Justin Peters interviews Phil Johnson about John MacArthur's Lavish Lifestyle

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C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
MacArthur has been persona non grata ever since he made it clear that he would not kowtow to Big Eva's obsession with social justice.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
MacArthur has been persona non grata ever since he made it clear that he would not kowtow to Big Eva's obsession with social justice.
1) Public repudiation/rebuke of charismania, which movement has moved/merged with dominant strain of evangelicalism
2) Not aboard the woketrain
3) Hi-Visibility opposition to lockdown insanity

All the ingredients for a coalition-takedown, who all share animosity for this one guy. I have criticisms of JMA. I also think the low-key approach to confronting state overreach is wiser and truer to NT principles. But its hard not to notice the multipronged assault on the church, the school, and the man.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
So what biblical principles apply to how much a pastor, celebrity or not, should earn from his ministry?
I've expressed before that a pastor should be able to afford the lifestyle enjoyed by the majority of his congregation and live in a similar neighborhood.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I've expressed before that a pastor should be able to afford the lifestyle enjoyed by the majority of his congregation and live in a similar neighborhood.

I've heard that many times in my life as well and I do think it is a generally wise principle. But is it biblical? What happens if a pastor enjoys a lifestyle that far exceeds that of his congregation and lives in a much nicer neighborhood? Has he done anything wrong?

Looking at some of Roys' criticism of MacArthur here, if it is true, some of it bothers me and some of it doesn't.

  • Real Estate - we all know real estate values are off the charts in many parts of California and since MacArthur has owned two of the properties for quite some time, I think we can safely assume what he paid for it is probably not at all similar to what it is worth now so present values aren't an issue for me. Also, he was gifted the ranch in Colorado Springs. If the guy uses the properties for ministry and is generous and hospitable, the real estate doesn't really bother me. However, when you do attack prosperity preachers and you have 3 properties, expect some scrutiny and pushback.

  • Salaries - I think his salaries from the three different sources (his church, Master's college and seminary, and GTY radio program) raise questions but aren't necessarily wrong. What bothers me is that transparency seems to be lacking here. Now compared to comparable CEO salaries of people who have names as big as his, he doesn't make much at all. His work and name obviously bring tremendous benefit to all those institutions. However, when transparency is lacking, and salaries are paid from donor money, I think more care and transparency is much wiser than less in my opinion.

  • Nepotism - I am seeing more and more what a huge issue this is in some churches. The financial deals, board memberships, and the like with family members are a cause of concern for me and scrutiny is warranted.
Added: regarding what type of lifestyle a pastor lives also involves other issues as well including what example it sets to the congregation, the example it sets to pastors you train (especially in MacArthur's case), and what kind of questions have to be answered by those in your congregation and those who follow and defend you if you go after other pastors for living an extravagant lifestyle and you yourself life far above the average.

Maybe MacArthur hasn't done anything wrong and biblically he "can" live like this. But "should" he? Is it wise given his position and the attacks he has made on others? As a very influential leader that so many look up to and listen to for guidance, is this the best lifestyle to live for their sake?
 
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Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
What happens if a pastor enjoys a lifestyle that far exceeds that of his congregation and lives in a much nicer neighborhood? Has he done anything wrong?
I would say 'yes' to that one. Even if it is inherited wealth. Or perhaps especially if it is inherited wealth. It might work if his wife is a 6 figure executive and he didn't come from wealth. But there is a difference between someone for whom an issue is a crisis and someone for whom the same issue is an expense. There is a risk of creating envy amongst the congregation and pride in the pastor.

As to your bullet points

- If the mansion pictured was his home, on the surface it does look a bit problematical. Even in Dallas, that looked like it would go in the $5-7 million range. BUT, as you raised, how does he use it? In any event, I'd consider questions to be legitimate.

-Multiple income streams don't particularly concern me. Does anyone complain about celebrity endorsements by pro athletes? And Franklin Graham is pulling in over $1 million a year from his multiple sources, and a good chunk of that started when he was trading off of his father's name instead of his own. At least Mac built his own brand from scratch.

-Nepotism brings its own risks (see the Crystal Cathedral fiasco, and at the last minute I just remembered Liberty University for a more recent example, Sproul for an earlier one) and should be avoided for practical reasons - if the family members are any good, use networking to help them land on their feet somewhere else (like TT at Coral Ridge). Unfortunately, it's all too common in the evangelical community, and I wouldn't use it to attack Mac if the family members are competent.

