Posted by: Tim | May 22, 2008

Book Review: The Gospel According to the Apostles by John MacArthur

Introduction:

“The Gospel According to the Apostles” is the follow-up to John MacArthur’s famous book, “The Gospel According to Jesus”. He wrote both books to deal with the ‘Lordship Salvation’ controversy that heated up in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

The Lordship Salvation debate was about how a person is saved – do they need to call upon Jesus as Lord – ie a heart of faith, repentance and surrender, as John MacArthur argued (Biblical support would include Jesus’ tough response in Matthew 19:16ff to the rich young ruler ), or simply a heart of faith, as Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie argued (Biblical support would include the Acts 16:31 response “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”, given by Paul and Silas to the Philippian jailer). Please note that Chapter 2 gives a much more detailed primer on the Lordship Salvation controversy, to help get you up to speed.

I bought this book in fall 2006 in preparation for a series about the gospel but I never read it until recently. I was actually looking to read my copy of the “The Gospel According to Jesus”, but I couldn’t find it, so I read this one instead. I never did find my first copy of TGATJ, but as the Lord would have it, they gave out a special 20th anniversary addition at the Together for the Gospel 08 – great conference, please see other posts before and (hopefully) after this one!

The Review:

Anyway, I am glad I ended up reading “The Gospel According to the Apostles”. While it deals with the Lordship salvation issue, I found it rich and encouraging simply as an exposition of Scripture about the gospel.

MacArthur’s interaction is primarily with Zane Hodges’ book “Absolutely Free” and Charles Ryrie’s book “So Great a Salvation”. I would say that he appears to represent them and others he quotes fairly. On some occasions he points out where the logic of their arguments would lead, while hastening to emphasize that they do not actually say these things and probably do not agree with the logical extension of their arguments. I appreciated this as sometimes in debates people show the logical extension of their opponents argument and then say that is their position, when in fact it is not.

There are many points that I think MacArthur argues convincingly. I will highlight a few points below

– “The state of one’s heart will inevitably be revealed by its fruit.” (p35)

People who are truly saved will have fruit in their lives. This seems obvious to me based on many passages of Scripture, and I have taught it before I learned more about this debate, assuming it wasn’t controversial, but it appears that many no-lordship advocates believe a person can be truly saved and have no fruit in their lives. They seem to fear that this would be tantamount to a works-based salvation (See p36 for a Zane Hodges’ quote to this effect – I find his logic very weak.) It seems very clear to me that salvation is by grace alone will necessarily result in works (not that works will result in salvation), since the believer is a new creation and has the Holy Spirit. MacArthur writes:

“The hallmark of grace is an obedient heart. …Obedience does not produce or maintain salvation, but it is the inevitable characteristic of those who are saved. The desire to know and obey God’s truth is one of the surest marks of genuine salvation. Jesus made it clear that those who obey his word are the true believers (cf. John 8:31; 14:21, 23, 24; 15:10)” pp102-103

MacArthur is not arguing that works save us. He is arguing that saved people will do good works – they can’t help it because the Lord has transformed them.

– “Real faith therefore involves the whole person – mind, emotions, and will.” p28

No-lordship advocates seem to have a definition of faith that focuses on the intellectual assent but does not include personal commitment. Here MacArthur notes that some no-lordship advocates ‘resent’ this accusation, but he argues strongly that his statement is justified because they

“…consistently fail to define believing as anything more than a cognitive function. Many use the word trust, but when they define it, they actually describe assent.” (p33)

I am reminded of the Evangelism Explosion presentation where I was taught to describe saving faith as more than ‘mere intellectual assent’, but rather it is transferring my trust from myself to Christ. The physical illustration used in EE is always powerful to me and I have used it in sermons. One hand represents Jesus, and the other represents me. The Bible (or some object) represents my trust, being held in the ‘me’ hand. The transfer of trust involves passing the Bible (my trust) from the ‘me’ hand to the ‘Jesus’ hand. Thus my trust rests in Christ, not myself. I find the physical illustration to simply but dramatically illustrate the end of reliance on self and the beginning of trust in Christ.

As an aside, at one point in chapter 3, MacArthur starts to sound like John Piper (which is a good thing, I would say!):

“…faith follows after Him as the soul’s greatest pleasure. …Faith then is seeking and finding God in Christ, desiring Him, and ultimately being fulfilled with Him. …Faith is being satisfied with Christ.” (p32)

Good stuff!

– “The Bible suggests that a well-grounded assurance has both objective and subjective support. The objective ground is the finished work of Christ on our behalf, including the promises of Scripture… The subjective ground is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, including His convicting and sanctifying ministries.” p143

MacArthur writes about Biblical grounds for assurance of salvation, suggesting that no-lordship advocates focus on the objective assurance (ie promises of Scripture) and ignore subjective assurance (ie Is there fruit of a saved person in my life that gives evidence of the Holy Spirit being in me?). Thus they tend to talk about eternal security and not about perseverance.

