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Purpose – The primary reason for this podcast is because there is a systemic problem with a harshness that has been in our ranks for decades. It becomes acutely problematic when we’re rebuking someone. This incident is not an anomaly, but part of a culture that is no longer hidden from public scrutiny or reaction.
I have been speaking out for years about a the lack of compassion within the biblical counseling movement. Truth and love is a thing, and knowing how to steward these ideas collectively takes wisdom. We have hurt a lot of people by our tones, attitudes, and words. This problem is also common with other Evangelical leaders, not just in the BC world.
Disclaimer – I do not follow John or Beth; I follow Cephas (1 Corinthians 1:12). (My pastor’s name is Peter.) Perhaps being an outsider is an excellent position to observe since I’m not emotionally connected to either John or Beth. But I am a graduate of The Master’s University (TMU) in Santa Clarita, CA.
This school is under the ministry that John leads. TMU is a valley or two over from the main campus of Grace Community Church and the seminary. I attended TMU in the late 90s and earned a Master’s in Biblical Counseling (MABC). My season of study was one of the most transformative and encouraging of my Christian experience. It was full-on personal sanctification for two years with no breaks. It was an outstanding opportunity and privilege.
I’ve never had a conversation with John MacArthur, nor taken any classes from him, though I did shake his hand when I received my diploma. And I have heard him preach, maybe twenty times.
In August 2019, I had the privilege of leading a conference at the church where Beth Moore attends, which was for a group of students in their “in house” school. I was asked to teach on biblical counseling, which was an amazing experience as well, to serve a few folks at that church. Similar to John, I do not know Beth. I’ve never read any of her books or attended her conferences. I have watched a few of her videos online.
Beliefs – I hold many of the views that John teaches. I’m essentially Reformed and hold to the sufficiency of the Scripture worldview. I’m also complementarian, which means that there is both a hierarchy and equality between the two genders. I add that there is equality because a man is not better than a woman and only leads in some instances as a matter of function, but not ontology.
As to that video, I do not disagree with John’s view, as outlined on the night in question. But what I found off-putting was how John responded by saying that Beth Moore should “go home.” While I understand his point, he did not communicate it well, which hurt his message.
A few of John’s friends and fans have challenged me on my perspective about his rebuke, and all of them have missed the point that I’m making, which I hope to clarify here. Some of their questions to me were,
These sincere folks are having a hard time parsing out the attitude from the rebuke, both key elements when you’re admonishing someone. More on that later.
For the record, I don’t support her views on feminism, social justice, and egalitarianism, as I understand them, and I don’t have an issue with someone rebuking a public figure who is leading folks astray. I am a complementarian. However, my view on women does accommodate them leading in all sorts of capacities, but not as an elder of a local church.
E.g., Brandi Huerta, a graduate of our Mastermind Program is an outstanding theologian, and she helps me supervise our students in our program, both men and women. She works specifically in our theology department. We also have women providing advice to those who come to our forums, which includes them helping men and women.
It appears that some folks consider rebuke and attitude at odds with each other. In their minds, if I focus on the attitude conveyed, I’m diminishing the significance or necessity of the warning needed. In counseling, both attitude and correction are essential.
If I say something in such a way that it will unnecessarily offend the person, they will not focus on what they need to hear. This problem and solution is not rocket science.
Every reasonable Christian knows that if you want to rebuke a person, your word choices are of utmost importance. And when it comes to admonitions, it’s not the time for off-the-cuff comments that lack preparedness, which can open the door to exactly what happened as a result of that night.
The most appropriate thing for John to do is say that his “go home” word choice was not wise, and it was not his intent for that to be the primary takeaway from what he shared. And on reflection, he would say it differently, and he hopes that Beth and others would want to dialogue about the content of his concerns rather than focusing on his flippant words at the beginning.
Perhaps John has done this; I do not know. But what I do know is that some of his defenders have drawn a hard line in the sand that discounts some of John’s words while focusing on the others. Recently, I said,
When the attitude you have toward someone speaks louder than your righteous arguments against them, your solid (biblical) points will get lost, you’ll alienate those you could reach, and you will galvanize the opposition.
And sure enough, these three things have happened.
There are many complementarian people, who hold to a sufficiency of Scripture worldview, who see this problem. I’m not talking about “Beth’s people,” though I understand why they would take offense. Rebukes are the most severe and crucial ways of communicating in the Bible.
