An open letter to John MacArthur

Jen Bradbury
Oct 22 · 5 min read

Dear John –

You don’t know me, but your books have sat on my shelf long enough that I like to think of you as a friend so I‘ll call you by your first time.

Your book, 12 Ordinary Men, was hugely influential in my understanding of the apostles and led me to create one of my favorite youth ministry series of all times on the 12 apostles. It’s one I’ve done time and time again because it resonates so well with teens. And in so many ways, I have you to thank for that.

I’ve always known that you and I hold different opinions on women in ministry. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me from learning from and even respecting you as a Bible teacher. I like to believe that despite the divisiveness in our world, it’s still possible for two people – in particular, for two Christians – to fundamentally disagree about certain things and yet still respect one another.

That’s why your behavior last week in regard to Beth Moore was so disappointing, John.

In telling Beth to “Go Home”, you belittled a woman who has only ever been faithful to her calling – her God-given, God-ordained calling. Worse still, though, in doing so, it felt like you tried to deny her full humanity – which NO ONE can or should do to another person.

As a woman in ministry and someone who consistently preaches, I was, of course, horrified by your comments. But I was also filled with sorrow. Not for me, John, but for you… And for a world in which we’re still arguing about whether or not women have a place in church leadership.

In my favorite movie of all time, Anne of Green Gables, there’s a scene between the main character, Anne, and her adopted mother, Marilla, in which Anne asks Marilla, “Don’t you ever imagine things differently than they are?”

Marilla quickly responds, “No”, to which Anne immediately and sorrowfully says, “Oh Marilla, how much you miss.”

Last week, John, it became painfully clear that what you lack is Gospel imagination and so I can only say to you, “Oh John, how much you miss.”

Not long ago, John, I stood in front of my congregation and preached about Sarah – specifically about how Abraham kept trying to relegate her to the margins of her own story, silencing her and sending her home (or in this case, to her tent). Yet, when the Lord showed up in the form of three men, (Genesis 18), Abraham could no longer do so. God promised them a son and then spoke directly to Sarah – not Abraham – in what amounted to a silly spat about whether or not she laughed in response to God’s promise.

God saw her.

God dignified her.

God recognized her full humanity.

As I told this story and talked about how God fulfilled God’s covenant through Sarah and NOT just Abraham, I integrated her story with mine. As someone who recently had a geriatric pregnancy, this was only appropriate. I can understand Sarah’s story – her frustration, laughter, and joy – in a way that no man can.

Afterwards, a retired Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor approached me. Like you, this man does not believe women should be in the pulpit. Yet, after hearing me preach, he did not tell me to go home. Instead, he said this, “Today I saw what we miss in the Missouri Synod by NOT having women preach.”

I believe he was able to say that because in that moment, his missional and gospel imagination was sparked. He saw a woman integrating her whole self – her whole experience of pregnancy and motherhood - into a message that enabled him to experience this story in a new way through a perspective that no man could ever bring to the text.

So John, please understand this. Since the beginning of time, there have been men who have tried to deny the full humanity and giftedness of women.

Abraham tried it.

You’ve tried it.

Yet, we will preach anyway: From our rockers with babies in our arms, the pulpit, and even the very homes you’ve tried to send us to.

We will do so because we worship and proclaim a God who sees ALL people – not just white men. And not only does God see us, but God values us, as unique and gifted children created in God's image.  

So, John, it is my sincerest prayer that somehow, someway God would spark the kind of missional and gospel imagination in you that this Missouri Synod Pastor had; That you would see how much you – and your church – miss by not affirming women in leadership.

Because John, when you tell women to go home, it’s not women who miss out.

It’s you.