AUSTIN: I want to just take a moment and welcome you once again, especially our online audience, since this is technically an online-only event. A few stragglers have wandered into the Worship Center.
JOHN: It’s been happening a lot lately.
AUSTIN: That’s funnier than some of you realize. So, welcome to our Q&A session this afternoon. It’s always a privilege to sit with you, John, and talk to you about what you’ve been thinking. And it’s most appropriate that we’re having this conversation for pastors at the State of the Church event. This is definitely a non-Shepherds’ Conference. Not only is it a thin crowd, but there’s no good snacks, and the music has been terrible today because we don’t have any music; so it’s just not Shepherds’ Conference. We long for the return of that, and we’re hopeful to do that in August.
AUSTIN: But we do have a lot to talk about from the past year. The last time you were doing a Q&A with pastors on this stage was in March of 2020, a fateful year. So I think it’d be helpful for you to walk through what that year has been like for you as pastor of Grace Community Church. Your 52nd year in ministry here has been a doozy.
JOHN: Yeah, I think the most unusual year of the 52 by far. There are points in the first 50 where certain issues arose, like 9/11, or the fall of Jimmy Swaggart, or an earthquake and people died in Southern California. You sort of stop and address those things. And there’s a long list of sermons that I’ve preached addressing current issues, even wars and elections and things like that. But nothing that has gone on for an entire year. It’s like we’ve been in a war for a year. So in sort of a low-level, Spurgeon-esque effort, instead of going through a book, I just had to come up with a different sermon every week for a year.
It’s a tough thing to do, but it would be tougher if there weren’t such obvious, widespread exigencies going on around me that needed to be addressed from Scripture, so that’s what I’ve tried to do. You know, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “You can tell the weather, but you can’t tell the signs of the times.” And I think preaching to the signs of the times is very important. You can’t ignore those things, or people think you’re out of touch. They want the Word of God applied to the issues that they’re facing. So that’s been an exciting thing, to have people come with almost baited breath every week, waiting to have a biblical perspective on what’s going on all around them.
And the other thing that’s been amazing is as people started to come back. We were empty for the first couple of months, and then people started coming back on their own. And now there’s this massive crowd that shows up here every Sunday, and they have for months and months and months. And the joy is palpable, as you know. When we start the service, they start clapping out of sheer joy and gratitude that they’re able to meet without masks and social distancing; and people aren’t sick, and nobody’s dying, and the plague hasn’t hit us, and the sky hasn’t fallen in. And the city of LA has taken us to court 12 times, and they can’t shut us down. They tried to take away our parking; and instead of that, the synagogue down the street gives us their hundred spaces, and so we got more. And a month ago they told us they were going to take the parking lot across the wash and turn it into a homeless encampment to penalize us. And I said, “That’d be great. We’d just have seminary students go over there all day and evangelize all those homeless people.”
So we’ve been fighting, on one hand, with the government; but at the same time, we have been so amazingly protected. They have not been able to fine us at all because they can’t get past the First Amendment issue of free exercise of religion. Until that’s litigated in a court, nothing else applies to us. And that was kind of the strategy. So I don’t know—how much money, Mark, did we put in an escrow account for the Health Department?
MARK: Ten thousand.
JOHN: Ten thousand. How often?
MARK: About eight times, one thousand each time.
JOHN: Oh, one thousand. So they fine us a thousand dollars per last ten weeks, which is fine; we’ll take that. It goes in an escrow account. They can’t get it because they haven’t been able to litigate around the First Amendment.
The good will in the community is amazing because we have a new category of people called Grace refugees who have poured into here from other churches that are closed, and they found out that this is a church like no other church they’ve been to. The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, and what they find is sound doctrine produces loving people. So it’s been the greatest time of church growth in the history of Grace Church.
AUSTIN: And I think that you’ve been preparing for this your whole life, unknowingly. I mean, this battle this year, it just so happens you’re a warrior; you’re a fighter by nature. You’re a guy who’s always been defending and always been critiquing what you perceive to be a threat to the church. And so now a time has come upon our church and upon the churches around the world that their freedoms are being taken away from them under the guise of public safety and health—public health, whatever that is. And so how do you think that God has prepped you for this? We’re grateful you’re here, MacArthur, because there’s not a lot of people at the forefront of this resistance.
JOHN: Well at my age it’s good to be here, but it’s even better to know you’re here. And to know you’re here. Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t feel like I’m engaged in any different battle than I’ve ever been in, I just—I feel like you have to do what’s right, and you have to be reasonable and sensible. And when our people began to realize that they were being lied to and that 99 percent of the people who get COVID are going to be fine, they didn’t believe the narrative. So on their own they just started coming back, and coming back, and coming back. And the Health Department at one point said they found three people who tested positive in our church and said we were, I don’t know—where they put us on a list of places where there was an outbreak. Three people. And a couple of weeks later they removed us from that because they came back and that was it.
