PHIL: Well welcome to our final Q&A session. And this time we don’t have a theme, which means I can ask anything I want. And some of you have stopped me in the hallway this morning to give me suggested questions—not bad questions either. So I want to start by asking a question about your influences, John. Two pastors that I’ve had in my lifetime were you and Warren Wiersbe; and both of you are expositors—different kinds of expositors, but you both had a major influence on me. And my two best friends in college were also fanatically supportive of the idea of expository preaching. It was Steve Kreloff, who was here this week, and Doug Heck, who died last year. Doug was the one who got me started memorizing Scripture, and Steve was the one who gave me my first John MacArthur tapes. And then you’ve been a profound influence on me. My question is, What are the major influences on you? Because when you began doing verse-by-verse preaching, there weren’t a lot of examples of that; there weren’t people lobbying for expository preaching. What convinced you that that’s the way to go?
JOHN: Well my dad’s, of course, the greatest influence in my life. I’m born into a pastor’s family, so I heard him for most of my young life; and we were very close until he died at the age of 91. So the early years of his ministry, he was more of an evangelist. In fact, he was an evangelist for the Fuller Foundation in Los Angeles, and he was an evangelist with the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Did a lot of citywide meetings and evangelistic effort and that. So the first part of his ministry he was in evangelism, but once he settled into pastoral ministry he was completely devoted to Bible exposition. And I think the influences on him were twofold: It was a guy named G. Campbell Morgan, a British expositor, and W. A. Criswell, down at First Baptist Church of Dallas. And my dad had a robust and thorough commitment to the authority of the Word of God; and when he wasn’t explaining the Bible, he was defending the Bible. Everything was always about the Scripture.
So while I was very young, he developed into an expositor. Went through John, Roman, Acts, verse by verse by verse, so I was exposed to that. Then I went to Talbot Seminary to study under Dr. Charles Feinberg. And Feinberg, a Jewish guy who had studied to be a rabbi—a brilliant, brilliant man—he was converted to Christ while studying to be a rabbi. And ended up at Dallas Seminary, got a ThD there, and was basically taught expository preaching and exegetical study. Went from there to Johns Hopkins, got a PhD in archaeology; and he was an amazing guy.
He had an immense influence on me because he was my mentor through seminary, and he was relentlessly committed to the veracity of the text and accuracy in the text. He was very, very narrow in his tolerances for how you handled the Word of God. And the first time I preached, the first sermon I preached in seminary in my first year, we all had to preach to the student body and the faculty; and they gave comment after the sermon. And I walked out the door, and the faculty would hand you their comment sheets to each guy who preached, and his little sheet said, “You missed the entire point of the passage.” And he was so furious with me that he called me into his office, and he couldn’t understand how I could—he said, “Did you spend any time on that?” “I spent a lot of time.” “How could you spend a lot of time and miss the whole point of the passage?” So that was the most profound lesson of my seminary days. And he forced me to maintain integrity with dealing with the text; and that had a huge influence on me.
There was one other guy that may be a little more obscure, his name was—well he was Donald Grey Barnhouse’s personal secretary, a guy—most people wouldn’t know him. But I spent a lot of time with him.
PHIL: That was Ralph Keiper.
JOHN: Ralph Keiper, yeah. He only had 10 percent vision; he was almost blind, so whenever he came to our seminary, somebody had to drive him around because he couldn’t drive. I spent a lot of time with him. And he taught me how to explain the Bible with the Bible. He gave me my first copy of Treasury of Scripture Knowledge, which has allowed me to understand that the analogy of Scripture, scriptura, is true. That is, the Scripture’s analogous to itself; there’s no contradictions, and the Bible has its own best explanation. So he basically taught me how to use the Bible to explain the Bible. So those were the strong influences.
And theologically, I think the guy that moved me from just straight-up exposition into theological exposition was David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. And he had that effect on me when I was going through the book of Matthew. And you’ll be familiar with this, Don. And I read his Sermon on the Mount because that interpretation, which was an accurate one, was very different than the one I had been taught, which took the whole Sermon on the Mount and shoved it off into the millennial kingdom and made it irrelevant for life in the church. And I was completely reoriented to the theology that was related from that Sermon on the Mount, which is vast and sweeping doctrine. So those were the main influences.
PHIL: Yes. You know, you read Lloyd-Jones on the Sermon on the Mount years before I came to Grace Church, so I wasn’t there when that happened. But I’ve listened to all of those tapes, and I noticed that if you listen to the early first four chapters of Matthew, there’s a dramatic shift when you get into the Sermon on the Mount. And you’re saying that was Lloyd-Jones’s influence on you. As I recall, you took a few weeks off, or a summer vacation, and read Lloyd-Jones while you were away. Is that right?
JOHN: Well yeah, first of all I started reading what he wrote. And he had written on Romans and Ephesians, and I read Preachers and Preaching and some other books to get into his head. But what helped me the most was his stuff on the Sermon on the Mount. Again, it was a large volume; it was comprehensive, and it was theological exposition.
Of course, as time went on, I grew to want to know more about him, and so I read Iain Murray’s two volumes, which I think total up to almost 900 pages on Lloyd-Jones, and I marked it up and marked it up. And I found that more than any other preacher—and maybe because of such a vast biographical amount of material—the influence was greater. But probably with all of that that I read about him, he had the most influence on me for anybody that was dead.