Finally, I don't know what his congregation is like. Maybe that is the average for his congregation.
 

Edward

Puritanboard Commissioner
I'll add one more thought about this - If the question is embarrassing, then it probably needs to be asked.
 

pmachapman

Puritan Board Freshman
Nepotism brings its own risks (see the Crystal Cathedral fiasco, and at the last minute I just remembered Liberty University for a more recent example, Sproul for an earlier one) and should be avoided for practical reasons - if the family members are any good, use networking to help them land on their feet somewhere else (like TT at Coral Ridge). Unfortunately, it's all too common in the evangelical community, and I wouldn't use it to attack Mac if the family members are competent.
I personally believe the money and house issues reported on are misunderstandings, and I personally don't think an form of transparency is required for income, salaries, etc except what is legally required by the state or denomination where applicable. Choose carefully who you give your money to.

In terms of the perception of Nepotism, this is a difficult one. Churches hire a son of a beloved minister (i.e. Thomas Spurgeon), and you cannot deny the weight having the last name of Spurgeon had for his candidacy to the ministry there (there surely were other Godly Baptists in Britain at that time, and they didn't need to deprive New Zealand of him!). I know a church where the father was a pastor, and the son an elder on the same session. I don't think being related disqualified either from those offices, especially since the congregation elected these men to these offices. Yet, the apple can fall far from the tree (i.e. Herbert Ryle, Jean-Alphonse Turrettin), and of the top of my head, I cannot think of any real "dynasties" in Christian ministry.

I find it interesting that a business that passes down the family line is a good thing, yet for parachurch ministry it does not seem to be.
 

pmachapman

Puritan Board Freshman
It looks like it is a matter for the civil courts then. As far as I am aware, no final judgment has been made? If none has been made, then I think it is immoral to treat someone as guilty until proven so in a court of law, by parading them in the media (something which does sicken me about the mainstream media in my country when covering someone who is not famous enough to warrant name suppression). If judgment has been made in court, then there is grounds for dismissal from any board positions, etc, as anyone else would have to do.
 

Paul1976

Puritan Board Freshman
One aspect that I think is missing in this is that there is a difference between becoming wealthy in general and becoming wealthy from ministry. It is not wrong to acquire wealth in this world, it is not specifically wrong to live at a level appropriate to one's means. It can be a danger and a distraction, but it isn't wrong. It also isn't wrong to earn a living from ministry. I do have a problem with becoming excessively wealthy from ministry, though. Paul used the example of the prohibition of muzzling an ox while it treads grain. In other words, if a farm animal should be allowed to earn a decent meal in exchange for it's labor, those working full-time in ministry should earn enough to live on from it. The law doesn't require farmers to allow an ox to cart off tons of excess grain for later lavish living.

Similarly, those that become wealthy from ministry are doing so largely from tithes and offerings given to further the gospel. That money was donated with the intent of advancing the gospel - anyone who believes the Bible should be concerned about taking a larger portion than is appropriate. I don't pretend to know where earning a reasonable living from ministry ends and effectively stealing from money intended to further the church's mission begins. I also have not read up on the specific concerns regarding JM, and do not feel the need to do so. I'm not going to comment one way or the other on whether JM has behaved inappropriately here. But, I do firmly believe that it is possible for a minister to draw too much income from their work for the gospel, and that is something we should be concerned with. Personally, I started doing a quick google search with a minister's name followed by "net worth." before including that minister in group of sources for sermons to download. I can say what I've turned up in some cases caused me enough concern that I decided to look elsewhere for sermons. In other instances, my respect for a teacher increased based on what I found. I can point to an individual who is well-known and has sold enough books they could legitimately be quite wealthy, but chose to quietly donate all their book royalties to a ministry instead.
 

Unique Name

Puritan Board Freshman
I have no clue if MacArthur (the guy who went on Ben Shapiro and indirectly called many of us on PB replacement theologian [edit: "Israel"] haters, more or less) owns three homes. But if he does, why is it controversial to call him out since he's so viciously opposed to prosperity gospel? There does not have to be a clear contradiction to claim there is a tension. Just like it's not a contradiction for him to preach doom and gloom rapture theology while at the same time complain about the advances of secularism, but there is a tension (even more so in my opinion if he owns tres hermosas casas). Just like its not a contradiction for him to complain about social justice and "racial" thinking when his own bible commentary tells us all about God's plan for the Jews apart from the "gentiles", implicitly endorses Zionism, (and probably has some weird racial stuff to say about a lot in the OT) but there is a tension.

p.s. what is so wrong with the core beliefs of historic prosperity gospel since it is just an attempt to reconcile Christianity with the belief that the sin of sloth (barring exceptional circumstances) is the only thing in the way of a person's rising above and beyond the poverty line in America? It's simply combining the American capitalist individualist ethos with the bible. Besides, it's an excuse for American pastors to own three homes. Don't respond with "but Joel Osteeeeeen is stealing souls for the Devil". I don't doubt that. But that's not addressing my question.
 

Andrew35

Puritan Board Sophomore

I have no idea what's going on over in MacArthur's world, but things like this (see link above) are not encouraging.

I've known and respected Sam Horn for a long time, though I would disagree with him on many things. To fire, then slander him like this, implying he's "unworthy" of eldership, is unconscionable. No one I know of has ever had anything negative to say about him. I would give him the benefit of the doubt over TMU.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The reality is: we're not all entitled to know everything that's going on in SoCal, let alone one particular pond there (large or small). We think we're "investors" because many of us have heard JMA on the radio. Even fewer of us have ever been to a single service where he's spoken, in SoCal or anywhere else. Fewer still are products of the institutions connected to him, or know someone who has attended one or more.

These days, as soon as something happens on the other side of the country, or the world, we hear about it, and start to form poorly informed opinions, based on the faulty premise that if we were any closer we'd have the same amount of information and context; and besides we have all we need right this minute to think exactly right (in spite of the variety of opinions arising from the same data pool).

It doesn't help that we live in a time and place when there's never been SO MUCH information available, unfiltered; and so many of the ad hoc faucets we've turned to in order to create a "stream" for us (from the sea we were drowning in) have been proved wrong more than once. Add to that, a climate of misinformation (some of it deliberate) and a bitter lack of trust--as many occupying the positions of trust have shown themselves scoundrels--and we have a perfect storm for controversies.

We'd all be better off just "withholding judgments" both positive and negative. Our "heroes" may be found out deeply flawed or massively vindicated. If we aren't fawning over them, nor dragging their name through the mud; if we aren't rushing to defend them based on nothing but our celebrity-acquaintance with their product, nor pillorying them based on sob-stories of personal experience (which we cannot verify); we may just stand by and wait for events to unfold as they will. Then we find out *what* happened (information), though not necessarily unveiling the manichean characterization of the actors.

"Activism" is a horrible modern work, where agitation stirs up mobs, which are then nudged and manipulated by well-positioned (and often hidden) powers. The "activists" are of two kinds, the "agitators" (that's the old word) and the "useful idiots." Guess what? If you don't know why you are being stirred up to defend or decry someone or something, you are just being given a BADGE for being an activist, while belonging to the "useful idiot" camp.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
Even fewer of us have ever been to a single service where he's spoken, in SoCal or anywhere else. Fewer still are products of the institutions connected to him, or know someone who has attended one or more.

I can't speak for anyone else but:
  • I've heard him speak in person and heard him proclaim the church will fail in its mission just like Adam and Israel (typical dispensationalism). Even as a young Christian I was utterly shocked to hear this from him.
  • The first church I attended for 9 years where I received quite a bit of training was staffed by all Master's grads and even family members of MacArthur and I was on track to go to Masters if I continued pursuing the ministry at that point in my life
  • I know quite a few people who have attended his church
  • I know a guy who worked in his house who expressed surprise to me how nice it was (I don't know any more details than that and I didn't ask)
  • I know pastors who went through Masters who have quietly been encouraging their own guys in training to go to other seminaries due to concerns that are unknown to me
  • I know that at least some pastors and elders who are connected to that network who are afraid to disagree with MacArthur publicly
I've heard enough over the years not to completely write off the attacks nor to fully embrace them without sufficient evidence either. Like many of you, I am grateful for all the good work he has done for the Lord as I too have benefited from it. But unlike some of you, I don't believe he is a pristine saint without fault either and that these criticisms are completely unfounded.

