My wife and I have one son is at Southern Seminary and he’s kind of mildly, you know, thinking there’s good in the seeker-friendly movement—some of it—and my other son is totally hostile to it, and I’m caught in the middle. I was talking to somebody who is very high up in seminaries and just asked him a question, “Do you believe that the watering down”—and I’ve read literature and I’ve seen pamphlets where preaching is one line and there are 300 lines on worship and dance and everything else from the seeker-friendly movement—and I asked him, “Do you think that the seeker-friendly movement is a new form of liberalism? Is that where it’s going to take us?” And he said, “Yes, I do.” Do you believe the same thing?
John MacArthur's Answer
Absolutely. It is the new liberalism. It is the new liberalism! It’s no different than the old liberalism, which was a social gospel. That’s what this is, only it’s not a social gospel, because it doesn’t reach out to the poor. It’s not the down-and-outers; it’s the up-and-inners. It’s a psychological gospel. So, the psychological feel-good gospel is the new liberalism. Nobody’s going to say that they deny the Word of God; it’s just not “relevant.” It’s just not relevant.
I’ve said this many times: I can listen to a guy preach—put anybody in front of me—and I’ll tell you what his view of Scripture is by what he says. If he doesn’t preach out of the Bible, I know what his view of Scripture is, I don’t care what he says. I don’t care if he wants to die telling me he’s a believer in inerrancy, if he gets up and does not preach the Word of God, that’s his view of Scripture leaking all over the place. Look, every preacher preaches for impact, for effect, for result. You’re up there saying what you think is going to get you the best result. If you think it’s foolishness and fun n’ games and song n’ dance and sermonettes for Christianettes—if you think it’s that kind of stuff—that’s what you’re going to do; but if you know, as Al [Mohler] was saying, that the power is the truth, that God has, as we’ve heard all week, has invested his power, as R.C. [Sproul] said, in his Word, then that’s what you preach. I mean, it’s that simple! It comes down to this loss of preaching. And I’ll tell you, how do you know it’s the new liberalism? Because you can’t stop a seeker-friendly movement, because it’s going to be redefined, it’s going to be redefined, it’s going to be redefined… It’s relentlessly being redefined because the culture changes so fast in a media-driven society. It changes so fast!
You know, Schuller is the architect of this. Robert Schuller is the absolute father. The grandfather of the movement, who was a little bit below the radar, was Norman Vincent Peale. Norman Vincent Peale is a classic liberal. The primary impact that Norman Vincent Peale has had on the world is through his leading disciple, Robert Schuller, who said to me, “I can sign the confession of my denomination and makes the words mean anything I want them to mean.” Well, that’s classic neo-orthodoxy—or liberalism (whichever).
So, you’ve got Norman Vincent Peale, who creates this kind of liberal, social gospel; his number one disciple, positive-thinker Robert Schuller; Robert Schuller develops this concept of the church many years ago, where he goes into Orange County and he goes door-to-door, passes out cards, and tells people to write down what they want a church to be, and then he gives them what they ask for. He said in a speech at N.R.B. many years ago, “If you want to know how to build a church, ask the community, and give them what they want.” His most famous disciple trained into that model is Bill Hybels, and the second is Rick Warren. Rick Warren says, himself, that when he left seminary, he drove right to the Crystal Cathedral and was mentored there.
So, there’s a flow going on here. And where is it going? It’s going toward the Emerging Church. That’s why you can have all those people—Rick Warren and Brian McLaren—way out on the edge of the Emergent Church, you can have all those people at the same conference in San Diego all speaking, and, in between, sessions on Yoga. If you just look at the roots of something—and look where it’s going: if you let the culture define the church, there’s no way to catch up. So, now you go to Schuller’s church, you wouldn’t find anybody whose hair wasn’t gray, because they had their little niche for that little cultural group, and they go to the grave with them. And the same is going to happen with the others and the others and the others… It’s not transcendent. It’s not trans-cultural. It’s not even beyond their tiny little chronological zone. And that’s the problem with it, because if it’s culturally defined, it is its own worst enemy; it’s planned obsolescence.
To me it’s a metaphor, like looking at Oral Roberts University—has anybody ever seen Oral Roberts University? It looks like a parking lot for old spaceships that came out of the sixties, doesn’t it? Because, in an effort to be really, really modern, you become immediately obsolete. I look at that and I think, “That’s what this is and it never can reach beyond its own limits, self-imposed.” So, the illusion of the seeker-friendly movement is that it has the potential to have the greatest impact. The truth of the matter is its impact is narrow and limited and, in many, many cases, superficial—but it gives the appearance of impact. But stripped of any depth and any real continuity in content and things that come out of the Word of God, it is it’s own worst enemy.
I will tell you this, there’s really only one thing that I want to do in my ministry. There’s only one obligation that I have and it is this: to show people that the Scripture is the Word of the Living God, to be adhered to. I don’t want them to think I’m the authority, I don’t want them to think the culture is the authority; I just want them to know this Word is the authority. Now, how do you convince people of that if you don’t ever teach it? People coming through those kinds of environments, have a superficial, once-over-lightly view of Scripture. The depth of it utterly escapes them. The simplest apparent paradox in theology knocks them for a loop. They can’t think deeply about things and they’re, therefore, sentenced to a life of battling the flesh without ever being armed with sound doctrine to deal with it. I’m not picking on anybody, I’m just saying, once you move away from the Word of God, in my definition that’s “liberalism,” if you like that word. “Compromise,” whatever.