Controverting the Incontrovertible
A Brief Reply to
Defending the Indefensible,
Gary DeMar's review of John MacArthur's recent book The Second Coming
By Phillip Johnson
Monday, September 27, 1999
I first read
Gary DeMar of John MacArthur's
The Second Coming a few weeks ago and (since I edited MacArthur's book when it was in the manuscript stage) I was somewhat amused by DeMar's remarks. He is, to put it mildly, not happy with MacArthur's book.
It appears his pique is chiefly owing to the fact that John MacArthur had the unmitigated gall to write a book on Bible prophecy without addressing Gary DeMar in particular. DeMar is convinced his own work
Last Days Madness (4th ed.) is incontrovertibly the definitive work on biblical eschatology, and he thinks one simply
cannot "deal honestly with the issues" related to Bible prophecy without making Demar and his 4th edition the center of one's eschatalogical universe. DeMar complains that for years he has tried desperately "to engage big-name dispensationalists in a public debate on the topic of Bible prophecy." And MacArthur (whom DeMar evidently classes as a "big-name dispensationalist") had the unpardonable effrontery to ignore him. So now Gary is in quite a huff about it. He both starts and ends his review by complaining about how inexcusable it was for MacArthur to ignore his book, and a pouting tone therefore sets the mood for the whole review.
Well, too bad. Despite how DeMar characterizes MacArthur's book, the book was not, and was never intended to be, a polemic treatment of eschatological issues the way
The Gospel According to Jesus was a polemic treatment of soteriological issues. (And the last paragraph of MacArthur's Introduction says so explicitly.)
The Second Coming was simply MacArthur's exposition of the Olivet Discourse. Ninety percent of the book is just straightforward teaching drawn from the biblical text, adapted from MacArthur's sermons as they were first delivered to his own congregation. It is misleading to characterize the book as having a purpose that is primarily polemic.
In other words, DeMar misconstrues the whole thrust of the book when he claims MacArthur "attempt[ed] to tackle the issue of eschatology as it relates to preterism." He did not. He touched pretty lightly on
preterism. At the very outset of the book, and once again about halfway through the book, MacArthur did spend several pages dealing with
hyper-preterism (or "full preterism," as some of its advocates prefer). But to claim preterism was MacArthur's main target, and the
raison d'etre for the book, is to dissemble. In fact, two of the main negative references to preterism that kindled DeMar's outrage were passing remarks contained in end-notes where MacArthur was simply making the (rather obvious) point that "the hermeneutical approach taken by preterists is what laid the foundation for the hyper-preterist error" (endnote 1, p. 224).
MacArthur treats hyper-preterism as an opposite but (at least) equal error to the hype and sensationalism of Hal Lindsey, the date-setters, et al.—which error MacArthur also deplores and devotes even
more space to debunking than he gives to his critique of hyper-preterism. MacArthur aims at a balanced approach that rejects
both extremes. DeMar is apparently so myopic that he can spot error only on one side of the spectrum. And that same dim vision blurs his reading of MacArthur. He evidently believed—or else wanted his readers to think—that MacArthur's main aim was debunking
DeMar's position. (Or at the very least, DeMar thinks this should have been MacArthur's focus.) Sorry to burst your bubble, Mr. DeMar, but I don't think MacArthur even noticed that you were spoiling for a fight with him.
Furthermore, although DeMar harrumphs a lot about the importance of careful scholarship, it is clear that he did not read MacArthur's book very attentively. He complains,
The book reads as if it were written in a hurry. For example, in one place he writes that preterists "ultimately depart from and nullify the strict literal sense of
Matthew 24:34," while on the previous page he chides preterists for insisting that Matthew 24:34 should be interpreted with "wooden literalness."
The only thing here that was written too hurriedly is DeMar's "review." What Demar misconstrues as a contradiction is quite clearly nothing of the kind when examined in its context. MacArthur is simply pointing out the irony of the fact that preterists insist on a literal interpretation of v. 34, arguing on that basis that the "great tribulation," "the abomination of desolation," etc. (Matt. 24:4-29) were fulfilled in AD 70. Yet (except for the
hyper-preterists), they see a yet-future fulfillment of the appearing of Christ and the gathering of the elect described in verses 30-31. MacArthur writes: "So in essence they ultimately depart from and nullify the strict literal sense of Matthew 24:34 anyway." (Notice the word "anyway," which DeMar conveniently omitted from the snippet he quoted.) In other words, MacArthur was pointing out that no one but a hyper-preterist really believes "all these things" in Matthew 24:3-31 were literally and completely fulfilled in that "generation" of people living in the time of Christ. So the partial preterist's appeal to the literal sense of Matthew 24:34 is not a very strong argument after all.
MacArthur's argument on that point is perfectly clear if one's reading involves more than a cursory glance. Perhaps DeMar's imaginary "contradiction" is simply another result of his foggy vision rather than a careless or hurried reading of the book. But if it is neither of those, then it is a deliberate misrepresentation of MacArthur.
Whether it's deliberate or just a result of Demar's sloppiness and failing eyesight, his review badly distorts and caricatures MacArthur's book rather than describing it accurately and fairly. Combine that fact with DeMar's smug certainty that he has already written the last word on biblical eschatology (until his 5th ed. comes out). Add his chip-on-the-shoulder stance, suggesting that no one else should even bother writing about any eschatological issues unless they first go toe to toe with him—and there you have the main reasons Gary DeMar
deserves to be ignored.
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