Chapters 10 and 11 deal well with the issues of assurance and perseverance.

– There is a relationship between no-lordship salvation and dispensationalism

One interesting thing that comes up in Appendix 2 is a discussion of the relationship between no-lordship advocates and dispensationalism. (MacArthur is a dispensationalist, as are Ryrie and Hodges.) MacArthur points out that the people who advocate the no-lordship salvation position are generally dispensationalists, though the reverse is not necessarily true. He gives a basic explanation of dispensationalism and explains why the dispensational system leads many to the no-lordship position (The appendix is well worth the read to get his explanation, and to better understand dispensationalism).

Conclusion

In conclusion I recommend this book to you if

1) You are interested in good exposition of Scripture regarding salvation.

2) You are interested in the Lordship Salvation Controversy.

If you are wondering if this book has current relevance, you should know that it does. For example: Recently I watched a DVD of Bruce Wilkinson from the 2006 Breakforth conference in Edmonton. It was a worrisome sermon in many respects that I won’t get into here. But he was calling people to total surrender to Christ (that part was a good thing!). At one point in the message he quoted where Jesus says that if you don’t give up everything you “cannot be my disciple.” (see Luke 14:26-27, 33) He very quickly said that this is not referring to salvation, because that would be salvation by works. When I heard it I recognized this as a no-lordship teaching – that there is a difference between trusting in Christ and becoming a disciple – where discipleship is a higher-level Christianity. In contrast, the Bible says that “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). This suggests that the words “Christian” and “disciple”
are synonymous. When Jesus calls us to be a disciple, He is calling us to be a Christian. So I believe that Bruce Wilkinson was wrong on this one, and he said it so quickly that you could have missed it, but having understanding of this Lordship Salvation controversy helped me understand the mistake in his sermon, and where it was coming from, and how it caused so many problems in his message. (though again I note that calling people to total surrender is never a bad thing!)

Anyway, that was a long conclusion – I am a preacher after all.

I fully recommend “The Gospel According to the Apostles”. I think you will be blessed by the good exposition of Scripture, as well as informed about the Lordship Salvation debate (regardless of which side you take on it).

MacArthur, John, The Gospel According to the Apostles, Nelson, Nashville, 1993 & 2000, 266pages.

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Responses

  1. Me I would rightfuly not trust anything he writes still..

    Good acceptable theology

    Holy Spirit Here are some great articles on the Holy Spirit
    The Faith Posted by: thenonconformer May 20, 2008
    The Holy Spirit Posted by: thenonconformer on May 3, 2008
    The Holy Spirit continued Posted by: thenonconformer on May 3, 2008
    Anointed Posted by: thenonconformer on May 3, 2008
    Anointed Continued Posted by: thenonconformer on May 3, 2008

    http://anyonecare.wordpress.com/2008/05/23/good-and-bad-unacceptable-theology/

  2. […] both books to deal with the ???Lordship Salvation?? controversy that heated up in the late 1980?https://notinvain.wordpress.com/2008/05/22/book-review-the-gospel-according-to-the-apostles-by-john-m…Clinton not entitled to veep spotIn America, nothing ages as fast as novelty, and efforts to […]

  3. Hi Tim,

    Appreciate your blog. This is a bit of an odd request, but where did you find the DVD of Wilkinson at Breakforth? I’ve been trying to track it down without much luck. Any help you could give would be appreciated!

  4. Hi Pete,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I borrowed the DVD of Bruce Wilkinson at Breakforth 2006 from a student at Prairie Bible College. I remember that the name of a media company was on the label of the DVD, but I don’t remember who it was. If you contact Breakforth ministries (http://www.new-creation.net/), they may be able to let you know who did the videos and where you can order a copy.

    God bless!
    Tim

  5. Tim,

    Thanks for your response! I’ve sent an email to your address listed on this blog.

    Pete

  6. Hi Pete,

    Glad I could be of help. I didn’t receive an email from you – did you use the address listed on the contact page? it’s tims at look dot ca

    I write it this way with the @ and the . so the spambots don’t get me.

    Thanks,
    Tim

  7. I sent it again, that was the address I used though. Mine is gpyounglife (at) gmail (dot) com, so if you don’t receive this one, would you mind emailing me so I can be sure I have the right address? I might not be making it past your spam filter for some reason.

  8. I’ve received your email now…you were right about my spam filter…it sent your email to my spam folder before I saw it.

    I’ll reply via email.

  9. Is there a study guide for this book?. I’d like to se it for a christian book club. We just finished Twelver Ordinary Men and would like to use this as a follow-up.

  10. Hi Sue,

    I am not aware of a study guide for this book and I took a quick look on the Grace to You site and did not see one.

    It is a good book and I think you and the book club would be blessed by it, but you may have to make up your own questions for discussion.

    God bless,
    Tim


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