When Heroes Disappear

I was a fervent lover of baseball as a kid. Growing up in Colorado meant we had no access to Major League Baseball games, so I never attended a game until many years later. The nearest team was in St. Louis, and I can remember listening to games at night on a transistor radio. It wasn’t always a clear signal, but through the static, I could usually pick up KMOX, and they broadcast the Cardinals’ games. Normally, I hid under a blanket because it was past bedtime and if my mother heard the radio, she would make me turn it off.

You might think I cheered for the Red Birds, and I did like Stan Musial, but for some reason, I was a die-hard Yankee fan. Like half the boys in my generation, my hero was Mickey Mantle. In 1962, when my brother was born, I lobbied hard for my parents to name him Mickey Roger Austin because of the epic home run duel Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were involved with the previous summer. My efforts were in vain, and my brother carries the name Steve Austin (not the famous one).

I loved everything about Mickey Mantle. One of the first things I did every morning was tear through the sports page and find the box scores just to see how he did the day before. I never saw him play except for the occasional Saturday Game of the Week when the Yankees happened to play. I knew everything a 12-year-old boy could know about someone back in those pre-Internet times.heroes

Many years later, I learned the Mickey had an alcohol problem and that he liked to party, getting by on the verge of constantly being disciplined by the team. I didn’t know that, and I might not have believed it at the time. He was my hero. By the way, heroes will always disappoint us.

I have had other heroes over the years.

When I was a pastor far away from colleagues and libraries, I stumbled across a radio program called “Grace to You.” I loved the music at the beginning and end of the program— “Oh How He Loves You and Me.” I still catch myself singing it at times. The heart of the program was the preaching of John MacArthur, and for a young preacher thirsting for good Bible study, he was a life saver. I bought his books, followed his notes, used his material for my own sermon research. If I’m going to be totally honest, I’m sure I even preached a few of his sermons. He wasn’t a great preacher, but I thought he was an amazing teacher. He was a hero for me.

During that time, Sharon and I attended a big conference in Houston, and he was one of the speakers (that’s the primary reason I went). We were seated near the side entrance, about twenty rows from the pulpit. We listened to someone preach, sang a few hymns, and settled in to hear another sermon before MacArthur was scheduled to preach. Just as we sat back in the pew, MacArthur himself entered the side door next to where we were seated and sat in the pew directly in front of me. It was a heady experience for me because we seldom get so close to our heroes.

I was fascinated as I watched him while someone else was preaching. He had his Bible open and was rapidly making notes on a notepad. He continued writing until near the end of the man’s sermon when he got up to leave. Sure enough, MacArthur was next on the program, and now he was on stage.

The first thing he said after being introduced solidified my amazement. He indicated that he was informed on the ride from the airport to the church that he was to speak on a specific topic, which had nothing to do with what he had prepared. He then apologized because he would be using a few notes he had put together during the past few minutes. That’s what he was writing on the notepad. I don’t remember the sermon he preached or the topic, but I do recall being amazed that someone could preach such a well thought out and designed extemporaneous message.

However, it turns out that MacArthur has a great deal in common with Mickey Mantle. I’m aware that MacArthur played baseball in college, but that’s not what I’m referencing. Mantle allowed his drinking to get out of control and was better known for his partying and fun during his life after baseball. Nearly 20 years ago, he died from cirrhosis of the liver, a malady that destroys the life of many drinkers. Although I experienced a touch of grief when he died, he was not the same man I idolized in the 1960s.

In much the same way, John MacArthur has gone over the edge and allowed his skill in handling scripture to take him to the edge of extreme on many positions. In the last few years, he has launched attacks on anyone who suggests evolution might be a possibility, those who don’t understand salvation as he does, charismatics, therapists, contemporary churches, Roman Catholics, the social gospel, and now women (more on that in a moment).

MacArthur is a fierce fighter from the take-no-prisoners war college. He uses his skill to pummel all those who disagree and many who just don’t give a damn. If you agree with him, you might say that he speaks the truth, but you would be hard-pressed to say he speaks the truth in love.

Last week while celebrating his 50th year in the pulpit, he dove headfirst into the issue of women in the pulpit. He accused the Southern Baptist Convention of forsaking biblical authority on the matter, which is somewhat ironic because Southern Baptists have been slow to come to this particular dance.

When asked about one of the most popular women preachers of the day, Beth Moore, MacArthur succinctly said she should, “Go home.” It sounds like he might be staking out the old “barefoot and pregnant” position for women.

I’ve lost another hero. Like my baseball hero who held on too long, trying to stay on the field long after his knees were shot, perhaps 50 years in the pulpit was too long for MacArthur. That happens with heroes often. They reach the peak, and there’s no place to go but down, so they descend into the valley of irrelevance.

Last Christmas, I gave one of my most prized possessions to my oldest grandson Noah—a baseball with Mickey Mantle’s autograph. I’m going to hold to my old MacArthur commentaries, the ones he wrote while on the mountain top when he was still my hero. Perhaps it’s Beth Moore who needs to tell John MacArthur that it’s time to “go home.”

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Filed under Church, faith, Legalsim, Southern Baptist, Uncategorized

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