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Phil Johnson Digs In…But is Still Wrong.

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I appreciate Phil Johnson attempting to do what no others have done, which is to try to defend perceived inconsistencies of Dallas Statement signers for criticizing Social Justice and marking it as grievous teaching while refusing to mark its proponents and continuing to partner with them. All others, up to this point, have flatly rejected the vast concerns of their many followers and supporters who disagree with them with little more than an eye-roll and a guffaw. At least Phil tried to defend the indefensible.

When I write that last line out, it no longer seems like a virtue as it did at first. Nonetheless, I appreciate the effort.

I feel a great deal of sympathy toward Brother Phil, who no doubt feels out of ease trying to defend the actions of Shepherd’s Conference and G3 when the vast majority of words we’ve used to rebuff them have been their own. The record from MacArthur on the topic of separation (or Johnson or Spurgeon, for that matter), is clear. It must be terribly painful to craft an altogether new position in such a short period of time.

Until the response from Phil, which I will now unpack, he has offered little more than anyone else, which has amounted to a great deal of hostility and avarice that his followers would use his previous words and stances against him. I forwarded an email to Phil from a Grace to You supporter who was gravely upset at their inconsistencies and prayed it would turn his attention from attacking his critics (who largely are the same as his supporters) and come back to reason.

Cameron Buettel, who works for Grace to You, sent out this excerpt from Phil’s response. I feel this to be a good place to start. I would remind anyone reading that the characterization of “hair-trigger separatism” is hardly applicable to this particular situation. In case Buettel (or Phil) has forgotten, an entire statement was drafted to counter Social Justice as an ideology and mark its errors. Whole volumes have been published by the drafters to defend the statement. And, finally, Phil has engaged in many conversations over the years regarding the progressive-leftist drift of Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, HB Charles, and Mark Dever (the speakers at Shepherd’s Conference who have caused such a controversy) and is well aware of their contributions to the current mission drift of the movement. To claim that anyone desiring separation (from what MacArthur’s camp itself has marked as egregiously wrong) has a “hair trigger” hasn’t paid a bit of attention to evangelicalism over the course of the last five years. The accusation on this point from Phil is not an honest argument, even though I know him to be an honest person.

Furthermore, our argument on the side of holiness (another term for separatism) isn’t that separation from false teaching is a “sure-fire safeguard against apostasy.” Such is a sad straw man with which to begin. Full sectarianism, is in itself, heresy (quote me on that). Rather, we are arguing that separation from false teaching is godly and right. We make no argument as to its practicality, pragmaticism, or effectiveness.

In terms of how the long, rich history of separatism – which includes the Reformers, Non-Conformists, Spurgeon, and the fundamentalists of the 20th Century (which also includes John MacArthur) – is somehow as nefarious as Identity Politics, I’ll have to let your imagination wander off a cliff somewhere.

I’ll remind you that Johnson or MacArthur have never had a hard time separating from others who are appropriately labeled as bad teachers [**coughs ‘Strange Fire’ under my breath**].

While Phil is surely aiming his barb at Brannon Howse, he accidentally shoots all of his critics as though watering them down with the garden hose. Most of his critics on the topic of separation are supporters of his ministry (I do not run with Howse, and can only speak of my own followers, the vast sum of whom support Johnson’s ministry in one way or another). I intend to speak for these ‘noisy and argumentative people’ who – up until now – have never had a word of criticism toward Johnson or MacArthur.

Phil begins by stating our position:

Here’s the gist of the argument: If (as John MacArthur says) the evangelical movement‟s current preoccupation with “social justice” truly poses a threat to the clarity and content of the gospel, those who recognize the problem are commanded by Scripture to separate from those who don‟t. Doesn‟t the apostle say in Romans 16:17: “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them”?

It’s a fair summary. He continues:

The argument, apparently, is that all evangelical leaders who have expressed agreement with any of the rhetoric that was used to tout the Social Justice Movement in the MLK50 and T4G2018 conferences are now thoroughly compromised and therefore should be banned from speaking at any conferences sponsored by signers of the Dallas statement.

