October 12, 2015
The Parable of John MacArthur and the Publican
By Anthony Wade
A Biblical look at the underpinnings of Calvinism.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." - Luke 18: 9-14 (ESV)
I was watching a video this morning where John MacArthur commented on a prayer offered by Joel Osteen that said, "I thank you Father that I have your favor." Mac goes on to say, "Wow, did he meet the Pharisee in Luke 18 or what?" Of Osteen, MacArthur is 100% right. That prayer is silly. It is presumptuous. It is in error. It elevates Osteen and not God. It also encapsulates the Osteen theology of "me". Remember it was his wife last year who proudly proclaimed that we worship God "for ourselves" with her husband nodding approvingly. So when you look at the Parable of the Pharisee and Publican, as seen in our key verses today it is a completely fair point to say that Joel Osteen sounds an awful lot like the Pharisee. The problem is so does the Calvinist beliefs of John MacArthur.
It astounds me that someone as well versed as MacArthur cannot see the inherent hypocrisy in being a staunch Calvinist while mocking the arrogance of a me centered false gospel. There is no teaching more arrogant and self-serving than Calvinism. In the theology of hardcore Calvinism, God decided before the foundations of the world who would have eternal life and who would have eternal suffering. Having absolutely nothing to do with their lives and how they lived it. Essentially that God is like a bouncer at the door of the most popular nightclub but there's a special list to get in. The punch line for all believing Calvinists is that they are on the list! Hallelujah, how lucky can you be! Beloved this is far more self centered than Joel Osteen's nonsense. Osteen's "favor" is about getting more trinkets and baubles here on earth but for MacArthur? His favor is that God chose him before any human beings were even born! Wow. If that is not the gospel of how special I am I do not know what is. I reviewed a John Piper Sermon once where he was defending the key points of Calvinism and he recounted a story of a Calvinist missionary who "humbly" offered the following prayer:
"First of all, I am thankful for God's unfathomable grace in choosing me. I have done nothing to deserve this, and I continually marvel at my Father's goodness to me. The reason I am thankful to be chosen is because I know what I have been chosen for. Chosen to proclaim the excellencies of God; chosen to be eternally satisfied in God through Jesus; chosen to live in light and not darkness; chosen to taste and see that He is good."
I placed the word "humbly" in quotes because there is nothing humble about this prayer. It is the same prayer offered by the Pharisee in our key verses. It is "me" centered. Oh thank you lord for choosing me! Forget all these other losers! Saying you have done nothing to deserve how special you are does not make it anymore humble or any less arrogant. Now I understand that there are a handful of verses that lend credibility to the notion of pre-destination but that contradicts the remainder of Scripture. God did not create robots. The truth is that our "pre-destination" is found only in His foreknowledge:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. - Romans 8: 29-30 (ESV)
Ironically, these are verses often used by Calvinists but they miss the point. God sees all time therefore He foreknows everything. It is because He knows that Billy or Suzie will have trusting faith in Christ that makes them "pre-destined." Not that He pre-destined them to heaven or hell on a whim. The Bible does not present a capricious God. Look at the order listed here. Foreknew-predestined-called-justified-glorified. It starts with foreknowledge not election. It is the height of arrogance to think God has turned heaven into a members only club and lo and behold, you have an all access pass! Wow, how blessed are you! You ought to be thanking God for His favor. Except, how do you reconcile the rest of the Bible?
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. - 2Peter 3: 9 (ESV)
Is God limited by Himself? This verse cannot be clearer! God does not want any to perish! He wants all to come to repentance! If you believe in hardcore Calvinism this verse should not be in the Bible. If everything is pre-decided this verse makes absolutely no sense. It is hardly the only problematic verse for Calvinists:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. - 1Timothy 2: 3-6 (ESV)
"For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. - John 3: 16-17 (ESV)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Matthew 11: 28-30 (ESV)
Was Jesus given as a ransom for the elect? No. It was for all beloved. Does God desire that those He chose come to the knowledge of truth? No again. He desires all people to be saved. Is it only the elect that has the chance to believe in Jesus so that they might not perish but inherit eternal life? No again. It is whoever believes. Is it the pre-destined that is saved through Him? No again. It is the entire world. Why does Jesus say come to me all who are heavy laden if He really only means the elect? A careful reading of the Gospels shows that He originally only came for the chosen people of Israel yet even then He had room for the Roman Centurion and the Canaanite woman. Even then, He had room for those who came to Him in faith. I find it ironically sad that preachers as good as John MacArthur and John Piper cannot see that they are the Pharisee in the key verses today. Let's break it down verse by verse:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: - Luke 18: 9 (ESV)
If there are any people who trust in themselves that they are righteous while treating everyone else with contempt, it is Calvinists. Sure they blame it on God and try their level best to sound humbled but the very act of believing you are in heaven by His choice alone while others go to hell by the same choice is the textbook definition of self declared righteousness and contempt for others. Look at the missionary prayer from Piper's sermon! Thank you for choosing me! I am thankful for I know what I have been called to do! I marvel at my Father's goodness to me! I, I, I - me, me, me. Those other missionaries not chosen? Yeah. That's a tough break!
