A Defense of John MacArthur
Against the Accusations of
Rick Miesel of Biblical Discernment Ministries
by Jeff Simmons
Part One: Defending John MacArthur's Integrity
Rick Miesel of Biblical Discernment Ministries (BDM) is making an astounding accusation. He claims to have discovered through his research that pastor and author John MacArthur is a false teacher; a wolf in sheep's clothing; a blaspheming psychobabbler and a gross hypocrite. Miesel tries to prove those accusations in his critique titled "John MacArthur: General Teachings/Activities." Miesel offers this critique for a nominal charge either in paper form or on computer disk by writing to Biblical Discernment Ministries, P.O. Box 679, Bedford, IN 47421-0679—or by calling 812-275-5568.
Sadly, Miesel's critique is nothing more than his interpretations and speculations about what he claims to have seen, heard, read or been told. Although Miesel's critique is 13 pages long, he directly quotes MacArthur only twice. The other 12.5 pages of Miesel's critique are filled with speculations, interpretations, explanations, and accusations about what he says MacArthur supposedly believes. So the average reader has no way to verify the accuracy of more than 90 percent of what Miesel has written. Therefore, the validity of Miesel's accusations against MacArthur are almost totally dependent upon Miesel's reliability, objectivity and believability.
Unfortunately, however, Mr. Miesel is not an objective or reliable source of information about John MacArthur. The best example of Miesel's lack of objectivity and reliability is on page 13 of his critique. Miesel tells a story about the pastor of a small independent Bible Church in California. This story is used to strengthen Miesel's accusation that MacArthur is a false teacher, and also to prove to his readers that MacArthur is a complete hypocrite who unfairly condemns his critics to hell. Sadly, Miesel has grossly misrepresented the facts of this story. So our defense of MacArthur will begin by taking a closer look at this story.
Who Is the Unnamed Pastor In Miesel's Story?The pastor whom Rick Miesel declines to name is Darwin Fish. Mr. Fish is 35 years old. His wife's name is Kim. Fish and his wife have 5 children (Qodoshyah, Ezriyah, Noraiyah, Suriyah, and a newborn). Fish was a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses cult for about a year before he professed conversion to Christ and joined Grace Community Church in 1980. He left Grace Community Church in 1993 to start a church called God's Word Fellowship. Although Fish has never received pastoral training and is not ordained by any church he began using the title pastor when he left Grace Community Church. But far from being a legitimate pastor recognized by other biblically-qualified elders, Darwin Fish is merely a self-appointed teacher of doctrines that, as we shall see, depart dramatically from the teachings of historic Christianity. In fact, as we shall note, Rick Miesel seriously discredits himself by insisting that Fish is a legitimate pastor.
It is important to note that when Mr. Fish left Grace Community Church in 1993 he still had great respect for MacArthur. From all external appearances at that time, the theology Fish espoused was almost identical to that of Grace Community Church and John MacArthur. It was only after Fish met Miesel and fell prey to his false accusations that he turned against MacArthur. In fact, it was soon after becoming acquainted with Miesel that Fish first began to show signs of the self-deception and extreme pride that would eventually cause him to reject orthodox Christianity. Under the influence of Miesel, Fish came to believe that virtually all other churches and pastors are devoid of the Spirit of God and unfit to preach or teach.
In February of 1994 (Feb. 17, 20, 24) Fish preached 3 messages denouncing John MacArthur as a false teacher. Most of the accusations Fish made against MacArthur were not the result of independent research. They were taken directly from Miesel's critique. In March of 1994, Miesel advertised these three messages in his BDM newsletter. Miesel wanted his readers to know they could receive these three tapes free by writing or calling God's Word Fellowship.
Fish eventually began to outdo even Miesel in his extreme condemnation of well-known evangelical leaders. Miesel's association with Fish continued for two years, until April of 1996, when Fish publicly denounced Rick Miesel as a heretic.
Fish gave his Church this reason for declaring Miesel a false teacher: Miesel refused to declare that Martin and Deidre Bobgan were going to hell. Furthermore, according to Fish, the reason he was certain the Bobgans were hell-bound is because they refused to declare publicly that Dr. James Dobson is going to hell. Though the Bobgans had boldly denounced Dobson's sympathies with secular psychology in one of their books, they felt it was not their place to condemn another professing believer to hell. They preferred to let God make those kind of judgments. And so they refused to make any judgment about Dobson's salvation. The Bobgans' refusal to declare Dr. Dobson a hell-bound unbeliever infuriated Fish. He quickly denounced the Bobgans as false teachers on their way to hell. To Miesel's credit, he refused to yield to pressure from Fish to name the Bobgans as hell-bound heretics. Consequently, Miesel was also labeled by Darwin Fish as a man devoid of the Spirit of God and on his way to hell.
Why did Fish turn against Miesel? The following verse tells the whole story. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are" (Matthew 23:15). Fish, following Rick Miesel's lead, simply elevated Miesel's style of "discernment" to the next logical step.
On April 14, 1994 Fish began to teach that anyone who opposes him does not know God. Since that date, Fish has publicly denounced as heretics virtually every professing Christian alive today, as well as most or all well-known Christian leaders and professing Christians from past generations.
A few examples of Mr. Fish's extreme statements are given below. All of these statements are taken directly from tapes of sermons Fish has preached. Any of these tapes can be obtained free of charge by calling God's Word Fellowship at 1-800-HOW-TRUE (1-800-469-8783). The caller will hear a recorded message by Fish and then be allowed the opportunity to leave a name and address where the tapes can be sent.
Darwin Fish Denounces Christianity as FalseWe have an entire Christian population that is devoid of the Spirit of Truth, and it's scary . . . it's too scary to stand alone. But I am convinced that this is by design . . . Satan deceives the whole world, the entire earth . . . I believe God has allowed all of this confusion for a purpose ("Another Look at Second John"—part two 7/17/94).
Noah stood alone . . . He had to stand completely alone . . . Well, are you going to say I couldn't be the only one? . . . If you have to stand alone, so be it, so be it . . . Truth is not by majority vote . . . You'll be accused of claiming to have a monopoly on the truth and all you have to do is lift up your Bible and say show me where I'm wrong . . . So automatically if you are claiming to be the true, it says, hey, anything that is going against what I'm saying here is a lie. But they come at you like, ah, you shouldn't make that kind of a stand . . . Those who oppose what you are preaching are in error ("Biblical Separation" 9/18/94).
If you are in prominence Satan wants to destroy you. I know Satan wants to destroy me . . . In fact, I even had a dream . . . I really believe the dream was from God. I really do . . . Well, I had this dream in particular about this man . . . I really felt it was a warning from God . . . I'm very thankful because I know the enemy wants to destroy me ("Peter Before the Resurrection" 8/8/93).
This is a scary job that God has given me ("When is the Rapture?" 11/20/94).
Christianity today? They say they are Christians but they are not. It's the church of the Devil ("Revelation" 9/3/95).
Who opposed Christ? Who crucified Christ? The religious. Right? The supposedly right religion . . . Here we have the same thing . . That's where I've experienced most of my persecution, hostility, and severe hatred. It's from the quote, unquote Christians . . . All of these manmade agenda churches around the world, particularly here in America . . . Some of us this day might be dead by some of these people ("Revelation"—part two 9/10/95).
It seems the Christian realm has completely forgotten the flood. Only eight people were saved. This is a common argument against us . . . They just say, hey, look your gates too narrow . . . This is the way the Lord has designed it. He's designed that few would be saved ("The Flood and the Few" 8/20/95).
