Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Book Review: The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus
What Is Authentic Faith
by John MacArthur
Ⓒ2008, Zondervan
282 pages (inc appendices)

Perhaps the greatest compliment to The Jesus You Can't Ignore is that it made me want to read The Gospel According to Jesus (20th Anniversay, Revised and Expanded Edition). I typically don't read the same author back-to-back, but I enjoyed The Jesus You Can't Ignore and also had The Gospel According to Jesus come up in some random conversations lately.

While there is no doubt that MacArthur was popular before 1988, this book helped cement many views on MacArthur; people either loved him or hated him, but few were indifferent. I recently had an interaction with a person who claimed this book turned him off to MacArthur because he became too nit-picky. (He explained to me the nit-picky point--which to be honest, felt a little like straining a gnat anyway--yet I could not find any allusion to the issue. Perhaps it has been edited out over the years? But I couldn't even identify an area in the book where such an "offensive comment" would have been made.)

In some ways, The Gospel According to Jesus served as the field test for The Jesus You Can't Ignore. MacArthur received a lot of negative feedback for the fact that he names authors. Many people were proclaiming a decisional regeneration (often coined "free grace" by its proponents) that simply turned the faith necessary for salvation into simply knowing some historical facts about Jesus. In essence, the view eliminates the need for repentance and lays out subjection to Christ's Lordship as optional. To make his point and to provide reference, MacArthur would quote "free grace" authors (and footnote them) before showing how their perspective was not consistent with the whole of Scripture (and was not consistent with the immediate context).

Perhaps some will find this mean. They may argue that he could have avoided quotations and simply summarized the opposing view. However, this would have left him open to the critique that he "characterized" and "misrepresented" their perspective. Not only that, as one who sat under the "free grace" perspective for years, it was helpful to hear clear quotes and know where they came from. Though some of that teaching was over a decade old, reading some direct quotes took me back to conversations and helped me identify some of the influencing factors of that time.

I remember walking into a pastor's office once and asking him how Jesus' hard words about discipleship could be reckoned with grace alone through faith alone. The pastor easily brushed aside my concern and quickly explained that one is for salvation (grace alone by faith alone) whereas the other is a call to discipleship (abandoning self, repentance, sacrifice). He explained that Jesus was making disciples while the gospel is just about making believers. I then asked him which I should be seeking to make. Again, without blinking, he reminded me that the Great Commission is about making disciples. But how do I get someone to see the beauty of discipleship when "just a believer" receives all the benefits of glory, especially Jesus, as is?

Blank stare.

And though the movement has sought to present answers through the manipulation of parables and the creation of a spiritual caste system of sorts, there still is no good answer to this question. But what's most striking is to look back and realize the things that were missing in this ministry. Not only was I left without an explanation for the benefits of discipleship, I was also left without words like "sanctification," "repentance" and God's "sovereign grace" in the midst of all these things. The gospel was seen simply as a history quiz to get people to affirm and the Christian life was left largely to peer pressure from the saints to fit in as a good person. Needless to say, this view left me empty. At the time I heard it, I knew it couldn't be right, but wasn't sure exactly why.

According to God's great grace, He provided me other preachers and pastors who helped present me to the beauty of seeing Christ as Lord. By the time I finally read The Gospel According to Jesus, I really didn't encounter new information, but it was still nice to have it all in one place. To understand the "Lordship perspective" (as the biblical concept is often called) truly causes me to exult in grace; for I know my sinful, wicked, rebellious and power-hungry heart would not have bent the knee to Christ's supremacy apart from God lovingly, graciously changing my heart! It also reminded me how rich the doctrine of eternal security is when placed under the umbrella of "perseverance of the saints." When I see that God is not just keeping a place in heaven for me one day because I made a previous reservation (even if I discarded it), but that He is actually keeping my faith; keeping me in His love and keeping my heart softened toward Him, then I see His amazing grace. I rest in knowing my salvation is in His hands, not mine!

Yeah, some people will claim MacArthur strained gnats, but I would simply ask two things: 1) Isn't the gospel something we should seek to be meticulous about? 2) Why not the same ire for Hodges and Ryrie, men who wrote that a "Lordship perspective" is actually preaching another gospel? Shouldn't such a charge mean a person who believes submitting to Christ's Lordship is essential as a component of repentance and fatih is damned to hell and sending others there with their message? If you believe it is "another gospel" that is certainly the charge that is being made. At least MacArthur affirmed that these men are brothers, they are just quite mistaken and potentially confusing in their presentation.

But perhaps the most encouraging is that twenty years later, and yet the book has not aged a bit. The arguments are still quite relevant and the challenge is just as pressing. It's the gospel. Such news is timeless! Let's continue to present it as Scripture does!

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