Book ReviewsThe Gospel According to Jesus by John F. MacArthur, Jr. 1988, 237 pp, Zondervan, $8.95
Under the heading of "Lordship salvation," a controversy is raging in evangelical Christianity. James Montgomery Boice says that at its very heart the controversy concerns "What does it mean to be a Christian?" (p. xi). J. I. Packer asserts "the gospel really is at stake in this discussion" (p. ix).
John MacArthur has made a valuable contribution to the continuing debate in his book, The Gospel According to Jesus. MacArthur is the pastor-teacher at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, as well as President of The Master's College and Seminary. This book is a culmination "of seven years of study in the gospels" (p. 15) and "nearly four years" of study on the subject (p. xiii). MacArthur charges that "most of modern evangelism -- both witnessing and preaching -- falls short of presenting the biblical evangel in a balanced and biblical way" (p. 15). He further charges that "By separating faith from faithfulness. . . . The church's witness to the world has been sacrificed on the altar of cheap grace" (p. 16). This book is written as a corrective to that dangerous error.
The book is divided into five parts. Part One (Today's Gospel: Good News or Bad?) is a brief consideration of the issues involved in the controversy. This section quotes several prominent Bible teachers who oppose the idea of "Lordship salvation." Two of the chief opponents are Zane C. Hodges and Charles C. Ryrie. Hodges believes that coming to salvation in Jesus Christ involves "no spiritual commitment whatsoever" (p. 22). Ryrie teaches "There need be no turning from sin, no resulting change in life-style, no commitment -- not even a willingness to yield to Christ's lordship" (p. 22).
Part Two (Jesus Heralds His Gospel) involves eight episodes in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Including Jesus' encounters with Nicodemus, the woman at the well and the rich young ruler, this section (as well as the two that follow) shows something of the expository genius of MacArthur. Anyone who has heard him preach or has read his printed expositions knows that he is one of the premier expositors in Christianity today. He is truly gifted in opening a text up with simple, penetrating clarity. Throughout this section MacArthur demonstrates the connection that Jesus makes between faith and obedience.
Part Three (Jesus Illustrates His Gospel) contains expositions of several parables taught by Jesus Christ. MacArthur demonstrates again the inseparable relationship between free grace and costly discipleship as set forth by Jesus in such parables as the Sower and the Soils, the Wheat and the Tares and the Hidden Treasure.
Part Four (Jesus Qualifies His Gospel) begins with an expository discussion on Jesus teaching concerning repentance and concludes with an expository discussion on Jesus' teaching concerning His Lordship. MacArthur acknowledges "It is not fashionable in the twentieth century to preach a gospel that demands repentance" (p. 159). In a clear and unmistakable way he shows that the preaching of repentance is woven into the warp and woof of the gospel message.
Part Five consists of two appendices: The first concerns "The Gospel According to the Apostles," while the second focuses on "The Gospel According to Historic Christianity." The two appendices form a fitting conclusion to the book. The former appendix demonstrates that the apostolic writers, like Jesus, invited sinners to come to Christ in terms of faith and obedience. The latter appendix demonstrates that throughout the history of Christianity men of faith (such as Augustine, the Reformers and the Puritans) have taught and preached that Jesus Christ must be received as both Savior and Lord, or He is not Savior.
This is an excellent book to put into the hands of a Southern Baptist pastor or layman. Not only will it help him to avoid the pitfalls of "easy believism" and the "carnal Christian" teaching, it will instruct him in the glorious truths of God's sovereign grace shown to sinners. Furthermore, this book exposes some of the dangerous errors of extreme dispensationalism. God continues to use this fine book to recover the truth that "The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience, not just a plea to make a decision or pray a prayer" (p. 21).
Pastor Chantry, by means of this slender volume, dedicates himself to assist "the searching heart which acknowledges that it is worth giving time and extended thought in order to see the King in his beauty" (p. 9). Toward that end he quite ably covers expositions of three psalms in which he explores a Christian philosophy of life, the King's coronation, and the King's coming again. Chantry displays an admirable grasp of each psalm's cultural setting, thus enlivening each chapter by drawing the reader into the excitement of the original coronation and marriage ceremonies. Particularly in the last chapter, the author splendidly carries us from the Middle Eastern marriage betrothal to the marriage feast itself. By the end of the journey, one's love and adoration of Christ should be at full flame.
