October 31, 2014

Review: The Truth War by John MacArthur

tw.jpgUPDATE: Lifeway was kind enough to send me this link to an “Author Interview” with Dr. MacArthur regarding this book.

UPDATE II: Macarthur’s takedown of John Armstrong is critiqued by Andrew Sandlin.

I would like to thank Phenix and Phenix Literary Publicists for providing a review copy of this book.

There are two ways I could write this review.

One would be to try and write something lengthy, attempt to be really interesting, with lots of good prose, plenty of positivity, and a bit of humor. Goal: Impress the audience and gain some credibility and light applause.

The other would be to be straight-forward, to the point and honest without wasting the reader’s time. Goal: Tell the truth.

Well….this is the truth war.

For starters, this book is much like many of Dr. MacArthur’s other polemical books. There are strong echoes of Ashamed of the Gospel, Hard to Believe, Charismatic Chaos and The Vanishing Conscience. In each of these books, Dr. MacArthur’s basic stance is the same, but his points of reference vary as he perceives the changing situation within a declining evangelicalism.

When he is expounding scripture, Dr. MacArthur is at his strongest. This book contains an excellent study of portions of the book of Jude. Those familiar with Dr. MacArthur’s skill as an expositor and his strong commitment to stay close to the message of scripture will be pleased with this book. Dr. MacArthur does mention that he has covered the Biblical material elsewhere, but this book is more pointed towards the issues of postmodernism, relativism and the emerging church.

When Dr. MacArthur leaves his specialty of exposition, he is a different writer, one far less commendable. I am in no way insulting him with that observation. I deeply respect and appreciate his ministry. When I left seminary, it was listening to Dr. MacArthur’s preaching that allowed me to make up a lot of the deficit that was present in my seminary training. When I had the occasion to hear him at the Founder’s Conference several years ago, I told him of my appreciation. This doesn’t mean I agree with Dr. MacArthur entirely. I am sure he would never require complete agreement to accept appreciation.

Much of what disturbs and animates Dr. MacArthur disturbs me as well. I think it is safe to say that many younger evangelicals look at much of what he outlined in Ashamed of the Gospel or The Gospel According to Jesus and say they are similarly disturbed.

The weak aspect of this book comes when Dr. MacArthur steps into areas where he makes broad judgments about the targets of his criticism. While not as flawed as the broad brush caricature of all charismatics that appeared in Charismatic Chaos, The Truth War contains large examples of short-hand analysis controlled by the author’s presuppositions.

For example, on page 6-7, MacArthur surveys the history of philosophy in two pages, going from the Greeks to Henry James in three paragraphs. This will be more than adequate for those already in the hunt against apostate postmodernists, but there is an obvious problem with this kind of intellectual shorthand.

Similarly, modernity, in its entirety, is described and diagnosed in a page and a half (9-10).

Postmodernism gets much more ink. MacArthur is confident that all postmodernism can be described as a tendency to avoid certainty about the truth. While this may be a description that touches on the truth of some postmodern thought, it’s simply, again, too little. Of course, Dr. MacArthur is not expounding postmodernism. He is expounding Jude and other passages of scripture. Keep that in mind, and such abbreviations won’t be surprising.

The emerging church is the main target of MacArthur’s polemic. Throughout the book, MacArthur returns to examples of the extreme truth-rejecting, certainty-denying tendencies of the emerging church. Of course, for MacArthur, the emerging church is an entity much like a denomination. Brian Mclaren- the major recipient of critical condemnation in this book- is the epitome of the emerging church, but it is just as well defined by a reference to Rob Bell, a second hand description of Mark “the Cussing Preacher” Driscoll and the outrageous definition of preaching cited from Doug Padgett.

Anyone who knows the emergent church knows that none of these four persons represents anything close to the entirety of “the emerging church.” While Mclaren is an easy- and deserving- target, it appears that almost nothing is known of Driscoll except Don Miller’s description of him, a description Driscoll has commented on at length in an interview with Michael Horton, and if anything is known of Pagit or Bell beyond what one could read at Ken Silva’s website, it’s not obvious here. The research level in the book seems deficient for a serious study.

