Slave – John MacArthur (2010)

John MacArthur has been churning out quality Christian books and resources for over thirty-five years.  He has been defining and defending the biblical gospel in books like The Gospel According to Jesus, Faith Works, Ashamed of the Gospel, Hard to Believe, and The Truth War. Each of these books, beginning especially with The Gospel According to Jesus has had a profound effect on my life and pastoral ministry.

MacArthur’s book, Slave continues to articulate the biblical gospel, the very same gospel that was preached by the apostles, Reformers, and Puritans.   The uniqueness of this book is that the author seeks to “pull the hidden jewel” as he says, “all the way into the sunlight.”

MacArthur’s concern is that what is means to be a Christian has been and is being redefined by many evangelicals.  But the New Testament clearly delineates the meaning of what is means to be a Christian, namely, a “wholehearted follower of Christ.”  MacArthur picks up the same theme he began in The Gospel According to Jesus when he argues that Christian discipleship “demands a deep affection for Him, allegiance to Him, and submission to His Word.”

The Greek term doulos is at the heart of MacArthur’s concern.  While English translations have been notorious for mistranslating this term as “servant,” the proper translation is “slave.”  He notes this glaring error and insists that while many Greek words can be translated “servant,” doulos is certainly not one of them!  The author highlights the key distinction between a servant and a slave, namely, “servants are hired; slaves are owned.”

Therefore, Christian disciples are defined in a biblical sense as slaves of God.  MacArthur adds, “He [Christ] is the Master and Owner.  We are His possession.  He is the King, and the Lord, and the Son of God.  We are His subjects and His subordinates … True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to my life.  Instead, it is about devoting myself completely to Him – submitting wholly to His will and seeking to please Him above all else.”

MacArthur argues convincingly that Christ is Lord and Master over his church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18).  Indeed, Christ is sovereign over every person and everything in the universe.  John Hus is cited as a model of one who fully gave his life “to the sovereign lordship of Christ and the supremacy of His Word …”

The author demonstrates the folly of a watered-down version of Christianity: “To diminish the dominating role of Scripture in the life of the church is to treat the Lord of the church as if His revelation were optional … Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching, and non-doctrinal teaching usurp Christ’s headship, silencing His voice to His sheep.”

MacArthur presents the biblical portrait of man apart from Christ, namely, “bound, blind, and dead.”  The backdrop of depravity sets the stage for grace to rule and reign in the hearts and minds of sinners.  For “it is from slavery to sin that God saves His elect, rescuing them from the domain of darkness and transferring them as His own slaves into the kingdom of His Son” (Col 1:13).  The author continues, “Freedom in Christ, then, is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin – freedom to live as God intends, in truth and holiness.”

MacArthur presents an excellent summary of particular redemption, a doctrine that has been neglected for years in the church.  He argues, “Christ’s death on the cross actually pays the penalty for the elect sinner, redeeming him from sin and rescuing him from God’s wrath … the saving benefits of Christ’s redemptive work are applied only to those whom God has chosen for Himself.”

The author sets forth the biblical teaching concerning adoption.  The historical precedent for adoption is shown in the Old Testament.  And the New Testament reality of adoption is explained in detail.  All of God’s elect are thus “simultaneously sons and slaves.”  MacArthur adds, “Like justification, adoption rests on the loving purpose and grace of God.”

Finally, the author presents four compelling paradoxes that relate to the overall theme of the book:

1. Slavery brings freedom.

2. Slavery ends prejudice.

3. Slavery magnifies grace.

4. Slavery pictures salvation.

John MacArthur just keeps getting the gospel right.  Ever since he wrote The Gospel According to Jesus, he has been warning the church to define the gospel biblically and keep Christ at the center of the gospel.  He continues to remind the church to steer clear from the no-lordship position that is promoted by the Free Grace Movement, which is, in the final analysis, a different gospel.

MacArthur hits the Christological target with this book.  With the skill of a theologian-marksman, he exalts and magnifies Christ.  In the final analysis, Slave is a primer on Reformed theology and is written with humility and great erudition.  It should receive a wide reading for years to come and make a significant difference in the body of Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program.

 

 

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The Gospel According to Paul

paulJohn MacArthur, The Gospel According to Paul, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017, 256 pp. $13.20

Nearly thirty years ago, Dr. John MacArthur wrote The Gospel According to Jesus. The book was a clear articulation of the gospel and a sharp repudiation of antinomianism and other views that failed to affirm the lordship of Jesus Christ in salvation. A firestorm erupted and sparked heated debate among evangelicals as a result of the book. Since that time, MacArthur has written several books that articulated the gospel and defended it from attacks, most of which were coming from professing evangelicals leaders.