We can know if someone is teaching error or not by whether they listen to us. Those supposed Christians are of the world, therefore, they speak as of the world and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us. He who is not of God does not hear us . . . The hatred and persecution that we receive is a sign of our salvation . . . John 1:11 says, He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. As we've seen before in John chapter 6, He would teach unpopular things. I must make a parallel to my own teaching because I know I don't teach popular things . . . It is so distressing to see those who oppose us because we know they are opposing God ("Rejoice in That Day" 6/12/94).
Noah stood and he was the only preacher of righteousness in his day . . . He was the only one on the entire planet . . . Paul was left standing alone . . . Where would you be if I was gone? . . . Describing this false Christianity of our day it's just like the jews in the past. They call on the Lord but it's not in truth. They call on God but it's a lie. It's a farce! It's a farce! . . . I want to be clear. I don't want to be deceptive. I don't want to be underhanded. I don't want to beat around the bush . . . I want to be very clear. We oppose it! We oppose it! We do not stand, we do not stand in what is called Christianity today . . . They'll say you think you are the only one with the truth. Well, no doubt when Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by Me, what was He saying? I Am the only one with the truth ("For the Record"—part two 6/29/95).
God gave John further Revelation and insight into who God is . . . In revealing who the Holy Spirit is, Revelation more than once reveals that there are more than one, seven . . . I'm not making this stuff up, I mean this is just right there" ("For the Record"—part one 6/22/95)
I do not want to be identified with Christianity . . . I want to be identified as being outside of it . . . This next one really sets us apart. It makes me really wonder about the history of Christianity and what is going on today and what is taught. And I'll tell you if you speak against this subject you will be immediately considered a heretic . . . I'm talking about the Trinity . . . The Trinity is never used in the Bible ("For the Record"—part one 6/22/95).
They have placed us to be in error based on historical Christianity, the traditions of men . . . The word Trinity isn't even a Biblical term . . . I find it amazing how they cry heresy, heresy, when you say something about the Trinity when the word is not even found in Scripture . . . If you look in the commentaries you will note that many commentaries believe that the three Holies speak of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit . . . You may find it interesting to note that in the Greek majority text by Hodges and Farstad which depicts the Greek reading of the New Testament according to what is found in the majority of Greek manuscripts Revelation 4:8 has nine Holies . . . We've taken a stand that the church is really a farce . . . It's really a false church. It's really not the true church ("Outside the Camp" 7/27/95)
Is Darwin Fish Really a Victim of John MacArthur's Hypocrisy as Rick Miesel Says?
Clearly, Darwin Fish is not the victimized, persecuted, but faithful pastor Rick Miesel portrays. He is a heretic who has willfully and purposefully positioned himself in opposition to Christianity and is teaching that he alone holds the truth. According to Fish, Rick Miesel himself is a faithless, hell-bound deceiver. And where did Fish learn this brand of "discernment"? From Miesel himself.
A Closer Look at Miesel's StoryNow that we have identified the unnamed Pastor in Miesel's story, we can take a closer look at the story itself. Miesel immediately attempts to prejudice his readers against John MacArthur by beginning his story with a quote from page 378 of MacArthur's book Introduction to Biblical Counseling:
Is it inherently unkind or condemnatory to say someone else's view is errant? Not if one has the biblical authority for saying so. In fact, to remain silent and allow to go unexposed and uncorrected is an abdication of the elder's role (Titus 1:9). The apostle Paul called Peter a hypocrite for compromising biblical principles (Gal. 2:11-15). Peter had been publicly hypocritical; it was right that he be rebuked publicly (cf. 1 Tim. 5:20). To disagree with or critique someone's published views does not constitute a personal attack. If the Church cannot tolerate polemic dialogue between opposing views—especially if Christian leaders cannot be held accountable for whether their teaching is biblical—then error will have free reign.After the above quote, Miesel makes this sarcastic comment: "From the following account, it is obvious that MacArthur means this public criticism is for others and not for himself. This is gross hypocrisy."
It is clear that Miesel's reason for starting his story with this quote is because he wants his readers to be deceived into thinking MacArthur is a hypocrite who says one thing and then does something completely different. However, as the reader will see, Miesel is the hypocrite, not MacArthur. We have already shown that Miesel has attempted to deceive his readers into thinking Fish is a faithful, humble servant of the Lord. Now we will show that Miesel has also distorted the facts about what actually happened between Fish and Grace Community Church.
Miesel Begins His Fish Story"In February and March of 1994 a pastor of a small independent Bible Church in California (herein referred to as IBCC) confronted John MacArthur, both publicly (via three warning messages to IBCC's congregation) and privately (the tapes of the messages were personally handed to MacArthur as well as personal letters sent him), concerning his (MacArthur's) erroneous teachings on psychology."
What Really Happened?In February of 1994 Fish read Miesel's critique on MacArthur and then used that material to preach three messages to his church, labeling MacArthur as a false teacher. Fish then took the tapes of those messages and gave them to MacArthur. However, this was not a case of one brother trying to correct the perceived errors of another brother. Before he ever spoke personally about these things to MacArthur, Fish had publicly condemned MacArthur as a false teacher, a wolf in sheep's clothing—a man devoid of the Spirit of God and unfit to preach or teach.
Miesel Continues His Story"MacArthur's response (via official action of the Elder Board of Grace Community Church) was to label IBCC's pastor a "factious" man (i.e., a "heretic"—Titus 3:9-10[KJV]), to deem him unqualified to teach or preach the Word of god, and to tell him he was on his way "to hell." Moreover, in a private meeting with three members of the Grace Church Elder Board (in which two other men from IBCC were refused admission to the meeting) they completely refused to discuss with or correct IBCC's pastor in regards to what he taught in his exposition of MacArthur's teaching."
What Really Happened?The first error that needs to be corrected in this section of Miesel's story is that the official action of the Elder Board came after meeting with Fish. Miesel tries to mislead his readers into thinking MacArthur listened to the tapes of Fish and then had his Elder Board send a letter labeling Fish a heretic for daring to question MacArthur's infallibility. In actual fact, Fish and his outrageous accusations were ignored until he started coming into Grace Community Church and telling people that MacArthur was a false teacher. After a Sunday evening worship service where several hundred people were admitted into membership, an elder at Grace Church overheard Fish, standing at the foot of the pulpit, loudly attempting to persuade a young woman who had just joined the church that John MacArthur was a false teacher, and that she should leave Grace Church and align herself with Fish's congregation. (On a couple of subsequent occasions, Fish and members of his cult have gone to Grace Community Church during Sunday worship services to hand out literature denouncing MacArthur as a false teacher.)
The elder who overheard Fish's attempts to proselytize this new member was Phil Johnson, a longtime employee of MacArthur's radio and tape ministry. Mr. Johnson phoned Fish the following day and asked for a meeting with Fish later that week. He told Fish that two other pastors from Grace Church (Lance Quinn and Jerry Wragg) would attend, and arranged to meet on the campus of The Master's College. Fish agreed to these terms for the meeting. But on the day of the meeting, he arrived with two members of his cult, saying they also wanted to attend the meeting. They announced that they too had concerns about MacArthur's teaching they wanted to air. However, Mr. Wragg explained that since the main purpose for the meeting was to confront Fish for sinful actions, it would be best for the meeting to be private. Fish agreed to meet privately with these men. The meeting commenced at the agreed-upon time, with the agreed-upon people in attendance.
