wilson to build the fourth wall.* It started with Credenda/Agenda more than a couple decades ago, but (some of) my ignorance really got upended when I began to read about education and the myth of neutrality. Wilson continues to challenge me in almost everything he writes whether I agree with his conclusion or not. He is merry, he is steady, and he is not a dualist.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Wilson’s posts during the panicdemic have been an influence on MacArthur, at least indirectly through Phil Johnson. With MacArthur’s “triumphant hour of the church” message last Sunday, there has been joy among many other churches to see Grace Community go first, not necessarily chronologically, but first in terms of ready to take the beating. This is something to give thanks for, and Wilson did just that in his post from Wednesday about our galvanizing grandfather.

I’ve learned a lot about taking God’s Word seriously from both of these men. In particular, I learned a lot about God’s promises and God’s plan for Israel from MacArthur, things related to Dispensationalism. I have also leaned a lot about God’s promises and God’s plan for living in our bodies on earth from Wilson, things related to Kuyperianism. Jesus is Lord, and that is why we preach the Word and defy tyrants and love our wives and start schools and drink wine, and Fresca.

Those who’ve been learning to read their Bibles through MacArthur’s half-century of faithfully pointing them to the inspired text realize that in the Bible Jesus says He wants us to do more after we’ve read it. The Christian life is more than longer quiet times, and God rewards the faithful, not just faithful pastors. Many who’ve been blessed by GCC and TMS are primed for an increased, Kuyperian-sized application, whether or not they call it that.

Likewise, those who’ve been learning to apply the Bible through Wilson’s constant wheels-on-the-road-Calvinism may come to see that the church has a role in making Israel jealous, that all Israel would be saved (like God covenanted in Jeremiah 31:31-37), which will lead to riches for the world (Romans 11:11-15, 25-26). God blesses those who hold the distinctions He makes, even those (uncool) Dispensationalists.

And for now, there is reason to give God thanks for those who fight the good fight of faith in public for sake of Christ and His church, and I thank Him for these two men of God.

[* For those wondering about my math skillz, yes, there is a third wall, which was God’s use of John Piper to show me that my head full of knowledge was not as valuable to God as my heart full of affections for God informed by the truth.]

All Sanctimoniousness and Powerlessness

I’ve wanted to share this video and connect it with the quotes below it for some time. Since the interview came out at the beginning of December, it’s apparently been on my mind for half a year. Ha!

The interview is with John MacArthur on The Ben Shapiro Show. Some of you watched it already, and great. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it, and I recommend it as a perfect example of the kind of Dispensationalist (like MacArthur) I want to be and the kind of Dispensationalist I also want to build on. 

MacArthur’s answers about Jesus as the only hope are great at heart. His appeal to Shapiro to embrace Jesus as the longed for Messiah of the Jews is true, clear, and gracious. In this way MacArthur keeps the main thing the main thing. 

It makes me think of the following comment by Abraham Kuyper, found in the chapter on “Common Grace” in A Centennial Reader (page 172), about the problem with some Christians who get a buzz out of discussing Christian impact without first establishing faith in Christ. 

“The sects on the other hand have consistently attempted to change this healthy balance by diverting attention from the deeper questions of justification to drive us toward Chiliasm or the Millennial Kingdom by speaking much about the manner of our physical resurrection, about a prior second coming of our Lord, about whether, according to Paul, the Jews will return to Jerusalem, and the like. One can thus have a stimulating religious conversation without being troubled in conscience or convinced of one’s wretched state before God. Therefore we cannot warn often enough against the danger of shifting conversations in Christian circles away from the salvation of the soul to such eternal but sensational topics. In truly Reformed circles that danger is avoided when the substance of conversation is not Chiliasm or the Jewish question but the question of how God is honored and our soul justified.”

In other words, the “Chiliasts” (that is, the Dispensationalists, those believers who anticipate Israel’s national repentance and restoration as part of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom as promised in Romans 11 and Revelation 20), may focus too much on eschatology and applaud themselves for such spiritual interests and yet miss the gospel requirements of first importance. It is possible to distract others from dealing with Christ’s claims and every man’s need to believe in Him for justification. MacArthur does not get so caught up in the future that he lets Shapiro off the hook in the present. And amen.

However, the Christ that MacArthur proclaims to Shapiro is, ironically, not the complete Christ as revealed in the Bible. Jesus saves souls, yes, and He also has more to say after that. This is where we Dispensationalists often stop building too soon. Here is the very next paragraph from Kuyper:

“…[W]e have no right to conceptualize the image of the Mediator in ways other than Scripture presents it. People fall into one-sidedness in the opposite direction if, reflecting on the Christ, they think exclusively of the blood shed in atonement and refuse to take account of the significance of Christ for the body, for the visible world, and for the outcome of world history. Consider carefully: by taking this tack you run the danger of isolating Christ for your soul and you view life in and for the world as something that exists alongside your Christian religion, not controlled by it.”

We must point people to salvation in no other name but Jesus, but we’re only partially done if we point them to a Jesus who offers no wisdom for, or commandments regarding, cultural decisions other than separate and survive until He returns. The public square is not, as Kuyper described “territory which must somehow take care of itself.” Shapiro asked MacArthur repeatedly how believing in Christ affects society, and MacArthur said in effect, “That’s not what Christ cares about.” It is true that discipleship is personal, but not just for how to behave in private.

“From that opposition and false proportionality springs all narrow-mindedness, all inner unreality, if not all sanctimoniousness and powerlessness.”

This is a unique sort of Christian dualism that honors itself as the heights of spirituality and biblical fidelity, and no wonder many Christians don’t know that the Romans Road isn’t finished after evangelism. 

Losing as a weapon

All the posts so far at the KuyperDispy have been short articles; they’re the guts of the idea (and there are more guts to share). But we also wanted to have another category of posts that are quotes or links or shorter thoughts, and for now we’ll categorize those as gloss, as in, providing an explanation or paraphrase or annotation.

This quote is a great place to start, and it ought to be a great encouragement to the church:

“Losing does not disturb us; it does not unsettle our faith. This is something the Church generally does really well. Speaking frankly, we frequently lose successfully far more often than we succeed successfully. Losing is our secret weapon.”

Douglas Wilson, Same Sex Mirage, pp. 258-259

This was written by a passionate postmillennialist, thinking in terms of downward cycles in the flow of church history I’m sure. But doesn’t it do an even better job of explaining how a dispensational premillennialist can be optimistic about the progress of the gospel and the “success” of the church while still thinking the world is going to hell? We don’t think the church keeps losing and coming back again, we think the church will eventually “lose” and then Jesus comes back again.