Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

You Just Don’t Get Me…

Scoldings are hard to hear. Especially when you feel misunderstood.

I’m really having a hard time obeying Tim Challies. He told us that we need to listen to John MacArthur. MacArthur has begun a series critiquing the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ movement and Tim says we need to listen to him because he’s older, wiser, and proven. He has perspective and experience that we do not. He has seen more, lived more, and earned the right to speak.

I agree. But man, it’s hard to hear.

I talked to Tim about it. The best analogy I could give him (ironically enough) is that of a young adult being scolded by a parent. When I read MacArthur’s post I can’t help but feel that he’s the dad who is disappointed in how I’ve turned out (i.e. I’m not like him) and I’m the son who thinks, ‘My father just doesn’t get me.’

MacArthur’s opening comments about the positive things in the movement feel condescending — you know he is about to lower the boom. And then he does. And it’s so predictable. When Tim first mentioned to me that MacArthur would be doing this series the first thing that came into my mind was this: ‘He’s going to tell us to dress in suits.’ And then I thought, ‘Don’t be so harsh. Go in with an open mind. Be ready to hear.’ So I read. And this is what I read:

But for heaven’s sake don’t dress for hardball. HCo. clothes and hipster hair are essential tools of contextualization. The more casual, the better. Distressed, grunge-patterned T-shirts and ripped jeans are perfect. You would not want anyone to think you take worship as seriously as, say, a wedding or a court appearance. Be cool. Which means (of course) that you mustn’t be perceived as punctilious about matters of doctrine or hermeneutics. But whatever you do, donot fail to pay careful attention to Abercrombie & Fitch.

And yes, the italics are his. The one paragraph italicized and set apart from the rest. And it’s about clothes. Really? And then he adds this:

I sometimes think no group is more fashion-conscious than the current crop of hipster church planters—except perhaps teenage girls.

Was that really necessary? Is that really going to win a hearing with the crowd he’s ‘admonishing’? Or is it merely a dig so that all the MacArthurites around the world can rejoice that they’ve struck down another foe?

I feel like he doesn’t get me. It seems like he’s so angry at Mark Driscoll that he hasn’t taken the time to get to know me. Like the father who thinks his son is the same as the rock stars on MTV. That’s Driscoll, not me.

Sure, for some fashion may be a thing. But it’s not for me. I just don’t care about clothes, as long as things are done decently and in order. Even his analogies fall short. A lot of people in our generation don’t wear suits to weddings or to court. Or to funerals for that matter. It’s not that I pay careful attention to Abercrombie; it’s just that I don’t think what I wear to church is nearly so crucial to the gospel as you.

This series seemed to me like it could be a really good thing. I honestly was looking forward to reading it, once I preached some truth to my heart. But this tone and these opening observations make it hard. Very, very hard.

But now here’s the most frustrating part for me. When a wise parent scolds, the wise child listens. Even when the child feels self-assured. In life I’ve seen this. Things that older parents and older Christians have told me — though I didn’t believe them when I was younger — have proven to be true as I’ve grown up. And I’m sure, in some senses, even though I may hate what MacArthur says now, I need to grin and bear it. I know we need to grow up as a movement. I know I need to grow up as a man. And if a proven man like MacArthur can’t scold me, then who can?

If I listen only to those who agree with me, is that to my credit? Even the pharisees do that…

107 Comments

  1. MacArthur is an older version of Driscoll, and Driscoll a new and trendy Macarthur – self assured to the point of arrogance, at times. Thank God not all the time.

  2. Mark|hereiblog.com

    30 July, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Interesting observations in this post. When people try to make the argument about supporting dressing up in church in light of not being worldly does this mean that a suit, for example, is some how heavenly and has nothing to do with worldly culture?

    Also, when it is pointed out that people dress up for their own wedding and assert that this translates into dressing up for church is not a argument for their case. It is an assertion that assumes equivalency, but on what level? If the scenarios were to be compared for what they are which is cultural acceptance the assertion fails. However, I'd like to see actual reasoning on how dressing one way for one situation necessitates dressing the same for other occasions.

    That said, there may very well be a problem with pastors and church leaders going out of their way to try to dress hip and cool. They may put on clothes they would not normally wear to try to fit in or "reach" people, etc. Who is to say for sure without knowing them or their environment?

  3. … someone once said to me "there's people who sell, those who tell, and then those who yell" and JMac is in the 3rd category. Which got me to thinking "I feel like he's a high school coach who tries to motivate me with the yelling approach" … sure I may comply, for a while, but the changes coming from that approach rarely stick.

  4. I'm not a new school or old school for that matter calvinist but stumbled here thru a link. With that context, my comment might not be worth much but share I will, none the less.

    I'm actually an 'm' overseas in a very urban environment. I remember my first week here in 2008 when I met a guy I'll call Harry. We shared the gospel with him, which he was extremely excited to hear, and got to talking. We asked about church and he said he could NEVER go. Too shameful. He as most people here livedin extreme poverty. Church though carried the expectation of status. He had no suit, no slacks, no tie. Theyd never even let him in the building. Wasn't, and til he had those things, would never be good enough.

    Meanwhile the pastors fleece the flocks. The sheep put on a great show. And the spiritually hungry are left standing, deserted, on the margins.

    And discussions like these sound so trite as, like it or not, they feed the discipleship deficit and false doctrines like prosperity doctrine, that plague places like africa. So…to MacArthur and whoever else is so concerned with our suits on Sunday mornings, I'll continue to wear old jeans and Tshirts and such while standing with friends, sometimes in rags, hungry fora God that will love them for who they are and not wh owe expect them to be.

    • Julian

      31 July, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      I'm glad you shared, Brandon! Sometimes I think we in the North American church lose sight of the reality of the global church pretty quickly in debates like this.

      Thankful for the input, brother!

  5. greenandfrugalsamanda

    17 August, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I have not listened to Macarthur's sermons, nor do I know much about him, but I guess this is more a comment of the paragraph in which you posted that he wrote about how we should dress.
    The past year has been a discovery of myself and who I am, and as crazy as it sounds, how I dress is an extension of that. Although I definitely don't have an obsession with clothing, I am known around here as "hippie" and my clothes often reflect that. I discovered something as I started making these changes. There was much judgment. And for me, it's actually a good thing because I think it allowed me to put myself in other people's shoes on how we as Christians judge and how such little things shouldn't really be our focus when there are much bigger issues to extend our energy on. It actually helped me develop more compassion for people. It made me start to really question why people were more concerned with the fact that I put dreads in my hair instead of hurting people in and out of the church.
    I'm not saying we should all show up to church dressing like we just walked off the street, but if you show up to church in what is deemed "appropriate" to many, but don't have a heart for furthering the kingdom, then what is the point?
    And believe it or not, there are people, even right here in Canada that need to be in church that would never enter through the doors because they can not afford the proper attire. Trust me, I know this one as my own parents would fall into this category. I keep wondering where we are putting our effort into as a church….into how we look, how many programs per week we can run for our own congregation and not much more, or how amazing we can make the music? Although I have spent many years being guilty of all this as well (which in itself, there is nothing wrong with having great music, looking decent, or having good programming) I am starting to get the feeling that when I get to Heaven my lame explanation of how I "lived the good Christian life" just isn't going to fly. I am hoping I figure out how to fix that before I get there.

  6. I actually find Macarthur's article to be encouraging. Sure he didn't have to make those comments about how people dressed, but that wasn't his main point. From the times I interacted with young reformed folks it seems so many times they got solid doctrine but lacking character. Macarthur does well by pointing to folks like Spurgeon to be our role model.

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