This is not a fair summary, however, and it’s reductionist. Our concern with Mohler, Dever, Charles, and Duncan is not that they have “expressed agreement with any of the rhetoric that was used to tout the Social Justice Movement in the MLK50 and T4G2018 Conference.” Our argument is that these four men – all of whom serve on the board of The Gospel Coalition, are personally responsible for the abomination that was MLK50 and are (through TGC) the single greatest advocates for Social Justice in evangelicalism. These are the men who are behind (firmly) Thabiti Anyabwile and Sam Alberry. These are the men who just invited Karen Swallow Prior to be a keynote at this year’s TGC conference. These are not men who merely ‘attaboyed‘ Platt’s “what are all these white people doing here” comments at T4G. MLK50 was their conference. They literally co-hosted it with the ERLC (whose progressive president, Russell Moore, all these men support strongly).

Do I really have to list in great detail the influence of these men in the realm of Social Justice? I’ve documented it thoroughly on this news site, and until recently, Phil Johnson was a reader and supporter. I absolutely deny and reject any attempt to claim these four men are somehow “fringe” Social Justice advocates who are only marginally wrapped up in the controversy. They are the grandaddies of the movement. Their institutions (TGC and Reformed Theological Seminary) are on the financial take of James Riady, sakes alive.

Let me make this comment in bold so it gets extra attention: No one who is seriously engaged in this controversy and understands its origins sees Dever, Mohler, or Duncan as peripheral figures. They are at the epicenter of the controversy itself.

Furthermore, with all due respect, Phil’s argumentation sounds a lot like Michael Brown’s. After all, Michael Brown isn’t for the soul-sucking necromancy and excesses of the charismatic movment…he’s just in the room when it’s practiced, promoting its chief adherents, and providing apologetic cover. I assure you, what Michael Brown is to the charismatic movement, Dever, Mohler, and Duncan are to the Social Justice movement among New Calvinists. There’s not a single informed person who would dispute that point.

Romans 16:17-18, Galatians 1:8-9, and 2 John 7-11 expressly prohibit spiritual fellowship and ministry partnership with heretics or apostates—people who “do not serve our Lord Christ.” Those texts cannot be used to justify mandatory separation from men who affirm, proclaim, and defend all the core doctrines of the gospel. By citing those texts as commands that apply in this case, the critics are suggesting they think some of the speakers at G3 and the Shepherds’ Conference are apostates—or at least that they must be treated as such. Otherwise, the choice to retain or recuse those speakers would be an indifferent matter such as Paul describes in Romans 14, where he says, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer” (vv. 12-13).

I can dispute Phil’s point and demonstrate his inconsistency with one statement: Michael Brown defends all the core doctrines of the Gospel.

Mic drop. Game over.

You can agree with Phil of 2018, but you cannot agree with both that Phil and the Phil of 2019. One of them is wrong. Consider the audio provided by P&P in 2018, where Phil and Todd Friel discuss separation from Michael Brown even though he “defends all the core doctrines of the Gospel.”

In that clip (linked above), Phil explains that even though Michael Brown articulates and defends orthodox doctrine, because he teaches dangerous things, he is not to be embraced. We provided a transcript of the conversation just last year.

Todd: Do we lump him in or is Michael a clear-thinking charismatic who happens to affirm some of this kookiness or is Michael Brown right in the middle of it? Phil: He is right in the middle of it.

Phil: He promotes these charismatic extremists, including some of these very worst heresies that he downplays…He is capable of defending an orthodox doctrine, but he defends people who deny it. In the end, he sows so much confusion, my counsel to people is to steer clear of him. I don’t think he’s a positive influence at all.