A secondary, but equally important, aspect of this work is that it draws with broad strokes a biblical view of history. From time past (Psalm 2) to time future (Psalm 45), Chantry properly centralizes the role of Jesus Christ in human history. In the macroscopic vision of human events, God sovereignly and eternally rules in spite of the perverse brilliance of the earth's rulers. Upon a more microscopic inspection, Chantry assures us in his exposition of Psalm 110 that even the most skillful artisans of rebellion individually are made willing in the day of Messiah's power to throw down their weapons and cast their fortunes with the Warrior-King. This grand design of sovereign strength and goodness along with its individual application provides the theological basis for the author's doctrine of praise. Arthur Link, the eminent American political historian, assures us that Christian regeneration frees the individual "from the tyranny of the ego's insatiable demands for its own control and understanding of history." (from "The Historian's Vocation"). I think that Chantry would agree that those who have been freed from such tyranny will find a spiritual liberation which frees the mind of the believer to praise the God from whom the individual blessings of life flow. Ultimately, the believer's proper praise does not spring from the shallow soil of man-made stirrings of visceral melodic incitement but from the deep, fertile soil of a redeemed mind that is filled to overflowing with the contemplation of a benign Despot who is approachable by pardoning mercy.
In conclusion, this book might prove to be a disappointment to those pastors who are looking for a blueprint for implementing a program of "praise worship" in their churches. Pastor Chantry does not offer a balanced program of singing and preaching sure to evoke fervent response from the congregation. I rather think that Chantry would offer the simple exaltation of Christ as solid counsel to the shepherd who desires to see in public worship the movement of God's Spirit among his flock. What better way is there to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit of whom Jesus said, "He shall glorify me; for he shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you" (John 16:14)?
Long the center of controversy and contention in the Southern Baptist Convention, Emeritus Professor of Christian Theology of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Dale Moody needs little introduction. When his book, The Word of Truth, was published in 1981 a storm of disputation developed over chapter fifty-five on which the author stated that the Scriptures indicate that a person who is truly born again can subsequently lose the eternal life that he possesses and apostatize. Now, a decade and forced retirement later, Moody has written a book of brief belligerent blasts intended to support his views.
The book is intended to be a perusal of the five exhortations in the epistle to the Hebrews, all of which, according to Moody, teach that one can lose salvation. The most obvious and fatal of the book's weaknesses is that the author simply does not adequately interact with the biblical text. He merely cites the passage and then launches into personal polemics and anecdotes. The introduction is entitled "A Very Personal Word," but that really should be the title of the book. The author unfortunately found it impossible to discuss a theological point without bringing up some great scholar he knew who remarked that he was correct.
What is absent is a grammatical examination of the text. Moody never discusses, for instance, the perfect tense of Hebrews 3:14, "For we have been made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end." He largely ignores textual and grammatical analysis. His discussion would have been far more profitable with more exegesis and less experience.
Another historical point that Moody attempts to make is that Southern Baptists did not really believe in Eternal Security until J.R. Graves, B.H. Carroll, and particularly J.M. Carroll popularized it and transformed it into a "Baptist Cliche." Moody goes so far as to assert that a single sermon by J.M. Carroll preached at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, popularized the term "eternal security" among Southern Baptists. He offers no historical proof one way or another for this statement, only his opinion.
Finally, Moody also incorrectly states in the brief book that no one has yet interacted with his views and answered them. This, too, is incorrect since Tom Nettles directed much attention to Moody's views in By His Grace and for His Glory.
The only thing to commend this work is that it is revealing in its lack of depth and its emphasis on experience. It is unfortunate that a biblical scholar of Moody's stature cannot deal strictly with the Word in a book with such an important subject matter and exclude all immaterial matters.
It is often estimated that more than 30% of all women and a lesser number of men have been sexually abused by the time they graduate from high school. They sit in our church pews, often suffering secret life-long struggles known only to themselves. Some of them are our best workers. Some of them are our personality and discipline problems. Some of them have assurance problems, marital problems, child-raising problems, depression problems, etc. All of them need help to overcome the devastating effects of sexual abuse.
Should the pastor just give them a "pep talk," read a few Scriptures, pat them on the back, and exhort them to forget the past and move ahead? Should he turn them over to the secular and/or Christian "professionals?" Or does God's Word offer any guidance through the ordinary means of the pastoral ministry of the church to help these people squarely face the remaining effects of the past and overcome them?
It is the pastor's job to help these Christians through the careful application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He came to bind up the broken-hearted. Allender cautions the pastor about becoming too involved in heavy counseling because of the pressures of the ministry. I simply thank Dr. Allender for giving pastors another good tool to perform our God-given ministry.
There are only a few "Christian counseling" books I recommend. This is one of them. Having been trained in the admirable counseling tradition of Jay Adams, I am very sensitive to the final authority of God's Word for pastoral counseling. Many try to meld a compromise between Scripture and humanistic psychology with Scripture often "suffering much at the hands of many physicians."
The Wounded Heart is no pop psychology with a little Scripture mixed in. It is a theologically sound application of Reformed principles to the terrible issue of sexual abuse and its long-term effects upon the heart.
Allender, an associate of Larry Crabb, is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (MDiv.) and Michigan State University (Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology). He teaches, holds seminars, and counsels out of Colorado Christian University.
The theologically-oriented pastor might be tempted to overlook this book at first. It is no theological tome. It is a narrative-based exposition of the problem of and the solution to sexual abuse. The sound, Reformed theology which underlies the narrative, counseling-language style may be missed by a mere cursory reading.