MacArthur’s latest offering, The Gospel According to Paul, is less polemical in tone but no less powerful than his previous works. His intent is to survey the gospel through the eyes of Paul the apostle and consider several questions that are of utmost importance:

What is the gospel?

What are the essential elements of the gospel?

How can we be certain we have it right?

How should Christians be proclaiming the gospel to the world?

MacArthur adds, “The gospel was no sideline for the apostle Paul. ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ was the principle theme of everything the apostle taught or preached” (129). So with passion and biblical precision, the author showcases the gospel according to Paul.

A wonderful summary of the book may be found in MacArthur’s explanation of Philippians 3:4-11:

“That is a remarkable testimony because of the way Paul weaves in several of his favorite gospel themes: the worthlessness of human works as a means of gaining merit with God; the pivotal role of faith; the principles of grace and imputed righteousness; the death and resurrection of the Savior; and above all the supreme value of knowing Christ over any earthly benefit, privilege, or treasure.”

MacArthur not only provides a masterful articulation of the gospel and penal substitutionary atonement; he defends it against the pernicious threat of antinomians, Pharisees, and other dangerous heretics.

The Gospel According to Paul is a clear explanation of the most important reality in the universe, namely, that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). It unfolds the gospel with a decisively Reformed framework and rightly points readers to the magisterial Reformers and the truths they unearthed in the sixteenth century. And it is basic enough for new believers but also contains a treasure chest of Christ-glorifying truths that are guaranteed to encourage and equip longtime followers of Jesus.

Highly recommended!

Resting in Free Grace – Resisting the Free Grace Movement

grudem

Wayne Grudem, Free Grace Theology: How Free Grace Diminishes the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 160 pp. $11.42

Theological disputes have a tendency of generating more heat than light. The controversy surrounding the so-called Free Grace movement is no exception. Ever since the landmark book by John MacArthur was published, The Gospel According to Jesus, competing camps have vigorously fought to maintain their ground. Indeed, both positions including the Free Grace view and the so-called Lordship position have fought as if their lives depended upon it.

But the debate did not find its genesis in the musings of John MacArthur. The debate is as old as the Protestant Reformation itself. The age-old questions remain: How does a sinful person stand in the presence of a holy God? On what basis is this sinner justified? What role (if any) do works play at the moment of justification? Is sanctification a necessary component of the Christian life? And, are works a necessary result of justification?

Disheartened, discouraged, and dismayed. These three terms do not adequately describe my thoughts about the initial reviews of Wayne Grudem’s new book, Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel. One review observes, “Wayne Grudem is a Reformed Calvinist, so his views are skewed through Calvinist lenses.” The initial reviews fail to show any degree of constructive interaction with the book. One wonders if these early reviewers even bothered to read the book.

The Free Grace movement, whose primary tenets are found in Zane Hodges book, Absolutely Free. In that book, Hodges maintains,

… Lordship thought abandons the straightforward meaning of the word ‘believe’ and fills the concept of saving faith with illegitimate complications. The result is that the saving transaction is made much more complex than it actually is. But salvation really is simple and, in that sense, it is easy. After all, what could be simpler than to ‘take the water of life freely.’

The primary tenets of the Free Grace movement include:

  • A two-tiered discipleship, or two classes of believers, those who believe but do not follow Christ and those who believe and cast all their hope and future on Christ.
  • No calls to repentance in evangelism.
  • Giving assurance to people who are backslidden or have denounced the Christian faith.
  • Rejecting the notion that good works accompany justifying grace.

Dr. Grudem’s primary contention is that the New Testament clearly teaches two principles which stand in opposition to the Free Grace movement:

  1. Repentance from sin (in the sense of remorse for sin and an internal resolve to forsake it) is necessary for saving faith.
  2. Good works and continuing to believe necessarily follow from saving faith.

Grudem’s arguments against the Free Grace movement are summarized below:

First, the Free Grace movement misunderstands the doctrine of justification by faith alone and as a result, fails to truly teach the doctrine that Luther said, “is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.”

Second, the Free Grace movement undermines the gospel by refusing to require repentance in the proclamation of the gospel.

Third, the Free Grace movement offers false assurance to people who make a profession of faith, but may in the final analysis not possess saving faith.

Fourth, the Free Grace movement fails to emphasize the fiducia component of faith, that is, a personal trust or adherence to Christ.