In other words, the worst of the emerging movement is told with a few citations and anecdotes. Again, engagement of this sort isn’t MacArthur’s goal. He wants to briefly set his sights, then fire away with a full scriptural polemic. He fires at some good targets. Mclaren’s comments are often beyond irritating, and demonstrate why I have never met an emerging sympathizer that would endorse Mclaren as more than a gadfly whose stock drops every year. But MacArthur also makes a complex, nuanced, multi-layered phenomenon in evangelicalism look simplistic and monolithic. It’s not, but that isn’t really important in this book.

Oddly, MacArthur puts the emerging in the same categories as the seeker sensitive, Purpose-Driven churches, classical liberals in the PCUSA and other movements that few would associate with the emerging movement’s rejection of megachurch pragmatism. I believe this book provides further evidence that the critics of the emerging church have some accurate targets in view, but don’t understand how the typical emerging, missional community is generally far different from other contemporary, non-fundamentalist churches.

MacArthur devotes much of the book to the characteristics of apostasy and the danger of apostates. It’s plain that MacArthur wants us to know that the emerging “church” is outside the boundaries of “the Truth” that defines Christianity. The adoption of a postmodern view of truth and certainty, as defined by MacArthur, isn’t just a variation within a diverse movement. It’s the betrayal of evangelicalism and the path to apostasy. His warning is sincere, and in some of the cases cited, needed.

It’s plain to me, more than in any book of MacArthur’s that I’ve read, that this book reveals MacArthur as a prophet calling down “Ichabod” on a vast portion of evangelicalism. From his position somewhere between the new reformed resurgence and the hard-line evangelical fundamentalists, almost everything in recent evangelicalism is apostate.

Some of us who personally experience being declared apostate and are treated as unbelievers have an idea of what is at stake in this approach.

I am not in any way writing to defend what Dr. MacArthur condemns. I am not a spokesperson for the emerging church, though apparently that perception is why I received a copy of the book. Many of those persons he mentions deserve to be criticized and questioned. But many also deserve to be heard more carefully and understood better. The research here is not up to the levels of even modest academic examination of the influence of postmodernism or the truth about the emerging, missional conversation in all its expressions.

For those who appreciate Dr. MacArthur’s approach to the Bible, this will be a popular book. For those who, “wince,” at hearing John Armstrong and Mark Driscoll thrown in with the PCUSA’s renaming of the Trinity, this book will provide no surprises, but a continuing reason to consider Dr. MacArthur a preaching polemicist well armed with a broad brush. It’s in the details where he loses some of the truth war.

[Note: My apologies for misspelling Dr. MacArthur's last name.]

Comments

  1. Michael,
    You have to admit, the cover is well done – though the snake rather freaks me out.

  2. centuri0n says:

    That may be the most balanced criticism you have ever made, iMonk.

  3. bob hyatt says:

    “Pagitt” not “Padgett” :)

    Thanks for the thoughts… As I watch the whole thing from well-within the emerging church I become more and more disappointed with this kind of critique… because at a certain point I begin to wonder when “research [that is] is not up to the levels of even modest academic examination” becomes “bearing false witness.” I’ve seen a lot of people less influential and respected than MacArthur do just that, and now?

    But the broad brush is easiest, and labeling someone “outside the truth” guarantees book sales. I mean, who’s going to buy the “I generally like them but have a few concerns” potboiler? But plenty of people will line up to hear about the next group that’s driving evangelicalism into the ditch- mostly because they seem to like hearing about people driving evangelicalism into a ditch. It’s a genre now, with it’s own built-in constintuency and that pretty much guarantees more of the same from the publishers.

    Only problem is when you feed people a consistent diet of that kind of red meat, eventually they start looking at you with hungry eyes as well. Train people to look for, point out, and divide over every doctrinal difference and eventually you’ll say something that will have them turning on you.