Todd: [After naming the speakers at the aforementioned conference], these are the high profile leaders of the NAR movement…[Brown] is right in the middle of it…Michael is these people. Phil: He’s been deceptive about it. Whether he’s self-deceived or not, I don’t know. But he’s been deceptive about it…he is up to his nostrils in the [NAR].

Todd: What do I do about Michael Brown? He’s a well liked guy… Phil: I think he’s capable at [sounding orthodox]. I’ve heard him do debates along side James White, and he can hold his own in contexts like that…That’s my advice to other people. Tune him out. Because whatever he may say that is right is mixed with so much confusion that the bottom line of the whole mess is that he’ll leave you in so much confusion he’s not helpful at all.

Phil does go on (for the sake of record) to opine that Brown is not orthodox, but not based upon any doctrine he denies or falsity he asserts. Rather, for Phil, it was enough that Brown supports those who do more explicitly teach falsely.

Thabiti Anyabwile is the product of Mark Dever. Jemar Tisby is the product of Ligon Duncan. Russell Moore is the product of Albert Mohler. These are not loose affiliations or marginal connections. These men are as attached to their muses as Phil Johnson is connected to John MacArthur.

Finally (on this point) I would reiterate what I have already (twice now) examined in full. Phil Johnson is arguing that giving the men a platform is appropriate because – at best – they aren’t “rank apostates.” How the standards have lowered!

Both conferences had issued invitations to speakers long before MLK50, T4G2018, and the Dallas Statement ignited a major controversy over “social justice.” (Large evangelical conferences generally invite their plenary speakers a year or more in advance, and these two are no exception.) I wasn’t involved in any decisions about whether changes should be made to either conference’s schedules, but I know the question was discussed by both sets of conference organizers. They obviously believed uninviting speakers would only deepen division and animosity over an issue that deserves a lot of dialogue—both public and private—before people start anathematizing one another or drawing hard lines of separation.

I can’t speak as to when the men were invited. I can speak to the fact that MacArthur’s camp told me as late as 2018 that they would likely not be invited on account of the controversy. I also know that even without the Dallas Statement, these men were engaged in propagating the Social Justice mission drift was hardly unknown. I will argue that any attempt to make contemporary standards of social politeness transcend the command of guarding the pulpit is a backslidden compromise. I would also beg for audio of the brilliant “conversations” and interactions held on the topic at G3 and I assume ShepCon will follow in the same vein. These men have had half a year to respond to the Dallas Statement and haven’t given so much as a peep, except for Mohler’s claim it would cause ‘fruitful discussions’ which heretofore he hasn’t bothered to contribute.

To those who insist it’s “confusing” to have men who disagree on this issue preaching side by side at G3 or Shepherds’ Conference, my reply has several points:

I’ll note that the reason Phil gave for not letting Brown speak at a conference was “confusion” (see above). I think that’s enough said on the point, but I’ll continue.

It would have sent a sinister and even more confusing message if conference organizers had instantly and unceremoniously disinvited men with whom they have for many years participated in ministry while waging battle side by side against common foes in a long string of hard-fought theological battles

I disagree this would have sent a confusing message. I believe the message would have been clear: No matter how many times we have golfed together, no matter how often we’ve flown you in to preach for us, until you get your act together and we can fully investigate where you stand on this issue (as though we didn’t already know), you’re disinvited and that’s how strongly we feel about your error.

G3 was launched this year with a preconference where the issue was dealt with in careful detail by a large cast of speakers. Furthermore, on those occasions where social justice was mentioned by anyone in the regular G3 sessions, the message consistently affirmed the Dallas Statement. Anyone claiming to be “confused’ in the wake of G3 either wasn’t paying attention or doesn’t really believe facts must supersede feelings in matters of biblical discernment

The pre-conference event was held by O’Fallon’s organization, Sovereign Nations. I’m glad they had it. However, Johnson’s secondary argument is that the Social Justice Warriors didn’t turn their G3 spot into MLK50 Part II.

