This is a follow up article to our August 26th report titled, “John MacArthur Broadcast Favorably Quotes Dallas Willard – Why This is a Bad Move.” While we believe we laid out a concise and accurate argument for why quoting contemplative pioneer Dallas Willard will reap bad fruit, after our article posted, a number of people wrote comments on a Facebook group, and this was brought to our attention. There were basically three contentions about our article that were brought forth. We will address these three issues in this follow up.
First, before we do, we have made an observation that is worth noting. When we wrote our report on the recent Assemblies of God invitation of Ruth Haley Barton to the AOG General Council 2013 Conference, Dr. George Wood and Dr. Jodi Detrick responded to our article. One of the things insinuated was that we were criticizing AOG because we were not Pentecostal. Similarly, in comments on Facebook regarding the MacArthur/Willard situation, it was said that we were attacking John MacArthur because we are not Calvinist. Yet, in both instances, we can honestly say that this was entirely not the case. Even a casual perusal of both of our critiques should reveal that we wrote nothing about Pentecostalism in the former case and nothing about Calvinism in the latter case as these topics had nothing to do with our long-standing concern over mysticism sweeping into the church via spiritual formation, contemplative, and emergent teachings. The goal of Lighthouse Trails has been and continues to be exposing the “new” spirituality which has come into the evangelical/Protestant church and is a serious problem which has been, by and large, neglected by church leaders. This spirituality is a panentheistic and interspiritual view that by its very nature negates the Gospel. And it is what brought us to writing the MacArthur/Willard article in the first place.
Secondly, before addressing the three points of this article, we want to make one thing clear. We use a certain amount of caution when writing follow up stories because there is the risk of getting the focus off the original topic and putting the focus on what we consider moot points. In other words, we don’t want the focus to afterward become WHY we wrote the article as opposed to what is IN the article. And we don’t want to put the focus on our defending ourselves. We learned many years ago, after undergoing rather severe attack from Saddleback over our articles and books on The Purpose Driven movement to let God defend us as He saw fit. Our philosophy is to put the information out there in the most accurate and biblical way possible and leave the fruit of it up to Him.
Now the three points:
1. The most common dispute that came forth in the Facebook comments regarding our August 26th article on MacArthur’s quoting Willard was the question, did we contact John MacArthur or Grace to You first. The answer to that is no. And there are two reasons: First, as we have stated in times past, when books, DVDs, lectures, conferences, and so forth are in the public arena (and in the case of MacArthur’s quoting of Dallas Willard, those materials have been sold through Grace to You for at least the past seven years), this disqualifies the subject as a Matthew 18 private offense between two people. We have some good articles posted on our research site on Matthew 18, which we hope you will get a chance to read.
Second, with that said, Lighthouse Trails has actually spoken with many, if not most, of the ministries we have critiqued over the years (e.g. Saddleback, In Touch, Focus on the Family, Youth Specialties, Beth Moore’s ministry, Dan Kimball, Shane Claiborne, Philip Yancey, Liberty University, Moody, Gary Thomas etc.) and have offered to send materials free of charge to these ministries. One of the ministries we spoke with a number of years ago was Grace to You. In that case, we were actually trying to help Grace to You. We had been contacted by a research journalist who was planning on writing an article because he found an article on the Grace to You website where John MacArthur was favorably quoting Richard Foster. But the article was dated over 20 years ago, and to our knowledge was not being used currently. We asked this journalist to hold off on his article and that we would contact GTY and tell them about the quote. We felt that MacArthur would not want that quote up on the Internet this many years later. While the GTY office personnel treated us with the utmost respect and gratitude, we were contacted soon after by a senior staff member who responded in an utterly harsh, angry, and vitriolic manner to us even though we were merely a go-between trying to assist. We were told to basically leave them alone and mind our own business. So while it has been some time since that happened, it did have some influence on our not contacting GTY over the present Dallas Willard situation.