    It’s sad that there are now people who will refuse to buy John MacArthur’s book on postmodernism/the emerging church and who seem to be ready to throw him under the bus because of his views/comments on eschatology. Sad… and appropriate (in a Gal 5:15 kind of way…)

  4. Hmm. I am also one who has learned a lot from John MacArthur. Also I can’t sneeze at the free books offered just for being on their mailing list.

    I got the mailing for this book yesterday; I planned to get it, but now I don’t know.

    It sounds like more of the same from the CD What’s So Dangerous About the Emerging Church, which I found to be a great disappointment for the exact reasons you stated–the painting with a broad brush, the dismissal of certain concepts, the lumping everything together and calling it all evil. Eh. I’ve heard it already; why waste my time.

  5. I think it’s a bit odd that someone who is trying to defend truth would have so little concern for it when it comes to criticizing the beliefs of others…

    Oh well, nothing new there. Do you have a link for the Michael Horton interview with Driscoll? I wasn’t able to find it.

  6. White Horse Inn interview on “Reaching Out Without Selling Out.” Driscoll doesn’t deny he’s used bad language on occasion, btw, but he puts the Miller book’s portrayal of him as “the cussing pastor” in some context.

    http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/The_White_Horse_Inn/archives.asp

  7. iMonk,

    How nice of you to think of me.

    You might appear to actually have more respect for Dr. MacArthur if spelled his name corectly as did my friend Bob Hyatt above. peace.

  8. As without doubt the most disrespectful person on the blogosphere, it’s ironic you are concerned with spelling. Right out of Matthew 23.

    And you misspelled “correctly” and left out “you.”

    Irony is wasted on some people.

  9. jmanning says:

    ::newfound appreciation for the wit of Michael Spencer growing in my brain::

  10. And you misspelled “correctly” and left out “you.”

    Oh, that’s great.

    And Bob, great comment.

  11. Michael,

    Thank you for correcting the spelling and fixing the missing word.

    I wonder, if John the Baptist had been writing on the blogphere, what might people of his day have thought of his message and methodology…

  12. Mr. Silva,

    I can assure you that comparing your little corner of the internet to the suffering of saints and martyrs does little good. Comparing your 24-7 slander/guilt by association operation to anyone’s “ministry” is stunning.

    Mr. Silva, you don’t consider me or most evangelicals to be your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be honest. We’re lost. You’re saved. You’re OK. We’re not. You’ve got the truth. We don’t. You are orthodox. We’re heretical and apostate.

    There, I just wrote your entire blogging career in a paragraph. You should say this. It’s relatively simply. All the name calling isn’t necessary.

    To quote you, you “glory in internet wars.” I assume that as Jesus says, you have your reward.

    I will now all you to return to your prayers “I thank you God that I am not like other men, particularly those __________________ .”(fill in the blank.)

    You get one more response.

    MS

  13. Mr. Spencer,

    You said: “you don’t consider me or most evangelicals to be your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be honest. We’re lost. You’re saved. You’re OK. We’re not. You’ve got the truth. We don’t. You are orthodox. We’re heretical and apostate.”

    Although this is commonly stated by my detractors, it really isn’t an accurate portrayal of my personal beliefs. And from the rest of your comment I can tell you in the Lord that you seriously misjudge me. It’s ok by me though because through 1 Corinthians 15:10 I realize that if I were outside looking in at me I’d probably see it this way as well. However, I can’t do anything about that but be understanding and leave the rest to the Lord.

    Then you say: “To quote you, you ‘glory in internet wars.’ I assume that as Jesus says, you have your reward.” That isn’t a quote because what I actually said was, “O what a glorious time to be in the internet wars!” Meaning that perhaps some are finally responding to our (I’m hardly the only one) message of repentance in the Body of Christ and are finally getting ready to pick up God’s Word and fight for His Truth. So your application of what Jesus says about reward above would actually be incorrect.

    And because you have been kind enough to give me this one more response I’ll leave it at this. I do my best to model myself after my Master and Lord in this day of misguided tolerance and its misunderstood concept of God’s love. Because of that I am often accused of being “divisive,” “harsh,” “arrogant,” etc., etc. Well, that kind of reaction simply goes with the turf I’m called to defend.