First, it should come as no surprise that the SJW’s didn’t disrespect the G3 organizer’s opinion on the matter of Social Justice. Secondly, no one – and I mean, no one – has argued that these men blathered on about Social Justice or attempted to do so at G3. The entire argument from Phil is off the point. The issue is that they go on in other venues (like through TGC) to push an agenda and message that is directly contradictory to the de facto position of the rest of the G3 speakers.

Social justice isn’t the theme for this year’s Shepherds’ Conference, either. The conference theme this year is Faithfulness, in honor of John MacArthur’s 50th anniversary as pastor of Grace Community Church. The speakers are all men who have stood alongside John MacArthur for years in defense of gospel truth. We think it’s premature to write them off as “unfaithful” because of what they have or haven’t said so far about social justice.

Would Phil Johnson (or whoever makes such decisions) invite Michael Brown to preach at ShepCon if the topic wasn’t charismaticism? I mean, I hear he gives a heck of a talk on Same Sex Attraction or Hebrew textual criticism. Would they let NT Wright preach at ShepCon if the topic weren’t justification? God forbid.

Sadly, on this point, Phil’s theme seems to be special pleading. This is MacArthur’s 50th anniversary shindig (congratulations, seriously) and these other guys have preached the gospel for a long time, so let’s just ignore how the speakers are causing damage to the Kingdom of God.

Phil gets repetitive on point four, so I’ll move to his point 5.

So those who claim to find the actual content of either conference “confusing” on social justice are either pathologically simple-minded, being willfully blind, deceiving themselves—or flat-out lying. What’s genuinely confusing is the caustic rhetoric of those who claim the mere presence of speakers who hold differing views is a sign that John MacArthur and the rest of us who drafted the Dallas Statement are just double-minded men, backing away from the position we took when we signed that document

Phil puts the blame on us, those long-time supporters and defenders of MacArthur (who have been called sycophants of MacArthur more times than Beth Moore has hair-dos), for “confusing” others. He uses terms like, “pathologically simple minded, woefully blind, deceiving themselves, flat-out lying” (lying about what, I don’t know and he hasn’t said) while – in the same breath – claiming that we have “caustic rhetoric.”

I’ll insert my own guffaw at this point. Guffaw. Guffaw, I tell you.

I have been as even-handed, polite, and respectful during every exchange and have given much respect while our side of conscientious objectors have been subjected to such undue insults.

And by the way, yes, we do feel that what Phil is doing here is precisley what he denies…backing away from the position they had when they signed the document.

To those making that charge, let me say emphatically: It’s a foolish and totally unwarranted claim. I used the word “stupid” in an earlier comment I made about this, and I later softened it because that’s a biting word and offensive to many moms who deem it a mild form of profanity. But the dictionary definition (“having or showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense”) conveys a description of the critics’ claims that is entirely accurate.

Phil apologizes for calling his biggest supporters, “stupid,” but not really. Got it.

Those who have tried hardest to stoke the flames of controversy seem determined to make John MacArthur the bad guy. They argue like this: “John MacArthur said social justice‟ is the most dangerous threat to the gospel yet, but now he denies that those promoting it are compromising the gospel. He‟s contradicting his own strongest argument!”

If anyone thinks I want to make MacArthur the bad guy, they’re not paying attention. Although, to be fair, that’s no doubt true of Brannon Howse. But yes, I stand by Phil’s characterization of our argument. He goes on:

Here are John MacArthur’s actual words: “It’s my conviction that much of the rhetoric about this latest issue poses a more imminent and
dangerous threat to the clarity and centrality of the gospel than any other recent controversy evangelicals have engaged in.”

And again:

Here also: “Over the years, I’ve fought a number of polemical battles against ideas that threaten the gospel. This recent (and surprisingly sudden) detour in quest of “social justice‟ is, I believe, the most subtle and dangerous threat so far. In a series of blog posts over the next couple of weeks, I want to explain why. I’ll review some of the battles we have fought to keep the gospel clear, precise, and at the center of our focus. We’ll see why biblical justice has little in common with the secular, liberal idea of “social justice.” And we’ll analyze why the current campaign to move social issues like ethnic conflicts and economic inequality to the top of the evangelical agenda poses such a significant threat to the real message of gospel reconciliation.