And I didn’t ever meet him, but I did meet his wife and his family. And as you remember, the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust was distributing his tapes in the UK and in Europe, and they asked me if we would allow them to distribute mine, because they wanted to carry both his preaching and my preaching in the Lloyd-Jones Trust, which validated the fact that he had had an influence on me, which is a wonderful reality.
PHIL: Yes. And Don, I know you are also a meticulous verse-by-verse preacher. I would ask you about your influence, but I know you’re going to say it’s John MacArthur.
DON: Yeah. That’s an easy answer.
PHIL: When I first became a Christian, I came out of a liberal background, a liberal church, and I began to look for a church that—where I would at least hear the gospel, and the only criterion I had was I wanted to see the pastor open the Bible and teach from it. And I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is the home of every unclean charismatic bird, right? And there weren’t a whole lot of expositors in Tulsa. But I found one, and he opened the Bible and preached from it; and that was where I started my Christian life.
The good thing is—that was in 1971; you could go back to Tulsa now, and I know of at least seven churches that have biblical expositors in the Tulsa area, and every one of them was trained at The Master’s Seminary. So John, you have generated an entire generation of expositors. We’re grateful for that.
JOHN: Well you know, it just seemed obvious to me because again, because of my commitment to the authority of Scripture, the inerrancy of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, why would I do anything else? I can’t. You know, people say, “Well, I believe the Bible, and I believe in the inherency of the Bible”—I can tell 15 minutes into your sermon whether you do or not, because if you’re just telling me what you think or what somebody else thinks, you’re giving me other authorities. You can tell what a person’s view of Scripture is by how they preach it.
And I’ve said this to our guys at the seminary: “Don’t tell me the Bible says this.” I hear preachers say, “The Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says.” That makes me believe you. Show me. Instead of saying, “The Bible says,” let me see how the Bible says it. That’s the most dynamic thing: Let the Bible speak, and you do that by careful analysis of the text in such a way that you’re not drawing the conclusion by yourself and then trying to get them to believe it; they have to draw the same conclusion because you’ve put them through the process.
PHIL: Yeah, and that all makes perfect sense and seems almost self-evident when we hear you say it, because we’ve seen you do it. But before you actually established that model, I think most of us had been exposed to preaching of a different kind, and maybe it wouldn’t have been that self-evident. Don—
DON: Yeah, one thing that I would say, just from looking back on my own history as I moved toward ministry, was that I was first familiar with John’s teaching very early in my Christian life as a young man. And Nancy and I were in a church that was next door to a very well-known seminary—nearly said cemetery, and that would have been pretty accurate, too—in the Chicago area. And one of the things that stood out to me is these men came through, men from the seminary cycled through the pulpits. So many times I heard them say, “Now I’ve been taught to teach you this way, but I’m going to do something different this time,” and that was a big red flag to me. And they’d go, and they’d tell stories, and they would manipulate the text in ways that even a chiropractor wouldn’t do to it. And I just thought, “You know, I don’t want to be—if I go to that seminary, I’m going to come out like them,” and I did not want that. And so I applied to one seminary when it was time for me to pursue my biblical training: It was The Master’s Seminary. And my thinking at that time was, “If they don’t accept me, I’m not fit for ministry, because I cannot go anyplace else.” It was not that I wanted to be the next John MacArthur, but I wanted to handle the Word of God with the respect and the depth that John represented. And the Lord used that and directed me through it.
And the other thing, Phil—I’ve never said this publicly—but here, later—in my later years, one of the real formative influences of my life was being a co-pastor with you at Grace Life and seeing the way that you handled Scripture.
PHIL: I just steal John MacArthur’s stuff; I—
DON: Yeah, that’s not—yeah, you’re so self-deprecating, and I appreciate that about you. And just the serious and repeated way that you treated the doctrine of justification over and over and over again, showing that—by your example that that doctrine is easily misunderstood if you don’t handle it carefully and handle it often. And so I, in our church, Truth Community Church, owe a debt of gratitude to you as well, as to the esteemed brother on my right.
PHIL: Yeah, thank you. Justin, I’m not going to leave you out; I’ll come back to you. But I have a follow-up question for John. You mentioned Iain Murray in his book on Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I recently saw a list of books you drew that had influenced you. Most of them were biographies, and at least four of them had been written by Iain Murray. So I know he’s been a profound influence on you as well, and you’ve become good friends with him. Talk about that a little bit.
JOHN: Well, yes. Iain lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, so we are friends at a very vast distance. But he and Jean have become very dear to myself and Patricia through the years. I was drawn to Iain Murray when I started reading the biographies that the Banner of Truth press produces, and what drew me to Iain was the fact that every biography he wrote went deeply into the theology of the individual. You can read biographies—you can read a biography and not even know what theology the guy holds.
For example, I read the 650-page Bonhoeffer book by Eric Metaxas, which is a brilliantly written biography. But at the end of the biography you wouldn’t know anything about the theology or the spiritual life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But you can’t read a Murray book without knowing the theology, the depth of the convictions, because that’s what’s priority in Iain’s mind. So when I found a guy who would help me not only know the story but the process by which he developed his theology and how he thought, his biographies became very rich to me. So I would read, eventually, all I could get my hands on.
And we’ve had some marvelous tours, Patricia and I, with the Murrays driving us around Scotland and taking us to all kinds of places that had history going back to the Puritans, and back to even the Reformers and some famous names. And when you get to jump in the car with Iain Murray and get a tutorial for a week on church history in Scotland, it’s pretty remarkable. So yeah, he’s been both a personal teacher to me as well as my favorite biographer.
