by Mike Ratliff
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 ESV)
A principle that must be engrained in us as we run this race set before us by our God is that our enemy is a deceitful liar and he has many who belong to him who, like him, are wicked and the truth is not found in them. Many of these people proclaim to be Christians but are, in fact, only wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Like their father, Satan, they have no problem using half-truths and outright lies when it appears to serve their purpose, whatever that is. If we are not very careful and prepare ourselves for the journey through prayer and immersion in God’s Word then these wolves can deceive us if we are not very careful. If this happens, we might find ourselves stumbling into error.
No true Christian wants to be in error in matters of our faith. We do not want to follow false leaders, wolves in sheep’s clothing, but these people are often disguised as the real deal, in fact, that is what the term “sheep’s clothing” is referring to. After the ugliness over the attacks on John MacArthur and the resultant backlash from those who were behind it when we did not fall for it, the words “lies” and “deceit” became very prominent in my mind. Had we witnessed an attack sponsored by our enemy on a man and his ministry that had been designed to cause many of us to struggle and doubt and cause confusion? That is what I witnessed through this and I am sure many of you did as well. Early on, God used this ugliness to shine his light of truth into my own heart to show me the idols I had erected there. I have already confessed some of this to you. However, there is another idol that I am working to deconstruct, but it is especially difficult to do. That is the idol to self.
I know that one of the instigators in the attack on John MacArthur is now attacking me. My first reaction to that was to fight back. However, within just a few minutes of me receiving the attack email, my friend Ken Silva contacted me. He had received it as well. We agreed that the best way to handle this is to simply shake the dust off of our feet and move on. Genuine believers want to know the truth, and true Christian leaders are all about building up the Body of Christ, but wolves are only interested in their tearing up or tearing down whomever it is they are attacking.
In this post, I want to give you the information that God provided to me through some men very close to John MacArthur at Grace to You. I started by contacting Phil Johnson. He was already very familiar with the information in the interviews done by Pastor John Coleman, which were the basis for the attack. Here is the original link that I received in an email that started this whole thing with me. It takes a couple of hours to listen to it all. In any case, this was the basis for my post “Little Children Keep Yourselves From Idols.” I was heartbroken over this, but God used it to expose my own idolatry. I then went on a six-day trip to visit my son in Washington, D.C. When I got back, I wrote “Rebuking Repentance and Restoration.” Then I contacted Phil Johnson. He replied with the following email:
Thanks for your message.
The fellow who gave you that link is citing two worthless sources. One is John Coleman, a Los Angeles inner-city pastor who is obsessed with proving that John MacArthur is unsaved. His main “proof” is a highly selective quotation drawn from a radio interview John MacArthur did with me some 20 years ago. His argument is that if John can’t pin down the precise moment he passed from death to life, he must not be genuinely saved.
MacArthur’s testimony is well known and well summarized in multiple sources, not just that one interview. (Iain Murray wrote an excellent, brief bio of John MacArthur last year using that same interview and at least half a dozen other sources, plus personal interviews with John MacArthur. Murray gave a faithful account of John’s testimony. It’s chapter 1 in the book titled Truth Endures.)
There have been at least three occasions in John MacArthur’s life when the Lord had him under serious conviction and he repented. Two were childhood experiences. The third was when John was in college and was involved in a near-fatal automobile accident. It was that third event that John himself usually cites as the major turning point in his life, but given what Scripture says about childlike faith, he says it’s also possible that he was saved at a younger age, because he never had a period of apostasy or deliberate, prolonged rebellion against the Lord.
That’s all he was saying. Coleman claims what John really means is that he doesn’t remember ever being saved. That’s baloney, and anyone who knows John MacArthur or will listen to John’s testimony without Coleman’s interruptions will see why it’s baloney. I don’t consider Coleman’s rants worth answering. We don’t typically chase gadflies.