2. The second concern that came up on the Facebook comments is the issue of Christian leaders quoting those who promote serious false teachings. The most common defense we have seen over the years regarding the quoting of false teachers is Paul’s talk on Mars Hill (Acts 17). Ironically, emerging church figures have also used this Scripture to “prove” that Paul integrated himself (or absorbed himself) into culture in order to reach them. In this case (MacArthur/Willard) MacArthur defenders are using the Scripture to say there is nothing wrong with quoting false teachers if you aren’t quoting their “bad” teachings. Earlier today, we posted an article written by Mike Oppenheimer (Let Us Reason Ministries) where he deals with this very topic. We timed our posting of it to be coupled with our own article here because of its relevance. Oppenheimer’s article refutes both presumptions: that Acts 17 gives license to favorably quote anyone and also to become part of a culture to the point of accepting the culture’s pagan views.
3. The third point is actually 2 points in one because they are related. First, it was brought up on Facebook and is almost not worth mentioning because the answer is so obvious as pointed out in our August 26th article, that since MacArthur quoted Dallas Willard over 20 years ago, it shouldn’t be used against him today. Please read this excerpt from our article:
While MacArthur’s original citing of Willard in this sermon took place many years ago, the fact that it is still being offered at Grace to You in a sermon series and is being broadcast currently is cause for concern and is the reason we are writing this report. It is hard for us to understand why Grace to You would continue using this particular sermon, knowing how pervasive the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement is today in the evangelical Protestant church; and as we will show below, even John MacArthur acknowledges that Dallas Willard is a key figure in that movement. . . .
Those reading this who wish to defend MacArthur and Grace to You, saying that there is no issue here because the original sermon was so long ago need to understand that if this sermon were sitting in some obscure archive, stored away for no one to see, we wouldn’t be writing this today. But that is not the case. Grace to You is continuing to use a sermon that should have been discarded years ago , and it must be treated as if it were new material because that is how it is going to be looked at by those who heard the recent broadcast and also by those who buy the Faith Through Fire series.
Second, it was suggested in the FB comments that Dallas Willard was not a contemplative advocate when he wrote The Spirit of the Disciplines (the book MacArthur quoted from). As we have shown in our August 26th article, The Spirit of the Disciplines was definitely a contemplative promoting book. The documentation of that can be found in our previous article.
In conclusion for this follow up article, we realize that some John MacArthur followers are very upset about our report. Many of these people have also been Lighthouse Trails readers. We’d like to say two things to these people. First, just because someone criticizes a public figure does not mean he is out to attack or destroy that person or his ministry. If criticism is done in a biblical and amiable fashion, then it should be welcomed even though not always easy to hear. There is a big difference between constructive critique and hateful character assassination (which although we ourselves have been the target of that at times over the last 11 years, we have attempted to never do that to anyone).
Second, we hope those who admire John MacArthur will contact Grace to You (as we know some have already) and beseech the ministry to remove the section of the sermon quoting Dallas Willard. Really, this is more about Dallas Willard than John MacArthur. Willard’s spirituality is the same spirituality as Richard Foster and Henri Nouwen and it leads people into a dangerous deceptive spiritual outlook that will have a negative impact in one’s faith in Christ.
The bottom line in all of this is that what occurred on August 21st (when GTY broadcast the Willard quotes) erodes resistance to contemplative prayer among the listening masses and even inadvertently helps undo the work at Lighthouse Trails. If someone hears John MacArthur quoting a contemplative author such as Dallas Willard, it could make that person think that John MacArthur does not have an issue with the teachings of Dallas Willard. This is the basic controversy here, and GTY would be doing both themselves and the body of Christ a favor if they did not leave the impression that a laxed view of Dallas Willard’s theology is ok.
Follow up note: In the year 2000, Dallas Willard spoke at Master’s College. The talk, like the sermon above, sits on the Master’s website today: http://www2.masters.edu/pulpit/files/2000/Spring-’00/20000301-DallasWillard-mp3.