The Grace Church elders informed Mr. Fish at the outset of the meeting that they wanted to resolve the issue of his own factious behavior before they would engage in any doctrinal debate with him or any members of his cult. They also assured Fish that they would take as much time as necessary to discuss with him any concerns he had regarding MacArthur's teachings—if he would first acknowledge the sinfulness and factiousness of his action of attending a Grace Church worship service in order to openly proselytize a new member. Despite Miesel's claims to the contrary, they did not ask Fish to repent of any of his accusations against MacArthur. In fact, they explicitly told Fish they would defer any action on his specific charges against MacArthur until the issue of his factious behavior was dealt with. But Fish refused to acknowledge that his actions were wrong, insisting that unless it could first be proven to his satisfaction that MacArthur's teaching was not heretical, he had every right to use whatever means possible to try to dissuade people from following John MacArthur—even if that involved surreptitiously proselytizing people at the foot of the pulpit in Grace Church's own worship services.
In the course of the conversation, Mr. Fish informed the other men that he had retained his membership at Grace Church and was still a member to that day. Mr. Johnson suggested that this only compounded Fish's guilt, because the covenant of membership involves a series of promises—taken as public vows by every member—to support the church's leadership, and to encourage one another in mutual growth and fellowship. Yet Fish was guilty of public attacks on the integrity of the leadership, and he had openly sought to lure a new member away from Grace Church and into his own private faction.
Despite the pleas of these elders, Mr. Fish refused to discuss anything with them except his charges against John MacArthur. After a first and second warning, Mr. Fish was informed that unless he repented, he would be excommunicated in accordance with Titus 3:10-11: "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned."
At the conclusion of this meeting Phil Johnson told Fish he feared for his soul because of his attitudes and beliefs. Later, Fish claimed Johnson had told him he was "going to hell." Here is Phil Johnson's reply to this charge, from a letter he wrote to Fish:
At no time have I stated that you are on your way to hell. Unlike you, I am content to leave such judgment to Christ. "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son" (Jn. 5:22). You evidently feel free to intrude into an office reserved for Christ alone; I do not. What I have said consistently is that I fear for your soul because of the way you have hardened your heart against church discipline. Our Lord said He is in agreement with the verdict of a church of believers acting in His name (Matt. 18:18-20). That certainly ought to make you tremble as the time draws closer when you will stand before His throne to give an account. But it is He who will judge you in that day; I in no way wish to usurp that prerogative here and now.
Miesel has a copy of this letter. He is aware of Mr. Johnson's involvement in this meeting with Darwin Fish. Yet he has never contacted Mr. Johnson or anyone else who was present at that meeting to get these elders' account of what occurred. And he publishes Fish's account of the episode as if it were fact. Scripture says, "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him" (Prov. 18:13).
Miesel Continues His Story"In fact, in a subsequent scurrilous letter to IBCC's pastor from one of those elders, it was specifically contended that the Scriptures forbid the elders from engaging the pastor in a doctrinal dispute over the specifics of MacArthur's teachings until he (IBCC's pastor) would admit and repent of being "factious!" In other words, IBCC's pastor had to first admit he was wrong before MacArthur would show him he was wrong!"
What Really Happened?Miesel has again distorted the facts of what really happened. The so-called "scurrilous letter" may be examined on the World Wide Web. The letter actually reflects great patience and grace—especially considering the fact that Fish was and still is publicly denouncing MacArthur as a false teacher. As can be seen from the above quotes of Fish, he is a very dangerous cult leader. Therefore, it is highly inappropriate, even sinfully deceptive, for Miesel to lead his readers to believe Fish is a legitimate "pastor" who deserves to be heard.
Furthermore, the letter did not inform Fish that he "had to first admit he was wrong before MacArthur would show him he was wrong!" Miesel seriously discredits himself with such an irrational accusation. Here is the actual section of the letter in question:
Darwin, we did not discipline you for your "mannerism" or your methodology. We disciplined you for your factiousness. We did show you from Scripture where you were wrong: Titus 3:9-11; Romans 16:17-19; Hebrews 13:17; Jude 9-16; and Proverbs 16:27-28. I read all those verses aloud to you in our meeting. You refused to heed them. You showed contempt for the Word of God where it applies to your own sin. We are therefore commanded by Scripture to reject you (Titus 3:10). To dispute with you about specific points of doctrine while you remain unrepentantly factious would be useless and unprofitable (cf. Titus 3:9). If we engaged in that form of dialogue with you now, we would be in violation of God's clear commandment
In other words, we are concerned for your soul—and in a far more solemn sense than you evidently realize. You brought railing accusations against various leaders of our church in violation of 1 Timothy 5:19. You profaned the vow you made publicly when you joined the church. You have sown conflict and discord in the body of believers. You have tried to set church members against their leaders. Strife, disputes, dissensions, and factions are works of the flesh, according to Galatians 5:20. We cannot, and will not, overlook your sinful factiousness in order to engage you in further disputes and controversies about points of doctrine. If we did that, we would be sinning (letter from Phil Johnson to Darwin Fish, 4/5/94).
Note that Johnson did carefully explain from Scripture the reasons for Fish's discipline. These elders were clearly willing to discuss and defend the reasons for their discipline against Mr. Fish. What they refused to discuss were the merits of Fish's accusations against MacArthur. This was, after all, their duty under Scripture. Titus 3:10-11 makes it clear that we are not to argue with a factious man.
The rest of Mr. Johnson's letter corrects some of the deliberate lies that Fish was publicly making to people about the meeting.
Miesel Finishes His StoryMiesel's final attempt to discredit MacArthur's integrity and expose him as a hypocrite backfires on him and ends up proving his own hypocrisy:
Similarly, since 1988 I [Rick Miesel of BDM] have privately contacted MacArthur by personal letter on three different occasions, each time asking him to justify his various psychological teachings in light of his professed belief that psychology is not of God. On each occasion I have received only generic responses from various designated spokespersons in his ministry, never from MacArthur himself. Nor have I ever received a public or private response "correcting" me, from the Word of God, of any erroneous reporting or improper interpretation or analysis of MacArthur's teachings. Instead, I and others desiring to be like the Bereans have been ignored (or in case or IBCC's pastor, personally attacked) while John MacArthur continues to mislead God's people.
Putting Miesel's Criticisms in PerspectiveTo begin with, Grace Community Church has more than 12,000 members and therefore MacArthur simply does not have the time or the moral obligation personally to respond to every critic who writes to him. When Miesel first contacted John MacArthur, MacArthur's personal assistant, Lance Quinn, spent many hours in phone conversations and via mail, answering the many questions Miesel put to him. Miesel subsequently made Pastor Quinn a target of his published attacks.
Phil Johnson, an elder at Grace Community Church, has also offered, through friends of Miesel, to explain the elders' handling of Darwin Fish's discipline, and to address other specific issues Miesel has raised about MacArthur's teaching. However, Miesel has refused this offer and chosen to continue complaining that MacArthur will not correct him from the Word of God. In reality, Miesel has no desire to be corrected. This is merely a ploy to convince his readers that he is a sincere, humble servant of the Lord who is valiantly striving to correct the errors of MacArthur.
Harsh accusations? But surely they are justified by the mere fact that Miesel is so anxious to discredit MacArthur that he is willing to align himself with a cult leader like Fish.