So the Lord has protected us. I couldn’t have predicted that, necessarily—that we wouldn’t have more people being ill. It’s gone through our congregation to whatever degree, symptomatically or asymptomatically, and we’ve continued to meet. And so I don’t think this is some miracle, I just think this is looking at reality, and we talked to people who knew what that reality was. And I was following what the courts were saying because we were litigating it in court, and the attorneys on our defense were going into court saying, “Look, 99 percent of the people who get this recover. That is not a pandemic. That is not a plague.” And so we decided that for all the reasons that we need, which is the Lord commands us to meet and to preach His truth; and if people are fearful, all the more reason to do that. So that’s what we’ve been doing all along.
And while we haven’t had, say, what James Coates has had, taken off in shackles into prison up in Canada, for whatever reason, the Lord has allowed me to continue to preach. And even people in the Health Department are more supportive of our church than they are the Health Department; they’re embarrassed by what the Health Department’s doing. We definitely are a thorn in the side of the godless politicians who would want to shut us down, but they haven’t been able to find a way to do it.
AUSTIN: Yeah. It’s interesting to see what this year has brought out in churches. And you’ve heard from a lot of pastors both thanking you for your stand and also from those who’ve asked for your help because their churches are divided in this time between mask-wearers, anti-mask-wearers; between those who think the church should do more or is doing too much. And so there’s something about this era that’s exposed in churches, a kind of disunity, a fragile sort of fellowship. And what we’ve experienced here after being shut down for ten weeks, or whatever it was, and then coming back—I mean, the people are just so excited about fellowship.
But we’ve experienced folks who’ve struggled with that, and we’ve done a lot at our church to mitigate for those who feel more comfortable outside. I don’t know if you notice, there’s an enormous tent in our parking lot for those of you who are visiting. So talk about the issues of unity. Was this just something that was always in the church? Is there danger of disunity and this kind of exposed it, or is it this particular issue? Why are so many pastors struggling with divisive people in this time?
JOHN: Yeah. Well I think you get into trouble if you try to make one-size-fits-all, because there are people with reasonable fear; they have comorbidities. There are other people with unreasonable fear, but it’s fear nonetheless. So we have not heaped scorn on people who chose not to come. And there’s probably 700 people who haven’t been back to Grace Church; their spots have been filled by probably three times that amount of people. But we’ve ministered to them, we’ve nurtured them, we’ve kept in contact with them, we’ve shepherded them. And if there are people who choose to wear a mask—there were a few at the beginning; and the more people came back and they were fine, the less masks there are. But we never mocked that. We never wanted to make people who had reasonable or unreasonable fears feel second class or feel like they were not obeying the Lord. We just wanted people to do whatever they felt comfortable doing; and if they didn’t want to come back at all, we still would reach out and minister to them, and take food to them and do whatever we could.
So I think—I mean, that’s part of leadership, is everybody grows at a different pace, and everybody is not the same in terms of the same fears and the same issues in their life, and we didn’t want anybody to feel like there was something spiritually wrong with them if they chose a mask or chose to go out in a tent or sit out on the patio. So we made all those possibilities available to them.
AUSTIN: Right. But we didn’t want to dictate something that’s extrabiblical to our people: “You must wear a mask,” or, “You must not wear a mask.” We wouldn’t go that route because our whole point is we’re going to worship with freedom, and these things are not going to define our worship; they’re not allowed to inform our worship.
JOHN: And as time goes on and people keep coming and coming, all that begins to change. They lose those fears, they’re traded in for trust, and they see everybody happy and healthy and flourishing. I remember the Sunday we brought back a thousand children who hadn’t been here, and it was just an amazing day. We had balloons all over the campus to welcome the children, we gave them all big lollipops, and kids were coming to me and thanking me.
AUSTIN: They didn’t share the lollipops, they were individual lollipops.
JOHN: Yeah. Well, as far as we know.
AUSTIN: Still a germaphobe over here. I mean, MacArthur, you led the way for—I mean, look who’s following you now. Texas is following you, Florida is following you, Louisiana. I mean, they’re all following MacArthur. He called it.
JOHN: I just think if you’re going to lead, you need to lead. You need to get out in the front of it, not the back end of it where you’re operating in fear out of everything the Health Department says, you know, you’re lagging behind that; and that just cultivates the fear among your people.
The commodity that we have—and it’s really all we have—is the truth. And you could say, “Well, that’s biblical truth.” Yeah, but it extends to being able to analyze reality as well. I wanted our people to know that the truth was not what they were being told. And so from time to time I would tell them those statistics, those kinds of things, and they began to realize that what is going on has very little to do with the bug and a whole lot to do with crushing the country for the whims of those elite who are in power to gain more power.
It’s a weird revolution. Most revolutions come from the bottom up—the abused people riot. This is a revolution from the top down—the people at the top who have all the power want more power, and so they’re crushing the people even more below them. This is a different kind of revolution.
I think COVID is a reality, and we don’t want to deny it. But there are lots of other challenges in life where we face the reality of death without doing so much damage.