Your friend’s other source is Bob Johnson, who is a certifiable lunatic and conspiracy theorist of the first order. His rambling accounts of how the UN is using Al Mohler to take over the evangelical world refute themselves. Fred Butler has been answering Johnson’s screeds on his blog since 2006:
If you want a refutation of Bob Johnson’s theories, just read them. The connections he draws are so tenuous and his theories so farcical that when I first read his stuff I thought it was a bad parody. It floored me when I discovered he is actually serious. Regarding John MacArthur secretly being an advocate for Purpose-Driven ministry, I own the copy of The Purpose Drive Church John MacArthur read and annotated marginally, and I can assure you he is no advocate of that (or any other) style of pragmatism.
If either of those sources makes specific allegations you think are credible and worthy of a reply, highlight them for me and I’ll answer them. But my assessment would be that guys like that are crackpots who simply don’t deserve to be taken seriously, and I don’t want to drive traffic to their sites by pretending I think their insanity deserves a serious response.
I followed those links and things started to come together for me pretty quick. Phil also had Fred Butler contact me with more information. Here is his first email to me.
Phil sent me a copy of an email he sent you explaining about Bob Johnson.
I work for Grace to You ministries and have attended Grace Church for about 15 years while attending seminary and now working full time at GTY.
I have been interacting with Bob off and on for about 3 years now – starting around May of 2006 when he was handing out literature against Grace Church.
Phil sent you some links to my blog articles about Bob, but he overlooked a good one that is a long response to a series of emails he sent me.
You can find it here:
It has much more detail answering the specific charges Bob (and John Coleman) have made against Grace and our so-called descent into Purpose Driven philosophy.
Any questions, please feel free to write back.
Grace to You radio ministries
He followed this up with by telling me that I should read the comments on that page as well. I will explain at the end of this post why that is important. He then sent me the following dialogue he had with Bob Johnson.
Sorry to overwhelm you =-)
I’m on a roll.
This should be the last one.
Here are some more email exchanges I had with Bob about a year ago. Similar arguments. We talk about the specific Grace Church ministries in question.
Hopefully you can track with the context with some of my responses. I have his claims bracket with asterisks *
Allow me to address your emails. I still see I am talking in circles.
*The Guild and Foundry were/are Purpose Driven ministries*
(Fred) Here in lies the distinction between Grace and PDL: I can clearly see what a purpose driven ministry looks like. The watered down preaching, trendy music replacing good worship music, the emphasis on getting people to feel comfortable, rather than on sound doctrinal teaching, marginalizing older saints as not having an important role to play in the life of the church, attempting to be relevant toward cultural issues, ie, the interview Warren did with Obama/McCain late last summer.
Grace is not doing this stuff, Bob. You are crying booger bears when none exist. As I have stated at the outset of this debate, what? 3 years ago? the Guild and the Foundry are singles groups. By definition, they have a different tone in those fellowship groups because they are singles. Working Disciples was like that before the Foundry replaced them. The college department has that tone. What you perceive as a pervasive PDL philosophy is just singles ministry activity. It is not bad, evil, or transformational, and it does not spill into the remainder of the church. If, for example, your absurd claim that Tom Patton is a “change agent” were true, you would see such things in the new ministry where he pastors, Cornerstone fellowship group. He took it over when the previous pastor moved on to another ministry. The thing is, Bob, you don’t see it.
*Their webpages were deleted because of my original paper.*
(Fred) No they didn’t. I told you in an email that I spoke with the webmaster. He happens to be a friend of mine. The guy who maintains the website for the Guild at that time, and what was updating and changing the webpage for normal purposes, you claim was changed because you “exposed” some evil under belly going on there at the Guild. It was just a coincidence that those pages were changed around the same time you published your “paper.”
*You had a chance to contact Robert Klenck who verified all this. You could have called Coleman’s show and argued, but you didn’t. *
(Fred) I happened to have contacted both guys and neither one of them would respond to my emails. I have attempted to email Coleman concerning some other matters unrelated to our debate. He refuses to be corrected or challenged regarding his beliefs. He returns my emails unanswered and ignored, condemning me. So much for wanting to listen. Of course, I happen to know folks who are down in the area where Coleman is and have many negative things to say about his shameful conduct as a self-appointed minister.