    I do pray this helps a little in at least understanding where I’m coming from and the methodology I use. I’m not trying to sway you but it is a sincere attempt to help you see why I do what I do. One needs to keep in mind that I happen to have very public forums in Apprising Ministries, Christian Research Net and Symphony of Scripture that God chose to give to me to preach and teach through and I must use these to spread the Truth as He leads me to the best of my ability.

    The fact that I am bold and direct most certainly does not mean that I have no love for the people I speak out against. Quite the contrary I spend hours and hours studying their materials, which I often purchase out of my own pocket, in order to try and understand their views from their perspective. But you need to understand this is no game and this is no time for a “business as usual” approach to the Christian faith. Our Lord is at war and I am only a soldier doing what I am personally asked to do for Him. What others do they will one day have to stand for themselves before God for it, as will I.

    May the Lord open your eyes Michael that you might see the dark red sky this morning and recognize the time in which you live. I am afraid this is only the beginning and should Christ tarry things are going to get mighty rough spiritually in the days ahead. You may believe me when I tell you that I sincerely wish I had better news.

  14. Our Lord is at war and I am only a soldier doing what I am personally asked to do for Him.

    This has to be one of the saddest things I have read in quite some time.

  15. CaldoniaSun says:

    “It is finished.” ‘Nuff said.
    John 19:30

  16. Michael,

    I wrote on this topic back in December. Though I have not read the book, your review seems to reinforce the gist of my own thoughts on it.

    The EC has severe problems, no doubt. It’s also been better than average at pointing out modern evangelicalism’s shortcomings. Yet rather than address the criticism thoughtfully and prayerfully, bastions of evangelicalism have launched a counterattack on what is an easy target, a reactionary movement (which is what the EC is).

    What makes this counterattack so ironically anti-truth comes from the unwillingness of evangelicals to do anything about the dead-on criticism leveled by the EC. It seems modern evangelical leaders are simply unwilling to descend into the “belly of the beast” to see whether or not the criticisms are true. Even worse, and further anti-truth, evangelicalism’s defenders too often fail to see for themselves whether the EC is as bad as the hearsay says. Did MacArthur personally sit down with McLaren, Pagitt, Driscoll, Bell, Kimball, or anyone else remotely affiliated with the EC before he wrote his book? I think we all know the answer to that question.

    That’s the real sad reality behind MacArthur’s book, one supposedly dedicated to truth. Anytime we who call ourselves Christians fail to personally go to the root, we let truth down. We become less the defenders of truth and more gossips of truthiness.

  17. I’m becoming rather disenchanted with the good Dr. MacArthur. If any of y’all aren’t doing anything else, stop by and read my post here, and let me know if you think I’m wrong or out of line.

  18. I would have substantive disagreements with some of the views on this blog. However, I have never read a more self serving and hollow comment from anyone, anywhere than Ken’s last muti-anointing autobiography. It is thoroughly unchristian. Sorry.

    Let another man’s lips praise you and not your own.

  19. Ken has now blogged about this thread at his site.

    I just have one thing to say: If you link to Apprising or CRN, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  20. Curiousity is a terrible thing….I went on over to Apprising, and, oh, MY EYES!

  21. John MacArthur’s blanket style condemnation put me off straight away. I don’t know too much of him but when I saw the book in the shop & flicked through it a bit I thought it might have been interesting. It would seem though that most of what I’ve read so far is just the same ol’ stuff, rehashed & repackaged – apostasy, assualt on divine authority, subtle heresys, postmodernism…..etc! I wouldn’t have thought that Tony Campolo’s name would gone in there, but obviously I don’t know too much about Tony Campolo. (Introduction xi)

    There are so many different opinions about what the Bible says from so many different learned people that to say that anyone has a real corner on every bit of truth astounds me. I’m at present grappling with the whole Hell issue. If any Christian feels it necessary to question and have a different opinion than that of the mainstream then I do not believe that this is counter productive to the cause & nor do I believe it to be heretical ( at least not in some cases). To have a different opinion is not an apostasy it is just a searching for the truth and God commends one who seeks after the truth.