Consider the facts: Fish claims that he alone possesses the truth; he denounces the Trinity as false; he says that those who oppose him or his teachings are opposing God; he claims that there are seven Holy Spirits; he believes that God talks to him in dreams; he denounces all Christians who do not follow him as servants of Satan (including Miesel himself); and he claims that he and he alone will determine who is saved. But all that seems to matter very little to Miesel. Despite being fully aware of everything that Fish is teaching, Miesel continues to portray him as a legitimate pastor. All this while he decries John MacArthur as a false teacher!
Miesel's readers need to ask why he is attempting to portray a heretic like Fish as a sincere Berean. Does Miesel agree with the above statements of Fish? If he does, then he himself is a heretic and not merely mistaken in his accusations against MacArthur. If this were not such a serious matter, the irony of the situation would be laughable. Rick Miesel of Biblical Discernment Ministries is using a cult leader and heretic in his attempt to discredit one of the most gifted and biblically oriented pastor-teachers in the Christian church. Yet he doesn't seem to mind giving this heretic credibility by portraying him as a sincere servant of God. In case the reader has forgotten, Miesel did not say that Fish was a heretic, unbiblical or even "a little off" in his teaching. He said Fish was the pastor of "a small independent Bible church in California." If Miesel really believes that the cult Fish presides over is a Bible church—then, without a doubt, Miesel himself is a heretic.
When Rick Miesel claims that "I and others desiring to be like the Bereans have been ignored," Miesel's readers also need to ask who the "others" are whom he says were ignored. Presumably, if he had someone else, in addition to himself and Fish, he would have named them. Therefore, it is obvious he can't find anyone else who agrees with his assessment of MacArthur. Even Martin and Deidre Bobgan, who have severely criticized MacArthur's biblical counseling program, have told Miesel that it is wrong to judge the salvation of another professing Christian. Unlike Miesel, the Bobgans are humble enough to allow God to separate the wheat from the tares. Unfortunately, Miesel is not satisfied to merely critique teachings, he also seems to think it is his responsibility to be the gatekeeper of heaven.
Conclusion to Part One
Our objective in Part One was to prove to the reader that Miesel is not an objective or reliable source of information about MacArthur. However, we make no judgment upon Miesel's salvation. It is possible that Miesel is sincerely deceived and not deliberately trying to deceive his readers. We simply want the reader to see that Miesel's zealous desire to find and expose heretics has biased his research, reasoning process and conclusions. It is also important for the reader to understand that if Miesel is right about MacArthur, then most of Miesel's readers, as well as the vast majority of fundamentalist and evangelical Christians, are also going to hell. This is the logical implication of Miesel's accusations against MacArthur. Therefore, Miesel's readers should not assume that they have escaped his condemnation just because he has not mentioned them by name as he has MacArthur. Although Miesel is too clever to make the kind of blunt statements that Fish makes, there is reason to believe that Miesel is just as extreme as Fish in his hatred of the Christian Church. Let the reader never forget that it was Miesel who influenced Fish to become as extreme and heretical as he is now. This should cause all of us to seriously question what Miesel's true agenda really is. Lest anyone question the influence of Miesel upon Fish the following two quotes tell the whole story.
October 10, 1993—Fish, prior to being deceived by Miesel:Let me exhort you in one more area. Do not go around, please, we can be tempted into doing this so easily. Don't go around trying to figure out who's a Christian and who's not. Paul didn't do it. We shouldn't do it. Jesus said in Matthew 7, Don't judge. Romans 14, verse 4 says, "Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls, indeed he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand." That great day, that great judgment day is the only day that is going to reveal the true from the false. The almost christians from the true christians. And the thing YOU need to be concerned about, and the thing we need to be concerned about is, Do we really know Christ? We need to go inward, not go around saying, you know, they are not a christian . . . That's not our job in any way, shape or form. We leave that in God's hand. In fact, In 2 Timothy, Paul was dealing with some false teachers, some guys who were teaching some false things. And he makes an interesting statement . . . Now he doesn't go, well these guys are obviously damned, just don't pay any attention to them. It's an interesting statement he makes, Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands having a seal, The Lord knows who are his. And let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity. He says, hey, the reality is this, God knows the true from the false and if you are gonna name Christ live a righteous life. That's where he leaves it and that's where we need to leave it. We are not to go about judging others ("A True Christian" 10/10/93).
April 14, 1994 (six months later)—Fish, after being deceived by Miesel.Watch out! Watch out! Lest you be taken captive . . . Typically people will radically oppose us . . . He who knows God hears us. Look at this. He who is not of God does not hear us . . . Do you see the implications of that? That's heavy! That's really heavy! That's really heavy! . . . We are getting a lot of rejection aren't we from the Christian Realm . . . What does that verse say? What does that verse say? It says they don't know God! ("Contend for the Faith" 4/14/94).
Part Two: Some General Observations About Psychology
IntroductionBefore we begin to examine Miesel's accusations against MacArthur's teachings we will make a few general observations about psychology. Since Miesel claims that MacArthur is a blaspheming psychobabbler as well as preaching a false psychological gospel, it is important to gain some perspective about psychology before we start our examination. Therefore, we will make three general observations about psychology prior to beginning our defense of MacArthur's teachings.
Observation One: Psychology is not a false religion. Although it is becoming increasingly popular among biblically minded Christians to call psychology a false religion, it really cannot be classified as a false religion. Psychology has never pretended to be a religious system and has never attempted to create a religious system. In fact, most of the psychological schools of thought were started by atheists who specifically rejected religion, particularly Christianity.
In reality, psychology is nothing more than the secular world's attempt to study and understand the human mind and to observe and understand human behavior. This is important to understand because classifying psychology as a religious system can lead us into deception and confuse our thinking on the subject. Confusing psychology with a religious system allows someone like Fish or Miesel to argue that accepting the validity of any psychological observation is equivalent to accepting a false religion.
In fact, this is precisely why Fish condemned MacArthur as a false teacher. Although Fish acknowledged that MacArthur "Very strongly rejects psychology," he still condemned him as a blaspheming psychobabbler who is preaching a false psychological gospel. Why? Fish justifies his accusations with the ridiculous assertion that MacArthur "Does not kill the baby" of psychology. In other words, MacArthur is unwilling to say that it is impossible for a psychologist to say something that is true. The following two quotes are a small sampling of the many extreme statements that Fish has made in his attempts to prove that MacArthur is a psychobabbler:
Praise God he's really getting away from psychology. Big time really. He speaks out very strongly against it . . . It has become extremely clear that his views have changed on psychology and in fact today he very strongly rejects psychology. Very strongly! But he does not completely kill the baby . . . it is severely wounded but it still has a little piece of influence ("What Is Happening to the Church?" 2/17/94).
The worst statement in the book is on page 246. He says this, and quite frankly this is a lie. He says people were created for relationships. First with God and then with other human beings. That's not true! That's not true! ("What Is Happening to the Church?" 2/17/94).
So according to Fish, MacArthur is a false teacher, a blaspheming psychobabbler and is preaching a false psychological gospel because he believes that people were created to have a relationship with God. It should be obvious that statements like the above are beyond extreme. Fish is actually suggesting that since psychologists talk about relationships, and psychology is a false religion, anyone who thinks the essence of the Christian faith is knowing and loving God, is actually promoting a false religion!
Observation two: Psychology is not another gospel. Believing that psychology is another gospel can lead to as much deception as believing that it is a false religion. As stated previously, psychology is nothing more than the world's attempt to study and understand the human mind and to observe and understand human behavior. In contrast, the gospel is the good news "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). In other words, the gospel is about Christ's bearing our sins and our receiving the merit of His righteousness.