The curious use of bold-type, which seems almost entirely arbitrary, seems to Phil to be something that can change the meaning or purpose behind the original words used.

Personally, I don’t get it. The fact is, MacArthur said that this polemical battle “is the most subtle and dangerous threat so far.”

No oddly-chosen emphasis of words in bold can change that reality.

No one with a modicum of actual discernment would imagine MacArthur (or the Dallas Statement) is making the claim that everyone who thinks there might be something valid in the Social Justice Movement has already fallen into full-blown heresy and is touting a more deadly error than, say, the mammon-worship of the prosperity gospel or the multifarious heterodoxies of Emergent Village.

This, of course, is a straw man. I’ve not heard anyone equivocate social justice and “mammon-worship” or “multifarious heterodoxies of the Emergent Village” with Social Justice. All we have done is cite MacArthur’s own words as to the danger of Social Justice and we’re content to let those words speak for themselves while Johnson is busy throwing ex post facto asterisks like ninja stars.

Specifically, Pastor MacArthur is describing people whose rhetoric is loaded with the jargon of identity politics, intersectionality, feminism, and other pet issues of postmodern propagandists.

Right…so, like, Mohler and Charles and Dever and Duncan, then.

He’s talking about those who will radically twist the gospel message or even deny essential tenets of gospel truth in the name of social justice. He’s responding to the stance taken by those who claim Martin Luther King’s Socinianism is preferable to the gospel preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield because Edwards and Whitefield were not “woke” to the issues being championed under the rubric of social justice today.

So, Kyle J. Howard, then? If the Dallas Statement and MacArthur’s words can only be used against someone like Kyle J. Howard (who is the only one I know of who’s made such a claim about Edwards and Whitefield, and I’m sure Phil is referring to him), then what was the point? Did we need a giant statement to argue against Kyle J. Howard?

That’s some pretty low fruit you’re now picking, Phil.

We have no reason to suspect or fear that any of the speakers who will be at Shepherds’ Conference have secret, sinister motives to advance any of those extreme views

I don’t know anybody’s heart. I’ll be the first to confess my lack of omniscience. While grab-handing the cash of James Riady (who can’t give it to politicans or else they would be prosecuted for political corruption) seems kinda sinister, I don’t know for sure.

However, it’s not necessary to know that these men are promoting their harmful, dangerous agenda through some kind of secretism. I will add, though, that if we let the words of the Apostles guide us, they did not view false teachers as well-meaning brothers until they found out otherwise. Their approach was quite the opposite, and their guard was up. They certainly didn’t lend them a platform or pulpit so long as they didn’t espouse their problematic views while they were in the zipcode.

Albert Mohler doesn’t seem to be working with the same basic definition of social justice as, say, Jim Wallis of Sojourners.

Bull. I’ve chronicled this ad nauseam. Mohler certainly does, and the ERLC runs Soros’ Evangelical Immigration Table along with Jim Wallis. Russell Moore and Jim Wallis are acolytes. Again, I suggest there is no more difference between Russell Moore and Albert Moler than there is Phil Johnson and John MacArthur and any Southern Baptist knows it.

The Dallas Statement rightly decries the Social Justice Movement for its divisive potential. Identity politics deliberately pits groups of Christians against one another. In contrast to that, we have no itch to hasten the Balkanization of the evangelical movement. The Dallas Statement is not even nine months old yet. Let these men have a decent opportunity to discuss their differences privately and thoroughly before demanding that they interdict one another.

Phil’s logic (or lack thereof) betrays him. It does not logically follow that discussing differences privately requires offering a public pulpit. That’s, for lack of a better word, poppycock.