AUSTIN: Right. And I mean, you’ve been prophetic in talking about how these lockdowns are not only ineffective, but they destroy livelihoods, and they’ve caused a lot of problems. Meanwhile, while we’re all facing this year, there’s also been this massive racial surge of discussion of injustice, of systemic racism. This has become, maybe even alongside of the COVID thing, the huge national narrative. And you started talking about this in 2018, I think, was when you started to address critical theory. And it was then that I think only university students were talking about it, but you saw it creeping into the church early on. So why don’t we also include that into the wonderful experience that 2020 has been.
JOHN: Well, yeah. I think when you standardize indictments and guilt based upon anyone’s ethnicity or color or anything like that, that’s not related to reality. So I reject all of that. Is there injustice in the world? Of course; that’s why the kingdom of righteousness isn’t going to come till the righteous King gets here.
But again—what I was trying to say earlier this morning—you can’t fix it, only Christ can fix it. But along the way we can fix the hearts and souls of the people who are caught up in all the injustice of the world by bringing them the gospel of Christ. We have to rescue people one soul at a time; we can’t change societal structure. There’s plenty of evidence of the corruption of the CRT and neo-Marxism; and I’ve mentioned offhand it comes from philosophers from 300 years ago, who were godless, Christless, immoral people who devised all of these things.
But in the original reaction, I did a series on Ezekiel 18 because I wanted to point out that the heart and soul of the gospel starts with one’s understanding of guilt. And it’s not collective guilt, and it’s not racial guilt; it’s personal guilt. And if you take people off the hook for their own sinfulness, you cut them off from the gospel. So it’s very important that people don’t get away with blaming some problem in their life on what somebody did to their great-grandfather 200 years ago. But part of the trend is to make everybody into a victim. We talk about that a lot: victimology. And the Scripture would say, “You’re not a victim of anything but your own corruption.”
Sure, we all have to deal with the difficulties in being treated unkindly and unfairly. But at the end of the day, God’s going to hold you responsible for your sin. You’re not going to be responsible for something your ancestor did. You’re not going to be able to blame the weaknesses and failures of your life on something passed down to you, some kind of identity. So I just thought that if—people will always try to make an excuse for being the way they are, and the Lord never lets them do that. It’s Mark’s gospel: “It’s not what goes into the man that defiles him; it’s what comes out of the man that defiles him.” If you were all alone in the world, you’d be defiled. You don’t need any history to be defiled; you are defiled. And that’s where the gospel has to start.
AUSTIN: Mac, you’ve been addressing things that other pastors, I think, are scared to talk about at times because there’s so much tension and there’s so many headlines about these things. And you’ve been remarkably consistent. You’ve acknowledged all throughout that racism is a terrible evil, that it’s the sin of partiality in James 2, or malice, or strife—various other manifestations of that. But you’ve also made it very clear that critical theory, especially as it’s embraced by Christians or syncretized with Christianity, is vicious. And identity politics are problematic. And you’ve talked about the Marxist roots, that this isn’t going to remove the stain of racism, this isn’t going to transform human hearts. You’ve made that really clear. Why is this so attractive to evangelicals? Why do they think that this may have something for them that’s going to help them? Is it because of evangelism? Is it because—why is this?
JOHN: It’s because for a long time they’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid of thinking they need to win over the culture in order to bring people to Christ. Whether it’s truncating the gospel or creating an inoffensive message, whether it’s Joel Osteen standing up and saying, “God exists for one purpose, and that is to fulfill your dreams”—that’s a message you can sell to a whole bunch of sinners because it has no offensive character in it.
So I think pragmatism has taken over the church to such a degree that people actually assume that you can’t reach people unless you somehow bridge whatever there is that stands in the way of the gospel; and the assumption is for some people, it could be they don’t like the style. So they don’t like the music, so they don’t like a talking head, “So let’s do some cool things, and we’ll bridge that way.” For other people, they’ve got all these racial issues; and because they relate them to maybe Christianity in some way, “We’ve got to build the bridge across the racial divide, we’ve got to confront the social issues.”
The church is—this is what I was saying this morning—the church has always, always been sucked into the lie that somehow there is, in the world, a way that the kingdom of darkness can help the kingdom of light. I don’t think people do this knowing they’re getting seduced; I think they do it thinking it’s going to access the gospel. What does access the gospel is love on a personal level—and I would never advocate anything less than that. And compassion, and sympathy and understanding. When Jesus came into the world, it was obvious to Him that people suffered. And that’s why He healed people, and that’s why He fed hungry people, and He was showing the compassion of God toward those who suffer physically. And I think that’s a reasonable thing. So we reach out to those people. But that’s not the gospel. The gospel is the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ, repentance and faith in Christ. When the church gets too involved in that, then you get the social gospel, which destroyed all the denominations, and has now essentially destroyed evangelicalism.
Current evangelicalism—it has no relationship to the evangelicalism of ten years ago because of the social justice issue. And the evangelicalism of ten years ago had little connection to the evangelicalism of fifteen years before that because pragmatism hadn’t come in. So there’s always the temptation to cross the divide between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, and borrow things from the kingdom of darkness you think are going to aid you. I mean, Jerry Falwell believed that, right? He believed that if we’re going to reach the world, we’ve got to have a Christian President and Christian Congress and a Christian Senate. That has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. And what you do in terms of social change, lobbying hard and fast for social change and giving too much of your time to that, has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. That’s why Paul said “we preach Christ and Him crucified” as a singularity in our focus. We do it with love and compassion.
