chapter 3: John MacArthur and the Russians

Friday, March 21, 2008

Doug, Nancy and baby Brian at the Walnut Avenue apartment in Newhall. I stayed with them for 8 months.
Doug, Nancy and baby Brian at the Walnut Avenue apartment in Newhall. I stayed with them for 8 months. They graduated from the Master’s College and attended Grace Church.

By the time I was 18, I was convinced that GOD is different for each person which pointed me to the conclusion that GOD is confined to the mental world of each individual with no basis in reality.

I was further faced with the disappointing prospect that the Bible does not even offer a good abstract basis for God like the Platonic mathematical world which is constant.  No matter who uses algebra or calculus according to the internal rules and assumptions and postulates of the system arrives at the same answer of a given mathematical equation that must be solved.  Christianity is not like this!

During my last year of High School at the age of 18, I went on a hiking trail with a girlfriend (at least, I wanted her to be my girlfriend) which was organised by her church.

I remember sitting at the campfire one night, very emotional over this entire affair of  Christian TRUTH being predicated upon your point of reference and not absolute for all time and eternity.

It was drizzling slightly.

The fire was burned out by this time – just a few tenacious smouldering coals remained.  Around us were the majestic mountains of the Eastern Transvaal, posing as dark silhouettes against a rainy sky.

I remember it as if it happened last week.

I outlined my problem again to my friend.  There was no objectivity in Christianity.  No absolute truth. Therefore there could not be an absolute god.   As soon as one changes your point of reference, everything changes.

“I don’t know what to tell you”, she said and then retired to her tent.

I was alone.  Not just alone by the fire, but for the very first time in my life I pondered the possibility of a world without God – and it was frightfully lonely!!!

One of the pastors saw me sitting outside and he joined me showing every intention of wanting to be very pastoral.

I told him.  I was very emotional about it.  The existence of God was in the balance (a very emotional subject at best of times).

I tried to explain my predicament.

“I see the bible as a transparent cube and the verses on its pages as being visible from the outside.  The one behind the other and staggered one liar on top of another”.

“The verses have a relative distance to the observer and as one moves around this object the distance changes between you and the verses.  Different verses are also now closer to you than before and others are further”.

“To me”, I continued, “the relative distance to the observer is the relative importance that one places on different verses in the bible.  As one changes the ’weighting’ of different verses, one’s theology changes and this is unacceptable”.  It is completely unlike an eternal, constant, never-changing God to speak in such a way!  How do we know what weight to give to different verses? Who decides?”

“There is no permanence and no one objective matrix through which the bible must be viewed.”  Well, I am sure I did not use the word “matrix” then since I was not doing Calculus in school, but that was my question.

The pastor listened patiently.

I remember him picking a water-soaked twig up that was in front of him and tossing it onto the few remaining smouldering coals. Bits of burning coal shot into the air and all off a sudden there was lots of smoke.

“Great”, I thought sarcastically.

“Eben my friend,” he said as he got up, pushing himself up with his hands on his knees.  “It has been a long day.  I’m off to bed”.

“WHAT?” I shouted in my mind.  “You are going . . . . where?” In my own mental world I was saying to him: “Like hell, you are going to bed! Sit your ass down in the smoke that you caused and give me some straight answers here!!! You are telling me that you don’t have the foggiest clue what I was trying to tell you?  Or you don’t know the answer?”

But I did not and he went to bed.

That was the story of me at 18.

I was confused, but I knew exactly what I was looking for and the story is not completely as emotional as it sounds. I was looking for permanence in terms of an approach to scripture.  The one approach that would yield the same results (ie:  the same interpretation) every time the method is applied by anybody on earth – irrespective of your background or influences; throughout all centuries.  In the same way that 3 x 3 = 9 no matter who does the arithmetic, from whatever culture and in whatever time period.

In the same way in which all scientists agree that our world is a globe that spins around the sun – I was looking for that level of clarity.

But it was more than that.  It would validate my faith in God and the existence of God himself.  I was convinced that an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent God would never produce something that would not reflect who he was in every respect.

For me, it was much more than a teenage phase of questioning everything that I was taught as a child.  God, eternal life – everything was at stake here!

Back home my own pastor discovered Dr John Macarthur Jnr. of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles and he could hardly contain his enthusiasm. He was growing very uncomfortable with the logical problems with relativism which characterised the liberal approach to bible interpretation which was the direction that the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa was heading.

The first book he introduced me to was “The Gospel According to Jesus” and it impressed me immediately.  Not so much the topic of Lordship Salvation because non-Lordship salvation was never very big in South Africa.

What impressed the socks off me was the method of handling Scripture.

It is extremely thorough, taking every conceivable verse in the bible into account before a theological point is concluded;

It disregarded (or tried to disregard) the subjective elements of the exegete completely, trying to get to the very root meaning of the word or statement or paragraph – “What did this mean to the person who wrote it?”

It claimed that it takes the bible as the scientists take nature and handle it as objective truth – eternal, permanent and unchanging.  This approach gave me renewed confidence in the quest.

I was inexplicably drawn to it.  “Can this be the Holy Grail that I have been longing for and searching for all my life?”

Can the MacArthur view of Bible Interpretation be the right version of ….not even the Platonic mathematical world, because that is also only hypothetical and a mental world, but…. the real deal?

Could this approach be the one right approach that would unify all positions and that would mean that the Bible IS the product of a real God, living in a real heaven, with a real Saviour who will usher me into a real eternal life?

I passionately desired to investigate this more thoroughly and decided that nothing would stand in my way to determine the truth about this matter.  For me, it was a matter of life and death.

No matter how, or with what, I decided that I will make it possible to get to the US and to go and study this matter further.  For me, the answer was in Los Angeles and nothing would stand in my way. If there is any truth to this, I will spend my life discovering it.

All answers to the question as to which world God belongs to, the personal mental world, some hypothetical world like the Platonic Mathematical world or the actual physical world leads to the USA.

But I was an 18-year-old man in South Africa.  In 1987 South Africa was involved in a bitter border war in the then South West Africa (now Namibia) against SWAPO (South West Africa Peoples Organisation) and the forces of Angola and Cuba who, supported by the then USSR wanted to invade South West Africa and set up another Marxist government in Southern Africa.

“Conscription” saw all-white South African males doing at least two years of national military service and my plans had to be put on at least a two-year hold.  Before I could go and find the Holy Grail, I first had to do my part to conquer the Soviet forces of the USSR, Angola and Cuba.

This is how it happened that on one very lonely night in January 1988, I boarded a train in the small but historical town of Vereeniging to the army base in Voortrekkerhoogte, Pretoria where I was to become more concerned to survive basic training than pondering the lofty matters of a Holy Interpretations Grail or Gods actual world of existence – at least at first . . .


(c) eben van tonder