The Arrogance of Youth and the Subtle Danger of Experience

For most of the last week, a number of folks have been chiming on John MacArthur’s critique of Darrin Patrick’s book, Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission. If you’ve been following it at all, MacArthur says that he was shocked by the following passage:

The man who is experiencing head confirmation [of his calling to pastoral ministry] is thoughtful about his own philosophy of ministry, his own ministry style, his own theological beliefs, his own unique gifts, abilities and desire. In short, there is uniqueness to the way he wants to do ministry. Unlike many young men who know much about what they are against and little about what they are for, the man who is experiencing head confirmation thinks through very carefully and deliberately, What am I for with my life and ministry? What are my specific burdens for the church? How can I best serve the church in these areas? (Church Planter, page 37, emphasis in original)

MacArthur’s take on this section is that Patrick is suggesting that “everything about one’s ministry (Patrick expressly includes “his own theological beliefs“) needs to be self-styled and individualistic” (source). What he suggests is that what this paragraph (and indeed the whole book) is calling for is a radical individualism.

Having read both the book and MacArthur’s concerns, I believe that his take is uncharitable at best, but I can understand how one could make this conclusion. However, my point is not to defend the book, nor is it to criticize John MacArthur, who is a godly man and a great Bible teacher.

What concerns me is something that caught my attention in the follow-up post on the Grace to You blog.

After rightly calling out those who have been (perhaps) overzealous in their responses to MacArthur’s critique as needing to be a little more thick-skinned and to remember that Scripture is our authority, the author writes the following:

John has more than fifty years of preaching faithfully, more than forty years in the same pulpit—don’t you think you ought to listen? Don’t despise the older generation; don’t dismiss their wisdom; don’t ignore their criticisms of you. Proverbs is full of wisdom like that: “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov. 15:31-32; cf. 10:17;12:1; 13:18; 15:5).

Now here’s where I agree entirely. John MacArthur has been in ministry for a long time. He has a great deal of wisdom to offer, much of which is well worth heeding. Older men who have been in ministry can an invaluable resource to younger men and we would be foolish not to give them our ear.

That said, one’s experience does not make a man infallible. We are all subject to error and we must be careful to recognize this, especially when we comment on what we perceive to be the errors of others lest we fall into pride.

This is why the Apostle Peter in addressing both older pastors and younger men:

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you… (1 Peter 5-6)

Pride is an equal opportunity sin. It doesn’t discriminate against youth or experience. Any of us, whether because of the arrogance of youth or through the subtle danger of experience, can easily be ensnared by our pride if we’re not watchful. And the result is we look and act like this:

I don’t want my contemporaries to fall into that trap. I don’t want it for myself. And I don’t want it for those who are ahead of us in the race. God, help us, please.

(Video HT: Z)

Learning vs. Criticism

A thought-provoking clip from Mark Driscoll’s recent sermon, Jesus the Sabbath Lord:

The Bible said, “No working on the Sabbath,” so the religious people came along and they made a number of rules, one of which was you’re only allowed to do emergency medical care on the Sabbath, and they had a whole list of rules for what defined emergency care—a baby being born or a traumatic accident. Religious people worked this way as well. They worked through something called “the fear of man.” Proverbs 29:25, “The fear of man is a trap or a snare.”

They like to make a scene in public, that’s why they’ll swarm to a blog, swarm to a Facebook, swarm to a Twitter account, swarm to a church, swarm to a church meeting, swarm to a dinner at someone’s home.

Swarm you at work, swarm you as family members at the holidays. They swarm, and they’re always looking for an audience to pressure you, back down, compromise, be quiet. Do you want to get stung some more? Then tap out, give up, give in. So they’re always picking a fight with Jesus where there’s a crowd, and here it’s on the Sabbath, a Saturday, in the synagogue in front of an audience.

And it says they came not to listen to Jesus, but to find fault with him.

Let me say this—you need to examine your own heart.

When you listen to me, another preacher, teacher, radio, podcast, read a book, are you listening, are you reading? First asking, “Okay God, teach me. I want to be humble. I want to learn. Secondly, “Show me my sins, my faults, my flaws, my failures so I can grow.” Thirdly, “Show me things I can help other people with as a good friend.” Fourthly, “If there’s anything wrong or askew or really dangerous here, show me that so I don’t get led into error.”

But don’t start with, “If I disagree, they’re wrong, I’m right and I’m here as God to judge.” [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (12/20)

The Many Ways of Destroying the Church

The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful.  Raw factionalism will do it.  Rank heresy will do it.  Taking your eyes off the cross and letting other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it–admittedly more slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul.  Building the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it.  Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people, but it will destroy the church of the living God.  Gossip, prayerlessness, bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism–all of these things, and many more, can destroy a church.  And to do so is dangerous: ‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor. 3:17).  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

D.A. Carson, The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 83-84.