PHIL: Yeah, he has an unparalleled ability to deal with polemical theology, which interests him—the conflicts between different theological ideas. And you always know where he stands, and yet he’s able to write about this without sounding belligerent or mean or any of the things that—
JOHN: He’s very honest. When he wrote Evangelicalism Divided, I had him come to Grace Church to a Shepherds’ Conference and lecture on Evangelicalism Divided because he perfectly understood it; and it was like reading my own brain when I read that, the whole Billy Graham issue and all the conflicts with that. And he’s honest enough that even in the book he wrote about me, he wished I had done a few things that I haven’t done.
The funniest Iain Murray story—which I love to tell—he and Jean were at our house for breakfast, and we had just had Sunday services—and we have an orchestra and beautiful music. So they’ve been married, I don’t know, 60 years or something, and they’re sitting at the breakfast table, and Iain says, “You know, I love the singing at Grace, but do you have to have all those instruments? Do you have to have all those instruments?” And I said, “Well, I guess not, I guess not.” And he said, “You know, it would just be so pure if it was just the congregation,” to which his wife said, “Oh personally, I love all the instruments.” So I thought, if you can’t convince her in 60 years, I don’t think his argument’s going to hold.
PHIL: Yeah, yeah. You’d find out Darlene’s the same way with me; she doesn’t agree with me.
JOHN: I love that about them; it was just so funny, because he’s got his convictions and his idiosyncrasies, which are—
PHIL: Yeah. I’ll make a confession to you. You read Iain Murray’s biography of Jonathan Edwards—and I know that had a powerful impact on you because you identify with Edwards and the fact that after he’d been in that church for years, he still had critics who drove him out. And you read that at a time where you were going through some difficult things in your ministry; and you marked it up, and you wrote notes in the margins, and you said how much that book impacted you. And I said, “Can I read it?” and you loaned me your copy, and I kept it. I bought a fresh copy and gave you back the fresh one.
JOHN: Oh, thanks a lot.
PHIL: But I have your copy that you marked up, and I’m not giving it back.
JOHN: That’s my gift to you, Phil.
PHIL: Thank you. That’s one of many things you’ve given me.
JOHN: Yeah. Are there other things like that that I don’t know about?
PHIL: Yeah, there are.
OK, let me ask you this, Justin, because that was a brilliant presentation on mysticism, and you defined it so well and all of that. The question that always comes to mind, and that always comes up when I’ve taught on mysticism and warned people, “Look, God is not speaking to you by a voice in your head, He’s speaking to you in His Word,” the question will come back, “Well how do I know whether I’m called to the ministry or not?” Is there something mystical about the call to ministry? And I’m going to let each of you answer that. But you first, since you dealt with that.
JUSTIN: Yeah, I don’t really think there’s anything mystical about it, anything mystical you need to run from. But as far as—you know, I heard this lingo growing up all the time, in seminary all the time: “You have to be called. You have to feel a call, hear a call, some still, small voice inside of your head”—which is totally unbiblical, taken out of context from Elijah’s time in the cave.
But no. I mean, James says, “If any of you desires to be an elder he desires a good thing.” So what I tell young men who come to me—and I’ve had these conversations on a pretty regular basis. Men will come to me and say, “I’m thinking about going into ministry and thinking about going to seminary, thinking about being a pastor. Do you have any words of wisdom?” I would say, “If it’s something that you desire to do, and you’re biblically qualified to do it.” And if they don’t meet the biblical qualifications, then there’s your answer. “Then no, don’t go into ministry. But if you have the desire and you meet the biblical qualifications, then do it. If it’s something that you want to do, then do it.”
Now I would also say, “If you can see yourself”—not to get mystical—“but if you can see yourself doing anything else and being satisfied at doing that, which is perfectly fine”—I mean, not every Christian man is supposed to be a preacher. We need Christian dentists and plumbers and accountants. “So if you can see yourself doing something else and being satisfied in doing that, then don’t go into ministry, don’t go into ministry.”
PHIL: You agree with that, Don?
DON: Yeah, absolutely; it’s biblical, so there’s not anything to disagree with. The thing that I would add to just kind of build on what Justin said is I think that there’s that subjective desire of the man, but there also should be an objective confirmation from the Christian leaders that know a man. A man shouldn’t go into ministry or be pursuing it just in his own—purely on his own initiative, and land in a church just on his own initiative. There should be the affirmation of the people of God that have heard him teach and can affirm it, that where he has ministered under the authority of elders or church leadership and has proven himself faithful.
If you want the greater thing of preaching the Word of God, you need to show yourself faithful in the smaller things. And I’ve gone so far to say that if you desire to tell a young teenager, for example, considering ministry, “You know, you start with making your bed every day and respecting your parents and just developing faithfulness in the little things on a consistent basis, because ‘He who is faithful in a little thing will be faithful and much.’” And so there’s that external affirmation from the people of God to add to the desire of the man; and those two things should be consistent with each other, never in conflict.
JOHN: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. There’s only two factors in this: the individual, and what the leaders of the church have to say. And that’s precisely what the apostle Paul said to Timothy, that “You basically were put into the ministry by the laying on of the hands of the elders.” And I think there’s way too much entrepreneurialism in pastoral ministry, a guy who just decides on his own to launch off in a church, accountable to no one, ordained by no one, validated by no one.