Candidly, those who think hair-trigger separatism is a sure-fire safeguard against apostasy pose as great a threat to the testimony of the church as the purveyors of identity politics—with similarly sectarian results. The history of militant fundamentalism demonstrates that separatism per se is no safeguard against doctrinal drift, nor does it necessarily foster personal holiness. In fact, overzealous separatism breeds arrogance, malice, hypocrisy, smugness, undue severity, and a host of other bitter attitudes. Soon every difference of opinion about when to separate
and whom to separate from is seen as just another reason to break fellowship. Some of the people posting angry tirades on the Internet about the speakers’ lineups at G3 and the Shepherds’ Conference seem to be deliberately encouraging that kind of hyper-separatism

I suppose if you put the word, ‘hyper,’ in front of something you can make anything sound sinister. ‘Hyper-Separatism.’ It just sounds ominous, doesn’t it?

In reality, we’re not asking for anything new. It’s not hyper-separatism. It’s just good old-fashioned, common sense separatism. It’s the kind exhibited by Charles Spurgeon with the Baptist Union. It’s the type exhibited by J. Gresham Machen in the founding of Westminster Philadelphia. It’s the kind we’ve seen exhibited by John MacArthur for 50 years.

This is why Phil is actually guilty of what he denies, which is retreating for the position of the Dallas Statement. To make his point, Phil must say that Social Justice is bad, or now potentially bad, but it’s just not that bad. To Phil, this may sound like reason, but the rest of us see a clearly moved goal post.

Friends of ours may disagree with some or all of those judgments, but to claim that we have disavowed the position we took in the Dallas Statement is to misrepresent us. To suggest that someone has sinned by including speakers at a conference who don’t agree with the full force of our objection to the Social Justice Movement is to make a rule Scripture doesn’t make. We are not obliged by Scripture to break fellowship with brothers who haven’t apostatized.

Those words in bold were placed in red within Phil’s original post. Apparently, he really means it.

Again, I make the point that there is a difference between “breaking fellowship” and not inviting one to your platform to extend their influence. If there is only fellowship between MacArthur and the Social Justice Warriors because he lends them a platform, then a shallow relationship it is indeed. And if ShepCon is choosing its speaking lineup based upon someone having not “apostatized” yet, God help us all.

[After quoting a friend] He’s exactly right. It goes beyond Scripture to insist that Christian leaders must immediately sever all their public connections with any preacher who is attracted to an idea laden with subtle or potential dangers

Arguing what the Scripture says you must do is different than arguing what you ought to do. That which is permissible is not always profitable. However, as I have laid out in previous posts, I don’t believe it’s permissible to invite men you acknowledge teach grievous things to preach from your pulpit just on account of how many times they’ve done it before.

And again (I repeat myself because Phil does), no one is asking people to “sever public connections.” We’re asking that they not preach on your platform, behind your pulpit, underneath your spotlight. To do so turns the Dallas Statement into little more than wasted toilet paper.

Indeed, to attach hyper-separatist doctrines to the Dallas Statement (in effect making multiple layers of quick-and-dirty separation mandatory between those who agree with the statement and those who do not) would seriously undermine the integrity of the statement itself. It is, after all, a call for unity among true believers. It would be a travesty to employ the Statement to foment even more unnecessary discord.

One would think that we have asked MacArthur to fully shun these speakers and pin a Scarlet H across their chest (or whatever “quick and dirty separation” refers to).

It’s a laughable notion that the Dallas Statement is designed to cause unity among believers, if by that Phil means its designed to unify those who teach falsely with those who don’t. No such thing would be said about any other such statement, like the Chicago Statement, for example. Clearly, such statements are designed to dileneate those in error from those who aren’t. It seems that Phil’s damage control ambition of the moment is to unify those on both sides of the statement, which was precisely the opposite of the point.

One thing is for sure…If godly and historic separation can’t be initiated by the Dallas Statement signers, these men who have already ignored it wholesale surely aren’t more inclined to take it seriously.