Those definitions of psychology and the gospel clearly demonstrate that there is no relationship between the two. In order for something to be classified as "another gospel" it must be a corruption of or a substitute for the true gospel—not merely something that is false. Therefore, secular psychology per se cannot be classified as another gospel. Only when someone makes psychology a substitute for the gospel (or tries to integrate it with the gospel message in a way that corrupts the doctrine of justification by faith) can it be so classified.
So, although psychology is false, it cannot automatically be classified as another gospel. This is important to understand, because when secular psychology is erroneously classified as a false gospel it becomes easier for someone like Fish or Miesel to convince people that any use of psychological terminology, no matter how innocent, is equivalent to preaching another gospel. And it should be obvious that psychological terminology has become so pervasive in our culture that the technical definition of most of these words is almost never the intended meaning when used in everyday conversation. Therefore, whenever we examine the teachings of anyone, it is important that we go beyond the actual terminology and try to determine what is actually being said. Unfortunately, as we will see, Miesel repeatedly makes the mistake of equating MacArthur's innocent use of psychological terminology with his acceptance of the psychological concept that it represents.
Observation Three: Christian psychology does not exist. Although there are Christians that have become psychologists, there is no such thing as Christian Psychology. In fact, it is impossible to have a psychological school of thought that could be accurately classified as Christian. This is because Christianity and the gospel are virtually synonymous. Therefore, integrating psychology into Christianity is equivalent to integrating psychology into the gospel. Some may dispute this fact but a close examination of the gospel as stated above will prove that the gospel is not merely a part of Christianity but in fact is Christianity. Consequently, any attempt to create a specialized field of psychology that integrates Christianity and psychology will eventually lead to a corruption of the gospel.
There have been some good books written by Christian authors documenting and explaining in detail why psychology cannot be integrated into the gospel without corrupting it. However, most Christians do not need to read an entire book to understand why this is true. To begin with, Christians believe that the gospel is a direct revelation from God. Therefore, it tells us everything we need to know about the forgiveness of sins, how to become children of God and the fact that we have been freed from the power of sin.
Although Christian psychologists do not normally deal with the forgiveness of sin or how to become a child of God they do attempt to use manmade methods of behavior modification to correct perceived flaws in human behavior. Or to put it another way, Christian psychologists often use these manmade methods of behavior modification to free people from the power of sin. However, even if these manmade methods of behavior modification cause a person's behavior to change outwardly, these methods are unable to spiritually transform a person. Only the power of the Holy Spirit can spiritually transform a person. Sadly, Christian Psychologists often seem to forget that salvation is not simply a ticket to heaven. Biblical salvation not only gets us into heaven but also frees us from the power of sin through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, when Christian psychologists use manmade methods of behavior modification to free their clients from the power of sin they are actually preaching another gospel.
This is why the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 cannot be acquired through human effort, obeying the Ten Commandments, or through the behavior modification methods of Christian Psychologists. The apostle Paul condemned human effort as a means of spiritual transformation and maturity:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the Grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! . . . I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (Gal 1:6-8; 3:2-3).
Conclusion To Part Two
Rick Miesel claims that John MacArthur is preaching another gospel. Specifically, that he is preaching a false psychological gospel. In other words, Miesel thinks that MacArthur has integrated psychology and the gospel. However, as we will see in Part Three, this is a distortion of the facts.
Part Three—Defending MacArthur's Teachings
IntroductionMiesel confuses his audience with a plethora of minutia. Instead of trying to prove that MacArthur is a false teacher by using MacArthur's own writings, Miesel has chosen to deluge his readers with a host of accusations that are impossible to verify. Moreover, even if everything Miesel writes were true, it still would not prove MacArthur is a false teacher. However, Miesel's critique has caused some people to see MacArthur as either an untrustworthy bible expositor or in some cases a false teacher. So while Miesel's critique in the long run will have very little negative impact on MacArthur's ministry, it has caused confusion in the minds of a small percentage of people. Therefore, we will again demonstrate that Miesel is not an objective or reliable source of information about MacArthur's teachings. We have already proved that Miesel's evaluation of MacArthur's integrity is biased and unreliable. As we will soon see, Miesel's evaluation of MacArthur's teachings is also biased and unreliable.
Although Miesel accuses MacArthur of preaching another gospel, using contemporary Christian music, and a host of other things, he says he has chosen to "focus primarily on MacArthur's psychological teachings and his neo-evangelical associations, and leave the deeper theological issues to others."
But Miesel's assertion that he is leaving the deeper theological issues to others is misleading. The fact is, Miesel is trying to prove to his readers that MacArthur is preaching a false psychological gospel. So in reality, Miesel has chosen the deepest and most important of all theological issues—the gospel. Therefore, the readers of Miesel's critique need to realize that Miesel is not merely dealing with peripheral issues. He is focusing on the very heart of MacArthur's teachings and consequently the very heart of Christianity. Therefore this is not merely a dispute about psychology or ecumenicism. It is a debate about salvation by grace versus salvation by works.
In other words, the assumption that underlies all of Miesel's accusations against MacArthur is Miesel's belief that all the minutia he brings forth proves MacArthur is negating the Grace of God. Miesel, like Darwin Fish, believes that Christians cannot make mistakes or teach anything erroneous, no matter how trivial. Fish, having been discipled by Miesel, has stated very specifically that any doctrinal error, no matter how minor, is proof that the person who teaches it is going to hell. Miesel's criticisms against MacArthur are therefore not to be read as one Christian's criticism against a brother whom he believes in error on a specific point. Miesel is suggesting that MacArthur is not a true Christian, but is an anti-Christian false teacher on his way to hell.
Miesel's basic strategy for proving that MacArthur is a false teacher is to make the reader think that although MacArthur sounds biblical in his books, in reality, he is teaching something different, heretical. For example, Miesel says this on page one of his critique:
For many, John MacArthur is a champion of the faith whose voice is correcting many of the ills of Christianity. For others, his teachings border on heresy, if not blasphemy. Nevertheless, MacArthur's charm, charisma, and abilities have combined to make him very appealing, even to those who should know better.
Supposedly, MacArthur is deceiving all of us. According to Miesel, he is actually a fraud, a wolf in sheep's clothing, who is using his charm and charisma to lead us all to hell with his false psychological gospel. However, as we documented previously, even Darwin Fish admitted that MacArthur "very strongly rejects psychology." Of course when Miesel is trying to prove one of his conspiracy theories, facts do not seem to be very important. Consequently, he has resorted to storytelling in his attempt to prove his accusations against MacArthur. However, as we have seen, Miesel's stories cannot stand up to the scrutiny of hard evidence and simple common sense. We will divide Miesel's critique into two basic parts:
1. Direct proof—MacArthur's actual words.
On the first page of Miesel's critique he states the following:
MacArthur has preached other sermons teaching various psychological, and thereby, non-Biblical concepts and dogma, such as self-esteem, self-image, self-worth, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, etc., all clothed in deceptive Christian garb. . .For example, check out the following blasphemous psychobabble from the man who not only claims to understand the psychological seduction of Christianity, but also claims to be solidly in the camp of those of us actively opposing it:
A true sense of self-worth comes from understanding our position in Christ. We have been chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. Knowing this gives us a sense of our significance and value to God. We were so important to God that He gave up His son to die on our behalf. . . .Thank God for considering you valuable enough to bestow such riches upon you. . . .If you're struggling with a lack of self-worth, remember that you were important enough for God to give you to Jesus as an inheritance." (The Believers Life in Christ, MacArthur Bible Study Guide [1989/1995],pp. 27,36, & 70)
[Miesel continues:] "God died for us because we were "important enough"?! This is a tragedy of immeasurable magnitude that we have people who claim to belong to the living God, and churches that claim to be Bible believing churches, that are robbing God of that which belongs to Him and Him alone—all the esteem, all the honor, is His for the work of salvation—and directing it back to themselves. What blasphemy is being promoted from within the church today!—that pastors can find a way to say, 'You want to know how valuable I am? You want to know how much worth I have? You want to know what gives me self-esteem? God thought I was valuable enough to die for.' That's blasphemy. That's robbing God of that which is His alone. God did not die for us because of our great worth, but because of our great sin! He died because of who He is, and in spite of what we are (cf. Rom. 5:8). There is no mercy if it had to do with my worth. It is not of grace if it had to do with my value. Anyone who would try to divert some of that glory, honor, and esteem to man is robbing God of the worship due Him and Him alone, and thereby, is guilty of blasphemy."