So those are the things. You have to have the desire: “If a man desires the office of an overseer, he desires a noble work.” That’s fine. And you basically have to then authenticate that desire as legitimate by looking at him and seeing if he has a gift, didaskalos, the ability to teach. And that—that could screen some people out, because if you say you have the ability to teach, and everybody listening to you says, “No, you don’t”—you have to have that affirmation.
I remember in seminary there was a guy in our preaching class—never forget it—and he preached his first sermon, and he struggled through it, and then at the end of the first five minutes he stopped and said, “I can’t think and talk at the same time.” And we all agreed that if you can’t do that, you probably shouldn’t preach. Thinking and talking at the same time are necessary.
PHIL: At least he was honest. I know a lot of preachers who obviously can’t think and talk at the same time, but they talk anyway.
JOHN: But anyway, I think the given—there’s only one skill in the requirements, and that’s didaskalos. That has a component of being able to teach, but it also has a component of being teachable because the only way you can be effective teaching is to be teachable. So just rushing into ministry and self-elevating without the church’s affirmation of your gift and the leaders’ affirmation of your character and qualification is to do a great disservice to the kingdom and the body of Christ.
JUSTIN: Yeah. And John, one of the things that you’ve said so many, many times in so many different contexts is that “time and truth go hand in hand. This is a character evaluation that doesn’t take place over a course of a few months; a man has to be watched over a long period of time. And you know, you can have guys that rush into it, but that’s not the way that it should be done. This takes time.
JOHN: No, you don’t put a novice into this because he’s not ready for it.
JUSTIN: Yeah, and the corollary of that is that the man needs to be patient in pursuing the opportunity. And Phil, I’m going to say something about your past that you’d probably just be as happy that I didn’t. But one of the things that I’ve always respected about you so deeply is that you were at Grace Community Church for ten years before you taught your first home Bible study.
JUSTIN: And that’s the kind of thing that I’m talking about. You waited, and then the opportunities started to come to you. But you never put yourself forward; it came to you over a long period of time before—and now you’re, you know, who you are, and such a benefit to the body of Christ.
JOHN: I remember when you came and you told me you would never—
JUSTIN: Thank you, both of you.
JOHN: I remember when you came, and you said you would never teach. That’s why I hired you—because I knew I was safe.
PHIL: I know. I know it; it’s absolutely true. Yeah. It was Lance Quinn who goaded me into teaching; and John said to him, “Why are you doing that? Phil’s an editor, he’s not a preacher.”
And I also remember the first time I ever preached in a service at Grace Church; and I was glad that John wasn’t there, because it’s intimidating to have him there. But he listened to the tape afterwards; and when I heard that, my heart sunk. And he said, “You know what you do really well?” and I said, “No. What?” He said, “When you read the Scriptures”—which is a great lesson I thought. You know, as long as I stick close to what the Bible says, I should be OK, right? So yeah, that happened.
All right, yeah. No, in fact, what you just said about “able to teach” also implies being teachable—that’s an excellent thought; I’d never thought of that. And I also think in that same regard, a lot of people think “able to teach” means “this guy’s a glib talker.” But you could be a really good public speaker and not biblically able to teach, right?
JOHN: Yeah. Not only that; having confidence in your glibness is a curse because you ought to be fearful, based upon what James says: “Stop being so many teachers, for theirs is a greater condemnation.” The question is never, “Do you have the ability to talk?” The question is, “Are you faithful to the message of God?” So somebody who can make it up, fly as they go, is a danger to himself and the church. There ought to be a sense of fear.
People ask me if I get nervous before I speak, and my response would be, “The only time I would be nervous before I preach is if I was unprepared.” My dad said to me when I was very young and was starting into ministry, he said, “Don’t ever enter the sacred desk”—he called the pulpit the sacred desk—“unless you are fully prepared to speak for the Lord.” I mean, that still rings in my head. And then on top of that, Feinberg said, “Don’t miss the point of the passage,” and that kind of direction—I mean, this is the most serious thing you could ever do. My worst fear is to say, “God said,” when He didn’t say, or to fail to say, “God said,” when He did say. The reason that I’m an expositor, the reason I went through the whole New Testament was because I didn’t want to pick and choose what God wanted to be heard. So for me, it was always to try to be faithful to everything that God had revealed.
So I think if you’re going to go into the ministry, you don’t start with some kind of natural gift. You may, like in the case of Phil, think you don’t have that natural gift. But when you get the Word of God in you, it’s like Jeremiah, “fire in your bones,” and it comes out, not because you have some natural gift but because the Spirit of God enables that spiritual gift; and the truth will literally overpower your own weaknesses.
You know, one of the common comments on my commentaries—one of the well-known theologians commented on my commentaries and kind of a depreciating comment; he said, “They’re fine for the untrained layman.” And I responded to that by saying, “Good, because that’s exactly who I wrote them for, and that’s exactly who I’ve preached to my entire life.”
DON: That’s right. That’s right.
JOHN: So it’s not that you’re some skilled orator. Well, you remember—I mean, you’ve read this stuff that the guy who wrote seven volumes on preachers wrote about me, that he didn’t understand why anybody listened to me at all.
JOHN: He couldn’t figure out any reason to listen to me at all. I went to all the wrong schools; I don’t have any oratorical skills. And that’s fine with me. But what I do have is a responsibility to be faithful to the Word of God; and if I am faithful to the Word of God, it will transcend my own weaknesses, and there’ll never be a question of whether it was my oratory or the truth of the Word of God that had the power.