That video sounded like a bunch of people at a family reunion talking about their aunt who was not there. And then she got the video, along with a few of her friends. John lost them at “go home,” and the audience punctuated the moment with their laughter and applause. Though it plays well before the home team, it lost its needed effect outside Grace Community Church.
We live in a different world today. I understand this as well as anyone. I have never spent more time crafting my writings since the advent of the mobile phone (2007) and all the social media platforms that came afterward.
Everyone has a megaphone; nobody lives in a silo any longer. We’re more than a decade into this new day, which is why the thought leaders should be setting the example for how we communicate across the Internet. Every word is dissected and scrutinized. And though you’re not going to win all your enemies, it’s not a good day when we’re losing our own because of how we communicate.
And though social media is new, the problem I’m addressing is not. We would not be here if we were more careful about how we communicate with one another. The issue is not social media primarily, but how we talk. Today’s megaphone (social media) merely highlights what was always there (harshness).
The reason we hear about pastoral abuse is not that it’s more prevalent than years ago. It’s because there is a “megaphone” that can highlight the problem. Whether it’s abuse or, in this case, poor communication, there would not be an issue if we were better stewards of our hearts. What used to be hidden is now brought into the light—by the Internet (Luke 6:45).
One national leader told me that John could say any critical thing that he wanted to about a man, e.g., Steven Furtick, but if he speaks out against a woman, it becomes a national story. He is correct. The issue he is raising is part of this new day. My friend needs to understand this new way of conducting our business. Ironically, he was making my point, to which I say,
If you know that women are more sensitive to open rebukes and hot topic issues, why aren’t you more careful about how to formulate and articulate your rebukes?
Women and men do respond to critique differently. I see this problem regularly on my Facebook page. And because I know that some women, generally speaking, are more reactive to topics like leadership and submission, I spend more time word-crafting how I talk about those things. My goal is to serve them, not incite them.
Some will argue that it does not matter what you say because some women will “shrill” anyway. To which I respond,
If you know this, then you should understand the critical necessity of being careful.
This perspective is Marriage 101, Parenting 101, Relationships 101. It’s common sense. The worst case of this is what we see our President doing. Though I’m glad about many of his policy-making decisions, I lament how he incites people. You can see the similarity to this “presidential issue” between John and Beth: the content is good, but the delivery is not. Believers can do better.
Many of the folks who defended how John rebuked Beth cited the rebukes of Jesus and other biblical characters. Ironically, these “sufficiency of Scripture people” were using narrative sections of the Bible as normative. I did see the humor. But the comeback is, “Are you saying because it’s a narrative, we can’t do it?”
Of course, you can do it. But as you use narrative to make your points, be sure to use all the Bible, not just those passages that show strength, power, might, admonition, warning, and rebuke. Paul would be a good case study here as you see his super-strong and severe warnings to the Corinthians. Of course, you don’t begin with his admonitions, which started in 1 Corinthians 1:10. You start with his preface to the forthcoming rebukes.
Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:1-9).
The one thing that I don’t hear from a lot of folks when they are rebuking someone is Paul’s compassion for them. Read the passage and consider the rebuke of Beth Moore, or, more importantly, how you admonished someone recently.
If we’re going to use Scripture to make our points, the Corinthians makes the Bible’s Top Ten List of Mean-spirited, Heretics, Hostile to the Gospel, and Hatred of a Christian Man. Regardless, Paul spent time on his knees where God gave him affection for these unruly, undisciplined, and unbiblical people.
If you have a friend who has gone so far off the theological rails, there should be weeping and pity mixed with your rebukes. This narrative about Jesus gets at this blend of pity and rebuke:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ (Matthew 23:37-39).
Some folks have a hard time putting “compassion and rebuke” in the same sentence. They err on one side or the other.
If you love someone correctly, you will rebuke them when it’s warranted. If you don’t have affection for them, it will come across with an attitude that will miss the mark. One lady told me that she would be afraid to talk to John and friends because of how they come across. Let that be an admonition.
One of the instructive things about the time when Jesus rebuked the moneychangers, is that afterward, folks began to gather around Him. They were not afraid because they sensed they could be around Him. My MacArthur fan, who happens to be a complementarian said she would be scared to come to some of her fellow Reformers.