April 28, 2009

Phil Johnson vs. John MacArthur (and Many Others) on ‘God Begging’

Around the beginning of 2007, there was some controversy over a 15-minute evangelistic video called “Just Stop and Think,” featuring Pastor Francis Chan.

One of the controversial points in the video is when Chan used the illustration of God begging sinners to accept his proposal (around min. 12:10–12:15 into the video).

This, of course, was entirely unacceptable to James White and many others that orbit around him (such as Micah Burke, who contributes to White’s blog page). After all, they don’t even accept the fact that God desires the salvation of all men in His revealed will. One of White’s other friends (Carla Rolfe), who is very ignorant of the history and theology of Calvinism (and one who used to be a Gillite hyper-Calvinist in the early 2000's), chimed in about the video, and said:
The only time I have ever heard anyone say that God begs for anyone to do anything, is when I was in a 100% Arminian church. God doesn’t beg anyone to do anything, He commands all men everywhere to repent. [notice her false dichotomy]
Though Phil Johnson did not agree with all of White’s criticisms of Chan’s presentation of the gospel, he did side with White against Chan’s use of the illustration of God begging sinners to come to him. Phil said:
He [James White] is (rightly) concerned about people who run too far with the notion of imploring sinners to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5) and who imagine that this justifies the ridiculous imagery of God on his knees, begging sinners to have a relationship with Him. Remember: I already said I don’t like that aspect of the video, either.
I searched for sources on the Internet on the subject of God begging, and I quickly found that both Charles Spurgeon (one of Phil’s heroes of the faith) and Samuel Rutherford (a Westminster divine) used the illustration. James White, in his typical fashion, mocked me on his Dividing Line program for engaging in these searches. Since that time I have continued my searches into Puritan and Calvinistic literature on the subject. I discovered that even John MacArthur (Phil’s own pastor) used the illustration in an interview with Phil Johnson on “Answering the Key Questions About the Doctrine of Election” (Jul 17, 2006). The transcript reads as follows:
PHIL: Second Corinthians 5 gives us the duties ambassadors to plead with people to be reconciled with God.

JOHN: Yep, we are to beg them, be reconciled to God, as it says, though God were begging through you. That’s exactly the language there. As though God were begging through you, be reconciled to God, go into all the world, preach the gospel to every creature, make disciples of all the nations. We have the responsibility to take the gospel to the ends of the earth to every creature.
Notice that MacArthur not only believes that God is begging through us, but he believes that it is “exactly the [inspired] language there” in 2 Cor. 5:20. He says the same thing about that verse [i.e., “literally, ‘begging them’”] in his article on “Having an Eternally Right Relationship with God,” in Think Biblically!: Recovering a Christian Worldview, ed. John MacArthur (Good News Publishers, 2003), 108. So then, MacArthur is not merely saying that he believes God is begging sinners, but he believes the Apostle Paul himself uses that kind of language. If MacArthur is correct, then Phil Johnson has not only called MacArthur’s beliefs and imagery on this subject “ridiculous,” but he has also unwittingly implied that the Apostle Paul’s inspired language is “ridiculous” as well. In MacArthur’s sermon on God’s Last Invitation, Part 1 (Rev 22:13–17; 66-86 [Mar 5, 1995]), he referred to “The Lord’s final call,” as “the pleading, urging, invitation, begging people to come to Jesus Christ and to receive the gift of eternal life, before it is forever too late. This is God’s final plea.” Note the date; this idea is nothing new in MacArthur’s own theology.

Not only that, but he has also, by implication, said that the imagery of the following men within the Augustinian tradition (who use the metaphor of God begging) is “ridiculous”:

Augustine (Early Church Father), Hugh Latimer (Early English Reformer), Isaac Ambrose (Puritan), Thomas Brooks (Puritan), Daniel Burgess (Puritan), Jeremiah Burroughs (Westminster divine), Richard Baxter (Puritan), Joseph Caryl (Westminster divine), Thomas Case (Puritan), Stephen Charnock (Puritan), John Collinges (Puritan), John Flavel (Puritan), Theophilus Gale (Puritan), William Gearing (Puritan), Andrew Gray (Puritan), William Gurnall (Puritan), Robert Harris (Westminster divine), Nathaniel Heywoood (Puritan), Thomas Larkham (Puritan), Thomas Manton (Puritan), John Murcot (Puritan), George Newton (Puritan), John Oldfield (Puritan), Anthony Palmer (Puritan), Edward Reynolds (Westminster divine), John Richardson (Puritan), Samuel Rutherford (Westminster divine), John Shower (Puritan), Richard Sibbes (Puritan), Sydrach Simpson (Westminster divine), William Strong (Westminster divine), George Swinnock (Puritan), John Trapp (Puritan), Ralph Venning (Puritan), Nathaniel Vincent (Puritan), Thomas Watson (Puritan), Daniel Williams (Puritan), Samuel Willard, Benjamin Wadsworth, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Ralph Erskine, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Chalmers, Walter Chantry, Erroll Hulse, John MacArthur, Steve Lawson, and Fred Zaspel.