Is This Really What MacArthur Is Teaching?A communist dictator once said that if you tell a lie loud enough and often enough people will begin to believe it. This appears to be Miesel's strategy in the hyperbole quoted above. Instead of carefully examining what MacArthur is saying, Miesel has chosen to use exaggeration and distortion to appeal to his readers' emotions, rather than to their minds. Therefore, we will carefully examine what MacArthur is actually saying and contrast it with what Miesel claims MacArthur is saying.
To begin, we would like to remind the readers that the use of psychological terminology is very prevalent in our culture. However, as we pointed out previously, most of us use this terminology in a very general and non-technical way. In fact, most of this terminology is given a meaning in everyday usage that is far different from its technical definition. For example, if we see someone acting a little bit strange we might say, "That guy is insane." Do we really think the person we are referring to is insane? Usually, no. It is just a figure of speech today that means someone is acting odd or unusual. We speak of people who behave "compulsively," or say that a proud person has "a big ego." These are all terms that have their origins in psychology. Such examples could be multiplied many times over, but most people do not need further examples or clarification to understand the point.
Now let's take a closer look at what MacArthur actually said. MacArthur begins by saying,
A true sense of self-worth comes from understanding our position in Christ. We have been chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. Knowing this gives us a sense of our significance and value to God.
Is MacArthur teaching a psychological concept of self-esteem in the quote above? Absolutely not. The key to understanding what MacArthur is saying is to understand what he means by self-worth in this context. MacArthur is talking about sense of worth that belongs to someone who knows he is an object of God's love. MacArthur's use of the term "self-worth" in this context is not to be taken as a suggestion that there is inherent worthiness in any sinner. MacArthur elsewhere explicitly deals with this issue:
Is human glory a worthy goal? God says, "I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another" (Isa. 42:8). God has said, "For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, and for My praise I restrain it for you, in order not to cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; for how can My name be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another" (Isa. 48:9-11, emphasis added). In other words, God extends His longsuffering, grace, and mercy to mankind not because we are worthy of it, but for His own name's sake—for His own glory, not ours. "O Lord, what is man, that Thou dost take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that Thou dost think of him? Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow" (Ps. 144:3-4, emphasis added; cf. Job 7:17; 15:14; Ps. 8:4; Heb. 2:6). [The Vanishing Conscience (Dallas: Word, 1994), 86.]
In other words, contrary to what most people think—contrary to the presuppositions of self-esteem doctrine—men and women are not naturally good. Just the opposite is true. We are by nature enemies of God, sinners, lovers of ourselves, and in bondage to our own sin. We are blind, deaf, and dead to spiritual matters, unable even to believe apart from God's gracious intervention. Yet we are relentlessly proud! In fact, nothing is more illustrative of human wickedness than the desire for self-esteem. And the first step to a proper self-image is a recognition that these things are true.
That's why Jesus commended the tax-gatherer—rather than rebuking him for his low self-esteem—when the man pounded his chest and pleaded, "God, be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Lk. 18:13). The man had finally come to the point where he saw himself for what he was and he was so overcome that his emotion released in acts of self-condemnation. The truth is, his self-image had never been more sound than at that moment. Rid of pride and pretense, he now saw there was nothing he could ever do to earn God's favor. [Ibid., 90.]
So what is MacArthur referring to when he speaks of "self-worth" in other contexts? He's referring to the same sense of worth Jesus spoke of when He said, "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?" (Matt. 6:26).
In other words, MacArthur is saying that we can know without any doubt that God loves us. MacArthur is not saying we are inherently worthy of God's love. He is simply pointing out the fact that God has chosen to love us and chosen to bestow value upon us. To deny this is to deny the very words of Jesus Christ. MacArthur then makes the following statement. "We were so important to God that He gave up His Son to die on our behalf. . . .Thank God for considering you valuable enough to bestow such riches upon you. . . . If you're struggling with a lack of self-worth, remember that you were important enough for God to give you to Jesus as an inheritance."
The two key words in the above quote are "to God." MacArthur is not saying that we are valuable in and of ourself. He is saying that because God has chosen to love us, we are to important "to God." MacArthur never states or even implies that our importance or value to God is based upon any inherent personal worthiness. MacArthur knows that we are nothing but dust without God, (and he says so plainly and repeatedly in his discussion of self-esteem in The Vanishing Conscience). In the quotation Miesel adduces, MacArthur is simply pointing out that God has chosen to love us and chosen to value us. We do not deserve it. We are not worthy of it. Nevertheless, it is a fact that we are important "to God." To deny this is a denial of the gospel and a denial of Christ's own words. For example, John 3:16 says—"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Miesel claims that MacArthur is saying that we are "important enough" for God to die for. However, this is a complete distortion of what MacArthur is saying. It is obvious that MacArthur is actually saying that any worth or value that God has bestowed upon us is not due to our inherent value or worth but rather because God has chosen to love us.
Miesel Continues His ExaggerationsThe only other time Miesel directly quotes a full sentence or more of MacArthur is on page 11 of his critique. Most of Miesel's quotes of MacArthur, as sparse as they are, are only three or four words and therefore make it impossible to determine the context of the quotation. And in both of the two places where Miesel quotes at least a full sentence from MacArthur, he seriously distorts the plain sense of MacArthur's words. Here he strings together a few sentences that are actually separated in total by 10 pages:
MacArthur, in his 1994 book THE VANISHING CONSCIENCE, continues to teach various "psychological truths," while at the same time claiming to be against psychology and self-esteem, he writes:
How does one feel good about himself when God Himself declares us worthy of His wrath? There is an answer to this dilemma [p.94] . . . The liberation from sin those verses describe [Rom. 8:1-2] is the only basis on which we can really feel good about ourselves" (p. 104).
MacArthur obviously still believes that man has a "dilemma"/need to feel good about himself. But where in God's Word are we ever encouraged or exhorted to feel good about ourselves, either before one comes to Christ or after? (There is nothing really new here for MacArthur. What is new is the long list of book jacket endorsements [hard-back copy] by a bevy of psychologizers and neo-evangelicals: glowing endorsements from the likes of Jack Hayford, Adrian Rogers, Joseph Stowell, Kay Arthur, Larry Burkett, J.I. Packer, James Montgomery Boice, Greg Laurie, Joni Eareckson Tada, Bill Hybels, and Elisabeth Eliot!)"
