OST is closed for business but its spirit survives on my blog.

Dallas Willard and John MacArthur

Have ya read Divine Conspiracy? U must have then read Willard’s assessment of John MacArthur in chapter 2 if you have? I have a question for ya all who have. Do you think that Willard’s assessment of MacArthur is accurate? I am have always wondered about his assessment. And now for a systematic theology class I will have an opportunity to explore my wondermant. But I am wondering what those of you who have read Divine Conspiracy and have some grasp of John MacArthur think. I particulary hesitate to say that Willard is right o­n with his assessment of John MacArthur but what about you?

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)


I don't have access to a copy

I don’t have access to a copy of The Divine Conspiracy. Can you quote or summarize what Willard says?

Dallas Willard and John MacArthur

John MacArthur is a good biblical preacher; his messages often bless me. He is also a very critical person, finding fault and giving judgment freely.

Dallas Willard is a “great mind” of a man, and has interesting and important insights into the Gospel.

However, I am concerned about his basic concept of salvation (and this is where I would side with MacArthur.) Dr Willard states that a person can be saved without knowing Jesus, but that anyone saved is saved by Jesus because “no other Name under Heaven is given whereby we must be saved.”

I am confounded by a statement like that. I think Dr MacArthur has a better understanding on the subject.


Roger West, Mexico

Can I quote or summarize what

Can I quote or summarize what Willard says? Sure. I believe Willard summarizes well his own assessment of MacArthur (who he puts with Ryrie too much i believe) along with his own rebuttal when he says: “When all is said and done, ‘the gospel’ for Ryrie, MacArthur, and others on the theological right is that Christ made the ‘arrangement’ that can get us into heaven. In the Gospels, by contrast, ‘the gospel’ is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed” (pg 49)

Frankly, I believe that if Willard would have left out MacArthur and just said, ‘Ryrie and his cohorts…’ I would agree with him wholeheartedly. But when he puts MacArthur in their I get hesitant. It seems he puts MacArthur with Ryrie too much. ‘Bout the only difference Willard sees between the two is what each beleives to be what constitutes the forgiveness of sins. Willard says, “The difference btw adherents of Lordship salvation(MacArthur) and its critics has to do with what makes up saving faith….MacArthur agrees with his critics that the issue at stake in salvation is forgiveness of sins and eternal destiny.” (pg (48).when i read MacArthur I see a lot of what Willard says. But I see more also. Instead of writting my paper here, let me just give one quote from MacArthur. “the ‘gift of God,’ eternal life (rom 6:23), includes all that pertains to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3; Rom 8:32), not just a ticket to heaven.” (24, The Gospel According to the Apostles)…….”Scripture describes faith as more than that(simple trust in a set of truths about Christ)— it is a wholehearted trust in Christ personally (Gal 2:16)….it means we rely on His counsol, trust in his goodness, and entrust oureselves for time and eternity to his gaurdianship. Real faith is all of me (mind, emotions, will) embrasing all of Him (Savior, Advocate, Provider, Sustainer, Counsoler, and Lord God).” (30). one more quote and I will be done. “Another way of saying it is that faith is wholly leaning on Christ— for redemption, for righteousness, for counsol, for fellowship, sor sustenance, for direction, for succor, for His lordship, and for all in life that can truly satisfy.” (48)

So, what do u all think?

I don't entirely grasp the re

I don’t entirely grasp the respective positions of Willard and MacArthur so this is a somewhat tentative response. However, I do wonder whether this polarity of left and right doesn’t sometimes miss the point. I’m sure that both these theologians are sufficiently competent polemicists to know how to respond to the criticism that they receive; and I’m sure that their positions are more subtle and complex than the simplistic labelling that goes with popular theological debate would suggest. Still, it seems to me that what’s missing on both sides is an appreciation of what the gospel means in relation to the eschatological-historical narrative that dominates the Bible and must in some way carry through to our own day.

So, for example, we cannot talk about salvation in the gospels (certainly the synoptic gospels) without taking into account the fact that Jesus’ message was fundamentally one of judgment and hope for Israel during a period of national religious and political crisis. The ‘gospels’ of left and right that we argue over are massive simplifications, abstractions, popularizations, of a much more complex, and frankly more powerful, story. Of course, we need a gospel that can be preached in our churches (we also need one that can be preached coherently outside our churches!), but I think the popular message has lost touch with the New Testament story and has suffered as a result.