AUSTIN: That’s, I think, what’s so remarkable about what you said this morning—is you were talking about separation. And maybe some people are used to hearing that word on the lips of the fundamentalists, you know. Their separation is boycott, disengage, move to the woods. That’s not the kind of separation you’re talking about. You’re talking about engaging with the truth and only the truth. It’s a separation from their methods and tools.
JOHN: Right. Exactly. It’s not the classic second-degree, third-degree separation: “I don’t cooperate with people who cooperate with liberals, and I don’t cooperate with people who cooperate with people who cooperate with people who cooperate with liberals”—you know, fourth-degree separation. That is not what it is. It is thinking that there’s anything in the darkness that’s going to help the light, anything. We have everything we need here in the book and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and if we’re faithful to that, the work of the kingdom advances.
And by the way, without being conscious of all these crazy identities, it’s amazing how the church grows. And our church looks like Los Angeles. It just looks like LA, because the Lord is saving people from every tongue, tribe, and nation in LA, and this is how the church looks. We don’t play the race card in any sense, but the Lord draws His people together.
AUSTIN: And that’s, I think, what was so clarifying about this morning—is you’re talking about: The kingdom is exclusive to the cross. And not only does it accompany suffering, there’s not a way to mitigate that from what we’re doing.
JOHN: Right, right. And that was the other main point I was trying to make, was that if you try to remove the offense, you’re doing the devil’s work. And that’s what Peter was saying: You don’t need to die, you just need the triumph and the victory. The path to the crown is the cross: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, follow Me.” That’s assumed. “All who live godly in this present generation will suffer.” It’s assumed because you’re confronting people, as Jesus said, and telling them that their deeds are evil. And they hate you because you tell them their deeds are evil.
The first thing you want to say to a person, when you introduce the gospel, is that you want to tell them they need to repent for their sin. That’s where you start. You need to tell them, inform them of the danger they’re in and the fact that they need to repent of their sin. And then you want to tell them about the gospel; and if they repent and believe, they’ll be forgiven, and they’ll escape the judgment of God, and abundant life will be theirs.
So everything has to start with that. And if you’ve got people who don’t take responsibility for their own condition and their own sin, you’re cutting them off at the front end of the gospel.
AUSTIN: So what I’m hearing you say is, I think, the same thing that you’ve been known for your whole ministry—whether it’s talking about a government overreach in our weird, Orwellian society, or whether it’s CRT infiltrating the church, or whether it’s back to your battle against psychology and integration of that into Christian counseling. You’ve always been saying that the Scripture is all we need—the sufficiency of Scripture. It seems to be the theme throughout. Is that also—I mean, tie it into all the battles you’ve fought. Are you a one-string guitar, MacArthur?
JOHN: Yeah, there’s no question about that. I have no other source. I have nothing to offer. I have nothing in me that’s intuitive that rises to the level of Scripture. Once I get outside of this book, I’m wandering in la-la land. It isn’t just this book, but it’s this book rightly divided and correctly interpreted, and it drives at every human need and every problem and offers a divine solution. Without necessarily sort of addressing every single problem by name, you teach the Word of God, and the Word of God builds up the saints. And they become strong in their spiritual life and walking in the Spirit, and that sort of takes care of all the specific issues.
So look, I don’t know that I could say this with same conviction 50 years ago. But after half a century of teaching the Word of God to a congregation, and seeing what it does—it has exceeded anything I could ever have imagined. And now I’m beginning to teach the fourth generation here, so I’ve seen the work of the Word. And as I said earlier, the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart. And that’s what you get. Sound doctrine produces a pure heart, which produces a loving people.
It takes a while to see that flourish in a group this large, but that’s exactly what we’ve seen. And I’m not oblivious to the issues in the world. I mean, we live in the world; it’s not like I have to—people say to me, “What do you read to get in touch with what’s going on in the world?” I don’t have to read anything; it comes at me. I can’t fight it off. But occasionally I do read those kinds of things, and you’re aware of what’s going on. But the answers are all the same: You go back to the Word of God.
AUSTIN: Are you foreseeing this issue, the current issue, being something that’s going to split evangelicalism? Originally we were going to a conference theme on reclaiming evangelicalism; why don’t you give us a sneak peek of kind of what you’re thinking about the future of evangelicalism? Is it going to be woke and not woke? Or how’s this going to work?
JOHN: Evangelism is such a big tent now, I don’t know that it means anything. R. C. and I used to talk about that, R. C. Sproul, and we both agreed we needed a new name. And we threw around a bunch of names from time to time, and he finally came up with imputationists. And I said, “That’s not going to work. People’ll think we cut off their limbs.”
AUSTIN: Sproul didn’t make a lot of mistakes, but that was one of them.