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' - Luke 18: 10-12 (ESV)
Look at the Pharisee in these verses. Thank you Lord that I am not like other men. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all I get. I, I, I - me, me, me. Those other people, like even this tax collector over there? Thank you I am better than him! Granted, I have never heard a Calvinist brag about their perceived status but they do not have to when the braggadocious is baked into the theology. By default, those who do not share in this winning lottery ticket to eternal life are automatically looked down upon. They would have to be wouldn't they? Either in abject pity or contemptuous disdain. The parable continues:
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." - Luke 18: 13-14 (ESV)
The true state of the penitent on display. Not even worthy of lifting his head up to heaven. Beating his breast. Pleading for mercy. What is more problematic however for hardcore Calvinists is the end result of this Pharisee. The one who thought he was already secure ends up not justified and the one who was the ultimate wretch ends up justified. When this parable speaks of justification it is speaking about salvation. It is the humbled that is saved, not the self-exalting. MacArthur defenders may balk at this because they do not see themselves as their doctrine makes them. Consider for a moment one of the five core beliefs of Calvinism, limited atonement; defined as follows:
Because God determined that certain ones should be saved as a result of God's unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone.
How self exalting can you be? So now the work of the cross only belongs to the elect. Christ did not die for those pre-destined for hell. Don't look to Calvary you wicked tax collector! The cross belongs to me! The arrogance is staggering! This flips the entire Gospel accounts right on their heads. Why did Jesus heal everyone? Why did He preach to everyone? If God decided already, what is even the point of the cross at all? No beloved. I think that men like John MacArthur, who are probably well intended have missed the overall point of the Bible. He is confusing the fact that God foreknows everything with God fore-choosing everything. I read an interview with MacArthur once where he claimed if you believe in the Bible you must believe in pre-destination. Besides the arrogant nature of that statement, let's take a look at the two Scriptures he offered as proof of this ludicrous statement:
and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. - Revelation 13: 8 (ESV)
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, - Ephesians 1: 4-5 (ESV)
The Revelation verse does not support this flawed notion of an arbitrary God who capriciously decides eternal suffering for some. What it does support is exactly what we saw in the Romans verse. Those He foreknew, He pre-destined. Sometimes it seems like we are having the classic conversation about the chicken and the egg. You only get to pre-destination through foreknowledge. One of the attributes of God which no theologian would ever disagree with is justice. We serve a just God. There is absolutely nothing just about consigning people to eternal damnation just "because." I view those who believe in pre-destination so callously as the same who cheer the false teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture. It is such a convenient doctrine that protects those who hold the belief at the expense of everyone who might not. So yes, the names of those who are saved are written in the book of life before the foundation of the world but after He had already foreknew. It is really not that complicated. Only when we try to trap God within our own limited understanding of time can we create such poor doctrine. The Bible says He is above our notion of time. The Ephesians verse present more of a challenge hermeneutically until you step back and take in the entire context.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. - Ephesians 1: 11-14 (ESV)
The five point teachings of Calvinism insists that we have no part to play whatsoever in salvation. That God pre-decided our fate. I understand the genesis for wanting such theology. Far too many liberal denominations make it all about man. The modern altar call theology teaches that we choose God. That we invite God to come into our hearts. That we allow God to be Lord of our lives. This is of course narcissistic at best and utter nonsense. It is God that offers the free gift of salvation to all mankind. That is what the Bible clearly teaches. While few find the narrow path, God's will is that all would come. The Bible teaches that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. It is the preached Gospel that is the power of God unto the salvation of men. What happens supernaturally when the reprobate mind hears the Gospel is the Holy Spirit draws the person. It is entirely a work of God - on that we can agree with the Calvinist. The reaction to that draw however is a work of man. Look at the expanded context of the very verses MacArthur thinks proves his point. There are two things we had to do. We had to hope in Christ and believe in Him! Look at the progression offered in these verses for salvation. We hear the Word of Truth, the Gospel of our salvation. It doesn't say then that if we were predestined we are saved. No, the next step is simple. We must believe in Him! Notice the third step is the sealing of the Holy Spirit. You do not get there without first believing. You do not get the inheritance until you believe. That belief is not forced upon us. It is not pre-decided from the foundations of the earth. It is a result of the preached Gospel. If it is all just pre-chosen from long ago, why is the seal the third step and only contingent upon belief? In order to believe in true Calvinism, as MacArthur does, you must believe God has created an earth filled with robots who have no choice but to believe if He pre-decided they would or go to hell if He pre-decided that. It strips God of His just nature and kindness. The Calvinist would argue back that I do not believe in His sovereignty but that is a silly argument. I do not doubt that God COULD decide to do things the way Calvinists believe. He is after all God. I trust that He will not because He will not contradict His Word.
The Bible is a story of a loving God who sacrificed His only Son so that His fallen creature could once again be reconciled unto Him. All of that is out the window with five point Calvinism. Instead we get a whimsical God who pre-decides eternal suffering for the majority of His creation for no reason whatsoever. Without justice. Without mercy. Without love. A God who sacrificed His Son for only a select few. I do not know how someone reads the Bible and sees that kind of God. Maybe it is easier when you fancy yourself on the approved list already. So Joel Osteen's doctrine of temporal favor is certainly in error. How much more so though is a doctrine of eternal favor?
Reverend Anthony Wade - October 12, 2015
Credentialed Minister of the Gospel for the Assemblies of God. Owner and founder of 828 ministries. Vice President for Goodwill Industries. Always remember that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.