Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: The Jesus You Can't Ignore

The Jesus You Can't Ignore
What You Must Learn from the Bold Confrontations of Christ
by John MacArthur
Ⓒ2008, Thomas Nelson Publishers
208 pages

I'm always impressed by the generosity of nationally known ministries. On top of regularly offering free cd's, Grace to You also sends out free books occasionally. (They also recently opened "the vault," making all MacArthur's messages available in mp3 format for free!) I received "The Jesus You Can't Ignore" from them for free a couple months ago, and had been anticipating reading it.

MacArthur has always had a bit of a confrontational style, but it has been interesting to see how increasingly "out of style" such a form has become. In a previous book ("Truth War") he called out some people whose theology has shown them to be heretical, yet I was surprised to see the response from several. They could not refute his conclusions, and his quotations of others were in context and were not distorting their original point. Yet, the common response I got from people about the book was that MacArthur was right (in line with Scripture) and the people he discusses were wrong (clearly in conflict with Scripture), yet MacArthur was "mean" for using their names. Furthermore, since it was determined he was "mean," this next meant that his opinion was sullied, and therefore we should not really receive his correction. In fact, because he was not perceived as nice as those proclaiming errant doctrine, his opinions (though clearly in line with Scripture) were discounted.

How did we get here? I remember being told by a prominent person in a church once (in response to a message I had preached): "It's okay to say what you believe. It's okay to even say other people believe something different. It's just not okay to say those people are wrong." Is this really the way Jesus would teach?

Perhaps to diffuse this perception of himself, MacArthur spends several occasions to remind the reader that he does not think all conflict is good or necessary. He lets us know that he does not enjoy it any more than the average person and tries to avoid it, just like the rest of us. He states again and again, that the book is not intended as an excuse to be rude, argumentative or combative. He makes this point clearly and often, yet also reminds us that we must engage others when truth is at stake.

...the spiritual warfare every Christian is engaged in is first of all a conflict between truth and error, not merely a competition between good and wicked deeds.
Next, MacArthur traces you through the interactions Jesus had with the Pharisees, showing you Jesus was anything but "politically correct." His interactions were not filled with concessions, nor did he try to take the discussion into a private arena. Jesus attacked their false doctrine, publically, clearly, boldly and unabashedly.

The great heresy: self-righteousness. The book proves quite beneficial for I believe it engages the primary flaw of all false doctrines, including humanism. On one end of the spectrum, people believe we are already good and righteous, and therefore do not need anything from God. On the other end of the spectrum, people perform religiously in their system so as to prove themselves more righteous than others. This was the way of the Pharisees. Jesus did not call them to adapt, change the referent or simply come to a greater understanding of the limited truth they had. Jesus called for all out repentance. The Pharisees needed to see they had no righteousness of their own, and anything but the acknowledgement of utter spiritual bankruptcy and dependence upon Christ alone for your justification, will result in eternal torment.

Just as "Truth War" served as a narrative commentary of the Book of Jude, "The Jesus You Can't Ignore" serves as a narrative commentary of the gospels. The book brilliantly places you in the context of the day and helps you see why so many of Jesus' statements were more confrontive than we may first see. (This book greatly changed my perspective on the "Sermon on the Mount," and will effect our congregation as I preach through Matthew starting in December.) As always, MacArthur's book is well edited by Phil Johnson (who in an odd sort of way, helps MacArthur sound more like MacArthur than he would on his own). MacArthur concludes the book stating:
We don't need a return to the brand of fundamentalism whose leaders fought all the time, and fought over practically everything--often attacking one another over obscure and insignificant differences. Much less do we need to persist in the misguided course of so-called neoevangelicalism, where the overriding concern has always been academic respectability and where conflict and strong convictions are automatically regarded as uncouth and uncivil.

In fact, the very last things we can afford to do in these post-modern times, while the enemies of truth are devoted to making everything fuzzy, would be to pledge a moratorium on candor or agree to a cease-fire with people who delight in testing the limits of orthodoxy. Being friendly and affable is sometimes simply the wrong thing to do (cf. Nehemiah 6:2-4). We must remember that.

Someone who makes a loud profession of faith but constantly fails to live up to it needs to be exposed for his own soul's sake. More than that, those who set themselves up as teachers representing the Lord and influencing others while corrupting the truth need to be denounced and refuted. For their sake, for the sake of others who are victimized by errors, and especially for the glory of Christ, who is Truth incarnate.
I did not agree with the man who told me I shouldn't say others were wrong. It didn't sit right with me, and I knew it conflicted with my calling as an under-shepherd. At the time, I probably was willing to chalk up the difference as an issue of "gifting" and "personality." Now, I am much more adequately equipped to show that if I am to shepherd like the Chief Shepherd, I have a responsibility (not just choice) to state when someone is wrong.

In the end, the book served much more than just a "how to" for ministry. Seeing the self-righteousness of the Pharisees reminded me of my own deepest sin. Like the Pharisees, I for years stood before God thinking my performance (both things I did, and things I didn't do) were setting me up as better than others. It caused me to rejoice in His grace, that though I set myself up in self-righteous opposition to Him, He died for me. It also caused me to rejoice, that unlike the majority of the Pharisees, who did not respond to Jesus' loving rebuke, He caused my eyes to open and be receptive to His warnings. I'm thankful that Jesus spoke clearly and boldly against self-righteousness, for I needed to be called to repentance from such an attitude, if I was ever going to find salvation.

Yes, all our words should be seasoned with grace. The goal of our instruction should always be love. (MacArthur's book never implies anything to the contrary.) However, the book came at the perfect time in my life to remind me that backing down to error and sin is never the loving response, but if I truly care I will call a person to repentance. This is not a ministry preference or style issue. This is shepherding like Jesus does. For this is also the way I need to be shepherded.

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