PHIL: Yeah. That, by the way, is a great article. But what John is referring to is an item on him—it’s maybe three, four pages long—in a book that was a series of books on preaching. When he gets to the current era, he does this little vignette on John MacArthur. Theologically he’s in a totally different camp; he’s not at all sympathetic with our commitment to biblical inerrancy. But he describes John’s preaching perfectly and actually honors you by what he says. He analyzes John’s preaching and says, “There’s nothing here that would be entertaining or compelling. Why do people listen to him?” And he concludes it’s because he speaks with the authority that’s inherent in the Word of God.
It’s really a good article. We’ll put it on the Grace to You website next week. I can’t, off the top of my head, give you a reference to it, but we’ll put it on our blog because it’s something I think people should read again and again.
Anyway, so what advice—let me start with you, Justin, because I don’t want to leave you out; and we’ll ask again, what would be your best advice for someone who is preparing for ministry, a young man who wants to go into ministry?
JUSTIN: Oh yeah. I had this conversation with a gentleman yesterday, actually. I would say a couple of things. Number one, study to show yourself approved. Devote yourself to the study of God’s Word. But Paul wrote to Timothy, and he said, “Watch your doctrine and your life closely.” Yes, sound doctrine; yes, sound theology; know these things. Watch your doctrine, but also watch your life; watch your life, your conduct.
Sometimes people ask me, “How can I pray for you?” And it’s such an encouragement to me to know that people do pray for me all around the world, for me and my wife Kathy both. And I tell them, “The greatest prayer request I have for my life is that not only in what I teach but also in how I conduct myself, that I would bring honor to Christ. I never want to do anything to bring any kind of reproach on the name of Christ.” So that’s how you can pray for me. And that’s what I would say to a young man going into ministry, is, “Watch your life.”
One of the things—and John and I talked about this; I asked him in our interview that we did a couple months ago. One of the things that really bothers me about our soteriologically Reformed circles is that there is a glaring lack of sanctification in many of our circles; there’s a lack of personal holiness in our circles. And there are some well-known Reformed—to use that term—preachers who take great—they take what they perceive, at least, to be their Christian liberty, and they flaunt it in front of others, whether it’s alcohol and—well, profanity’s not even a Christian liberty. But they, some of them, seem to glory in using profane language, even from the pulpit, and it’s kind of the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd, and they they’ll talk theology over a glass of whiskey or whatever. And they don’t seem to realize that a lot of our brothers and sisters have been saved out of that stuff, and they’re going to flaunt that in front of them. It’s just a lack of wisdom and a lack of sanctification, a lack of personal holiness.
So men, watch your life. Watch your doctrine and your life closely. Cultivate your personal holiness. Read the book, by the way, by J. C. Ryle on holiness. If you’ve not done that, do it. Read Holiness by J. C. Ryle. Guard that in your life. Guard your marriages.
And I told this gentleman yesterday, too, that our wives are our first ministries. Our wives come before—they come before the church, they come before ministry; our wives are number one. So guard your marriages, guard your life, guard your holiness. That is something that is a glaring problem in our circles.
PHIL: Yeah. John, you’ve had quite a lot to say about the tragic lack of emphasis on the doctrine of sanctification and the necessity of sanctification. Talk about that a bit.
JOHN: Well the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement had a robust doctrine of divine sovereignty that I think was more related to their desire to be macho men and to see God as the ultimate macho man who was in charge, who is more psychological than theological. They had, in many cases, a clear understanding of substitutionary atonement, the doctrine of justification. But what was obviously missing in the whole Young, Restless, Reformed movement was any robust doctrine of sanctification; it just wasn’t there, exactly as you said.
I remember we did an entire series of articles on the Grace to You blog, which probably could still be pulled up, on “the drinking pastor” and “the cursing pastor” and all of that a number of years ago. That, to me—and I had a lot of conversations with leaders in the evangelical movement at the time, and I said, “You guys have to understand, this thing is going to collapse. This thing is going to collapse in a series of disastrous ways because these guys think they can be Reformed without being sanctified; and that’s not possible because if you can accept the truth—you see, the doctrine of justification, if isolated from sanctification, becomes a sort of a locked-in salvation without any implications: “OK, I’m good forever; I’ve had the righteousness of God imputed to me through faith in Christ,” and without understanding that sanctification is what God requires, and a progressive sanctification: becoming more like Christ, not flaunting your liberty.
So it did disintegrate. I mean, the whole Mark Driscoll–Mars Hill explosion, and one after another, after another. And some of the guys that you saw on the screen during your presentation are headed down exactly the same trail. Given enough time, the truth will come out. And at some particular point, you cannot live an unsanctified life in the public eye without being found out.
I think I’m in my 53rd year at Grace Church, and that’s pastoring in intimacy with the congregation. They know me, they know Patricia, they know my kids, grandkids. They are now taking care of my great-grandkids every Sunday in church. And if I could say anything to a young pastor, I would say, “When you’ve been 53 years in a place, if you still have the love and affection and trust of the people, it’s a grace gift that God has given you through sanctification; and it’s more, I think, your sanctification than your preaching.”
At some point, if your sanctification is called into question, your preaching loses its authenticity. But if you want to be half a century in a place, you can’t have a hidden, secret life.
PHIL: Did you want to add anything to any of that, Don?
