In finishing up our series on discernment, a book review on John MacArthur’s The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, fits well with what we’ve been discussing. Published in 2007, The Truth War is essentially an exposition of the Epistle of Jude while examining several of the current dangers invading the modern Church, specifically that of the Emerging Church movement. Jude provides the thesis for his epistle in verse 3, “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints.” It’s upon this theme that MacArthur builds The Truth War.
Beginning in the Introduction, MacArthur details his intended target of Emerging Church apostates by identifying Rob Bell, his wife Kristen, Brian McLaren, and Tony Campolo. Despite naming names, MacArthur really spends little focus on them, instead choosing to identify general dangers within the modern day Church. The first of which, postmodernism, he addresses in chapter 1. Providing first a brief sketch of modernity, which included the scientific and rationalistic thoughts of Darwinism, fascism, socialism, communism, and theological liberalism, he then proceeds to postmodernism, which he defines as suggesting “that if objective truth exists, it cannot be known objectively or with any degree of certainty. That is because (according to postmodernists), the subjectivity of the human mind makes knowledge of objective truth impossible.”
From there, MacArthur addresses the crux behind apostate teachers and heretics, namely spiritual warfare and why we must engage in the battle (chs. 2 & 3). Chapter 4 centers around Jude 4 NKJV, “For certain men have crept in” to which he points out that the great danger to the Church today lies not from atheists and agnostics from the outside, but spiritual terrorists and saboteurs from within. This is an interesting chapter from a historic perspective as it examines the impact made by the Judaizers of the Apostle Paul’s day to the Gnostics who crept in even before the previous apostates were expelled. The problems in today’s Church, according to MacArthur, are not all to different from those of yester years as we too face modern day Gnosticism, examples which exist in the form of pseudo-Christian documents such as The Gospel of Thomas and The Gospel of Judas, best-selling novel and movie The Da Vinci Code and I would add to this list the best-selling novel The Shack.
Chapter 5 highlights the subtlety of heresy and provides encouragement for why we must remain vigilant in this battle. He states, “The more aggressively something is marketed to Christians as the latest, greatest novelty, the less likely most evangelicals are to examine it critically. After all, who wants to be constantly derided as a gatekeeper for orthodoxy in a postmodern culture? Defending the faith is a role very few seem to want anymore.” In this chapter MacArthur again probes the historical heresies of the Church by examining Sabellianism and Arianism. Sabellianism, also know as modalism, claims God as three different “modes” of expression, believing that God “transforms Himself from one of these manifestations to another consecutively, as if changing costumes.” Arianism is best described as an assault on the deity of Christ. The Arians flatly denied that Jesus is eternal God incarnate.
“Apostate false teachers who remain in the Church and undermine true faith are often extremely subtle, but they are never harmless. Heresy always breeds more evil, and the closer any lie comes to the heart of the Gospel, the more diabolical is the fruit it bears.” With this statement, MacArthur cements the direction of chapter 6 as a discussion on how “error turns grace into licentiousness.” In doing so, he states biblical evidence for God’s “zero tolerance” on false teachers, but also points out that as believers contending for the faith there is “a time to be tough; a time to be tender.” I found it extremely helpful that in this chapter MacArthur points out, “the error Jude has in mind does not stem from some slight misunderstanding about a difficult text. He is talking about heresy that is ultimately rooted in willful unbelief – a denial of ‘the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Jude 4). He has in mind an error that corrupts the essential character of the Gospel. He is talking about damnable error. He stresses that fact when he says the purveyors of such heresies are destined for condemnation.” He concludes this chapter by highlighting Jude’s outline of 3 main characteristics of apostates, 1)Their character, in being ungodly 2)Their conduct, lewdness and turning the kindness of God into license for immoral conduct 3)Their creed, “denying the only Lord and God and our Lord Jesus Christ” though not open or blatantly.
Chapter 7 expounds on this third characteristics mentioned above, namely an Assault on Divine Authority: Christ’s Lordship Denied. This chapter examines the transformation of evangelism into its current “mess.” Here MacArthur highlights the PR-driven Church, namely marketing the church such as Rick Warren, runaway pragmatism and trivial pursuit specifically the evangelical obsession with pop culture, evangelical fad surfing in following whatever is the latest popular trend or current best seller, which included the Prayer of Jabez, The Purpose-Driven Life, and The Da Vinci Code. Additionally “seeker-sensitive” methodologies have been employed using less emphasis on edification and more on entertainment (drama, music, comedy, and even forms of vaudeville). Rounding out the list is the “no-lordship theology” which states that submission to Christ’s lordship is an optional matter reducing all believers call to discipleship and hard demands of cross-bearing and self denial (Matthew 16:24, Mark 10:21, et. al) lending itself to the doctrine of “carnal Christians” which became popular in the mid-twentieth century and completely eliminated Church discipline. Finally, accommodations to political correctness has contributed greatly to the transformation of evangelicalism. Here “evangelicals willing to bend biblical truth to make Christianity seem more politically correct [but] are in effect denying Christ as true head of the Church.”
Finally in Chapter 8 John MacArthur describes how to survive in an age of apostasy by learning from history. He states, “The Church today is quite possibly more susceptible to false teachers, doctrinal saboteurs, and spiritual terrorism than any other generation in Church history. Biblical ignorance within the Church may well be deeper and more widespread than at any other time since the Protestant Reformation.” MacArthur’s exposition of Jude concludes that our reaction and response to this apostasy should be to 1) Remember what was prophesied [about apostasy], i.e. God is sovereign 2) Remain faithful, committed to the truth 3) Reach out, to not only oppose false teachers but rescue those who have been led astray by them. Worthy of reading too is the Appendix which is an adaptation from a previous book entitled Reckless Faith.
This is the first book I’ve read of MacArthur’s and it’s pretty solid. I enjoy his preaching and this book follows suit. He is not afraid to speak on his convictions and is relentless in his pursuit for truth. The Truth War, like his sermons, is rich in Biblical quotations and was actually a derivative of his sermon series. I appreciate that he is able to expound on Jude to the level of a Bible commentary yet weave into it some historical apostasy and even more modern attacks from the Emerging Church. As I am now reading another of his books, I have began to discover that while MacArthur’s books have different titles, they maintain central themes in expositing Biblical truth while confronting harmful errors. If you’re interested in understanding the heresies within evangelicalism from a historical perspective as they have transitioned into the postmodern Church, then The Truth War is a worthwhile read.
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