I have documented the exact words of all of these men HERE (click) in context.

We would invite Phil to reconsider his position.

Update on 9-18-14:

In light of my historical sources on God (and Christ through His preachers) begging in the Augustinian and Reformed tradition, consider these words by the hyper-Calvinist David Engelsma:
An ‘offer-man,’ if he is consistent, must beg sinners, and this disgraceful practice abounds today. It is revolting to anyone who has caught a glimpse of the majesty of God, the excellent glory of the risen Jesus, and the sovereignty of grace to hear the ‘offer-men’ begging recalcitrant sinners please to accept Jesus and come to the front.
David Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism & the Call of the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1994), 86–87.

Years ago, in 2007, when Phil Johnson and James White were objecting to Francis Chan using “God begging” language in his “Just Stop and Think” evangelistic appeal, they were unknowingly siding with Engelsma on that particular subject, and not with mainstream Puritan thought.

On November 10th, 2009, Tom Ascol approvingly tweeted this quote by John Stott:
It is not enough to expound a thoroughly orthodox doctrine of reconciliation if we never beg people to come to Christ.
John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1986), 201.

Update on 2-3-2020:

MacArthur recently wrote:
Nevertheless, the gospel message includes an open invitation—a general call to faith—that is extended indiscriminately to all who come under the sound of the message. In fact, Paul uses much stronger words than call or invitation. He says it is “as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).

The Greek word translated “pleading” is [from] parakaleo. It speaks of an exhortation, admonishment, or entreaty. The word translated “implore” (deomai) is stronger yet. It has the connotation of begging. It is a common word in Scripture, often used to describe passionate prayer. It is the same word used by the father of a demon-possessed boy in Luke 9:38, pleading with Jesus for help: “Teacher, I beg You to look at my son” (NASB).

That is the proper tone of the gospel’s invitation, what Paul refers to as “the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). This is how God commissions His ambassadors to preach: “We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (v. 20 NASB). It is not a dispassionate suggestion, or even a stern command. It is an earnest, urgent plea extended with God’s own authority, tenderly entreating the sinner to respond with repentant faith.
---page 86 begins here---
It is the duty of every believer to make this message known to the world. God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (v. 18). That is why it is crucial for Christians to understand the gospel correctly and be able to present it clearly and persuasively. God has commissioned us as His ambassadors not only to proclaim the fact “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them” (v. 19); but also to be persistent with the appeal to “be reconciled to God” (v. 20). In this capacity we are “ambassadors for Christ,” speaking “on Christ’s behalf” and “as though God were pleading through us.”
John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2017), 85–86.


Anonymous said...

In writing about the Puritan's approach to evangelism, Erroll Hulse wrote:

"How did they offer the Gospel to the unconverted? I avoid the word 'present' the Gospel. They did not merely 'present' the Gospel, they entreated, they besought, they reasoned, they urged and they offered the Gospel. Some are disposed to contend that the word 'offer' is unsuitable as it implies creature ability or gives the impression that God is less than omnipotent to change hearts. Others say the word does not mean now what it meant in Puritan days. But Richard Sibbes uses a word indicating a condescension stooping lower than any such meaning implied by the word 'offer' which word I would contend has not changed. On II Cor. 5:20 Sibbes declares, 'This is the manner of the dispensation in the gospel, even to beg of people that they would be good to their souls. Christ, as it were, became a beggar himself, and the great God of heaven and earth begs our love, that we would so care for our souls that we would be reconciled unto him'"

Tony Byrne said...

Excellent quote, Barry! Yet another Puritan :-) Yes, I will be stealing it and posting it. Thanks.

Tony Byrne said...

The quote is from Richard Sibbes, "The Fountain Opened," in The Complete Works of Richard Sibbes (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1863), 5:506-507.

Anonymous said...

As I watched everything unfold on Phil's blog a few months back (when this topic was being discussed) I was very saddened to see the things I did.

I hope this post provides an opportunity for an open and honest dialogue.

Tony Byrne said...

It's posted now. Thanks again, Barry.

Sibbes' Begging God

Anonymous said...

You're welcome, Tony. I appreciate your work. Thanks for the HT.

Anonymous said...

And so what is it in us who are saddened by an unrepentant heart, who actually HUNGER for all the world to be reconciled to God through Christ? Our self righteousness? Our fallen, sinful nature?? Our own folly??? Who is this in me imploring others to look to Christ, anyway? Where does this desire come from? :-)


Anonymous said...

See your March 26, 2009 blog from Martin-Lloyd Jones. He succinctly describes the "striving" from God.


Tony Byrne said...

Exactly, Macoman. The reason why we have any desire for the salvation of any is because the Spirit of God is working in us to yearn and strive for the ultimate well-being of others. Some of my favorite quotes on that topic are from Jonathan Edwards. See HERE, and HERE.