*There are other experts in the PDC who have written well known books exposing the PDC who have corroborated that the Guild and Foundry were PDC.*
(Fred) And those experts are? You name James Sundquist. It may interest you to know he sent the manuscript of his book to GTY seeking John’s endorsement. At one of the Shepherd’s Conferences sometime in the mid-2000s, John recommended it as a resource. His recommendation was based upon a quick over view of the manuscript and later, when I had the opportunity to read it more thoroughly, I told Phil Johnson he needed to tell John to back away from it because the book was conspiratorial in tone, came from a hyper-fundamentalist, KJV-only perspective, was poorly researched and terribly argued. Later, other pastors who heard John’s recommendation of the book at that conference had similar criticisms and wondered if he had really read the book well enough, which he hadn’t. I would imagine you had probably encountered the book before you came to the Guild that one and only evening so you were predisposed to see PDL new age one world government stuff behind every tree.
*Are they also fools?*
(Fred) Welp, let’s put it this way: they are a small, almost stand alone group. It makes me wonder if they really have the ability to discern. The question you need to ask is why is it these few individuals who run in fringe circles of fundamentalism who see all these things, and no one else? Believe me, I don’t care at all for Rick Warren. I don’t like his smarmy personality or what is taught at his church. However, I am not going to speak lies against the guy. What I see from you and your friends is the speaking of lies against Warren rather than offering reliable criticism where it is due.
*When you were given Klenck’s paper you called it “conspiratorial nonsense.” But the paper is basically inerrant. In calling an inerrant paper nonsense, you are denying truth. *
(Fred) That is because it was conspiratorial nonsense. He is claiming all this infiltrating is leading to the one world government. Such is conspiracy my friend. Of course you have a specific definition of “inerrant” and any deviation from that definition is denying truth and reality so it is almost worthless to even reason with you. It is the same way I argued when I was a KJV onlyist: Set the 1611 up as the ultimate, inerrant standard for the Bible and any departure from stated standard is automatically heresy and apostasy.
*Fred, Several people know that the Guild and Foundry were PDC. *
(Fred) Again, you need to find members of Grace, Bob. James Sunquist doesn’t even live here in LA as far as I know. Hasn’t even come to Grace. Coleman and Klenck are also examples. None of them have interviewed any of these men you accuse of “transformating” Grace. Just like you, they are basing their judgment on secondary sources and hearsay.
*When will you pull your head out of the sand? *
(Fred) When will you pull your’s out?
*The man who facilitated my small group was Alex Fitzgerald. He didn’t teach the bible. He’s a trained facilitator. *
(Fred) Well, seeing that I know Alex rather well and I happen to know what he believes as a Christian, such accusations border on the fantastic. A trained facilitator? Like he attended a top-secret seminar or something? Good grief.
*Find out how Patton and Gebhards knew to bring this model into GCC. Where did they learn it from? *
(Fred) Uhhh? They went to Master’s. I went to Master’s. I took the same pastoring and sermon prep classes as they did. I can tell you right now, they don’t teach Purpose Driven Life stuff. We read Warren’s book so as to be familiar with it and critique it.
*Instead of opposing truth, why don’t you help find the truth? *
(Fred) I believe I have the truth seeing I have first hand knowledge and know well the person’s being accused by you. Seeing that you only attended once and are making knee jerk reactions to a false view of church growth philosophy, I don’t believe you do have the truth. But I don’t believe that matters to you. I doubt very seriously if you were shown to be wrong with overwhelming evidence you would not do anything to repent of your slander against my friends and church. In fact you would attempt to spin things around in order to save face.
So. The challenge for you Bob is first, tell me where you attend Church, then tell me about these members at Grace who see things like you do. Are they up standing, actively involved members, or the fringy, hanging around the edge of things folks who maybe come to Grace for a year and then leave over some stupid thing that may happen to them?