DON: No, just to just emphasize the role of the local church in that, that all of these things are lived out in the context of a local church under the authority of existing church leadership. If a man wants to lead the people of God, he needs to first show a—and I’m just adding to what’s already been said; I’m presupposing everything that’s already been said. If he wants to ultimately lead the people of God and teach the people of God, he needs to show that he’s been willing to follow the leaders of God, and to be taught by the teachers of God’s Word that are established. Those two things go hand in hand, and you can’t bypass the one in order to get to the goal; there’s not a shortcut like that.
JOHN: You know, I could add to that too, that I get pretty hammered by the Internet—false accusations, just—
PHIL: I hadn’t noticed.
JOHN: Incessantly. And you know, I find my comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:12; my conscience is clear. And I find my comfort when I look Patricia in the face, and I know she believes in me and she trusts in me; and when I come together with my children, whom I love, and my grandchildren, and they love me, and they believe in me; and the elders of Grace Church uphold me in their prayers; and the congregation of Grace Church is my family. It really is of no consequence what some attacking force, who have nothing to do with my life or nothing to do with our church, say about me; they have their own purposes. But I don’t need to deal with them. The Lord will deal with them in His own way.
But I’ll tell you this: While on the one hand that is the greatest comfort, is the trust that your church gives you, it also can be the greatest burden if you violate your integrity and if you don’t take heed to yourself. So I think you need to let your life be so open that there’s an accountability that goes beyond any kind of intimate circle, so that everybody can know you and have access to you, so that who you are becomes apparent. That’s the only way you can last for half a century in a ministry. And I’m not saying I’m unusually elevated spiritually. I’m not; I’m mortal just like anybody else. But the Lord has kept me from terminal sins and patterns of sin in my life that could disqualify from ministry. And I want that exposure; I want my life open; I don’t want to hide anything because I think that there’s the ability for people to believe me when they know me.
PHIL: Yeah. I know I’m not alone in this, John, I love you for that, your ability to just be devoted to the idea that God is the one you’re out to please, and it really doesn’t matter what a horde of critics might say about you. There’s something very Pauline about that.
PHIL: Anyway. All right, to change the subject, here’s a question that was asked to me in the hallway that is a good one, and I think it affects more people than we might know. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul says, “Look, I didn’t tell you to go out of the world; you need to be in the world and not of the world, but in the world to reach unbelievers.” But he says in verse 8, “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” So that’s a pretty clear commandment.
And the question is, how does that apply within the family— say, one’s own children who may have abandoned the faith or moved away from the Lord or whatever; say, for family gatherings, just normal family gatherings: Thanksgiving dinners, funeral receptions, things like that? Do we—do we exclude people from those on the basis of that verse, or is that verse talking about how we behave in public? What would your counsel be to parents who had an adult child who is living a life that isn’t glorifying to Christ?
JOHN: Well if you’re asking me, first of all, you wouldn’t isolate yourself from an unbelieving child; that’s exactly what Paul is saying. “I’m not saying that you”—
PHIL: Right. But suppose they profess to be Christians.
JOHN: But if but if they profess to be Christians and are living in some kind of continual pattern of sin, then I don’t know how you avoid the application of that passage. You need to find ways to communicate with them. You need to find ways to pray for them regularly. I don’t think it means you isolate yourself completely from them. But you don’t sit them down at your table as an accepted guest in that condition.
So maybe if it were me, and there was a sinning child who professed Christ and—for example, this—this often happens. Some son is living with a girl, and he professes to be a Christian, and at Thanksgiving he wants to bring the girl he’s living with to Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, that is an open-and-shut case. The answer is no. And that’s the point there. You have to isolate that person so they feel the alienation. That alienation is a very important part of the discipline and the disaffection that helps them wake up to the reality that they have just made a decision that forfeits that fellowship in that relationship.
So if you know this person is not a believer, that’s very different; you’re still evangelizing them. But if they profess to be believers and are sinning believers, they need the discipline of alienation. And that’s exactly what that is. Put them out of the church. Put them out of the normal course of fellowship in the family. That’s—the table is not like meeting at Bob Evans and having breakfast; the table is where you sit down and fellowship. It was a much more collegial kind of multiple-hour event that is being talked about there, which acknowledged some level of acceptance, compatibility.
PHIL: In in a similar vein, what counsel would you give to parents whose children, let’s say even adolescent children, are claiming to be either transgendered or homosexual, falling in with the spirit of the age and what they’re being indoctrinated in school to do; what’s your best advice to those parents, Christian parents?
JOHN: Well, tell them the truth. Tell them the truth; tell them it’s all lies. I mean, you’ve got to save them from that. You can’t let a child think that he can decide his gender; that’s insanity.
PHIL: Right. And if they’re getting indoctrinated with that in public schools—
JOHN: Yeah. Well, get them out. I mean, government education is going to be LGBTQ-sensitive and transgender-affirmative; that’s where it’s going to go. I mean, the President said he’s concerned about making sure there’s a place in the world for transgender seniors. You ever met a transgender senior in your life?
PHIL: I don’t even want to think about that.
JOHN: We have one of them who’s a health official in the US government. But again, I think that’s going to be the rare situation because I don’t think people who buy into that when they’re young are ever going to survive long enough to be adults, seniors.
PHIL: Do you get a lot of questions about that? Do you face that with parents who come to you for—
JOHN: No, because we’re too cut and dried on that. That would be like asking, “What do I do when my kid thinks he’s a potato chip?”
