The One in Which Fred Butler Was Wrong

Fred Butler was called by Brannon Howse the “Grace to You Mailroom Guy.” Butler is more than that. He’s the unofficial resident blogger at Grace to You, who for some reason heads up GTY’s Senior Citizen volunteer division (or something like that) instead of doing what seems to make far more sense, which is writing with Cameron and Jeremiah at the GTY blog (somebody give Fred a promotion). This blog post is a bone I’m hereby picking with Fred.

Now, let it be said that I am not “going after” Fred any more than I have “gone after” John MacArthur. Surely I have earned some goodwill to be heard by MacArthur or anyone else at Grace Community Church or Grace to You. I have “gone after” Ergun Caner, Greg Locke, and Clayton Jennings. When I “go after” people, they know it and soon, their career is over. What I’ve said so far about the Shepherds’ Conference having a Social Justice Warrior lineup has thus far been little more than friendly disagreement.

Without a doubt, if I haven’t earned the right to give a friendly criticism of the ShepCon lineup, then no one in the history of mankind has earned the right. Blog for blog, article for article, view for view, share for share, I think it’s safe to say that Pulpit & Pen has been the greatest defender and supporter of John MacArthur that he’s had in recent years, Phil Johnson and Pyromaniacs notwithstanding. Surely that capital of goodwill might be spent on honest (and necessary) criticism.

To the point, the criticism I will give in this article relates to Fred Butler’s appearance on the Bible Thumping Wingnut, which aired on Christmas Eve. You can listen to that episode here. The conversation between Butler and Tim Hurd (the podcast’s host) happens in the last segment.

What I’ve said from the beginning is that inviting the worst proponents of Social Justice in Reformdom to the Shepherds’ Conference while the ink of MacArthur’s pen on the Dallas Statement still isn’t yet dry is inexcusable.

By that, I don’t mean it’s unforgiveable. I mean it’s inexcusable; ie., no rational excuse can be made. Listening to Butler on BTWN made it clear that he wasn’t interested in giving any kind of rational excuse.

Butler’s irrational excuses for the illogical selection of Social Justice Warriors (the same ones taking part and lauding 2018’s MLK50 and T4G Social Justice conferences) to speak at ShepCon were largely illogical and unsubstantive. His excuses amounted to four basic defenses:

1. Duncan-Mohler-Dever are MacArthur’s friends, so like, come on, man. Don’t be difficult. Let’s be nice. They’re like, friends and stuff.

I’m rather indifferent to this defense. I’m sure – I would bet money on it – that this is the real reason for these guys still speaking at ShepCon. MacArthur is a kind and generous soul. He’s also loyal, which is ordinarily a commendable trait for both man and beast.

If MacArthur feels that Social Justice is the greatest polemical battle of our lifetime (Butler acknowledged this during his BTWN interview), then it makes zero sense to invite our opponents on this issue and the proponents of Social Justice to speak at ShepCon as if this battle isn’t currently raging on.

I assume the only force that is more powerful than common sense is personal affinity and friendship with others.

2. This will hopefully provide opportunities for dialogue and good conversations to be had by inviting these guys to preach at ShepCon.

This is the one of the excuses from Butler that made me, whilst listening to the podcast, self-commit to writing this little article.

Frankly, this logic from Butler is sub-Butler. I’ve never – in all my life – heard Fred speak something so woefully illogical. My friend’s mind usually fires on more cylinders than this. Consider the following.

The Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel came out on September 4. Thus far, we are approaching four months (or so) in. Within three days, Mohler issued a statement dismissing the Dallas document although claiming that it was problematic on certain points (not specifying what they were), he promised that it would cause “productive dialogue.”

Here’s some facts on the “productive dialogue” that Mohler promised us four months ago. No one from Mohler’s camp, Duncan’s camp, or Dever’s camp has engaged in any substantive way with the Dallas Statement or any of the 14 articles published regarding the statement by the statement writers. All of that work has been totally and completely thus far ignored.

Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

If Mohler, Duncan, or Dever were going to have “dialogue” over the Dallas Statement, they would have done it by now. These men have put an embargo on any and all conversation regarding this issue from them, their institutions, or their various publications.