AndrewI suppose you can get a

Andrew,I suppose you can get an idea about what I am seeing from this web pageBut when I read MacArthur I don’t know if I really agree with Willard’s assessment. The web page doesn’t assess MacArthur they just assess everyone else. I am curious about what you said though."Still, it seems to me that what’s missing on both sides is an appreciation of what the gospel means in relation to the eschatological-historical narrative that dominates the Bible and must in some way carry through to our own day." And then when you go off on the second paragraph…..i have no idea what in the world you are talking about.

Dunghill, thanks for your res

Dunghill, thanks for your response. I read the article by Todd Hunter contrasting the get-to-heaven-when-you-die gospel with the kingdom of God gospel. It might be worth looking at it closely at some point, but in the meantime here are some first thoughts.

1. The article undoubtedly caricatures the ‘MacArthur’ position – I’m sure he would refute the charge that his gospel has no worldly relevance. But I imagine the caricature nevertheless reflects a quite widespread popular misunderstanding of the gospel. A lot of people, including probably most non-Christians, do think of religious belief as basically a means of qualifying for a decent standard of living after death; and this is bound to lead to a lack of interest in the implications of salvation for the here and now.

2. I think the distinction between story and proposition may have been overworked. Stories always require interpretation and interpretation may always take the form of general propositions abstracted from the story. Moreover, the Bible clearly does contain propositions, principles, rules, summary statements, etc., which in turn may become clues to the new stories of the church. I would suggest that Todd Hunter’s assertion that ‘people actually live from a sense of story, not from bullet-points to which they gave mental assent’ is as one-sided as the pseudo-rationalist reduction of faith to acceptance of a set of propositions. As long as a busy and constructive conversation is maintained between the story-tellers and the theoreticians, everything should be fine.

3. It occurs to me that perhaps the fundamental problem is the persistent need we have to package faith for a mass-market. Inevitably this leads to disconnections in the great chain of meaning. Propositions become disconnected from the story because we are always looking for a deliverable end-product; but also the ‘story’ we tell becomes disconnected from the complex and difficult texts in which it is supposedly embedded. The story-tellers do not listen to the texts; rather they reverse-engineer the story from the propositions that they were taught at an earlier stage. The story is merely dogma dressed up in a crude mythical narrative form. I think Hunter’s attempt to retell the gospel story is a good example of this: it defaults to a simplistic, universalized, familiar rhetoric that fails to connect us with the texts.

4. Hunter’s article does not really solve the typically postmodern problem of the meta-narrative. If we are still going to talk glibly about God’s ‘ever-unfailing plan for man’ and of being caught up into a ‘large, all-encompassing story’, I don’t see that we have progressed very far beyond the controlling propositionalism that left-leaning theologians are so wary of. I think we still need to come to grips with the narrowness, particularity and historicality of the New Testament narratives. This brings us round to the ‘eschatological-historical narrative’ thing, which probably merits a separate topic.


Sorry I have not responsed soon enough. I was in Portland the week of the 10th and was busy last week with school and work. And it is only going to get worse with my theology paper I have to write. But i read what you had to say. And I liked what you had to say in some areas of your assessment of the article and in other areas I was confused. Probably because it is close to midnight and am getting tire. Will respond later with questions and comments.

If I may, I'd like to add a c

If I may, I’d like to add a couple of thoughts from personal experience…

For my first two years of college, I attended The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California, where John MacArthur happens to be President. I also had many occasions to attend Grace Community Church, where he serves as Pastor/Teacher. I consider these years and experiences tremendous blessings because of my contact with MacArthur. Whatever else one things about MacArthur, he must admit that this mad has a love for the truth of God’s word. He has devoted his life to studying and teaching Scripture verse-by-verse. He isn’t exactly someone who can be described as a big part of the emerging church, but he does genuinely love the word of God.

As a student at the college and frequent attender at the church, I heard him teach many times in a two year period. I can attest to the fact that he was CONSTANTLY making application of his interpretation of Scripture, the call to conform to Christ, Christian doctrine, etc, etc, to everyday life. For MacArthur, the Gospel is incredibly relavant to our lives here and now. He is the furthest thing I can think of from a pie-in-the-sky preacher, believing that the Gospel is just our ticket to heaven.