JOHN: Yeah. So we decided—we had the conversation with you—maybe we should come up with a new name. And we said, “Well, let’s take another run”—that was the idea—“another run at saving evangelicalism as a term.” But it’s hard to define it because the world sees it as a very broad term that includes everything from Joel Osteen to Ravi Zacharias. So I don’t want to be in that group, right? I don’t really want to be in that group. So give me a new name, give me a new group.
AUSTIN: But you love the evangel of it.
AUSTIN: That’s what you’re saying, is that’s the only thing that’s going to change the hearts of the people in this world is that—
JOHN: So that’s why I don’t want to let go of it. It’s a better word than fundamentalist—you know: no “fun,” too much “damn,” and not enough “mental.” Although it is used in Scripture, it has been polluted with narrowness and Phariseeism and all that. The evangel is the evangel, euangelizō, preach the gospel. So we decided to try to hang onto that word and see if we could purify it.
I noticed last week that Thabiti Anyabwile did an interview with a guy and said for the first time he’s announcing that he’s no longer an evangelical because evangelicalism is not woke enough for him. So you have that extreme, where a guy wants to abandon evangelicalism altogether because it’s not woke enough; and then you’ve got Joel Osteen, who’s another breed of cat, who’s an evangelical. And you’ve got everything from A to Z in there. So what we were thinking of doing was reclaiming the sort of biblical definitions of evangelical. And again, going back to an evangelical as somebody who preaches the gospel that comes out of the Word of God and is committed to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.
AUSTIN: And these are the people who are going to be driven by the Word, not by the world. They’re going to be driven by the Scriptures, and they’re willing to pay the price for it. You talked a little bit about our dear brother James Coates. And other alumni, I know, have contacted you that have experienced significant persecution. Tim Cantrell in South Africa—I know that you’ve been in touch with him. Talk a little bit about how this commitment to evangelism, to euangelion—you know, this is the gospel commitment. Let’s talk about some of the manifestations of suffering these brothers are enduring.
JOHN: Well it was an interesting thing. There was an article came out in the Alberta media. That the same prison that James Coates is in—they released a convicted sex offender, child molester. And the police put out a bulletin that was in the newspapers that they were convinced that when he got out of jail, he’d do it again. So they kept James—they’ve kept James locked up in prison, who is a preacher of the gospel; and they’ve let a child molester loose.
So while they want to attribute this to some health issue, the truth of the matter is there is hostility toward the gospel. And that’s inevitable if you’re faithful. James is faithful, and so this is inevitable. And the Lord has used it to double or triple the size of his church while he’s in prison.
AUSTIN: It’s incredible.
JOHN: Yeah. So people are—you know, I think I wrote an article for the Daily Wire, it just popped up yesterday, along the lines of, maybe the kind of pop-Christianity era is over because the persecution’s going to get ramped up. If they pass the Equality Act—which is likely; if not now, soon—we’re all going to be in violation of the law if we don’t have LGBTQ access to everything we do, and a whole lot of other things. What they’ve done is criminalize righteousness and legalize sin. So everything is so flipped in the world that we can’t navigate this world without violating the law. That means that Christianity is not going to be popular. People are going to pay a price to be a Christian. And that means that there’s no sense in pretending to be one. I mean, what’s the value? Why would you pretend to be a Christian if people resented Christianity?
So it has a way of sort of filtering the hypocrites out. So I think in that sense it’s a plus, it’s a positive thing. I was listening to Joel Osteen the other day just for a few minutes on television making promises that were absolute lies. He was just saying, “You’ll be this and do this, and you can do this.” And people are locked up with masks on, and they can’t go anywhere, and he’s telling them they can become anything they want, and their dreams can become fulfilled. And it just sounded stupid, just plain stupid. And people know it’s not true.
So I think the phony stuff, all the prophets who prophesied the election of Trump and all the healers—there was a healer out here Sunday, out at the driveway. We’re all coming in. He said, “Jesus heals. Jesus heals.” And I said, “Why isn’t he over at the hospital? Nobody’s sick here, but there’s a whole hospital two blocks away, where people are sick.”
So the superficial phoniness in the serious times like this when people are asking really profound questions, and there’s an elevation in suicide and mental illness and all that—I just don’t know how that flies in the future; I don’t know how that survives. As persecution ramps up, it purifies the church. And I think this is a great time to be alive—if people are faithful to proclaim the gospel. If you’re stuck on the woke end of this thing, what you have to say is about as useless as reading a phone book.
AUSTIN: Yeah, that Daily Wire article. Two things: One, it always blows my mind whenever you come in and say, “I was listening to Charles Stanley this morning,” or, “I was watching Joel Osteen.” MacArthur, why do you do that to yourself? Does it just fuel you? Do you turn on TV, and for a second is it like kind of a Red Bull for you?
JOHN: Yeah, I think it just kind of charges me up.
AUSTIN: OK, because you were lacking that passion, you know, so I’m glad that you found something that would motivate your fight. Okay, sorry, that wasn’t a real question. Here’s a real question.