    There was another thing or two which I read in the beginningas of the book which I might ask for others opinions on later when I have more time.

    I like what Bob Hyatt said:
    Only problem is when you feed people a consistent diet of that kind of red meat, eventually they start looking at you with hungry eyes as well.

  22. Wow I just happened across this conversation because I heard John Armstrong being interviewed by Steve Brown they mentioned John Macarther had said something about John A. I don’t know anything about him but John Macarther I have listened to and learned from since I have been a christian, I am currently stuggling to get back to God I did not know things had changed so much while I was gone, I never even heard of the Emerging Church until the podcast from John Mac. I do know of Marc Driscol though, I heard him on Steve brown as well and have been podcasting his sermons every since, he is outstanding and in the interview with Steve he didn’t have anything good to say about the Emerging Church. I don’t agree with every view that John Mac has but I know that all of these men know way more than me about the Bible, history, and God. I do check everything against the Bible, it does happen to be the word of God and I would have a problem with a pastor that were to teach contrary to that word. One comment bothered me that me from the previous post was about no one having the corner on the truth. that sounds like the excact thing that John M. was speaking against. I run into that thinking a lot in my life but usually not from believers. It is not about a person having the corner on truth it is that there is one truth, if there was more than one it couldn’t be truth. It is our duty as believers to discover that truth and then proclaim it. if we don’t know what the truth is we have nothing but oppinion and those aren’t good for much, i have learned that. I am intriged by this debate and will look into it further, but where is the love, i don’t know Micheal Spencer either but from this experience he seems to be quite fare and polite i really admire that, since in this society people tend to react and judge angrily and without love, including myself. i am too confused to have a real oppinion on this Emerging church thing the only thing, and it really is the only thing, that i know is that Jesus is who He is “Holy” and we are who we are “wreched” and that gives me perspective.
    thanks the review of the book which apears to have started the whole conversation. i’m also new to this blog thing so forgive me if i violated any etiquet. i also can’t spell don’t don’t bother correcting my errors i know they are there.

  23. Hello to all who blog here! I only started reading this a couple of days ago & am also sorry if there’s some blogging protocol which I haven’t met b4 posting! If I can just briefly reply to Mike above, that would be great!

    Mike, no matter who or where you are I’m glad you’re coming back to Jesus. It’s normally a fairly cataclysmic event which makes one turn away & no one is immune to such dramas. I also bought a great book the other day by Philip Yancey called “Do you know what’s so amazing about grace?” This could be a great book for you on your return journey…..?

    You’re very correct also about there being only one truth, His name is Jesus, of course!! I should have been more alert about what I was writing or perhaps I should have been more awake. Here’s the paragraph that you commented on below!

    There are so many different opinions about what the Bible says from so many different learned people that to say that anyone has a real corner on every bit of truth astounds me. I’m at present grappling with the whole Hell issue. If any Christian feels it necessary to question and have a different opinion than that of the mainstream then I do not believe that this is counter productive to the cause & nor do I believe it to be heretical ( at least not in some cases). To have a different opinion is not an apostasy it is just a searching for the truth and God commends one who seeks after the truth.

    When I said “every bit of truth” I was relating to the truth from a biblical point of view not so much as from Jesus being the ‘word’ and Him also being the ‘truth’. These facts are not debatable! I’m very thankful that Jesus is the way, truth & life because if it were left up to us to interpret we would be in a mess. These are some of the foundational truths in scripture which make up our faith & cannot be put aside if one is to be called Christian.

