MacArthur: Be bold when confronting error
The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception by John MacArthur (Nelson Books: April 2006), $22.99.
A book usually has to be released before it gets talked about. Makes sense, right?
Not so with “The Truth War” by John MacArthur. This book had people talking months ago. Would it be another “Ashamed of the Gospel?” Would MacArthur again call out by name those within Evangelicalism who diminish truth in favor of crowd-pleasing methods and theology? Would this be the bomb on the Emergent/Emerging battleground?
What MacArthur actually does is to exegete the book of Jude, with special emphasis on verses 3-4, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jude wrote with urgency, knowing that false teachers within the church (apostates) were wreaking spiritual havoc among Christians. MacArthur defines apostasy as, “Soul-destroying error that arises from within the church. …It speaks of abandonment, a separation, a defection – the abdication of truth altogether.”
And where is the spirit of apostasy most found in today’s church? Postmodernism. MacArthur believes postmodernism warps the way Evangelicals think and talk about truth. No longer is truth conceived as that “which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Instead, “hermeneutical humility” trumps all concern for biblical orthodoxy.
We are called to perpetual spiritual warfare, not against flesh and blood, but against all the spiritual forces who repeat the mantra of the serpent in the garden, “Did God really say…?”
Now, what Christian would disagree with this teaching from Jude? Let me be clear – the vast majority of MacArthur’s book is a Bible study, and his understanding of Jude is impeccable.
If MacArthur is correct in his understanding of Jude’s message (the danger of apostates and apostasy), is it wrong to actually give some concrete examples from current Evangelical life? If he has correctly diagnosed the spirit of the age as being “a tendency to dismiss the possibility of any sure and settled knowledge of the truth,” then should we turn a blind eye to those within Evangelicalism who embody such a spirit?
Does MacArthur name names? Yes. With various degrees of criticism, he mentions Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Chris Seay, John Armstrong, Rick Warren, Donald Miller, and Doug Pagitt. MacArthur says their ministries emphasize theological minimalism and a downplaying of divine truth as the real foundation of the church. He says, “Bible teaching, even in the best of venues today, has been deliberately dumbed-down, made as broad and as shallow as possible, oversimplified, adapted to the lowest common denominator – and then tailored to appeal to people with short attention spans.”
On some points, MacArthur would give an example of theological error within Evangelicalism without actually using the person’s name. For example, he says, “For at least a decade now, Evangelical best-seller lists have included a steady stream of works by authors and musicians who deny the doctrine of the Trinity. They hold to a distinctive version of modalism.” Everybody knows MacArthur is talking about author T.D. Jakes and musical group Phillips, Craig, and Dean, but he doesn’t actually drop their names in.
Again, MacArthur notes a preacher’s misuse of Acts 26:2, “I think myself happy,” and says, “This man pulled out the phrase ‘I think myself happy’ and preached a sermon on the importance of positive thinking in the midst of adversity! … That preacher had corrupted the intent of Paul’s inspired words because he was using the verse out of context to teach an unbiblical doctrine.” Now, who do you suppose would preach a sermon about “Thinking yourself happy?” Joel Osteen is the preacher, but his name is not given.
My point in mentioning this is that if you add up all the criticism MacArthur gives to specific Evangelicals, you have to see that MacArthur is actually very reserved in his criticism. He could have documented and discussed for an entire chapter each of the men listed above. He chose instead to spend the bulk of his book talking about Jude, and allowing the reader to make the application.
This method serves the church well, for although the men who are mentioned above are “leaders” within Evangelicalism, I doubt that any of them have set foot in Missouri Baptist pulpits within the last month. So, it is not these men themselves in the flesh, but their ideas, theology and ministry example which pose a danger to our own local churches.
And so, the work of discernment and “fighting for certainty in an age of deception” is the task of the local church. Pastors must do this work in their own ministry. Elders, deacons, Sunday School teachers, fathers and mothers – we must all be engaged in “The Truth War” right where we are at.
MacArthur says, “One of the main lessons of Jude’s epistle is that Christians must never cease fighting. We cannot pretend error is no longer worth battling in our generation. We should not imagine that the enemy has finally shifted into retreat mode. The war against the truth goes on continuously, unrelentingly, on multiple fronts – and it always has.”
I found this book to be both provocative and helpful. The provocative part is the timeless message of Jude itself, calling us to be bold in our confrontation of error and explanation of truth. (Scott Lamb pastors Providence Baptist Church in St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To respond to this review or to read about other books, visit www.wisdomofthepagescom.)