Home > Current Events > listening to Alistair Begg and wondering what he means

listening to Alistair Begg and wondering what he means

When I attended a Calvary Chapel I was always sort of perplexed by the tacit approval John MacArthur enjoyed in Calvary circles. His Reformed positions and his affirmation of some kind of Lordship Salvation put him at odds with a couple of Calvary distinctives. He was also one of the voices on KNKT who couldn’t seem to get through a broadcast without raising his voice. In retrospect I’m inclined to believe that for whatever reason there’s a designated slot or two for angry Calvinists on KNKT, and at the time MacArthur filled that position.

That people who listened to Calvary radio heard MacArthur had a couple of results. One was that people who left Calvary looking for something more left-brain tended to move in a Reformed direction. Another was that MacArthur Study Bibles proliferated with predictable results. I once attended a Bible study where the speaker read a passage of Scripture and asked what was intended to be a thought-provoking question (I think it was one of those “why did Jesus do X?” questions) and someone helpfully piped up with “Well John MacArthur says…”

This is of course one of the difficulties of study Bibles in conservative theological circles generally. They tend to foster the attitude that because we believe the Bible we believe that everything on the pages of the one we hold in our hands is equally trustworthy. The whole experience led me to be suspicious of anyone who wrote (or edited) their own study Bible. And of course to make distinctions between men who suggest that what they personally believe and teach is the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints while at the same time writing new books that explain that faith rather than recommending books someone else wrote that may well do the same thing better. But I digress.

Listening to Calvary radio again (this time on KLHT) I was surprised to hear Alistair Begg partly filling the John MacArthur slot. His Calvinist leanings aren’t as prominent, but he’s still inexplicably angry about something. Or maybe he just sounds that way every time I listen to him. I don’t know.

What struck me while listening to Begg over the course of several days was that his treatment of a text tends to follow a fairly predictable pattern: he reads the text, he explains a couple of key words in the original languages, and he offers up a bland cliche. There may be some additional material on the way to the third step: when I was listening to him he spent a fair amount of time on a story about attempting to ride an old horse named George. But without fail his treatment of the text ended in a cliche as surely and as finally as the Jordan River ends in the Dead Sea.

There are several possible reasons why he would proceed this way, and not all of them reflect badly on him. It could be that he’s struggling to be faithful to the text and at the same time attempting to say something accessible to his audience. He may or may not have been instructed in seminary to preach at a seventh-grade level. It could be that he’s very much in touch with what Paul meant in the original Greek, but entirely out of touch with his congregation, and preaching to an imaginary audience. Preaching is hard work; the bubble around the pulpit is a scary place; etc. But it may also be that he’s speaking out of his depth and is dealing entirely with theoretical knowledge. And having seen this sort of thing before, even or especially from powerful speakers who are careful students of Scripture, I’m inclined to wonder if that isn’t the case.

I don’t necessarily have a recommendation here. We apparently need professional pastors; the Bible is a difficult book; there is more in it than a person can experience and understand. And the underlying problem, that we want a relationship with God but instead settle for a relationship with a Book, is a bigger problem than having to sit through the occasional cliche.


  1. Rob
    July 27, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Another option: Lazy.

    Gotta get my script/program done for today. Run through a few quick cursory steps, include a few definitions, and finally add that final wrap up.

    No different than how kids crank out a homework assignment the night before the paper is due, or how many “journalists” crank out news articles to fill space and meet deadlines.

    It’d be interesting to know how much prep time he puts into each message. Could be he’s just meeting his quota/deadlines.

  2. August 3, 2011 at 3:21 am

    The spirit of this post seems very proud.What was your purpose anyway?

    • August 3, 2011 at 9:51 am

      Carri —

      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to comment. I’m not sure I understand your question here; I tried to relate what I think I heard faithfully and put it in context.

      As per usual I’m trying to listen carefully and critically, and I’d encourage anyone listening to Christian radio to do likewise.

  3. Chad
    August 3, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Mike, your post is either astute or asinine… Depending whether you are right or wrong about Begg.

  4. August 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    With all the terrible so called expositors out there behind pulpits, why criticize Alistair Begg? I don’t see the point in your criticism of him when there is so much more valid things to talk about. At least he preaches the Gospel. And yes, I’m all for being discerning.

    • August 5, 2011 at 8:55 am

      Who in particular are you referring to here? As I said, I mostly got interested in Begg because he stood out against a background of Calvary Chapel preachers.

      Are you really making the argument that because there are lots of lousy preachers that he should get a pass because he “preaches the Gospel?” I’m having a hard time following your argument here.

  1. August 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm
  2. August 2, 2011 at 10:51 pm

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