If anything, my love for MacArthur – which I believe is comparable to Butler’s love for the man – makes me a tad upset that MacArthur is being mistreated by these three by outrightly ignoring his substantative concerns to the point they have not given him or “his statement” (as the press treats it) even a modicum of acknowledgment. And yet, they’ll still eagerly take the platform he is, for some inexplicable reason, offering to them. To me, that’s rude and disrespectful of MacArthur. The man is nearly 80 years old, and I can’t help but think the people around him should love him enough to not let him be disrespected, discounted, and ignored by those who would take advantage of the platform he has built through 50 years of ministry.

The idea that these men would ignore the substantive material coming out of the Dallas Statement and its 14 accompanying articles but that their presence at ShepCon is excused by the hope they might address it (what, in the green room or portico between talks?) is foolish.

Thabiti, who wouldn’t be invited to ShepCon in a thousand years (even though he’s ideologically identical to H.B. Charles, who is speaking), says Mark Dever inspired this tweet and Ligon Duncan ‘liked it.’ Critical Race Theory abounds, and virtually no one is talking about it.

You shouldn’t invite someone to come preach (thereby endorsing the ones responsible for the “greatest polemical threat of our lifetime” – to quote MacArthur) in hopes they might have a private conversation about a topic that they have so far ignored like the plague.

In fact, the argument that the conference will allow these brothers to be “reached” by our side is contradicted and made moot by the first argument made by Butler. If these men are really close friends of MacArthur, bribing them with the pulpit seems wholly unnecessary to bending their ear and reaching them by personal relationship.

3. Complaining about Duncan-Mohler-Dever speaking at ShepCon is like Brannon Howse complaining about MacArthur at the Radio Broadcaster’s Association.

That comparison may work for others, but not for me. While I have not liked JMac speaking at the Radio Broadcasters trade show with Rick Warren and others, can you find a single sidewise word from me about it? Have I spoken about it? Have I written about it? The only things I have said about it have been privately to encourage people to protect MacArthur’s reputation. One wouldn’t think the almost-octogenarian needs to be speaking at such events anyway, but I have been careful to differentiate between him speaking at a trade show and an ecclesiastical gathering.

I’ve defended MacArthur on this point against the likes of Brannon Howse, Jeff the GK, and Joshua Chavez, aka Servus Christi. Actually, I would go so far as to say no one has defended MacArthur more on this point than me. While it may be an effective strategy to liken every critic of MacArthur to Brannon Howse, anyone who knows my history with Howse knows that I chose my camp, drew my line, and have stuck to it. I have not coalesced with Howse in any way.

Likewise, I’ve shown restraint and reasonability when Howse has not. While not agreeing with White’s Interfaith Dialogue or how it was done and the language used regarding it, I am on explicit record (on the same stage as Phil Johnson and Justin Peters, mind you), saying that White should not be anathamatized over the issue and that the reaction to the IFD was an over-reaction.

Lumping me in with Howse is intellectually dishonest. I left my gig broadcasting at Worldview Weekend because I was (effectively) forced to choose between Howse and MacArthur. I chose MacArthur, and it was not a hard decision to make. I would go even further to say uttering my name in the same conversation as Howse should indicate Butler owes me an apology.

Finally on this point, it’s also intellectually dishonest to fail in differentiating between being invited to a conference to speak and inviting others. While I may not have liked JMac sharing the stage with suspect or problematic people in the past (Piper, for example), inviting people to YOUR conference is a whole other category. Surely, Butler can see that.

4. Characterizing criticism of the SJW Shepcon lineup as the same as accusing JMac of being compromised on the issue is logic that does not follow.

I have never accused Dr. MacArthur of being compromised on any issue. That should be clear. Rather, I’m arguing that it makes no reasonable sense and is intellectually indefensible to invite the worst proponents in Reformdom on the issue that MacArthur himself believes is the biggest polemical battle of our day, for some other reason than correction (they wouldn’t accept that invitation, let’s be honest).

My argument is not, and never has been compromise. It has been foolishness, perhaps impaired by personal friendship. There is no doubt Russell Moore (who is ideologically identical to Albert Mohler), Thabti Anyabwile (ideologically identical to Mark Dever), or Jemar Tisby (ideologically identical to Ligon Duncan) would not be invited to ShepCon on grounds of their ideology. The only thing that separates these men from those at ShepCon is the personal friendship of John MacArthur.

After listening to Butler on BTWN hem-haw around the subject and “golly-gee” eye-rolling himself without argumentative substance, I remain even further convinced that the decision to have a SJW lineup at ShepCon was the wrong decision and undermines the Dallas Statement by minimizing the error that it was designed to address.

[Editor’s Note: Contributed by JD Hall]


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