It would appear that Miesel is so desperate to prove his case that he is willing to grasp at straws. His juxtaposition of these two quotations, separated by several pages in MacArthur's book, is wholly unwarranted. In the first place, the "dilemma" of which MacArthur is speaking is the truth that God requires absolute perfection (Matt. 5:48). And the "answer" to which MacArthur points his readers on page 94 is not self-esteem, but the doctrine of justification by faith. Here's the same quotation with two additional sentences to give the clear context:
There is an answer to the dilemma, of course. God justifies the ungodly by faith (Rom. 4:5). Christ's own perfect righteousness is imputed to our account, so by faith we can stand before God clothed in a perfect righteousness that is not our own (Phil. 3:9).[The Vanishing Conscience, 94.]
Now, with regard to the second half of Miesel's "quotation," it is obvious from MacArthur's context that he is using the phrase "feel good about ourselves" in a way that has no psychological connotations. These words to which Miesel objects actually appear at the end of a long chapter that is a careful, biblical critique of the error of self-esteem theology! MacArthur closes the chapter with this paragraph:
You may be asking, on the other hand, Does God want us to wallow in shame and self-condemnation permanently? Not at all. God offers freedom from sin and shame through faith in Jesus Christ. If we are willing to acknowledge our sinfulness and seek His grace, He will wonderfully deliver us from our sin and all its effects. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Rom. 8:1-2). The liberation from sin those verses describe is the only basis on which we can really feel good about ourselves. And it is to that process that we now turn our attention. [Ibid., 104.]
It appears that Miesel again wants to make a federal case out of terminology that he thinks is psychoheresy. In this particular case he doesn't like the phrase "feel good about ourselves." But Miesel has seriously twisted MacArthur's meaning if he wants to make those words seem supportive of self-esteem psychology. Clearly, what MacArthur means is simply this: Before we are saved we are worthy of the wrath of God. Sin so defiles the conscience that our own conscience convicts us of sin. This conviction of sin usually results in remorse (feeling bad about ourselves).
Notice that MacArthur has simply borrowed the expression "feel good about ourselves" from the view he plainly opposes, emphasizing that self-esteem is no cure at all for the defiled conscience. He is pointing out that the only biblical solution for conviction and remorse is the forgiveness of sin offered by God through His Son Jesus Christ. Does Miesel dispute that this is true? Certainly, it hardly deserves the strong anathema Miesel pronounces against MacArthur.
The reader should not miss the significance of the list of names of Miesel cites from the book's dust cover. Miesel considers all of these people hell-bound deceivers. Additionally, Miesel also identifies the following people as hell-bound deceivers in his "Discernment Notebook": Neil Anderson, Ron Blue, Stuart and Jill Briscoe, Ed Bulkley, Tony Campolo, Gary Collins, Chuck Colson, Kenneth Copeland, Larry Crabb, James Dobson, Ted Engstrom, Gary Ezzo, Jerry Falwell, Bill Gothard, Billy Graham, Kenneth Hagin, Howard Hendricks, D. James Kennedy, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Zola Levitt, C. S. Lewis, Hal Lindsey, Josh McDowell, Frank Peretti, Pat Robertson, Hugh Ross, R. C. Sproul, Charles Stanley, Charles Swindoll, Don Wildmon—and a host of others. Thus we have more evidence to substantiate our suspicion that Miesel is almost as extreme as Darwin Fish in his hatred of visible Christianity.
Oddly enough, Miesel's attack on John MacArthur began when MacArthur declined to declare publicly whether certain Christian leaders are hell-bound heretics or not. An associate of MacArthur pointed out to Miesel in a letter that while we are called to discern between truth and error, the prerogative to determine anyone's eternal destiny is Christ's and Christ's alone: "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (Jn. 5:22-23).
Miesel immediately began attacking MacArthur in print and has been at it ever since. Remember that Miesel's diatribes against MacArthur were what first turned Darwin Fish against his own pastor. For many years, Fish only parroted what he learned from Miesel's "Discernment Notebook." But now Fish, using the methodology he learned from Miesel himself, has declared Miesel a heretic, cut off from Christ—because of Miesel's own refusal to consign Martin and Dierdre Bobgan to the flames of hell. Thus this brand of "discernment" bears bitter fruit after its own kind.
The tragic fact is that both Miesel and Fish have now declared virtually everyone except themselves false teachers. Thus, the "Christianity" that they represent is comprised only of themselves and their own followers. And these two men and their followers cannot even agree on which of the two of them really represents the truth! Fish clearly considers his small congregation the one true church—and it is possible that he would exclude virtually everyone who has professed faith in Christ from the apostolic era until now! Miesel is more subtle, but his claim amounts to the same thing.
Both men would undoubtedly deny that they hate Christianity, but the facts speak for themselves. They have cut themselves off from the rest of the people of God—and now even from each other.
One can certainly understand why Rick Miesel would desire to distance himself from his disciple, Darwin Fish. However, the reader is asked to note again that Miesel continues to cite Fish (albeit anonymously), leaving the impression that Fish is a godly pastor. Yet he deems it necessary to twist and contort John MacArthur's words in order to portray MacArthur as a dangerous heretic. What sort of "discernment" does this reveal? Miesel clearly has no business promoting himself as an expert in the matter of discernment.
2. Indirect Proof—Miesel's Stories and Speculations
Most of the data Miesel has used to pad his critique against John MacArthur is nothing more than a lot of subjective minutia that ranges from the petty to the absurd. It is hard to know where to begin to respond to all of this. Responding to each and every item would be superfluous. It is sufficient for our purposes to show a few samples of how badly skewed Miesel's critique is:
- Oddly enough, many of Miesel's stories can be refuted by the material contained within his own critique. For example, on page 2 Miesel accuses MacArthur of being involved with the teaching and counseling ministries of Dr. Larry Crabb. One paragraph later, however, he admits that MacArthur no longer supports Crabb or his teachings. So what is Miesel's point? Why not give MacArthur credit for seeing the problems with Crabb instead of bring up the past?
- On page 3 of his critique Miesel accuses MacArthur of selling psychoheresy in his bookstore. However, he then admits that MacArthur has removed the books of those authors whom he has recognized as being too psychologically oriented. (We say, Good job, John MacArthur. Keep up the good work. On the other hand we don't expect perfection either.) Apparently MacArthur's effort does not satisfy Miesel. Additionally, it should be pointed out that Miesel considers virtually everyone but Fish and himself to be psychologically oriented. So he is going to complain about any book, with the exception of a very few authors.
- On page 3 Miesel complains that MacArthur lists the books of Covenant theologians. Yet he himself heavy utilizes the writings of Dr. Jay Adams—a covenant theologian. (Incidently, Fish has denounced Adams as a psychobabbling heretic.)
- On page 3 Miesel accuses MacArthur of allowing the distribution of a tract entitled "You're Special," written by Ted Griffin. Miesel condemns the tract as psychoheresy and then makes the following sarcastic comment. "Can John MacArthur really believe this psychobabble? Apparently so, or why else would such a tract be made available free of charge to thousands of people who pass through the Grace doors each Sunday?" This is another pathetic example of Miesel's supposed superior discernment skills. The tract in question is one Miesel claims was seen in an assortment of tracts in a publicly accessible tract rack on the patio at Grace Community Church. Anyone could have placed them there. Does Miesel really think MacArthur is personally responsible for every minute thing that happens at Grace Community Church? But we could ask Miesel's readers a similar question. Paraphrasing Miesel we ask, Can Rick Miesel really believe Fish's heresy? Apparently so, or else why would he make Fish's material available to thousands of people all over the United States and around the world?