So I’m looking at that Daily Wire article, and that’s one of many opportunities—and we’ll highlight some of those things, that have come as a result of this lockdown and our stance to keep our church open. There’s been so many opportunities at our church and then nationally for you, but Daily Wire articles are one of those, and those are getting a lot of people reading those that haven’t read us before. So this is one of the lines you put in there: “Scripture says it’s a mark of apostacy when preachers cater to people who will not tolerate sound biblical teaching but demand to have their ears tickled with half truths and fables.” That’s a great sentence. Is that the state of preaching today?
JOHN: Yeah, for the most part, I think. That’s the popular preaching. I can’t say that in every case, but the media dominates. The media is dominated, religious media is dominated by absolutely useless preaching that can be defined that way. It’s very hard to find any serious handling of Scripture in media forms of Christianity, in megachurches as such. Yeah, and I think underlying that—look, it’s a simple thing to just say. But if you’re a preacher, you preach what you have the most confidence in, because you’re trying to persuade people. And if you have most confidence in the Scripture, you’re a preacher of the Bible; if you have most confidence in yourself, you preach yourself. It doesn’t take much discernment to listen to a guy and know if he’s making it up as he goes. They make it sound biblical by finding a Scripture they can use as a pretext and jumping off of it—and not explaining the Scripture, but using it as a pretext for some other idea.
But no. Yeah, I’m serious in saying that the problem in evangelicalism at this point is if you said to the average nonbeliever, “What is an evangelical?” the names they would give you would all be rejected by you. You say, “Whoa, no, no; not that guy, not that guy, not this person.”
I said to some people some time ago—I said, “I don’t know—if it weren’t for Jesus, I don’t know if I could sell evangelical Christianity to anybody.” If it had to depend on the lineup—you know, the popular lineup—you’ve got some of them that are up to their eyeballs in politics in Washington, and that irritates the daylights out of all the Democrat sinners on their way to hell. And you’ve got some of them who are narcissistic self-promoters, and that irritates any people with any sense of propriety and humility. And where do you find just the truth coming through?
So it’s not that it isn’t out there, it’s just that it’s not as visual. It’s not to say that there aren’t faithful pastors in lots of places. But the form of evangelicalism that comes across in the dominant media is a misrepresentation of Scripture.
AUSTIN: Well, and there’s a big difference between expository preaching and preachers who say, “The Bible says.” You don’t like it when guys say, “The Bible says.”
JOHN: No, I don’t. Don’t tell me what the Bible says; let the Bible say it.
AUSTIN: Yeah, which, I mean, you read us the whole book of Exodus this morning. So you were modeling that you don’t just reference, “Well, Exodus says we should be separate.” You proved it.
JOHN: Yeah. Well, I don’t like—and I hear preachers say that: “The Bible says this. The Bible says that.” Why would I believe you? Let the Bible say it. But you’re not going to let the Bible say it unless you exposit it.
AUSTIN: That’s good.
JOHN: Why should I believe you? You can say, “The Bible says,” but how do I know “the Bible says”? So that’s one big step removed from what you ought to be doing. You ought to be letting the Bible speak. And expository preaching—not only reading it; that’s why you’re supposed to read the Scripture. But explaining the meaning of the text lets the Bible speak. I mean, when you were listening this morning to 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1, who was talking to you? Me, or was God speaking through His Word? As you unpack that text, God speaks.
That is far different than me saying, “The Bible says you guys ought to be separated.” That has no authority. That has no power. Let God say it in His own words.
AUSTIN: And that’s your commitment; has been for—
JOHN: Just to follow up on that, I hear preachers say, “The Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says.” And that’s putting way too much weight on the preacher. Don’t tell me that. How do I know that? This is an assumed authority. It’s also a sign of laziness, because it’s hard work to let the Bible speak.
AUSTIN: Yeah. Training preachers is your legacy. You’ve invested your life not only in the hard work of preaching from this pulpit, but you’ve entrusted that work to men represented by these guys here, by our more than a thousand graduates from The Master’s Seminary. And you’ve poured your life into teaching guys to preach, to entrusting to them. And I think one of the things that you’ve been saying a lot lately is you want to see more reproduction of faithfulness, as you look at the decade that you’re in of your life and have all these decades of faithfulness, of investing in men. Encourage the guys here today that they need to be doing this as well. Talk about your passion for training men, for investing in men, for raising up more Bible preachers.
JOHN: Well what comes to my mind is the illustration I mentioned to you a few weeks ago. I have a new little great-grandson; he’s the latest edition of John MacArthur: John Owen MacArthur. And he’s 14 months, and he made his first tour around Grace Church on a Sunday. He just got to walking. And so he started at the fountain, and he’s going all the way around the building after church, dodging people’s legs and grabbing a pantleg to hold himself up while his dad was trailing him and seeing where he’s going. And somebody said to me, “Oh, my goodness, that little boy. What a sad thing that he had to be born into this time, with the world as bad off as it is.” And I said, “No, this is the time that God designed him for. This is his time; this is our time. We’ve come to the kingdom for just a time as this. This is not a time for weakness; this is a time for strength.”
