John MacArthur and Beth Moore: What’s All the Hubbub About?

John MacArthur and Beth Moore: What’s All the Hubbub About?

Tempers and tweets are in high gear. But in case you’ve missed the recent fireworks, here’s the skinny on what happened. Well-known pastor John MacArthur and popular teacher Beth Moore are in a verbal scuffle at the moment. I’ve received several questions about it in just the past few days. MacArthur was in a Q & A, on the stage at his church Grace Community Church in California, at an event entitled the Truth Matters Conference. The event was meant to honor MacArthur’s 50 years of pastoral ministry at his church. Certainly, something to celebrate! Johnny Mac is a titan in American Christianity.

Things got interesting at the event when the moderator, Todd Friel of Wretched TV, asked the panelists, including MacArthur, to play a sort of word association game. This kind of “lightening round” has been done before with Johnny Mac. It’s always interesting, but admittedly the format is tricky and can get someone into “trouble” if they are not careful.

To be fair, before the word game began, MacArthur said, kind of playfully, “I feel like I’m being set up.” After the laughter died down, Friel threw out his first two words to MacArthur for an immediate response: “Beth Moore” (Friel is a regular critic of Moore on his own program). For those not familiar with Moore, she is the founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based organization based in Houston, Texas. Moore believes that women and men are equally called by God to preach and teach the Scriptures in churches, retreats and conferences. John MacArthur does not agree with Moore’s “egalitarian” position when it comes to the role of women as public expositors of Scripture to mixed audiences of men and women. Ok, so they disagree. That’s legitimate.

After Friel tossed out Beth’s Moore name, MacArthur paused for a moment and then responded, “Go home.” The audience laughed. Another man on the panel accused Moore of being a narcissist because of her preaching style. He claimed that Moore regularly calls attention to herself, in her public ministry, more than to Jesus. MacArthur then jumped back into the discussion and added some other comments about female preachers in general, and his disagreement with the Southern Baptist Convention for moving in this direction.

Predictively, things went nuts on social media almost instantaneously. Some of it was critical of Moore, but a lot more seemed critical of MacArthur. Relevant magazine wrote an article critical of MacArthur and even listed several Christian leaders who were piling onto MacArthur. Others, like influential pastor Max Lucado, have weighed in on the debate, saying he was “grieved” by MacArthur’s “derisive” comments. Lucado said, “Are we, white, male, middle-aged leaders of the church, listening? Are we heeding the message of our sisters in Christ?”

OK…so what do we make of all this? Ugh. Not sure. But I’ll offer 5 things as a typical, Midwest, Christian pastor and leader who is being asked about it, and is, admittedly, a Johnny Mac fan (I have been a huge JM fan for 40 years).

1) These kind of theological squalls are always blowing around, and should not surprise us.

2) There are always people trolling social media looking for things to pounce on and spew their anger towards. This is unacceptable behavior for a Christ follower.

3) Public “lightening rounds” are probably not the best format for candid, very public, blunt speaking leaders like John MacArthur. Especially in our day of social media. His initial gut-feel that, “I feel like I’m being set up”, had some real truth in it. But he could have declined to play along. Having said that, JM never shies away from speaking his mind and letting the chips fall where they may. He is certainly no stranger to controversy as is evidenced in his many books such as The Gospel According to Jesus, Charismatic Chaos or Strange Fire. I have enjoyed and profited from many of his books.

4) To be fair to Beth Moore, JM could have been more diplomatic and tactful about how he phrased things. He could have maybe said something like, “Beth Moore is talented, but I disagree with females preaching in a church setting” (admittedly more than two words, but who’s going to stop JM?!). While this would still have likely gotten him into trouble, at least he could have taken the high-ground. His initial comment, “Go home”, was unnecessarily sharp. At this point in the unfolding mess, a simple apology and clarification by JM would be most helpful, and the statesman thing to do.

5) To be fair to JM, I do agree with his “complementarian” position on the role of men and women in the church. It was the historic position of the Church universal for centuries. Now, just to be clear, I am a huge fan of women in ministry! I have many talented females on my staff. I’m very proud of them! We need them! I hired them! I deeply appreciate their wisdom and gifts. I deeply covet their insights in our ministry discussions. But the issue is this: what level of ministry are women allowed to be involved in, in the local church, according to the Bible? The kind of tart, superficial comments made by Max Lucado are not clarifying and not helpful. Where’s Lucado’s, or even Moore’s, careful exegesis on the topic? JM has certainly put his out there again and again.

The real issue, in all of this, goes back to Scripture—that’s where it has to go back! Specifically, back to Paul’s letters of 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians. In these inspired letters, Paul presents a clear and compelling case that the role of elder and preaching pastor are to be centered in the male due to the nature of authority, and how God set up the universe. I know that this is wildly unpopular in American culture, and even in many segments of the Church. I know it’s controversial. What’s clear in the Bible is that this has nothing to do with superiority in gender roles. It has everything to do with how God set up authority to operate in our world. And, the Church had no problem with this for centuries until Western culture shifted in recent years. That’s something worth chewing on.

The teaching of Scripture is a missing data point in many of the conversations about gender in the church. The Apostle Paul ties his argument for the role of men and women—both in the church and in the home—back to Genesis. In other words, he gives us a theological reason for the roles of men and women that is grounded in Creation. I would agree with Tim Keller, John Piper and D.A. Carson (in a fascinating YouTube conversation sponsored by the Gospel Coalition) that the roles of men and women, in the Bible, are a gospel issue. Meaning that where we land on the issue, will theologically impact how we read our Bibles and interpret the gospel in general.

SO…Lord willing as we all talk about this, we need to be responsible and careful in our listening, our choice of words and in our tone in general. If we claim to be Jesus followers then we are, after all, supposed to be reflecting that in our rhetoric. Let us do so.

by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor
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