HT: Timmy Brister


In other news

5 things the Church can learn from the fall of Myspace

Tim Keller on dealing with harsh criticism

Russell Moore—Avatar: Rambo in Reverse

An update on Pastor Matt Chandler’s condition


In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Alexander Strauch’s Leading with Love 

Vintage Jesus is Vintage Driscoll—a review of the Vintage Jesus DVD Curriculum

This is War (a Christmas Carol from Dustin Kensrue)

A biographical sketch of Charles Wesley

John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur

Driscoll, Piper and Chandler at Text & Context 2008

At the 2009 Basics Conference, John Piper was given the opportunity to respond to John MacArthur’s recent criticism of Mark Driscoll. I am grateful for godly men like Piper who are willing to speak about this issue with truth, wisdom and grace.

I originally had featured Piper’s audio, but it’s no longer available. Fortunately, Peter, one of our readers, was kind enough to transcribe it a few months back on behalf of a hearing impaired reader. That transcript follows:

Question: Thank you, Pastor John. Wanted to ask you, this is a pretty big subject in the church today, the idea of Pastors and lay leaders even, using perhaps more course language from the pulpit, kind of bringing things down a level and not being holy in their speech, and it seems to be a bit of a problem, and somebody may call us nitpickers for wanting the speech coming from the pulpit to actually be glorifying in every way, and I just wanted to get your opinions on that. There’s a lot of stuff on the Internet, bantering back and forth, back and forth and I just wanted to get your opinion on it, thank you.

John Piper: Oh I’m right in the thick of it. And the two people of course are John MacArthur and Mark Driscoll, right? I assume that’s where you’re going. And everybody knows that I’ve been friendly with Mark Driscoll, because he’s been at two of our conferences and I’ll be with him in two weeks. And I love John MacArthur with all my heart and I’m going to be with him – if he’ll still have me – in June. So, I love him, love him, what a grand, great, 40 years. So, amen!

So, he spent 4 blog posts criticising Mark Driscoll two weeks ago, and Mark has stuck him foot in his mouth quite a few times. I would encourage nobody to become course, filthy, ugly, trashy. I’ve had to repent… I could tell you the worse word I’ve ever used in a sermon but if I did I would get in trouble to say it. It isn’t a four-letter word, it’s … I forget how many letters it is… it’s like one of those.

So, I’ve been there, and I know how easy it is to create effect. And with a certain young crowd, it’s hip, it’s cool, it’s the way you feel. You know, you dress a certain way, and you watch certain movies, and you talk a certain way and then you’re hip, and thus attract a certain crowd. So I don’t think your mouth needs to be dirty in order to relate to 20-somethings in Seattle. And I think Mark knows that, I think Mark knows that. I assume he’ll hear this, probably, what I’m saying right now. I count him as a good friend. I spent an hour with him two weeks ago, at the Gospel Coalition, talking about these things.

Now he preached on Song of Solomon two years later, that was the 2007, at least a year later. I think what he did with his Church was way more mellow, and way more acceptable. Which simply says to me: Mark is growing. And he’s walking a very fine line, because he is rock-solid doctrinally, and he is accomplishing things in Seattle nobody else is accomplishing, in winning to Jesus Christ… they had 400 baptisms on Easter Sunday morning, this year! And these people, would.. just weird people.. coming to, coming to his church. People that… I mean look at me, look at this, this is so weird. They wouldn’t come hear me for anything. They wouldn’t go to my church, but they’ll go to his church. So, I’m cutting him a lot of slack because of the mission. So, it’s kind of a both end for me. You don’t need to go as far as you’ve gone sometimes with your language, but I understand what you’re doing, missiologically [I think] there and I have a lot of sympathy for it because I’d like to see those people saved. And yet I don’t want to see, either doctrine watered down – which he doesn’t at all – or, holiness watered down, which is John MacArthur’s big concern and I’m concerned with him…. That’s enough of that… unless you want to go further? I’ll just.. no I can’t say any more. Watch for more, on the Internet.

The difference between me and MacArthur at this point is: I’m not drawing the line that John [MacArthur] has drawn from the imperfections of Mark’s ministry to his unfitness for ministry. Because that’s where it seems John has gone, he says: “It’s over. Marks should resign. Nobody should go to his church. He’s unqualified for ministry” and I’m not going there. Not at this point anyway. I’m going to Mark directly. I’m getting in his face. I’m talking about… I’ve got more issues than just language, that I’m talking about, in his face, pleading with him: “look guy, you’ve got an influence that’s absolutely incredible”, and he knows that, [that's] part of the problem. “And I want you to be a good steward of this. I’m old enough to be your dad.” I am. I have a son older than Mark Driscoll, wait a minute, Mark Driscoll is 38 now I think, so my son is one year younger, so I’m old enough to be his dad. And he knows that, I’m in his face, ’cause I’m saying: “Look, come on. Just clean this up.”

Let’s get real specific for a minute, you ask how I’m dealing with this. When I was sent, by John MacArthur, the fated Song of Solomon, Edinburgh sermon that John critiqued two weeks ago online, I listened to it and thought it was horrible. I got on my Internet and wrote a three page single page letter to Mark Driscoll: “.. this is horrible…. and here are my 8 exogenical [i think] reasons … and then a few pastoral reasons ….. ” Within one hour that was off the Resurgents website, and an email had gone to Edinburgh and Glasgow to pull it down. That’s significant. That was a son-like response to this fatherly: “Come on! That’s over the top….don’t… that’s not the way to do it.”

HT Evangelical Village