Much ado has been made in recent days about California pastor John MacArthur's Strange Fire conference. Michael Patton, a MacArthur fan, offers a critique of the conference, the book, and MacArthur's attitude toward Charismatics, so I will not.
As a young pastor the first person to whom I ran for books and commentaries was John MacArthur. His radio program, "Grace to You," was like a soothing balm amid many local church programs that filled the airwaves in the Atlanta area. In those days you could catch J. Vernon McGee, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, and sometimes evangelist Maze Jackson. The others were fine, but I really enjoyed listening to MacArthur.
In or around 1989-1990, as a young pastor I went with some friends to a regional Shepherd's Conference in Conyers, Georgia. I was 26 or 27 and totally enthralled by the gathering. Hearing MacArthur in person was like heaven.
I do not remember whether the entire conference was on the subject of the charismatic movement (this was just a few years before the release of his book Charismatic Chaos), but it certainly came up in one Q&A session. The specific question had to do with hearing God speak. MacArthur said emphatically, "I don't know if I've ever heard God speak to me."
It was an odd confession, to say the least.
Fast forward to around the year 2002. I and another pastor from our church attended the Shepherd's Conference at MacArthur's Grace Church in California. Jerry Vines was one of the conference speakers. It did not appear those California folks had ever been exposed to preaching with a deep south flavor. The pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Mark Dever, was another speaker that year.
The book Wild at Heart was dominating book sales in the U.S. so naturally one breakout session was dedicated to all the things the church leadership felt was wrong with it.
During a general session Q&A MacArthur was fielding questions from the floor and again made a comment that he did not know whether or not God had ever spoken to him.
At that point of my ministry I still respected MacArthur but had moved from the worship phase. (Yes, dear reader, many pastors fall prey to worshiping theological heroes just as surely as your middle schooler has sports or entertainment figure's posters plastered to the wall in their rooms. It is just as spiritually disorienting.) It was time to evaluate a man who had been a pastor, theologian, author and leader in a certain tribe of American Christianity yet, after all those years, could not be sure whether God had ever spoken to him.
Whatever he was selling the product, for me at least, had lost its luster. The appeal has never returned.
I do not intend a long excursus on the theology of John MacArthur nor on hearing the voice of God, but I cannot spare a lot of time for a man such as MacArthur who admittedly does not hear it. In light of his recent actions I suggest he should listen more intently.