There have been several changes in my theological/cultural perspective since my time at the college and his church, and I don’t see eye-to-eye with MacArthur in many areas. But I know from seeing him week in and week out that he is a man who seeks to have the Gospel before his eyes at all times - constantly seeking work it out moment-by-moment.

For what they’re worth, those are my thoughts.

I hear ya Misfit6. Your comm

I hear ya Misfit6. Your comments about MacArthur and how he is not a pie-in-the-sky preacher are the thoughts I get when reading his material. That is why I raised the question in the first place. What Willard thought about MacArthur and others is that their gospel message consists of how one recieves eternal life after death and how to get sin-guilt erased. He says that their message talks nothing about entering the eternal kind of life now. When researching Willards thoughts in Mac’s works I kinda read what Willard thinks but not fully. I quoted above some of what Mac says that makes me question Willards assessment and everyone else in the emergent field’s assessment of the gospel given today which MacArthur is apart of. MacArthur specifically speaks out against the ticket-to-heaven message.

Andrew, I like the points you made about the story approach. I like when you said, “The story is merely dogma dressed up in a crude mythical narrative form.” The only part I didn’t get fully was the 2nd point. You can’t escape it though.

Tell me or refer me to the ‘eschatological-historical narrative’ that you are talking about. Maybe you could expand.

Thanks Russ and Dunghill

I appreciate Russ’ comments. However, the reason MacArthur’s “The Gospel According to Jesus” (aka Lordship Salvation) focuses so much on “how” one gets to heaven is because THAT was the topic of the debate at the time. One has to read the larger corpus of MacArthur literature to understand the scope of his focus in terms of “kingdom living” in the here and now. I’ve read almost all his books and can attest that he is very focused on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the here and now…not just what it takes to get into heaven.

When the early church confronted the Arian heresy at the Council of Nicea, the focus was on Arianism and its implications for the church. We can’t conclude because THAT was their focus then, it therefore, constitutes the whole focus of the early church.

Willard is an astute scholar and it surprises me that he could make such a claim about MacArthur. I get the distinct impression he never read “The Gospel According to Jesus.” I have read it and it places great emphasis on a transformed life for God’s glory NOW.


Has anybody thought to ask him?

Reader-response is fine as far as a local understanding, but when a group begins to discuss the intent of an author, wouldn’t it make a great deal of sense to ask him? Has anybody thought to? For that matter, does anybody know how?

-bigolewannabe <><

Well, there's a sensible suggestion!

If anyone is in a position to draw MacArthur’s (or Willard’s, for that matter) attention to this discussion thread, please do so.

Willard on MacArthur

I haven’t read MacArthur, so can’t really comment on him. Willard, however, claims that both “sides”(his characterisation)of the debate have in common that they are very concerned about eternal destiny and what makes up saving faith (as you pointed out, see p. 46 in Willard). He doesn’t debate that these are imporant issues. But he does claim this:

We get a totally different picture of salvation, faith, and forgiveness if we regard having life from the kingdom of the heavens now -the eternal kind of life- as the target (p. 47).”

Rightly or wrongly, Willard is claiming that the impetus of both Ryrie and MacArthur is aimed at getting into heaven, only MacArthur links living a life of surrender as part of that package. Willard is saying that in contrast to both Ryrie and MacArthur, Jesus’ focus is not just toward the eschaton (as an historical event), but on the kindom being present here and now. He thinks both sides miss the beauty of this by focusing on the future. This is the relevance of his discussion on what eternal life actually means, and his cross-over discussion into the “social gospel” and its variants. At least that’s my read of Willard. Whether his assesment of MacArthur is accurate, it can’t say. He did seem to give a fair presentation of Ryrie, though, from what little I’ve read of him.

That's my read too

That’s my read on Willard too. He’s not entering the conservative/liberal/fundamentalist argument about saving faith, He’s correcting our understanding of salvation to include saving faith, but only in the context of the Kingdom of God here and now.
bigolewannabe <><


The link to the Todd Hunter article goes to site that you may not want people to visit.

Link decontaminated

Well, that was weird. Thanks, Adam. It’s been changed.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.