John MacArthur has written a book titled The Gospel According to Paul. A friend of mine was good enough to send me a copy and so I have examined it and found 12 telling quotes from the book. The premise appears to be an attempt to find out what gospel Paul shared and to some degree MacArthur does discuss the content of the message of 1 Cor 15 however in many ways he undoes the truth revealed through adding in his own theological reformed leaning bent. Doing so muddies and even changes the gospel.
12 telling quotes:
p xxii “Two of my best-known books on the gospel are in-depth critiques of the preposterous notion that repentance, self-denial, the cost of discipleship, and the lordship of Christ are all truths unnecessary for salvation and thus best left out of our gospel proclamation.”
(Here MacArthur admits that he thinks that salvation is not received by what I would call faith alone. No place does the Bible state that things such as self-denial, commitments to discipleship, or submission to Christ’s lordship are required for reception of eternal life.)
p xxvii “Some influential voices in the evangelical movement today still teach that obedience to Christ is an optional and unnecessary adjunct to “accepting Him” as Savior. Some still would deny that the gospel calls sinners to repentance or instructs them to follow Christ.”
(The gospel instructs them to follow Christ? No the gospel is the good news that Christ died for us, was buried, and rose again. We must obey the gospel. How? By believing it as true. That is what it means to trust Christ as Savior. It is placing our faith in Him to save. Remember for MacArthur repentance does not mean to change one’s mind but to turn from sin.)
P 14 “So how could God ever justify the ungodly without compromising His own righteousness? The answer is that Christ willingly died in place of those whom He saves. He is their Substitutue…”
(This is couched in verbiage of one who holds to a limited view of the atonement. Many Calvinists believe that Christ only died for the elect and not the whole world.)
p 22 “…Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures… He was buried … He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and … He was seen.” That is the whole gospel. The rest is explanation.”
(Right, but how should one explain it? As in yeah, that is the good news but oh by the way Christ only died for the few chosen ones? Is that really good news to anyone? It is not really even good news to any supposed pre-chosen ones because even in the end of the day you cannot, like MacArthur, even know 100 percent that you are one of the chosen ones because in this system one must persevere to the end. There is always in that system the chance of failure. Plus this says nothing about counting the cost of discipleship or turning from sins. So where does that enter the explanation?)
p 23 “So many people spurn the good news because they can’t get past the starting point, which requires us to confess our sin.”
(No, that is a false gospel. The reason so many reject the gospel, just as the Pharisees did, is that they can’t in their humans minds and pride accept something by grace that is undeserved and unearned. I am convinced that the easiest lie for the devil to sell is that one needs to do something to help earn salvation.)
p 24 “… all false religions are systems of human achievement.”
(How ironic because reformed theology and Calvinism fit this statement. They are works oriented systems masquerading as grace. In the end once the varnish is stripped off, it is just as much works oriented as any other religious system. It is as much works for salvation as even the Catholicism from which it came.)
p 54 “This righteousness is imputed (credited to the account of) to every sinner who renounces sin and trusts Christ as Savior.”
(Once again MacArthur fails to understand the means of the prescribed method of receiving the gift of eternal life by faith. And in doing so he begins to directly contradict his own context.)
p 92-93 double-talk, Spurgeon “That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other….”
(MacArthur apparently felt that he needed to quote some of Spurgeon’s philosophy and double speak concerning election. To be clear here God does not in any way pre-select who will believe. He predestines that those that do believe will be adopted as sons and receive the inheritance. Eph 1:5, 13)
p 104 “God’s grace is the originating cause of regeneration; the sinner’s faith is the immediate effect.”
(The obvious problem is that the scripture itself does not say this. Regeneration can in no way precede the first time a person believes the gospel. Regeneration follows reception of the free gift through faith. Paul made this quite clear. So it is misleading for MacArthur to suggest otherwise.)
p 104-105 “If the sinner’s own free-will choice rather than God’s electing grace were the determining factor in salvation, no one would ever be saved.”
(This is also false. MacArthur is assuming no one would choose to believe but remember for MacArthur the idea of faith includes any number of things such as turning from sins, making Christ the Lord of your life, commitments to discipleship etc. And apparently he has forgotten that the gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation. The gospel is the light that the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate the blinded. 2 Cor 4 mentions that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the lost. This is something the devil has done, not God. Men may choose to continue to believe any lie or may repent (change their mind) and receive salvation based on the specific revelation of the truth. They already have God’s general revelation to know they are without excuse. Rom 1. The fact is that if our gospel is hid, even such as in MacArthur’s loaded lordship version, it is hid to those who are lost and already blinded by the devil. What a shame. So many like MacArthur appear to desire that people live Christian lives but the way to get there is not to front or back load the gospel with works or extra qualifications that are meant for ongoing obedience in the Christian walk in sanctification.)
p 105 “Again, every aspect of salvation – beginning with regeneration, including the sinner’s faith and good works – all of it – is purely by grace. It is done for us freely.
(No it is not done for us. Christ paid the penalty of sin for us. we must receive it by faith. Otherwise the gift goes unappropriated. It is there for any who will receive it and all may receive it.)
P 107 “Faith adds nothing meritorious to salvation; it is simply the channel through which the blessing is received. But some measure of practical righteousness is the inevitable fruit of saving faith.”
(Here is an illustration how some like MacArthur begin to have the right idea on paper yet mess it up by adding in that last line about “inevitable” fruit. Practical righteousness is not inevitable otherwise, as I have said before, the New Testament could have been much shorter without having to have so much instruction about how to live the Christian life. You could take out all of the rebukes to the Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, Hebrews, the believers that James wrote to and on and on.
Remember the Reformed concept of “faith” is that it is a gift from God and that it must behave and perform as a certain special kind that is only available to a few pre-selected chosen few. Good works then become vital to even begin to know if one is truly saved. However the Bible states that we can know our standing based on whom we have believed. Our salvation is a sure a Christ is God and the gospel is true. Works have nothing to do with it because our salvation was not by works of the law but was offered by grace because Christ did the work. Reformed theology goes far beyond this making puppets out of men and making an ogre out of God. God in that system is change from the one Paul describes to a God that pre-chooses most people to have no chance but to damned eternally. Please do not let people like MacArthur fool people into thinking Paul taught any such thing.)
In summary we can see that MacArthur has not really explained what Paul said very well but instead has taken the opportunity to try to inject Calvinism and Reformed style theology back into various texts. In doing so he actually created some paradoxes and made what should be straight forward, confusing. Let’s not confuse people as to what the gospel is or how people can receive it.