Review of The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception
I’d like to juxtapose three statements by John MacArthur in order to show that, while MacArthur is quick to label other Christians “false teachers” and “apostate,” these labels can just as easily be leveled unfairly at MacArthur.
“What we are called to defend is no less than ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ Jude is speaking of apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42) – objective Christian truth – the faith, as delivered from Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit by the apostles to the church…Jude speaks of ‘the faith’ as a complete body of truth already delivered – so there is no need to seek additional revelation or to embellish the substance of ‘the faith’ in any way. Our task is simply to interpret, understand, publish, and defend the truth God has once and for all delivered to the church. That is what the Truth War is ultimately all about.” (p. 75)
So, MacArthur is saying that Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Stan Grenz, John Franke, John Armstrong, Donald Miller, and Chris Seay are all guilty of embellishing the substance of the faith in some way. They are not being loyal to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.”
Let’s take this criterion and apply it to John MacArthur. MacArthur is a Dispensationalist, a form of theology that originated in the late 1800s with John Nelson Darby in England and in moved to the United States in the early 1900s when C. I. Scofield began teaching it. Don't miss this: Dispensationalism’s interpretation of the Bible is very novel, less than 150 years old. Dispensationalism insists that God deals with Israel and the Church differently through a dispensational grid and that this grid determines how we must interpret every passage of the Bible so that we can determine whether the passage is referring to Israel or the Church. It insists that the Church must be raptured away from the earth into its heavenly existence so that God can finish His plan for Israel in its earthly existence.
I repeat: This theology is new. It is not the same theological understanding that “was once for all delivered to the saints.” It grew out of a admittedly individualistic interpretation of the Bible (the Dispensationalists insisted that they were reading the Bible literally and letting the Bible alone determine their theology, with little regard for the history of interpretation).
So, using MacArthur’s criterion of whether someone is "seeking additional revelation or embellishing the substance of the faith in any way," Dispensationalists could be included. Now, I’m not saying that Dispensationalists should be included, just that MacArthur fits his own criterion for an apostate. Before he labels others as “false teachers” he had better know that, in doing so, he opens himself up to that same label.
“Every form of gnosticism starts with the notion that truth is a secret known only by a select few elevated, enlightened minds. (Hence the name, from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge.)…Another dominant variety of gnosticism (know as Docetism) taught that all manifestations of Jesus’ human nature – including His physical body (and hence His crucifixion and resurrection) – were only illusions. God could not really have come to earth in the true material form of authentic human flesh, the Docetists said, because matter itself is evil.” (pp. 89, 92)
Again, if we take this criterion and apply it to MacArthur’s theology, we see that he opens himself up to the same criticism. He talks about Gnostics in general and Docetists in particular, as if those in the Emerging Church are guilty of these heresies. However, it has been largely acknowledged that it is Dispensational theology that is the main culprit of gnosticism in the United States.
- Dispensationalism stresses the hope of heaven over the hope of the redeemed earth.
- Dispensationalism stresses the hope of a “rapture” over the hope of a resurrected physical life.
- Dispensationalism stresses the importance of saving people from the earthly existence and inviting them into a spiritual, heavenly existence.
- MacArthur’s own books on Heaven are filled with hints toward gnostic ideas that matter itself is evil; that true “glory” is when we move out of the fleshly existence and into the spiritual existence.
So, before MacArthur accuses others of being “false teachers” and “apostates,” he had better know that he opens himself up to the same accusations.
“Truth (the simple truth of the gospel, to be specific) is necessary for salvation …(Romans 10:13-14). Scripture is clear about this: there is no hope of salvation apart from hearing and believing the truth about Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21). That is why nothing is more destructive than false religion. Mere ignorance is devastating enough: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6). But gospel-corrupting apostasy is the most sinister of all evils.” (pp. 119-120)
In light of MacArthur’s earlier warning against gnosticism, he had better be careful here. Remember that on page 89 of his book, MacArthur wrote, “Every form of gnosticism starts with the notion that truth is a secret known only by a select few elevated, enlightened minds. (Hence the name, from gnosis, the Greek word for knowledge.)”
One signature motif throughout MacArthur’s book is that he continually insists that what saves you is the knowledge of the truth. This, again, is a form of gnosticism: it teaches that Christians have a secret knowledge (gnosis) and that people are saved from this earthly existence by believing the knowledge that we can explain to them.
- For MacArthur, evangelism is explaining what he knows is the truth to others.
- For MacArthur, salvation is when someone accepts and knows this truth.
- Therefore, according to MacArthur, the key to Christian ministry is the proclamation of specific truths, so that people will hear these truths, accept these truths, in order that they too will be “in the know.”
MacArthur is quick to point out that Jesus is truth incarnate, and that we need a personal relationship with Christ in order to be saved. THIS is the gospel. I wish he said this more often in the book.
However, the way he elevates “knowledge” as the key to salvation over and over again in this book opens him up to the accusation that he is the one that is hedging toward the apostasy of gnosticism, for it is not a secret knowledge of the truth that saves, it is a relationship with Christ that saves.
If MacArthur wants to point fingers at other teachers and accuse them of apostasy, MacArthur had better be ready for some of the same treatment in turn.
This is the basic problem with this book. MacArthur is seeking to label people "apostates" when they do not, in fact, fit the description. The proof is in that MacArthur himself fits his own description!
The Entire Series:
1: John MacArthur’s Post-Enlightenment Philosophical Understanding of “Truth”
2: Is Rob Bell a Godless Man, Condemned by God?
3: Is Postmodernism Primarily Concerned with Truth?
4: Straw Men – The Emerging Church is Filled with Hard Postmodernists
5: MacArthur Fits His Own Criteria for an Apostate
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