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I Am Saddened that Phil Johnson Has to Be Corrected

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I’ve written a number of thoughtful posts examining the futility of marking Social Justice as a grievous evil while yet embracing its most prolific proponents. These included The Dallas Statement is Dead and John MacArthur Killed It, Would Spurgeon Attend G3 (I especially hoped Johnson would respond to this as a Spurgeon connoisseur, but he couldn’t refute it without siding against the Prince of Preachers), and yesterday’s post at Bible Thumping Wingnut, A Response to Josh Buice and G3. I was not responsible for writing another post yesterday, G3, Shepcon, and Social Justice – Clarity Needed from Phil Johnson and Josh Buice, and neither did I know it was being written or that it would be published until I saw it late last night, but I think it was well-written, polite, and salient.

My chief complaint – which I made to Johnson personally via email before I gave any public criticism (the first and only time he’s failed to respond to me*) – is that to make much ado over Social Justice (not only in the Dallas Statement, but as Johnson has done for years such as in the “mission drift” controversy with he and Thabiti in 2016), but to ask these men to come preach and extend them a platform is nonsensical and in fact traitorous to their own position.

As I laid out in yesterday’s post from Romans 16:17-18, we are commanded to mark those who cause divisions, and the G3 and ShepCon organizers are content to stop at only marking that which causes divisions while leaving those who cause divisions unmarked. Likewise, the point of marking those who teach wrongly is to avoid them. I encourage you to read the article for a more thoughtful analysis.

Phil Johnson has finally responded, but like Josh Buice’s response to G3, it (predictably) avoided any careful point-counterpoint and lacked any substantive critique of the meaningful arguments we have presented. Rather, Johnson’s critique was full of something that for him is wildly uncharacteristic; ad hominem, red herrings, and straw men.

As I begin to unpack his response and provide a rejoinder, I must preface it by saying that I love Phil Johnson like a father. We have had countless conversations in person, over the phone, and through email. I have considered him a good friend. I have listened to his every word and believe I am currently being more faithful to his message than he is. Johnson officiated the dedication of one of my children to the Lord, preached from my pulpit, has helped with many personal matters, and until I criticized the decision of ShepCon to invite the Social Justice provocateurs to speak, was a financial contributor at such time he promptly pulled his support. He is on audio speaking to my critics saying, “Prove him wrong” and says, “JD is one of my all-time favorite preachers.” At one time our affinity for each other was mutual, but rest assured, my appreciation for Johnson has not changed.

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).

My final point of preface is that when he and I discussed the 2019 ShepCon lineup in person at an event in Canada last year, Johnson told me that the dust-up on Social Justice likely would lead to a change in the usual ShepCon speaking roster. My email explicitly stated to him the complaint I had was due to the shock at finding that Mohler, Duncan, and Dever would be back in spite of our previous conversations.

First, I suppose the word “scolded” is meant by Johnson to convey sentiments of mean-spiritedness. I would ask anyone to read whatever I have written on the topic of Separatism and my citation of MacArthur’s or Johnson’s words on the subject to demonstrate their inconsistencies and ask if I have really been mean-spirited. After privately reaching out, without a response, I have provided thoughtful and non-emotional critiques of the decision to invite men to speak who advocate for what these men are busy advocating against and what they themselves agree is the “greatest polemical battle of our day.” Johnson begins his comment by poisoning the well, just one of a number of fallacies he includes in his response.

Second, no one has asked Johnson, MacArthur, or Buice to “sever public fellowship.” This equating of fellowship with partnership is beneath a man of Johnson’s intellectual veracity and I would argue is not altogether honest. No one, of whom I am aware, has insinuated that MacArthur cannot remain friends with Dever, Mohler, or Duncan. Rather, we have argued that if Social Justice truly is as threatening as Johnson and MacArthur themselves argue, then it makes no logical sense to extend to them a platform.

This position – our real position, and not the strawman burned by Johnson – has remained heretofore unaddressed by any one of the G3 or ShepCon apologists. I surmise this is because they cannot rationally argue the point.

Johnson continues his blatant strawman by insisting that someone, somewhere, has demanded that these men be “defriended.” I know that Johnson has an impeccable reading comprehension, so I assume charitably this is an oversight.

Third, Johnson is correct in stating that “no credible voice of discernment has argued that these men are rank apostates.” Certainly I have not argued that and neither have I heard anyone else argue that (with the exception of Piper over his troublesome “final justification” nonsense, his Strange Fire continuationism, or his insistence that men should listen to Beth Moore preach).

It’s here, however, I have much concern for my dear friend, Phil. Phil knows much about the Downgrade controversy of Spurgeon’s day and, in fact, bequeathed to me my first manuscript of Spurgeon which still hangs on the wall of my church foyer. As I have pointed out already in my response to Buice yesterday, if we are now setting the bar at “they’re not rank apostates so they should preach at my conference,” it’s a low bar indeed.