PHIL: How about you, Don. Do people ask, “You think you’re a potato chip?”
DON: No, I’ve never had someone ask me about a concern that their kid was a potato chip.
PHIL: You, Justin?
JUSTIN: Not yet.
PHIL: It’s interesting. I asked each of you that because—to make the point. I think people who are regularly taught by expository preaching are not going to be easily confused by those dilemmas, right?
DON: Yeah. And one of the things when I taught my series on transgenderism back in 2019, one of the things that I made clear was that members of our church cannot affirm their children in a transgender lifestyle out of a so-called sense of love; that that would be grounds for church discipline, to affirm a child in the transgender lifestyle. It has to be confronted, as John said. And I’m sure in a room of this size, some of you, if not many of you, are dealing with that.
The added thing that I would say—and this is kind of a recurrent theme in my comments—is involve the leaders of your local church, and let them help walk you through that, and not simply try to do it on your own. We need to draw upon the wisdom of the church leaders that God has appointed over us to help us work out these principles in particular applications—what to say, when to say it, those kinds of things.
PHIL: Right. In fact, people, even the best of Christians are going to be confronted with this in the workplace because more and more you’ve got businesses that insist that their employees be affirming of gender fluidity and things, and they’ll require you to call your fellow employees by their preferred pronouns. What’s your counsel to the person in your church who says, “My employer is telling me I have to do this. Is it wrong for me to call a transgendered person by his preferred pronoun?”
DON: Yeah. I think that we have to avoid that. We cannot do that. We cannot participate in the deception.
PHIL: You agree with that, Justin?
JUSTIN: Absolutely. You cannot affirm someone in their sinful delusion. The most loving thing you can do for someone is to tell them the truth. And I’ve heard John say this before: that the only objective measure we have of our love for Christ is our obedience to Christ. And it is things like this. And I’ve talked to people who have faced these dilemmas. It may mean that you lose your promotion. Maybe it means you’d lose your job, if you don’t affirm your coworker who yesterday you knew as Dan, now wants to be called Danielle, and he shows up in a dress; and if you don’t affirm his delusion, you’re going to lose your job.
What do you do, Christian? Well, you stand on the Word of God. You speak the truth; speak it in love, but you speak the truth; and if it costs you your job, you do the right thing, and you trust God for the results.
JOHN: I think we have to understand what’s underlying all of this, OK. Homosexuality is a perversion, and what’s happening within transgenderism is just one feature of homosexual perversion and deviation. What is happening in the schools is homosexual teachers are grooming the next generation of kids they can assault. OK, this is grooming. They want to justify their own perversion; but more than that, they’re preparing targets for their deviation in the future. This is child abuse of the rankest and most horrifying level.
You know, you can have people lose a job because of so-called sexual harassment, because somebody put his hand on a lady’s shoulder or something, and she screams, “Sexual harassment,” or whatever; while all of this is being advocated in the schools, where they’re literally, purposely grooming a future generation of homosexuals that they can assault. That’s exactly what this is. And the government is in full complicity with it. So we fight it at every point and at every level down the line.
PHIL: We do. But you’ve noticed, I’m sure, that within the evangelical movement, the broad evangelical movement, this may be a minority opinion, because there’s so many voices telling us that if you don’t use a transgendered person’s preferred pronouns, you’re not loving your neighbor the way you should. What’s your answer to that, John?
JOHN: Well, you only love people if you tell them the truth. Lying doesn’t love anybody. They need to know what we’ve already heard in 1 Corinthians 6, you know; if you’re a homosexual, you’re not going to enter the kingdom of heaven, plain and simple. You have to be one of the “such were some of you” to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So how would you evangelize a homosexual if you didn’t bring up homosexuality? What would you say to him: “It’s OK that you’re a homosexual; it’s OK that maybe you’ve deviated. So you’re a guy, but you want to be called ‘her.’ But let’s talk about your sin”—what sins would you talk about? If you bypass that one, what would you say? “Are you kind to your mother?” I mean, you’d have to talk about that because that’s so defining. And what else are we in the world to do but to confront sinners and point out their sin and then give them the good news of the gospel.
At Grace Church—part of being in Southern California is being in an area where there’s a massive amount of homosexuals, and there have been for decades and decades. And we’ve had people who are leaders in the gay pride parade, in the gay community, converted and baptized at Grace Church. I see one of these guys every single Sunday of the year. When I go to church, he’s the first one to greet me there every week.
PHIL: Yeah. I park near you.
PHIL: And I get there earlier than you. He’s already standing waiting.
JOHN: Waiting for me because Christ has so changed his life. And you know, I got a phone call from a guy, a 70-year-old guy—and this is an interesting thing; this is about two weeks ago—and he said, “I want to just say thank you for your ministry.” He said, “For the first, I think, 45 years of my life, I was a homosexual, and I lived the rankest kind of homosexual life, and then I came to Christ. And I’m so glad for the stand that you take.” He said, “Now I’m almost 70 years old, and I want you to know this: I read my Bible every day for four or five hours, and I still can’t wash my mind of 40 years of corruption.” He said, “Keep warning people. Keep warning people.” And he said, “I would love to have more of your commentaries because I need to be reading the Word of God just to keep my soul clean.” So I sent him a whole box of commentaries. But I mean, this guy’s 25 years out of this thing, and he’s not able to completely divest himself of the horrors of those experiences.