- On page 4 Miesel says MacArthur has serious disagreements with psychiatrist Paul Meier. Good, then what's the problem? Miesel is unhappy about the fact that MacArthur once quoted favorably from Meier's book Christian Child-Rearing and Personality Development. Again, Miesel accuses MacArthur of swallowing a gnat all the while he himself is swallowing a Fish.
- On page 4 Miesel complains that The Master's College has terminated its psychology curriculum and replaced it with Biblical Counseling. According to Miesel and Fish, biblical counseling is too worldly.
- On page 6 Miesel talks about Gary Ezzo. As Miesel admits, Ezzo is no longer on the Grace Community Church staff, but this does not seem to satisfy him. Again, Miesel wants to hold MacArthur to a standard that he himself is unwilling to follow. In fact, Miesel learned from MacArthur's own daughter that the Grace Book Shack has discontinued offering Ezzo's materials in the bookstore. Miesel (or a friend) phoned the Book Shack to ask if that was true. An employee confirmed that it was true, and trying to be helpful, offered Ezzo's address. To Miesel, that kind of thing is evidently proof that MacArthur is going to hell.
- On page 7 Miesel states that, "MacArthur's April, 1991 book, Our Sufficiency in Christ, has an entire section devoted to the errors of psychology." Good! So why is Miesel complaining now? Apparently, MacArthur uses psychological terminology. As we have seen before, Miesel is unable to distinguish the difference between the innocent use of psychological terminology and the acceptance of the concepts the terminology represents in a clinical setting. Miesel seems to enjoy disputing such terminology in order to discredit MacArthur (cf. 2 Tim. 2:14).
- The final accusation we will deal with from Miesel's critique is his attempt to link MacArthur with the false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Miesel is well aware of the fact that MacArthur speaks out boldly against the false teachings of Roman Catholicism. He therefore steers rather clumsily through the murky waters he is attempting to navigate. Incredibly, Miesel tries to link John MacArthur to the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" document—even though MacArthur is probably more outspoken in his opposition to that document than any other well-known evangelical leader! Nonetheless, on page 10 Miesel states, "The ECT Accord generated so much heat in Protestant ranks, that Colson found it necessary to call a meeting in January, 1995 to try 'to achieve a measure of understanding, clarification, and harmony around the truth recognized by historic orthodoxy.'" Describing this meeting, often called The Orlando Summit, Miesel says this: "However, no changes to the ECT were recommended [this is patently untrue], nor would any of the original signatories remove their names from it. [This is true, but it ignores the fact that the whole point of the meeting was to urge these men to recant their support for ECT. The fact that they refused is no slight against MacArthur.] Ankerberg, MacArthur, Kennedy, Sproul, et al., did not sign this clarification agreement [true], but they did help write it [untrue], and the clear implication was that they agreed that this new statement satisfactorily answered any concern one might have over the content of the original ECT! [wholly untrue]." The fact is, Ankerberg, MacArthur, Kennedy, and Sproul, went on to make four one-hour television broadcasts thoroughly critiquing ECT, and lamenting its acceptance among evangelicals! Nonetheless, Miesel spends another whole paragraph trying to convince his readers that MacArthur finds no real problem with the Orlando statement. That is a complete distortion of both MacArthur's position, and the facts of what happened. Unfortunately, this is just another one of Miesel's Fish stories.
Conclusion To Part Three
In Part Three of this critique we endeavored to supply further proof that Miesel is not a reliable or objective source of information about John MacArthur's teachings. As we saw, Miesel has a tendency to exaggerate and distort the facts. In fact, he is so anxious to discredit MacArthur that he conflates two quotations separated by ten pages in one of MacArthur's books, ripping two totally separate statements from their context and utterly twisting their real meanings. Nowhere does Miesel offer any substantial quoted material to prove any of his accusations against MacArthur. Not one of his accusations has any real validity whatsoever. Even those things that may have been valid criticisms at one time no longer apply.
But Rick Miesel is bent on discrediting John MacArthur at all costs—even at the cost of his own credibility and integrity. He hammers on MacArthur without mercy or grace. Miesel never gives MacArthur credit for learning or growing. John MacArthur was one of the earliest of all evangelical leaders to warn against the dangers of humanistic psychology—before Rick Miesel was even a believer. But now, apparently, Miesel believes MacArthur must toe the line on whatever Rick Miesel deems truth, and distance himself from whoever Miesel deems a "heretic." Yet, incredibly, while claiming this incredible insight into who are the heretics, Miesel sees no problem with his own promotion of Darwin Fish.
In some recent correspondence I received, Miesel was arguing with someone over whether Grace Community Church still has a picture of Gary Ezzo hanging in the foyer. Is this what a "discernment" ministry is all about? Forget about the Trinity, forget about the people whom Darwin Fish is deceiving, forget about leading people to Christ—those are all small potatoes compared to having Gary Ezzo's picture hanging in your church. Perhaps it is time for Rick Miesel to come back to reality.
In Mr. Miesel's reply to this article, he characterizes the whole Darwin Fish issue as "a red herring" and desperately tries to distance himself from his former friend. Miesel is rightfully embarrassed about having aligned himself with Fish—but it is nonetheless a fact that Miesel did forge a close alliance with Fish that lasted at least two years—until Fish accused Miesel of compromise. (Seriously. The final split had to do with the question of whether to depict Martin and Diedre Bobgan as hell-bound heretics. We received copies of some of the final Miesel-Fish correspondence— if it may loosely be referred to as "correspondence." Miesel's replies to Fish consist of angry messages scratched in the margin's of Fish's letters. And these came from a man who claimed our correspondence with Darwin Fish was scurrilous!)
A Note from Phil Johnson: Jeff Simmons contacted me by e-mail several months ago with concerns about Rick Miesel's accusations. After learning the truth about some of these matters, he graciously offered to write the following article, and then gave me permission to post it here. Thanks to Jeff for the many hours he put into researching and writing this.
22 Oct. 1997 UPDATE: Mr. Miesel has posted a rambling replyto this article. See our brief comments about his reply at the end of this article.
At the height of their friendship, Miesel made a pilgrimage to sit under Fish's teaching in a Sunday service at "God's Word Fellowship," Fish's little living-room congregation in Green Valley, CA (an out-of-the-way community that would not have been on Miesel's itinerary had he not gone there expressly to "worship" with Fish). That service was recorded, and the tape includes Fish's fawning acknowledgement of his mentor's presence.
"Red herring" or not, we believe that if Miesel expects his audience to bow to his expertise as a self-styled master of "biblical discernment," he owes them an answer to the question of how he could have been taken in so easily and for so long by a factious heretic like Darwin Fish—while directing his energies toward exposing "damnable heresies" like that of a tract rack on Grace Church's patio that supposedly included one tract advocating "self-esteem."
Beyond this we intend to spend no further time answering Rick Miesel. People may read for themselves Miesel's ranting exposès and see firsthand a style of "discernment" that virtually defines the word scurrilous (i.e., "grossly or obscenely abusive").
PS: We are somewhat impressed to see that Mr. Miesel knows how to use a dictionary, and very flattered by the fact that he borrowed the word sycophant from the Darwin Fish FAQ. (The word toady also appeared in our earliest correspondence regarding the Fish FAQ. As we have said elsewhere, Mr. Miesel's writing is both good and original. But the part that good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.)
Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "MacArthur Collection" by: