Mega-Pastor Puts Down Person with Disabilities

John MacArthur, in his sermon The Eyewitness Account of Creation, preaches on Genesis 1 and 2. He takes the position that these chapters record a literal and historical account of creation and that all history and science stems from the events of the opening pages of Genesis. I have no quarrel with those who hold that literal position (unless they denigrate fellow Christians who think otherwise) nor with Christians who see those passages as not literally but figuratively descriptive of God’s work in creation.

In the sermon, MacArthur compares the Genesis account with Darwinism and finds that Charles Darwin comes up short. Fair enough. Many Christians agree based on their understanding of the Bible. Yet MacArthur does not confine his sermon to preaching the Genesis passage and comparing that record to deficiencies he sees in Darwin’s theory of evolution. He instead turns to ad hominem attack on Darwin himself.

After calling Darwin a “stooge for atheistic humanism” and a “twisted individual by all accounts”, MacArthur then lists all the mental illnesses and physical disabilities Darwin is reported to have suffered:

Charles Darwin (Wikipedia)

Entire books have been written on the subject of Darwin’s psychological problems. Listen to this; he suffered from depression, agoraphobia – that’s fear of crowds – insomnia, vision alterations, hallucinations, malaise, vertigo, shaking, tachycardia, fainting spells, shortness of breath, trembling, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, muscle twitches, spasms, tremors, cramps, colic, bloating, headaches, nervous exhaustion, skin blisters, tinnitus, and sensations of loss of consciousness and impending death.

According to Darwin’s own testimony, his problems began at 16 years of age, and by the time he was 28, he was virtually incapacitated by mental illnesses. These maladies were so chronic that Darwin’s scholar Michael Ruse concluded that he lived as an invalid for the last 43 years of his life. You don’t assault God and get away with it.

The list is horrific, and MacArthur immediately draws a conclusion from it: “You don’t assault God and get away with it.” In doing so, MacArthur has transitioned from preaching to prophecy. Nowhere does the Bible say these types of maladies are from assaulting God. Plenty of people who honor God suffer as well, in fact. So the only way to state confidently that Darwin’s condition was a result of his “assault on God” is not by preaching on passages from the Bible but by baldly prophesying that it is so.

This is dangerous territory for two reasons: first, it’s unprovable; second, it attacks not only Darwin but also all other people (including children of God) who suffer similar illness.

Mental Illness and the Children of God

The most reckless aspect* of MacArthur’s conclusion about Darwin’s condition resulting from his work is that it gives wrong ideas to those who suffer themselves.

Mental illness happens to Christians. Chemical imbalances in the brain lead to the very conditions MacArthur attributes to Darwin. Psychological trauma does the same. Would MacArthur as pastor tell a member of his church who is debilitated by mental illness that their overwhelming symptoms are due to their assault on God? I doubt he would.

But the sermon preaches that if you assault God you shouldn’t be surprised if you end up incapacitated by mental illness. You say that can’t be what he meant? I agree. But it’s what he said. Allow me to assure you that what he said is not true, and to suggest that a mega-preacher of MacArthur’s stature should be more careful; there are people listening to him who will take him at face value just as he urges them to take the Genesis passage literally.

What does this mean for those who preach, teach and are given responsibility in God’s Kingdom? It means that if you ever see an opportunity to discuss mental illness you should consider:

  • Is what I am saying true about mental illness?
  • Will my words be encouraging and helpful to those who have a mental illness?
  • Should I forgo mentioning mental illness entirely as not being relevant to the matter at hand?
  • Is there another resource or a professional I can recommend to better help this person?

And while I would hope no person in God’s kingdom would face this, it is the situation John MacArthur found himself in:

  • Am I using someone’s sickness in order to score a point?

MacArthur knew better, too. He relied on the Book of Job extensively in that same sermon (for the proposition that no one should question God’s word on things). If there’s ever someone in the Bible who suffered without it being a result of an assault on God, it’s Job. Yet I am afraid MacArthur fell into the same ungodly philosophy Job’s friends adopted – Look what happened to you. What did you do to tick off God?

Job, Léon Bonnat (1833–1922)
(Wikipedia)

But we know that Job was not being punished but suffering the consequences of the Fall, and in his case it was directly from the hand of the one who fell first, Satan. Was Darwin therefor in the same position as Job? That’s not the point. The point is that it is reckless and dangerous to ascribe conditions people suffer as being a consequence of some aspect of their lives.** No preacher knows that.

And it also hurts those God loves. God cares about Charles Darwin as much as he does John MacArthur, and it’s never appropriate to use a put-down in an effort to make a point about Jesus.

God cares about you, too, and he wants you to care for others as well. (1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13.) This is the better way, the way of God’s loving care.

***

*Another reckless aspect of this ad hominem attack on Darwin is that it was completely unnecessary to the sermon’s purpose. MacArthur said he had three points to make in his sermon but then spent almost all his time on the first one – which included his lengthy attack on Darwin – and then he apologized to his listeners for having to rush through the other two points. If he’d dropped the personal attack on Darwin and confined himself to discussing Darwinism he would have made his first point better and had more time for the other two points.

**This isn’t about obvious cause and effect situations such as eating nothing but junk food and consequently becoming unhealthy.

***

Here’s something that might help pastors to understand mental illness.

***

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43 Responses to Mega-Pastor Puts Down Person with Disabilities

  1. roscuro says:

    As someone who does hold to the six-day creation account, I agree with you completely. I have, over the years heard other such teachers use that form of ad hominem against someone with whom they disagreed. It seems to be the ultimate put down, e.g. Nietzsche was wrong because he declared God was dead, and besides he had syphilis. Now, Nietzsche was wrong and he did have syphilis, but it does not follow that there is any link between the two. There should be a special name for the logical fallacy of arguing that a man’s philosophy is wrong because he got sick. Funnily enough, these people will idolize a man such as Spurgeon, for whom I have great respect, who also suffered with ongoing depression as well as fragile physical health – there is wonderful little book Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine, which uses Spurgeon’s own words about depression as an encouragement to others. I have come to think of the technique of arguing that a man is diseased, therefore he must be in the wrong, as a latent form of the prosperity gospel.

    • Tim says:

      It is a form of the prosperity gospel, roscuro. Thanks too for juxtaposing Spurgeon and Nietzsche; people can be right or wrong, and also quite ill or quite well. The latter aspects don’t correlate to the former ones.

  2. Wow, this is really distressing, Tim. His totally unnecessary foray into Darwin does imply that God directly punishes people who “assault” Him with illness and misfortune; not only is that not MacArthur’s call to make, but it’s so hurtful to those who suffer. He calls Darwin “the Devil’s agent,” too: a pretty reckless judgment.

    I skimmed over the whole transcript of the sermon and there are many points that I find shocking. He says the earth is “a disposable planet” and if we think we’re messing it up, wait & see what Jesus is going to do with it. And he says if someone asks whether God could have used evolution, “that question is intrusive, irritating, and irrelevant. If you want an answer, He did not, He did not.” I feel for some (maybe young) person in the congregation, trying to wrestle and grapple with big issues like this, being told, in effect, your questions are dumb, just shut up and stop wondering. These are words of arrogance and condescension, not humble engagement with the Word of God and the people of God. Yuck.

    • Tim says:

      I thought the same, Jeannie. He flippantly deals with honest questions and describes the planet’s environment as not worth our time and effort. His idea of honoring God is stunted and shriveled. Distressing is the perfect word for that sermon.

    • roscuro says:

      It reads a bit like, to paraphrase Paul, “we are the people, and wisdom will die with us.” Too many gotcha points attacking others, rather than building up the listeners. I dislike the argument that since the earth will be destroyed in the end, we don’t need to care for it. The human body also will be destroyed by death that doesn’t mean we don’t care for it. While this earth lasts, it is the home of humanity, and for the sake of our fellow humans, we should care for it.

      • Serving Kids in Japan says:

        Actually, Roscuro, I remember that phrase being said by Job, towards his very unhelpful, know-it-all friends. But, yes, I find it most apt to describe guys like MacArthur. Just because he knows the Bible — or thinks he does — he considers himself a World Famous Authority (WFA) on every subject under the sun. And therefore, has no need to listen to anyone else.

  3. Angie says:

    Bad prophecy sounds like “Strange Fire”.

  4. rhymerchick says:

    “Would MacArthur as pastor tell a member of his church who is debilitated by mental illness that their overwhelming symptoms are due to their assault on God? I doubt he would.”
    Unfortunately, there are many Job’s comforters out there who are also pastors. If nothing else, they say (or imply) that mental illness stems from a lack of faith. I grew up in a very abusive household, and I have struggled with panic attacks and depression most of my life. Years of therapy and prayer helped some; but medication is what has really enabled me to function almost normally. Yet I was discouraged from going on medication for years, because that meant I wasn’t spiritual enough or trusting God enough. While that is not exactly the same as blaming my symptoms on my “assault” on God” it is just as damaging.

    • Tim says:

      It truly is as damaging, and it grieves me that someone with the title “pastor” would say such things.

    • Serving Kids in Japan says:

      Dear Rhymerchick,

      I’m sorry to hear that people have put you through needless guilt and shame, all in the name of Jesus.

      Yet I was discouraged from going on medication for years…

      I hope that no one actually ordered you to go off your meds. I’m pretty sure that would be considered “practicing medicine without a licence”. Even “discouraging” you from taking prescription medications is probably bending the law (at least).

  5. Nancy2 says:

    I wonder what JM has to say about children who are born with disabilities?
    Bah, I know it’s mean of me to say it, but may JM grow bunions on his tongue!

  6. Kathy Heisleman says:

    Per your question of would JM say similar things to parishioners who are struggling with mental disorders: Unfortunately that is quite common in too many churches.
    If you’re not acquainted with the “Nouthetic Counseling” done in many churches you might want to look at the Nouthetic Counseling websites…..It goes far beyond “Take 2 Bible verses and call me in the morning.” It denies categorically that mental illnesses exist and places all blame on the sufferer. “Counseling: is often done by laypeople with no training except a willingness to bash people with selected Bible verses.

    I have personally known of 2 suicides in local churches that were attributed to guilt and shame on the victim’s part that they were not “Christian” enough to pray their way out of their illness.

    It is despicable.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve read of that “counseling”, Kathy. It’s abusive in my opinion.

      • Serving Kids in Japan says:

        And as far as I can tell, Tim, it’s the only way that MacArthur approves to counsel anyone on distress. So, I think it’s entirely possible — he might very well say much the same to his suffering parishioners as he has said about Darwin.

        Heaven help anyone under this man’s care.

  7. tiquatue says:

    For every symptom on the list you quoted, I kept going, “That’s physical; that’s physical.” Probably 90% of his list can be attributed to physical causes, not “mental illnesses”. If Darwin lived today, we’d probably find he had a brain tumor or something.

    If MacArthur can’t make his point about Darwinism without bashing Darwin himself, then how valid is his point in the first place? Just something to think about.

  8. That reminds me of a ‘biblical’ counsellor I knew who believed that George Reeves, the original Superman actor, struggled with mental health issues and eventually committed suicide because he dared to play a character which “mocked God”. His take on it was that Superman usurped the place of Jesus as the saviour of the world, and in his mind Christopher Reeves’ tragic accident was final proof of how outraged God was with a comic book character.

  9. How much we diminish God by making Him out to be this vengeful compassionless identity who takes pleasure in punishing people who insult Him with illness, and hopelessness (i.e. George Reeves). How many people today and throughout history have played the ‘super man/woman’ in various ways, i.e. placing self at the centre and making themselves out to be mini-saviours, from kings, queens, presidents, to some mega-church pastors? Does God really need to punish or kill them to prove Who He is? No, He is bigger than that. I have an adult son who suffers autism and extreme forms of mental illness which are controlled by medication. I have witnessed the utter horror of him having a psychotic episode and it is something no-one should have to witness in a loved one, let alone experience. Looking after him, as well as childhood emotional abuse, has left me with anxiety issues myself that I deal with daily. Yet my son has a simple child like faith and loves Jesus. He did not ask for his illness. I did not ask for it either, nor do I blame God for it. God has used disability in my son’s life and my own life as a means to reveal Christ, His Cross and His faithfulness, and continues to do so. I believe the Protestant reformer Martin Luther also suffered from severe depression. I wonder what Mr. MacArthur and those who teach such a misrepresentation of God would make of his suffering? Their God is way too small and their teaching along these lines is dangerous.

    • Tim says:

      You and your son have each gone through much, Cheryl, and your faith is evident in your words. You know how wonderfully huge God’s love really is, and you’re right that people like MacArthur have a thing or two to learn.

      • Thanks Tim. Really, those who don’t know Jesus in the fellowship of His sufferings and can so easily write off others are to be pitied because they really don’t know the God they preach about nearly as well as they think they do. I am not a fan of Charles Darwin but think I would rather have an in depth conversation with him than many mega-church pastors alive today because it would be more interesting. I consistently find those who have had a hard time in life more gracious and accepting of others with different viewpoints than many with their narrow religious mindsets. I hope it’s OK to post this here, if not please delete, but here is a poem I wrote some time back that gives a much different picture of the God I know. https://breadforthebride.com/2016/01/26/what-if-revival-doesnt-look-like-revival/

        • Tim says:

          That’s a powerful poem, Cheryl. Links like that are always welcome when they add so well to the conversation here!

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  11. Ruth says:

    Oh yes, I know this one. My asthma came from having a Mason in the family, or from sin being visited unto the 3rd and4th generation……… At two months old??? And I’m 62 now and still have it……ugh.
    Family history of high anxiety, ADHD, Aspergers, schizophrenia, asthma, severe allergies, diabetes, cancer. Just what have my ancestors been up to?
    Really, that list about Darwin is very physical as well as mental or emotional, and it would be fascinating to have doctors research what may have been the actual health problems.
    What a dangerous and destructive individual that speaker is, certainly not safe for family consumption if you want to build spiritually health attitudes.
    Thanks Tim, for pointing out the fallacies and straw-man arguments put forward by him, so common, yet so cruel, and thank you God for being nothing like this fellow asserts.
    Very insulting to the very nature and nurture that Jesus shows us too. 🌻

  12. Christine says:

    Thank you, Tim, for speaking out against this sort of cruel, unbiblical thinking. As a person whose two children both have chronic illnesses, I find this sort of pastoral condemnation from JM one very valid reason why Christians leave “the church”. Additionally, could it be why Christianity can seem so unloving to the unsaved, the very people who desperately need the love and redemption of Christ? Pastors should always preach truth, but always with compassion and grace.

    • Tim says:

      The phrase “pastoral condemnation” seems like an oxymoron, yet it’s just how that sermon comes across not only in the passage I look at but in the other parts Jeannie mentioned as well.

  13. Leigh says:

    Tim, thank you so much for exposing this wrong theology! My now adult daughter was diagnosed at age ten with severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Once diagnosed we were able to look back and see symptoms of this neuro-biological disease in her as early as age five. I have wondered exactly what that five year old had done to assault God so badly that He would rain down an incurable (thankfully manageable) disease on her, one she deals with every day of her life?

    I even fell into the trap of thinking we could just pray her better and refused medication for her for a year. I will regret that the rest of my life. Medication combined with much intense professional therapy over the past 20 years have allowed my daughter to live a fairly normal life, albeit one in which she must battle daily the obsessive thoughts, and the co-morbid condition of depression that many OCD sufferers battle also.

    We left a church we loved and served in over this. When a pastor makes jokes about the mentally ill from the pulpit, it’s time to leave. We kept the diagnoses a secret from the Christian school she attended on advice of her doctors. They were afraid of her being told some similar wrong theology. It was several years after the diagnoses that she was able to understand she had a medical condition and it was not her fault. And to their credit, once she began sharing about it at school she found support and understanding. Pity that kids growing up with OCD or any other mental illnesses in churches that preach such skewed theology probably won’t be offered that same understanding.

    • Tim says:

      “When a pastor makes jokes about the mentally ill from the pulpit, it’s time to leave.”
      That is advice born of experience, Leigh. Thank you for telling your family’s story here. People are blessed by your words.

  14. Yvonne says:

    I will be the only opposing voice here, it seems. I understand the pastor´s point as to be saying: Darwin has led millions of people astray and to hell by his ungodly theory of evolution. God says we reap what we sow. Whether Darwin promoted his theory because he was demon-possessed, which some of these symptoms would indicate, or whether he became ill because he took a stand against a God who knew this blasphemy would cause the destruction of millions, either way, we all should be careful that we do not fall into such heresy. It is amazing to me that not one person here has the discernment to understand that but would rather do their own ad hominen attack agaist a man of God they cannot hold a candle to. I guess it is a sign of the times we live in. Tragic, really.

    • Tim says:

      No one here has done an ad hominem on Mr. MacArthur, but has described (sometimes from painful experience) the danger of his ideas. His teachings are hurting people. To say so is not ad hominem.

    • Serving Kids in Japan says:

      Yvonne, your comment here contains more unprovable assumptions than I can count. To address just a few:

      a) Nowhere in the Bible does it say that anyone goes to hell for acknowledging the theory of evolution.

      b) You have no idea whether Darwin has led anyone to hell. Or have you actually seen them roasting and screaming there for yourself?

      c) Why do you mention only two possible causes for Darwin’s various ailments? Isn’t it just as possible that they were rooted in physical causes which had nothing to do with sin or punishment?

      d) None of us can “hold a candle” to MacArthur? From what I can see, Tim here is kinder, better-reasoned and more hospitable. More Christlike, to put it succinctly.

    • roscuro says:

      Actually, Darwin’s symptoms sound almost exactly like anemia due to Vitamin B12 deficiency: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Anaemia-vitamin-B12-and-folate-deficiency/Pages/Symptoms.aspx. Those with such deficiencies – and the condition is not uncommon – lack intrinsic factor, normally produced in the stomach lining, to be able to absorb Vitamin B12 and thus need injections of the vitamin. In Darwin’s day, they did not know about the vitamin, and thus would not have known how to treat him.

      Christians are far too quick to assign credit to the devil where disease is the real cause. Christ did not cast out devils from the sick people he healed, only from those who were possessed. Having seen many forms of mental illness and also having seen what was probably demon possession (organic causes were ruled out), I know the two look very different from one another. It is cruel to tell a mentally ill person, such as a schizophrenic that their problem is caused by demons, as they are already prone to thinking that something or someone is infiltrating their thoughts. Science has shown that there are real physical changes that happen in the brains of the mentally ill. Why and how those changes occur is yet to be determined, but given that things like hallucinations can occur due to delirium, which is a purely physical problem caused by infection or inflammation, it is not unreasonable to say that the hallucinations of schizophrenia also have a physical cause. It is unreasonable to see the devil behind every sickness of unknown origin.

      • roscuro says:

        Also, the cases of suspected demon possession I saw did not make me think that the people were evil. They were terrified and hurting, caught up in something they did not understand and greatly feared. Christ showed nothing but compassion to the demon possessed he healed, with his patience with the father of the possessed boy and valuing the Gadarene man far more than a herd of pigs. Demon possession is something to be compassionate about, as the people suffering it are only lost and in need of Christ, like the rest of the world.

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  16. Darlene says:

    If I’ve got my fallacies right, I’d McArthur was committing a genetic fallacy. Poor argumentation to prove Darwin’s theory of evolution is wrong.

    • Tim says:

      I had to look up genetic fallacy and found this at Wikipedia:

      The genetic fallacy (also known as the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue]) is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

      Really interesting, Darlene. Thanks for teaching me something new.

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