Fifth, the Free Grace movement embraces interpretations that are highly unlikely.

These arguments against the Free Grace movement are further explained in the five chapters of the book. My own view is that Dr. Grudem has succeeded in successfully refuting this movement. He should be commended for the gracious tone throughout this work. He does engage in rigorous polemic but does so without caricaturing his opponents. While he argues strenuously against the Free Grace movement, he admits it is not a false gospel. However, it is a diminished gospel.

Some may argue that the so-called Lordship controversy (a term that Grudem dislikes) is over. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Free Grace movement continues to influence people and diminish the gospel. Wayne Grudem’s excellent work is a needed corrective and a gracious response to a troubling trend.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

STRANGE FIRE – John MacArthur (2013)

strange fireNadab and Abihu, the Old Testament miscreants who offered unacceptable worship to the Lord paid the ultimate price for their diabolical deed – death.  The “strange fire” they offered led to their untimely deaths: “The crux of their sin,” writes John MacArthur, “was approaching God in a careless, self-willed, inappropriate manner, without the reverence He deserved.  They did not treat Him as holy or exalt His name before the people.”  MacArthur offers an identical warning that is directed at the heart of the charismatic movement – a movement that is filled with “spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.”

Many readers will be tempted to cast aside the arguments that MacArthur wields in his latest book, Strange Fire – a work that maintains the Holy Spirit is offended by counterfeit worship.  His critique of the charismatic movement may come across as severe and insensitive.  His comments may offend.  But jumping to a judgmental conclusion would be a mistake.  For the greatest offense in the universe involves creatures who approach God in an unworthy manner or offers “worship” that He deems unacceptable.   Cain, Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, Ananias and Sapphira remind us that God will not trifle with man-centered “worship.”

Part 1: Confronting a Counterfeit Revival

MacArthur argues that charismatics “often seem to reduce the Spirit of God to a force or a feeling.”  The author notes how many charismatics are locked into a health and wealth gospel which is in the final analysis no gospel at all.  But the heart of the problem is that “Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth.”  MacArthur maintains, “If Scripture alone were truly their final authority, charismatic Christians would never tolerate patently unbiblical practices – like mumbling in nonsensical prayer languages, uttering fallible prophecies, worshipping in disorderly ways, or being knocked senseless by the supposed power of the Holy Spirit.”

The origins are the charismatic movement are explored in a fascinating biographical account of Charles Parham – founder of the Apostolic Faith Movement.  Parham’s was discredited by his ungodly character and false teaching.  As a result the movement as a whole was subject to suspicion from the start.

The remainder of part one is a theological tour de force that guides readers through a thought process that equips them to exercise biblical discernment by testing the spirits, in keeping with 1 John 4:2-8.  Believers should ask five questions to test every proposition or movement:

1. Does the work exalt the true Christ?

2. Does it oppose worldliness?

3. Does it point people to the Scriptures?

4. Does it elevate the truth?

5. Does it produce love for God and others?

The questions noted above are prompted by Jonathan Edwards’ fine work on this biblical passage.  MacArthur not only helps readers develop biblical discernment; he includes numerous examples of charismatics who have abandoned the truth of God’s Word and as a result ignored the prompts of the Holy Spirit.

Part 2: Exposing the Counterfeit Gifts

In part two, the author cites concrete examples of a movement that has moved from bad to worse.  While some leaders like C. Peter Wagner affirm the beginning of the Apostolic Age, MacArthur rightly argues that the canon is closed: “Hence, the writing so the New Testament constitute the only true apostolic authority in the church today.”  The author argues strenuously that the office of apostle was unique to the first century church, an office that faded away and no longer necessary with the closing of the canon.

False prophets are addressed and rightly labeled as “dry well wells, fruitless trees, raging waves, wandering stars, brute beasts, hideous stains, vomit-eating dogs, mud-loving pigs, and ravenous wolves.”  Readers offended by such language need only turn to Scripture where each title is assigned to false teachers.  The author helps readers identify false prophets with three defining benchmarks:

1. Anyone who leads people into false doctrine and heresy.

2. Anyone who lives in unrestrained lust and unrepentant sin.

3. Anyone who proclaims any supposed “revelation from God” that turns out to be inaccurate or untrue.

MacArthur helps readers determine whether the modern version of tongues is equivalent with the original biblical gift.  After presenting a lengthy argument, the author concludes, “It is a false spiritual high with no sanctifying value.  The fact that modern glossolalia parallels pagan religious rites should serve as a dire warning of the spiritual dangers that can be introduced by this unbiblical practice.”