And I tell the student at the seminary the same thing: “This is your time; step up.” But it’s not a time for cowards. It’s a time for men who are willing to contend earnestly for the faith. But do it with grace and love and compassion and kindness. I just think we preachers are going to have a hard time.
One of the challenges I’ve had through my whole ministry is trying to help the church and pastors get the gospel right—The Gospel According to Jesus, According to the Apostles, According to Paul, According to God, Ashamed of the Gospel. Always in a lot of books calling the church back to biblical fidelity and faithfulness. And it seemed to me always an uphill climb because you could be so successful; if your theology was bad, and even your gospel was bad, you could still be very successful. You could have a megachurch.
I’m not sure that’s going to be the same in the future. I’m not sure you can pull off a fake kind of Christianity for two reasons. Reason number one is that I don’t think people are going to attach to that. I think life is more serious than that. Nor do they want to be persecuted for something that’s superficial. And secondly, it’s hard to hide with the Internet. Even I get hammered and beat up by all kinds of things that aren’t true on the Internet.
I said to some guys the other day—I said, “Do you think if the apostle Paul was alive today, he’d be attacked by social media?” The apostle Paul.
JOHN: Well, absolutely. He was attacked by whatever mechanisms they had then. He’s always defending himself against these people who say he has a secret hidden life of shame: “He’s in it for the money. He’s falsified his converts. He doesn’t have the credentials from Jerusalem.” He suffered all of that. People forsook him. People criticized him. They added pain to his chains, Philippians 1. If Paul was alive today, he would be the most attacked Christian on social media because that’s what the devil uses. So you have to expect that. But it takes some courage and conviction not to defend yourselves, but to let your life be its own defense, and to be faithful to preach the truth.
And this is a time for people who don’t compromise. And we’ve seen that in James Coates and others like him, who are saying, “Look, do what you will. If you let me out”—he’s like John Bunyan. They told Bunyan, “You can walk out of the jail if you don’t preach.” And they told James the same thing. He said, “I’ll go right back to the church and preach.”
And again, guys, this is your time, because God brought you to the kingdom for just such a time as this. So step up, and be the man you need to be.
AUSTIN: That’s good.
JOHN: And open your church.
AUSTIN: Amen. Mac, we’ve seen God’s faithfulness in this last year in our local church, in bringing people to faith in Christ. We’re seeing people come forward in baptism, we’re added members to the church. And it’s been, I mean, a lot of work for our pastors and elders to meet all these people and be with—you know, interview them, get to know them, help them plug in. And that’s been a real joy for us. Some people, refugees; but some people just hurting and looking for hope. And so that’s been one of the great, fruitful evidences of God’s grace among us this last year.
There’s also been some projects that we’ve worked on, and one that I know you want to talk to the guys about: There’s a translation of the Bible that—I think you need to explain it to the guys.
JOHN: Yeah, I’m holding in my hand the first product, which is The New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs—the Legacy Standard Version, Legacy Standard Bible.
So how did this come about? Well, the NAS, which I’ve used for years—the people at the Lockman Foundation decided they want to do an update on the NAS. Did the NAS 2020 from the NAS 95. So 25 years later, they were going to release it; I think it may be available now. They sent some copies of it to me and said, “We want you to take a look at this and see what you think.” And I read it, and I said, “No, we could never use this, never use it.” It followed the path of almost all modern translations, and it went in the direction of the reader. It was reader sensitive. So they were altering words and phrases to accommodate shifts in language in what the reader’s understanding might be.
So there’s only two ways you can go in translation: You either go forward to the reader, and so you keep changing it because you’re chasing the vernacular of the reader, or you go back to the writer. And the only correct way to translate the Bible is to go back to the source and go to the authorial intent. It’s not the job of the translator to produce a text that accommodates the reader. The bridge between the original author, and therefore the original text and the reader, is the preacher and the teacher. That’s what we do.
I don’t want somebody taking the text and altering it to accommodate a reader; that’s wrong to start with. So when I saw the NAS going in that direction, we made a plea to the Lockman Foundation: “Will you let us do a version of this that goes back even more carefully and thoughtfully and tightly to the original text?” And they granted us the permission to do it. And it’s incredible. Dr. Abner Chou and faculty at the seminary and the university, six scholars, worked one year and did it all in one year. That’s an epic, epic work. Never heard of anything like that being done in a year. And I think it’s the best English translation that’s ever been. And not because of them, but because of the process they went through. Massive, massive amount of materials behind every verse that they researched to get it right.
So a translation should be a window on the original. And it shouldn’t be a stained glass window, shouldn’t be opaque, shouldn’t be fancied up; it’s just a window on the original. This is that, as close as it can get.
AUSTIN: Give us some examples of some of the things that they’ll see in a translation like this one that they wouldn’t see in, say, another. There’s lots of translations in English. What makes this one kind of set out?
JOHN: Well this one is distinct immediately because in Exodus 3:15, God says, “My name is Yahweh. My name is I AM, and that is to be My memorial name.” In other words, God’s saying, “That’s the name I want you to remember,” and there’s no English Bible that includes that. So you read, “LORD, Adonai,” and then you read, “LORD, Lord,” which is really, “Yahweh, Adonai”—two different words, but both translated “Lord”—one uppercase, one lowercase.