*Fred, Well I can see that there is no convincing you that the church growth movement has infiltrated your church. I won’t attempt to convince you further about this.*
(Fred) Yes. Your insistence that our church is infiltrated by church growth is utterly unconvincing. I don’t think anyone who is an actively involved member of our church, who actually knows the ministries in question along with the people who are involved there, who is sound and stable in the Word of God and is not easily led astray into error, would be convinced of anything you wrote. On the other hand, only those people who are not grounded in spirit and Word and quick to be led astray would be led astray by our material. So far, the individuals who agree with you are those type of individuals. You have yet to produce one person who was an active member of Grace for any length of time who became alarmed about what you wrote and left.
*You know people who know Coleman who, as you say, have many things to say about his shameful conduct as a self appointed minister.*
(Fred) Yes, there are a few pastor friends who minister in the same black community as Coleman did, and currently does now, who have first hand knowledge of his conduct.
* First, this doesn’t have bearing on the Guild and Foundry. *
(Fred) And I never said it does. However, seeing that you appeal to him as some authority in these matters and also feed him your bogus information, it is better to say he has an indirect bearing on the philosophies that shape your understanding of our church.
*And I believe Coleman has admitted that people took his ministry from him over accusations of homosexuality–which he has denied. Is this the shameful behavior you are referring to? *
(Fred) No. I have no knowledge of this. What I refer to is to pastor friends of mine who testify to his divisiveness and the fringe element of his ministry that has stirred problems in their communities where they minister.
*Why call him a self appointed minister?*
(Fred) Because he is.
*Why don’t you think God has appointed him? *
(Fred) Because God uses specific means like elders, other established, reputable church leaders, and a body of churches, to affirm those who are called to the ministry. You are probably from an extreme independent fundamentalist background and you are probably under the mistaken notion that a person can “feel the call” of God on his or her life and that settles their appointment by God to the ministry. Such is not the case biblically.
* I know he considers Macarthur to be his “personal friend.” *
(Fred) I would like to ask John about that.
*Why do you care where I attend church?*
(Fred) Because it reveals something about who you are, what you are about, who stands behind you, who influences you. The last time I spoke with you out on the street at Grace you told me you didn’t have a church. Is that still the case now? Being a rogue, spiritual “lone gunman” is unbiblical. John, Jude, and Peter all testified that we should be leery of those folks who have no church affiliation and claim to speak on the authority of the apostles, i.e. NT theology and doctrine. Such people were to be turned away, for they are wolves seeking to destroy the church. The fact that you are secretive and unwilling to tell me troubles me and causes me alarm for your soul.
*I know one person that told me The Guild and Foundry were PD left those ministries for that reason. He liked Macarthur’s preaching though. *
(Fred) And that person is…? Can you tell the person to email me and tell me their story? Was that person an active member, or some guy coming around to a singles ministry? Lots of people fit this category of liking John’s teaching but they get rubbed the wrong way and leave our church bitter. Generally they come around for about 9 months to a year before they leave. They generally get exposed later as being unsaved and have a whole heck of a lot more spiritual problems than what we were aware of at the time and the reason they leave is because their sin got stepped on. Let me know if you can get me in touch with the person.
If you read the comments on the first link from Fred then I pray you noticed the deceitful tactics of Bob using aliases instead of his real name as he commented. I have had this happen on my blog as well. So, in their minds it is justifiable to be deceitful like that in a supposed Christian apologetic discussion? This is why many of us do not allow anonymous commenting. If you have to hide behind an alias then you are being a coward and are only bold when no one, supposedly, can connect the comment to you. Please…. In any case, I wanted to give Phil and Fred the credit they deserve in opening this up for me and now you to see how easy it is for a one-sided accusation to gain a foothold and cause all sorts of pain and grief even when the ones behind it are… Well, I pray you get my point. They also gave me permission to put their emails in this post.
My brethren, what have we learned from this? Do not idolize any man or created thing, including a ministry. There are wolves in sheep’s clothing everywhere and their ruler is cunning and full of deceit. If we are not prayerful and ready to do daily battle with the forces of darkness then we can easily fall into error by believing their lies and falling for their deceit. Pray, pray, pray, and pray some more as you commit yourself to being that pilgrim who stays right in the middle of the narrow path by living in God’s Word. This path is the only one that leads to our true home with our Saviour for eternity.
Soli Deo Gloria!