Thursday, October 19, 2006

Phil Johnson on PreTribbers and the Gospel

Phil Johnson's series on how he got drawn into the lordship debate is a fascinating narrative. Justin Taylor provides links to all eight parts of the series here.

He made a rather scathing comment in the final installment posted yesterday:
In short, it seems many leading dispensationalists are more concerned about the timing of the rapture than they are about the purity of the gospel message.
I'm a PreTribber myself, though I don't fit neatly into any of the stereotypical dispensationalist camps. Frankly, I couldn't possibly care less if that brings me scorn as an anti-intellectual. But I wholeheartedly, unequivocally agree with Johnson. This statement describes the vast majority of my experience with dispensationalism. It doesn't make dispensationalism wrong, but it speaks volumes about the dispensationalist movement.


Dave said...

There is no real connection between dispensationalism and the no lordship position. There is a connection between Dallas dispensationalism and that position. Homer Kent, from Grace Seminary, gave MacArthur's book a very positive review in the Grace Theological Journal back in the day.

From my perspective, it is sad that MacArthur helps perpetuate this caricature of dispensationalism. It doesn't have anything to do with it.

Ben said...


I completely agree with you that there is no necessary connection. But it also seems inescapable that pretribulationism is a far higher priority to many dispensationalists than repudiating the no-lordship position. And that's really all Johnson is saying. As he says, he's talking about "many leading dispensationalists," not suggesting that all fall into this category.

Dave said...

But couldn't you offer that critique of anyone who is not dealing with the no lordship position, i.e., they have something else they are interested in more. In reality, there are plenty of people who don't address this issue at all.

I could be wrong, but it seems as if there is an assumed casual connection that ipso facto puts dispensationalists on the radar.

If I could turn it a different way, my observation has been that many of those who reject the lordship position do so by blaming it on Calvinism (or at least claiming that it is the evidence of Calvinism). The fact, however, is that this is not true historically or even biblically. Chafer originally rejection of the position was aimed at Arminians who obsessed about perseverance, etc. Biblically, it comes down to one's understanding of repentance and the nature of conversion, and there have been plenty of Arminians who reject the no lordship position because of that.

My point is that it distracts from the real discussion when extraneous issues get tied into it. It's not about dispensationalism or Calvinism. It's about the nature of saving faith, regeneration, conversion, etc.

I suppose the fact that I swim in waters that are convinced both of the Lordship of Christ and pre-tribulationism I don't hear a lot of arguing about either. I would expect both, however, to be proclaimed boldly because both have gospel implications (cf. 1 Ths 1:9-10). :)

Ben said...


As always, your historical perspective is invaluable. Although, I wonder if the perception of a connection does not make it even more prudent for dispensationalists to distance themselves from no-lordship proponents. That doesn't seem to have been the case, at least not in fundamentalist circles, or at the very least not until fairly recently.

By the way, how is MacArthur perpetuating this caricature. If anything, it seems that Johnson is the object of your complaint here. Or has MacArthur done this in the past? I guess that would surprise me, given his own rather strong dispensationalism. With Johnson's strong RB ties, I wouldn't be as surprised. But I'm merely speculating.

Dave said...

I can't recall the exact bibliographic details, but I believe in either The Gospel According to Jesus or Faith Works MacArthur makes the connections to dispensationalism. It's been years since I looked at them, so my recall is a little fuzzy.

I don't think that MacArthur would call himself a strong dispensationalist. I believe the modifier he has used in "leaky" dispensationalist.

At the end of the day (which it is right now), I am all for the solid defense of the gospel and simply tend toward keeping that uncomplicated by side debates, especially when they are based on false associations.

Many Reformed despise (may be too strong of a term) dispensationalism and that disposition either leads them to assume things about it or look for things to discredit it (not sure which). Tying it to the no lordship view fits the bill either way.

Now, if I say that I really need to set this subject aside to work through Malachi 1:6 ff in prep for Sunday, I hope I am not evidencing some lack of care about the gospel. :)

Dave said...


I peeked back in on the discussion this morning and actually looked a little more carefully at the whole thing. (We were hosting our pastors conference on TH/F, so I just buzzed in and out with the previous posts.) I did not read what Phil had written, only your observation about it. Having done so now, my perspective on the discussion is a little different.

First, I should apologize for speaking without having read what Phil actually wrote. He actually mentions the very points that I made about it being a Dallas pecularity and MacArthur mentioning this in Faith Works. It seems that Phil was making a distinction between the Dallas brand of dispensationalism and dispensationalism per se. I was wrong, therefore, in my comments on that point. Another reminder for me to heed Pro 18:13.

As for the basic point about his complaint regarding making pre-trib debates more important than the gospel, I would differ with his assessment of why the change took place. I would counter with two other possible reasons for consideration:

(1) Given the nature of evangelicalism, the debate had just about run its course--both sides had stated their beliefs and defenses on the lordship issue, and the sides were entrenched. There is no ecclesiastical court in which to appeal for a decision and therefore no "end game" to the debate. Not much new was being said, so it was time to move on to other debates. (This seems to happen with about every doctrine debate, cf. the spate of books pro and con on Open Theism, then the lull as the next aberration takes the stage.)

(2) This is mild conjecture, but I wonder if the majority on the no lordship side ended up going a little mute simply because the free grace crowd became so extreme in their views--they pushed out, as Phil notes, past the old Dallas position into ever-increasingly strange views. The longer the debate went on, the more radical their views were becoming. For those who were less radical, this was not good, so they were probably glad to see it quiet down.

One point I made earlier still seems pertinent. The nature of doctrinal controversy means that there will always be hot topics that cool are replaced by the next hot topic. It seems weak to criticize any group over this since all groups experience it, and the publication of books on a topic is probably a false guage of interest. Using that logic, one could wonder why MacArthur didn't care about the lordship issue until The Gospel According to Jesus or has neglected it since Faith Works. Obviously, that's not true. Yet, simply because people haven't written books about this subject for a while, Phil seems to conclude that it doesn't matter to people. That's not the case and there actually are still many battles happening over this subject, just not with the limelight that a MacArthur, Ryrie, or Hodges bring to the arena.

I hope this corrects my earlier misstatements and offers something to think about. Sorry to tie up the comment section on you.

Irenaeus II said...

Those at the forefront of pretribulational theology in America are all guys out of touch with biblical salvation. I am a convinced pretribber. But I do get tired of the pretribbers out there turning biblical truth into sci-fi novels and video games.

Johnson's comment was dead on.