  24. see that makes total since, i have heard of that book i will check it out. i don’t have a problem with any of what has been said here, i guesse maybe that is part of the confusion, i hear people from both sides and they both seem to be in agreement with what i know to be true from the Bible, and that makes me wonder why the arguing? I am in no place right now to judge anyone really. years ago i would have judged, but i have seen how messed up i am capable of being and now i can identify better with strugling with the truth. most of the time now, i am tending to understand what the truth is and i believe it, i just don’t like it at all so i have that problem going on. also, i wasn’t accusing steve of anything just using the phrase as an example. though i am accually not new to all of this i feel like i am. thanks

  25. Ken Silva quoted Imonk then stated:

    “You said: “you don’t consider me or most evangelicals to be your brothers and sisters in Christ. Be honest. We’re lost. You’re saved. You’re OK. We’re not. You’ve got the truth. We don’t. You are orthodox. We’re heretical and apostate.”

    Although this is commonly stated by my detractors, it really isn’t an accurate portrayal of my personal beliefs. And from the rest of your comment I can tell you in the Lord that you seriously misjudge me. It’s ok by me though because through 1 Corinthians 15:10 I realize that if I were outside looking in at me I’d probably see it this way as well. However, I can’t do anything about that but be understanding and leave the rest to the Lord.”

    iggy states the painful obvious that Ken misses:

    Come on Ken you have stated i am not saved over and over because I am “emergent”… don’t lie…

    If you think you can say something like above and not have about twenty people state you stated otherwise… I think you deceive yourself greatly.

    We have recently told me I “serve another god”…

    So, retract your lie above… as we see you for what you are… very clearly…

    Be Blessed,
    iggy

  26. Thank you for this review.

  27. Mr. Spencer, I love you.

  28. Colleen Powers says:

    I appreciate your review Mr. Spencer as I am in the process of reading this book. I have to disagree with your accessment with Dr. McArthur’s overview of Modernism and Postmodernism. Although it was not as comprehensive, it does cut to the heart of both ways of thinking. Granted, there are many variations on each, but the purpose of his book seems to be more about avoiding error, something that the Church has been battling since its birth. In a day and age when so many people do not stop and think about the end result of a certain line of reasoning, in important areas as well as non-esstentially, I find “The Truth War” Refreshing and challenging. I have a college degree and my husband is a college professor. We have both been in fulltime ministry for almost 30 years and are very concerned about the “liberties” taken with the Gospel in order to “Make it more relevant”. Although the Emerging Church Movement is wide and diverse ( something that in and of itself makes it a little scary) the elements my husband and I have personally observed in churches calling themselves “Emerging” do not tend to make the kind of disciples described in the Bible.

  29. Paul Mitchell says:

    Colleen;

    I think that is where the rubber meets the road is the type of lives and godly living that results from a “deconstructionist” view of the Word of God.
    The Lord of Glory holds a high view of Himself and his Word. He also holds the bar very high for those that call themselves by his Name. We must be suspect of those that in the light of “new views” find it necessary to practice contextualizing the Word of God which causes precious doctrines to be scewered of their power and glory.

    God help us to hold fast to that which is true, cleave to that which good, and be ready to be done with the “new” no matter how attractive and academic it may sound.

  30. Well said Paul.

  31. Glen Collins II says:

    It is very important today to have one who defends the truth and lives the truth just like macarther does. It is sicking to so how so called “Christians” handle the words of our Lord and twist them to please men. Well, the fact is John doesen’t do that at all. I have seen others comment on how John attacks the beliefs of others. The fact is our beliefs should be what the Bible teachs us not what “you want to believe” for the word is very clear on all the issues John has preached on or has wrote about and he has been right on, on all of them 100%. So if you have a problem with the truth war it is because you have a problem with the truth and have not taken a stand against sin in your own life.

  32. Glen Collins II says:

    It is very important today to have one who defends the truth and lives the truth just like macarther does. It is sicking to see how so called “Christians” handle the words of our Lord and twist them to please men. Well, the fact is John doesen’t do that at all. I have seen others comment on how John attacks the beliefs of others. The fact is our beliefs should be what the Bible teachs us not what “you want to believe” for the word is very clear on all the issues John has preached on or has wrote about and he has been right on, on all of them 100%. So if you have a problem with the truth war it is because you have a problem with the truth and have not taken a stand against sin in your own life.

  33. “If an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel, let him be accursed.”