So memory can be a wonderful thing, and it can also be a terrible thing. Why? Because one of the ways Satan tempts you is recycling your old sins. And you just don’t want to have those to be recycled.
DON: Yeah. And just to kind of build on what you’re saying, John, I have friends who follow my ministry that the Lord saved out of homosexuality. And one of the most encouraging things about ministry is to have them affirm the teaching that I’ve done on homosexuality, like you were talking about; and you know, they thank me for it because they know it’s true. And I would rather have the affirmation of one person like that than the friendship of thousands who have not repented of their homosexual sin.
PHIL: Amen. Amen. All right, let me ask—we’re running out of time. So one last question that I’ll ask of each of you, and we’ll start with you, Justin: What is your biggest challenge in ministry?
JUSTIN: Did you have to start with me?
PHIL: Well I thought that might be easy. I’ve traveled with you, and I know you face some huge challenges. You’re about to go to Madagascar, right? How are you going to do that?
JUSTIN: I’m going to get on a flying machine.
PHIL: We’re going to pray for you.
JUSTIN: Thank you. No, I’d say honestly, the biggest challenge that I face in ministry is not the logistical stuff; it’s not traveling and the challenges that I—and I do face challenges with my handicap in traveling; they’re certainly there. But one of the beautiful things about the body of Christ is no matter where I go, there’s always brothers there to help me; and it’s been just a beautiful thing to witness, and it’s been a great encouragement to me.
I’d say I’d say probably the hardest thing, especially when I go overseas, is when I travel that I’m away from Kathy, and I miss her. Sometimes she goes with me domestically; sometimes she does, but not all the time. But internationally, I’m going by myself or with a friend. But I especially miss her when I go overseas because you know there’s an ocean apart, separating you, and that you just can’t get back to her if you needed to.
PHIL: All right. She’s a good influence on you, by the way.
JUSTIN: She is. Yes, she is, in many ways.
DON: You know, I don’t want to sound super spiritual here, but it’s just, you know, my ministry would be—let’s put it this way: My ministry would be a whole lot easier if I were more sanctified than what I am. So you know, you can just leave it there. And if this is my last opportunity to say anything—and I certainly defer to John—but I just want to say one thing that I was thinking about, driving down here this morning, which is off topic of your question.
But Phil and John, you know, I’ve known you guys for 25 years or more, and I just want you to know that in the midst of all the battles that you guys are on the front line facing, that my love and the love of Truth Community Church is completely with you without qualification; that I love the ministry of Grace to You, I love the staff at Grace to You, Jay Flowers and all those other guys in leadership at Grace to You. I love the elders of Grace Community Church, that existing elder board, you know; and God helping me, I always will.
As I sit here and just think of what you guys stand for and what you have done, and to know you privately and to know you personally, you know, it reminds me of what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7, that “I’m with you to live together and to die together.” And I just wanted to say that publicly. That’s the way I feel about you guys, and I always will.
PHIL: Yeah, thank you. We are supremely blessed at Grace Church, and I think everybody at Grace Church would echo that. John?
JOHN: Well it’s tough when you ask me what’s my greatest challenge, like there was only one.
PHIL: Yeah, you got a church full of people, right?
JOHN: Well I think it’s always the same: It’s just to be faithful to respond to people. It’s not so much a challenge for me to preach, because I do that on my own. My challenge is to be sensitive to the people around me, and how I can be an encouragement to them, to invest in them. There’s so many people in our ministries, and there are so many friendships that the Lord has developed through the years, and I want to be a faithful shepherd to the congregation, and particularly to those in leadership. And so I think that sensitivity.
Patricia helps me a ton with that, as you guys know, because she’s very sensitive to people. And I want to make sure that I don’t lose that personal touch because that’s really the most enjoyable part of ministry, are the friendships. But I want to always be faithful and be sensitive to the people around me who serve so well, and who do so much and work so hard; and let them know that I love them and support them, and be an encouragement to them.
PHIL: And I need to say, without exaggeration, there have been more than fifty people this week who have come up to me privately and said, “Tell John that we love him, and his ministry has absolutely made a humongous difference in our lives; we owe our lives to him.”
JOHN: Thank you.
PHIL: And I was going to say, I think there’s a room full of people who would echo that; but I don’t need to say that. If each of us could tell you the story, we’d have you here forever. We love you, John, and thank you for your faithfulness.
JOHN: Oh, it’s my joy. Thank you for the privilege.
PHIL: Fifty-four years. This is your fifty-fourth year; we just celebrated your fifty-third anniversary at Grace Church. And you’ve preached through every verse in the New Testament; you’ve preached through large chunks of the Old Testament; you’re doing now the book of Ephesians again with fresh study. It’s not like you just lean on old notes and re-preach the same thing; you’re still hard at work. And I don’t know of anyone else who has been that diligent for that long. You’re an example to all of us, and we thank you.
DON: Yeah. Amen.
PHIL: So Don, would you close us in prayer?
DON: Sure. Well, Father, we are humbled before You at the knowledge that You have revealed Yourself in the Word written and incarnate. We thank You for this wonderful gathering of Your people to celebrate Your Word to be taught from it and to think through issues of life and ministry together. Father, we pray not only for John and Justin and Phil, but for all that are in this room, that You would cause them to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that You would strengthen and sanctify them completely in body, soul, and Spirit, and that You would lead each one in this room safely into Your heavenly kingdom, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
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