Finally, two so-called faith healers are examined: Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn in what proves to be one of the most interesting chapters in the book.  The conclusions are clear and decisive.

Part 3: Rediscovering the Spirit’s True Work

Part three includes a robust treatment of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  The author uncovers the Spirit’s role in salvation, sanctification, and the Word of God. The biblical contrast with the previous two sections could not be clearer.  Charismatics are encouraged to carefully read this section and contrast MacArthur’s treatment with what currently resides in the modern Pentecostal sanctuary.

Summary

The charismatic movement is carefully evaluated through the lens of Scripture in Strange Fire.  The critique is forthright and charitable.  But the criticism is not for the faint at heart.  Readers should approach Strange Fire with a biblically informed worldview and be prepared to make necessary adjustments.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).  We must worship God in the way that he prescribes.  To move outside the boundaries of Scripture or invent man-made models is tantamount to idolatry.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. 

4.5 stars

ONE PERFECT LIFE – John F. MacArthur (2013)

One Perfect Life: The Complete Story of the Lord Jesus by John MacArthur, is as the name suggests, about1401676324_l the second member of the Trinity.  One Perfect Life is what I would call an extended harmony of the Gospels – extended because MacArthur reaches back into the Old Testament, which anticipates the coming of Christ as the God-man, thus setting the stage for what follows.  It also an extended harmony because MacArthur takes the time to reflect on the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the final section; a section which reflects on the treasure trove that is the gospel.  Here MacArthur utilizes a wide range of New Testament passages which alert the reader to the centrality of Christ’s death, the victory of his resurrection, the wonder of his ascension, the certainty of his return, and salvation which is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  Each page includes references and footnotes much like one would find in a solid study Bible.

Other harmonies have been written throughout church history and MacArthur notes as such in the Introduction.  So while the idea behind this book is not new or novel, it is a refreshing look at Scripture which presents the narrative of Jesus in a sweeping story of epic proportions.  Readers will be drawn in immediately and their attention will be riveted and engaged as they consider the person and work of Jesus Christ.  One Perfect Life is perfect for devotional reading, personal study, and personal evangelism – all compiled by a first-rate pastor, theologian, and man of God.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com&gt; book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.

5 stars

A TALE OF TWO SONS – John MacArthur (2008)

A Tale of Two Sons by John MacArthur is a rich retelling of one of Jesus’ most popular parables – the parable of the prodigal son.  MacArthur unpacks this powerful parable with typical skill.

Details of the parable are explained.  Misconceptions are cleared.  The horror of sin exposed.  The hypocrisy of the Pharisees’ is revealed. The drama of redemption is celebrated. And the primary aim is articulated, namely – that sinners (both prodigals and elder brothers) would turn to Christ for forgiveness by grace alone through faith alone.

4 stars

JOHN MACARTHUR: Servant of the Word and Flock – Iain Murray (2011)

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock is a mind-shaping, heart-riveting biography by one of the best living biographers around, Iain Murray.  This is familiar territory for Murray.  He has written a handful of excellent biographies, most notably, The Forgotten Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography.  As usual, Murray does not disappoint.

The author chronicles the life and ministry of Dr. MacArthur from his early days as a young person to the present day.  The most impressive aspect of this work is Murray’s ability to surface the key components in MacArthur’s life and ministry.  Key features include a love for Christ, family, the Word of God, the church, and training men for the work of the ministry.

The author is quick to draw the attention of the reader to important character qualities in MacArthur, namely, integrity, love for truth, graciousness, and uncompromising stance on matters that pertain to God’s Word.

The Gospel According to Jesus surfaces throughout this biography which is a testament to its influence.  Incidentally, this book has proven to be one of the most significant books I’ve ever read.  As a Bible College student, it introduced me to Reformed theology, alerted me to the dangers of traditional dispensationalism, and warned of the rampant antinomianism in the church.

Murray’s approach to MacArthur’s theological framework is impressive.  While Murray is in agreement with a majority of MacArthur’s theology, he parts ways in matters that involve eschatology.  However, instead of marginalizing MacArthur for his dispensational premillenialism, Murray graciously sets forth MacArthur’s position and challenges readers to explore different eschatological angles.  My hope is that his graciousness in this secondary area of theology serves as an example to  churchman and academicians alike.

This book is a reminder to pastors – it reminds them that faithfulness matters.  It reminds them that integrity is essential.  And it is a clear call to lead, feed, and train the people of God all to the glory of God.

4.5 stars