Certainly no one attends ShepCon, as I did three or four years in a row, because the speakers are “not rank apostates.” Instead of defending the theological positions of Dever, Mohler, and Duncan that promote “the greatest polemical battle of our day” (which he would not do), Johnson retreats to “they’re not rank apostates.”

At Shepcon, with Phil Johnson

John MacArthur needs to seriously consider if the legacy he wants to leave behind is “they weren’t rank apostates.”

I consider the argument to be gross. I think we all expect better things from Grace to You. This is literally the Modern Day Downgrade before our eyes.

Fourth, it is apparent that Johnson feels that MacArthur and Buice have been treated unfairly and perhaps even uncordially by critics, calling our appeals to the Bible, “barbs.” I have little to say on this point but that I’m sorry he feels this way.

In the same way that the Dallas Statement signers have begged and pleaded for Mohler, Dever, and Duncan to respond to their argumentation (which has thus far not happened), we are asking our brothers who drafted the Dallas Statement to please interact with our criticism without taking it so personally. They have yet to do so, and I suggest they are not leading by example when it comes to discussion and dialogue.

On a personal note, I would beg and plead with Johnson to please convince me that I am wrong on Spurgeon’s view of Separatism or wrong on my view of Biblical Separation in general. I would love to be corrected so that I need not correct the Jedi Master when I am but a mere padawan. And yet, he’s thus far not interacted with our points.

Fifth, while Phil points out that the theme of G3 was missions and not Social Justice, I would remind him of his own words regarding Social Justice and its implications for “mission drift.” Again as I pointed out in yesterday’s article, David Platt recently argued that Social Justice is a part of the Great Commission. Would Phil like to seriously argue that Social Justice and evangelism are not related? The Phil Johnson of 2019 cannot make this argument without disagreeing with the Phil Johnson of 2016.

Likewise, the entire issue behind Social Justice is that it either (A) leads to a melding of works and grace, as we have already seen among the Social Justice Warriors – like Mohler, Duncan, and Dever – who call it a “Gospel Issue” or (B) weakens our resolve to focus on the Gospel rather than societal change.

Why do I have to remind Phil of his own words on this point?

Furthermore, Phil’s argument is clearly enshrined in a double standard. While he makes an argument that it’s acceptable to have someone speak who’s committing such grievous errors that a grandiose statement is drafted, signed, and circulated to refute them so long as the conference is on a different topic from their error, we know this is not a position Phil holds consistently. Would he allow Michael Brown at ShepCon if the topic weren’t charismaticism? God forbid. Would Phil allow NT Wright at ShepCon if the topic weren’t justification? God forbid. Also, Phil would forbid.

Finally, I should add that Phil’s choice in words describing his critics is far more hostile than anything employed toward him. He calls his critics “stupid people.” I would like to let him know that the bulk of his critics support Grace to You, some of them financially. The bulk of Josh Buice’s critics are supporters of G3.

I think I’ll reach out to Phil and forward some emails to him so he can see the people he has called, “stupid.” For example, take into consideration the Masters Seminary graduate and pastor in Idaho who emailed me yesterday to show appreciation and encourage me in my critique. If Grace to You supporters, Masters Seminary grads, and former ShepCon and G3 attendees are all “stupid” whose fault would that be, pray-tell?

No doubt, I am the “perpetually truculent sensei of snark and sarcasm” and “misanthropic perpetrator of fundamentalist road rage” who – until a month ago – he was financially supporting and posting selfies with on his Facebook page.

Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? – Galatians 4:16

I ask, of the two of us, who has been inconsistent?

Phil Johnson recently preached these words in reference to an almost identical controversy, but one of which he was not at the center:

When a shepherd of God’s flock encounters a wolf, tolerance is a sin…one thing Paul would not have done is invite that man to a conference and dialogue about his views in front of an audience.

The Dallas Statement was nothing short of calling Social Justice – as it is being taught by certain of the speakers at G3 and ShepCon – a grievous theological error. And yet, the reason G3 and ShepCon are inviting these men is for the precise reason that Phil says they should not be invited to a conference to speak.

Phil and the other Dallas Statement drafters are now between a rock and a hard place. In order to defend their refusal to separate partnerships with these men, they must now be forced to backpedal on the serious error of Social Justice and convey it as some small, secondary matter.

And as I’ve argued from the beginning, by their actions, they defeat their own declarations.

Phil Johnson is truly one of the greatest men I have ever met. He is one of the kindest and most generous men I have ever met. I love him. I am saddened that he must be corrected. I have done it over an open Bible, and he has not responded in kind.

[Editor’s Note: Contributed by JD Hall]

[Additional Editor’s Note: Phil Johnson changed the word ‘stupid’ to ‘simple-minded,’ claiming that some took offense. He would like you to know that the many Grace to You supporters, Masters Seminary grads, and longtime followers who disagree with him are merely simple minded.]

*Phil says that my email went to his spam folder and he did not see it. I’ve no reason to doubt him, as I’ve only known him to speak truth.