So they’ve obliterated the covenant name of God, I AM THAT I AM, which is God saying, “I want you to know My name, I want you to know My name. My name is not Allah. My name is not any other name. My name is Yahweh, I AM”—meaning the eternally existing one, the first cause, the sovereign one. And when you read the Psalms, it’s jarring, actually, to read that: “But as for me, my prayer is to You, O Yahweh.” That’s His covenant name by which He wants us to know Him. “O God, in the abundance of Your lovingkindness, answer me with the truth of Your salvation. Answer me, O Yahweh; for Your lovingkindness is good.” And “Yahweh” appears six thousand eight hundred times in the Old Testament. That’s God’s covenant name. That’s His intimate name by which He wants to be known—not generic “Lord,” but “Yahweh.”
AUSTIN: Other words that you’ve preached about and written about that have carried over—
AUSTIN: Yeah, doulos.
JOHN: Doulos—in the New Testament, the word for “slave” appears.
There are many other things that are incredibly, carefully crafted in this translation. Words are translated with a kind of consistency to let you link them together. And there are illustrations, hundreds and hundreds of illustrations of that. There’ll be some material made available where those things can be seen. It’s been basically sort of critiqued by many, many scholars. And I think maybe, I heard today, 10,000 suggestions have been made, and they’ve considered 10,000 external suggestions from readers that they might want to apply, and they’ve gone through fastidiously with those.
So I guess the good news is they arrive today, so we’re going to give every one of you who are here one of these. Yeah. It’s a beautiful edition. It’s produced in Netherlands with the finest kind of paper. We wanted a manly one, so it’s got a cowhide cover, kind of looks like a saddle. And there were quite a number of Italian cows that gave up their life, because we got the leather from Italy. So when you go out, I think—is that right, Mark?
AUSTIN: Yeah, we’ll have—
JOHN: When you go out the door, there’s one for each of you. And it’s the—we call it the Shepherd’s Testament; it has a little shepherd’s rod on the front. I’ve carried one of these of an NAS with the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs with me for years and years, so that’s why I wanted this to be the first one.
AUSTIN: Yeah. And you’ve been reading from it at church lately.
JOHN: Yeah. I heard you.
AUSTIN: I heard me too, but I don’t think they can. Can you hear me? Yeah, no, it’s back. So the Bibles are outside on tables.
JOHN: And there’s a website, Legacy Standard Bible. You can go to that, and you’ll see a lot of information.
AUSTIN: Yeah, lsbible.org. You can order more. We also have some available in both bookstores: the patio bookstore, in here—
JOHN: Oh, they can buy them. So you get one free, and you can buy more.
AUSTIN: You can by them today, these New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs. They’re on sale for $35.00. Only one per person. But if you want one for your friend, your wife, your son, you’ve got to get them their own at the bookstore.
So, the people online, I’m sorry; we have nothing for you.
JOHN: This is just for the three or four that are here.
AUSTIN: Yeah. Yes. You’re getting good at this, MacArthur.
Mac, what else has happened this year that you’re thanking God for? And what encouragement do you have for these men?
JOHN: Well, again, I think we have the greatest opportunity that I’ve seen in my entire lifetime for the gospel because there’s so many means by which we can disseminate it. And while there’s the same opportunity for all that is evil and all that is wicked, the truth can also penetrate the world in ways that it never could in the past. This is the greatest revival of sound doctrine in world history; it’s over the globe everywhere. The truth of the Word of God is basically being heard every second of every day by millions of people around the globe. So this is a great, great, great opportunity. And I think if I were a young pastor in these days, I would be ecstatic to think about coming to the kingdom for a time like this. It’s like Paul said when he talked about Ephesus: “There’s a wide open door, but there are many adversaries.” So the door is open, but you’re going to have to fight the good fight.
But these are the best of times. There’s a level of desperation with people. There’s almost kind of a, I don’t know, an eschatological angst in people. There’s almost like a feeling like things are getting worse, and they’ll never get better. There’s a kind of hopelessness. Whatever the American dream was, people are seeing that being stolen from them; and even the people who have acquired certain things found the emptiness of that. And what exacerbates that is the complete disintegration of all meaningful relationships in marriage and family. Those are the things that secure people, and give them love and hope and happiness, even on a temporal level. And with the complete destruction of the family by the LGBTQ people, women going around who’ve killed their babies in their wombs, who are fraught with guilt—I mean, this is a completely dismembered culture from the standpoint of human relations. And that level of desperation needs the truth, not stupid, positive-thinking messages that don’t help; they really never satisfy. So I think we know the truth does, and so preaching the truth, we are the most important people in the world. So go for it.
AUSTIN: Awesome. Thank you, MacArthur. I know that I speak on behalf of everyone here that we’re grateful for you. We love to stand with you. We love you. We’re grateful for your influence on our lives and ministry. So thank you for your time with us this afternoon; it’s always a pleasure.
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