Believing in the total depravity of the natural man and the remaining sin of the Christian, Allender argues that the victim of sexual abuse typically copes by building a defensive mechanism which is usually sinful. While never ignoring the 100% responsibility of the abuser in the abuse itself, Allender does what most psychology-based counselors will not do. He makes the victim responsible for his/her actions in response to the abuse and in recovery.
Never wanting to be hurt, violated, betrayed, and controlled like that again, the victim wrongly institutes a complex of self-protective behaviors which range from a "back-off buddy" aggression to a "hide-from-attention" passivity to a "do-good-for-everybody-to-keep-control-and-build-esteem" works-performance (statistics indicate that a higher than average percentage of doctors, pastors, helping professionals, etc., were abused). Each pattern is an attempt to live off of others' responses, to build safe boundaries, and to control the situation for self-protection. Even after conversion, this defensive mechanism usually stays as part of the remaining sin complex.
Allender calls this idolatry because it makes self and others the center of life instead of God. Symptoms of sexual (and other) abuse include compulsive/obsessive behaviors like workaholism, sexual addictions, sexual avoidance, obsessive cleanliness, counting compulsively, TV/Book/Music/Sports/Hobby obsessions, controlling personality, withdrawing personality, refusal to take compliments, self-contempt, other-contempt, excessive anger, marriage and child-raising problems, and depression.
Contrary to self-protective, boundary-building psychology, Allender uses the Gospel to find the solution in knowing Jesus Christ. The way to healing the wounded heart is the way of facing the terrible reality of abuse, repenting of self-protective patterns, and learning how to boldly love others without fear. He calls the victim to quit living off of the fear of what others may do to you again and to find acceptance, forgiveness, and security in Jesus Christ alone. He exhorts the victim to repent of sinful anger (revenge, personal hatred, etc.) toward the abuser while believing in God's righteous anger toward him/her.
Sinful anger is manifested in self-contempt and other-centered contempt as a pattern of life and perpetuates the abuser's control over the life. The Christian must repent of this abuser-centered life and turn to Christ. It is finding our acceptance in Christ, and not in others, which enables us to live without fear of what men can do to us.
This enables the damaged soul to open itself again to feel, to give, and to love those who may hurt them yet again. We are not called naively to trust others unconditionally, but neither are we called to mistrust them. We are called by the Gospel to care, even for our enemy. We are called boldly to love others while finding our completeness and happiness in Christ alone. As the Christian does this, his/her wounded heart is healed and he/she becomes a genuinely unselfish person as was our Lord, overcoming the pains and fears of abuse.
One final word about this book. It is not only for those who have been sexually abused. Most other forms of abuse have the same effect upon the soul. Physical, emotional, verbal, and other forms of abuse cause the victim to respond to betrayal, powerlessness, and ambivalence with self-protective patterns. That is why I believe that this book is so helpful to pastors in ferreting out remaining sins in believers and helping them to recover by the power of the Gospel.
Experience and testimony of colleagues teach that the inward struggles of a pastor to overcome hurt and to love his flock are very similar to recovering victims of various forms of abuse. Words do hurt more than sticks and stones. Pastors often deal with verbal and emotional abuse, not to mention the threat against their family's welfare if they stand for truth against much opposition. Many pastors have benefitted personally from reading this book in this light and have found new power to love their people without fearing what they can do to them.
With the exceptions of writing style and the need to make his theological foundations more clear for us "hard-to-convince" types, I recommend highly this book for the pastor's heart and ministry.
This book is a clear, concise introduction from a Christian nurse, herself a victim, into the issues surrounding childhood sexual abuse. It is an easier-to-read introduction to the issue and an excellent companion volume to Wounded Heart. The latter deals with the effects of childhood abuse upon adults, but Stolen Childhood also deals with what the Christian should do when he/she suspects or discovers the sexual abuse of children. What is considered sexual abuse anyway? Is it only touching, or can it be verbal, visual, emotional, etc., as well? What are symptoms of sexual abuse? What kind of homes may set up sexual abuse? What legal responsibilities and liabilities do professionals (including ministers) have in the case of suspicions and/or discovery? Alice Huskey deals with these questions and many more.
One of the sobering truths of this book is that the Christian community is by no means exempt from the existence of child sexual abuse. It may be under the pastor's nose, even in the homes of church leaders. It may be the reason for long-standing marital problems. It may explain bizarre, undisciplined, or extremely conforming behavior in children.
When one gets involved in the study of sexual abuse in our society, he must not begin to see abuse behind every rock. But neither must we be ignorant of a very widespread sin nor unequipped to deal with it when it bursts its way into our ministries. Some child may suffer long or be treated with harmful recovery methods because the pastor was to ignorant of the issues to recognize the symptoms or too inept to deal with the problem when it arose.
I recommend this book as an excellent introduction to the problem, but it is only an introduction, not a complete solution. Read Stolen Childhood to face the issue, then read Wounded Heart to discover the ministerial solution.