The truth will come out at some point.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Sophomore
But unlike some of you, I don't believe he is a pristine saint without fault either and that these criticisms are completely unfounded.

The truth will come out at some point.
I don't think anyone here believes he is a pristine saint. All preachers and teachers have failings and sin in their life, just like every other person. It comes down to if it disqualifies them or not.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I don't think anyone here believes he is a pristine saint. All preachers and teachers have failings and sin in their life, just like every other person. It comes down to if it disqualifies them or not.
This, and the fact that “not a pristine saint” should never mean in practice “to be assumed guilty of every allegation.” Charity is not just a good thing in these circumstances, but a command of the Lord.
 

ChristianLibertarian

Puritan Board Freshman
Poking around other people's wealth and income has its roots in covetousness and is a violation of the 10th commandment. It's no one's business how much MacArthur or anyone else makes, it's no one's business how much real estate anyone else owns, it's no one's business what someone else's financial portfolio is. Quite frankly, it's no one's business if someone hires his son to work with him. Where in scripture is so-callef nepotism forbidden? Nearly all of western civilization has seen sons follow in the footsteps of their father and join them in their trade and ultimately take the business over. Obviously it's different in the church but if MacArthur's church hired his kids what's it to anyone?

I don't agree with all of MacArthur's theology but he isn't peddling damnable heresy for profit. He isn't Osteen, White, Falwell or name your evangelical televangelist. He doesn't view the church as a means to wealth, unlike the aforementioned "pastors"
 

Unique Name

Puritan Board Freshman
Poking around other people's wealth and income has its roots in covetousness and is a violation of the 10th commandment. It's no one's business how much MacArthur or anyone else makes, it's no one's business how much real estate anyone else owns, it's no one's business what someone else's financial portfolio is. Quite frankly, it's no one's business if someone hires his son to work with him. Where in scripture is so-callef nepotism forbidden? Nearly all of western civilization has seen sons follow in the footsteps of their father and join them in their trade and ultimately take the business over. Obviously it's different in the church but if MacArthur's church hired his kids what's it to anyone?

I don't agree with all of MacArthur's theology but he isn't peddling damnable heresy for profit. He isn't Osteen, White, Falwell or name your evangelical televangelist. He doesn't view the church as a means to wealth, unlike the aforementioned "pastors"
Ironically it's the practice of simony or nepotism that helped create Reformation fever in Europe. But that's another story. What frustrates me is that he, as a dispensationalist, must commit to the idea that society is doomed, and that racial thinking is justified, yet he complains about the advances of secularism and racial thinking i.e., "wokeness". Staying within the scope of the convo, his wealth is ironic if he has such disdain for prosperity gospels historic tenets, which is basically the unification of capitalist, upward-mobility-individualism (the virtues of every Republican) with Christianity.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
...his wealth is ironic if he has such disdain for prosperity gospels historic tenets, which is basically the unification of capitalist, upward-mobility-individualism (the virtues of every Republican) with Christianity.
This notion, even if problematic, isn't really the so-called prosperity gospel, though. The so-called prosperity gospel is the mixing not of capitalism with Christianity, but of pan-/polytheistic New Age paganism with Christianity. It is the belief that our thoughts are sovereign, even creative, and that we can therefore control our whole reality. Furthermore, God, who is nothing other than a feeble and kind-hearted but powerless grandfather in the sky, is only concerned that we are happy, and thus gives us the right magical formulas to achieve this happiness, which really just boils down to positive thinking.

I am not sure how MacArthur's being wealthy means that he believes any of this.
 

bookslover

Puritan Board Doctor
In a sense, all of this is moot. MacArthur will turn 82 on June 19th and will probably be retiring from the ministry in the next three or four years (no, I don't have any inside information - this is just a guess), if not sooner, depending on his health (which, as far as I know, is good). No, he's not Reformed, but I've gotten a lot of good from his ministry in the 41 years I've been listening to him. I've attended his church several times over the decades, though not recently.

If there is any financial hanky-panky going on, it will, as someone above said, all come out eventually - possibly after he's retired, almost certainly after he's dead. None of us is perfect, and he will have to stand before the Lord and be answerable to Him, just as we all will.
 

TheInquirer

Puritan Board Freshman
I only wish for the truth.
  • If MacArthur and his ministries are being slandered, I pray they will be vindicated quickly
  • If there is sin on their part, I pray it is repented of quickly
 
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