Recently I was listening to a podcast by Pastor John MacArthur from Grace Community Church on Grace to You. It was ironically (as you will find out soon) on his September 4th sermon titled The Humbling Gospel from 1 Corinthians 1&2.
In the midst of listening to this sermon I was approached by a friend of mine who is a pastor. As he sat down next to me to talk, he inquired of who I was listening to. I replied that it was John MacArthur who was finishing up the final sermon to a conference called Truth Matters which was held at Grace Community Church.
His words verbatim were as follows: “Oh, yeah MacArthur, he’s a good teacher I guess but I just don’t like him. I mean why does he feel the need to call people out. I mean when he called out Rick Warren, why, I mean why would he do that? I hate how he names names and calls out people. I mean Rick preaches the gospel, maybe not like MacArthur, but doesn’t Paul say in Philippians that we should just be happy if people are preaching Christ – in whatever manner they do it.”
This was my response to this pastor friend of mine. I did not become defensive nor did I engage in a theological discussion (although I have to confess I wanted to). I replied to him, “I understand how you feel that way. You may want to read why John MacArthur does what he does and says what he says – Iain Murray has just written a biography about John’s life and ministry and it is extraordinary and it may just answer a few of those questions you have – I think there are two chapters in there that will definitely clear some things up.”
And that was it. I left it at that. And at that instant my pastor friend got a phantom call on his phone and he was off. A little homework to check out if his accusations were correct and he was off. Now this pastor would have just about gotten up from anything I said. A theological discussion and this non-theological pastor would have bolted. A discussion of the gospel (what every pastor should be discussing with everyone they meet) would have sent him to the doors. But I decided to take the high road that day and let John MacArthur defend himself with his own words in a biography written about him.
That Begs the Question
Honestly I wanted to discuss the presupposition of the pastor’s attack against one of my heroes of the faith. I’m sure he would not have wanted to go deep in a conversation about the crux of the issue – the presupposition of the conversation…the gospel.
So the argument begs the question –
What is the gospel?
Paul in Galatians 1:8 says:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
Paul is pretty clear here in Galatians that just preaching the gospel in any matter will not suffice. The gospel is the most important thing in the world – it is the difference between eternal life and eternal wrath. It is the difference between being saved and being damned. It means everything. So compromising the message is out of the question.
And in the book of Philippians there are those preaching the gospel incorrectly and trying to detract from Paul’s gospel by accusing him that God was punishing him by putting him in jail. But Paul was rejoicing that the gospel of Christ was still being proclaimed even in his incarceration – in the Apostles’ gospel ringing true and his detractors gospel with clear holes in it. He was not allowing the gospel to be preached any such way (an example of this pastor not taking the entire context of Scripture into account when reading this passage).
So if we are to preach the gospel, to be ministers of the gospel, live by the gospel, be saved by the gospel, be transformed by the gospel…should we not understand and know what the Bible says about the gospel?
Three Kinds of Gospel Preachers
The way I see it, there are three kinds of gospel preachers out there:
- Intentionally preach an different gospel. These are your work righteousness people who have the wrong Jesus. These are the ones who are preaching you can work your way to heaven, be good enough, do enough and get there, or that everyone goes. These are the faith healers, those who have not repented and put their trust in the Jesus of the Bible, those of dangerous cults and religions that put on the name of Jesus and are in their heart the complete opposite of being born again and against the truth.
- Unintentionally preach an insufficient gospel. These are those people who have grown up in evangelical Christianity and have for years and years been hearing that you have to “decide” and “accept” Jesus in your heart. That all you have to do is believe in Jesus and there needs no repentance or true understanding of your sin and state before God. These people have an insufficient soteriology that does not fully submit to what Scripture teaches as the gospel and many do so because out of ignorance or it is all they have ever been taught. Some in this category are tightroping category #1 in that they may fully know and understand what the Bible teaches but systematically or strategically preach an easy-believism gospel that eventually does nothing more than evolve into a Jesus that helps your life become more fulfilled and ends up in false converts for the sake of pragmatism. This group of people tend to have good hearts with good intentions to making progress for the Lord, but are severely mistaken that their marketing, strategy, business-minded attitude, and trusting their own wisdom over a full submission to Scripture will work. For these kinds of preachers the numbers are high and quick, but the fruit is slim and never lasts. They get alot of decisions for Christ but there are few slaves for Christ. They draw huge crowds, but never truly have a congregation.
- Intentionally preach the gospel as laid out fully in Scripture. These people understand the “hard” teachings of Jesus and the impossible believism of the Bible. They understand our responsibility to preach a message of repentance and faith to all people and clearly articulate the Scripture. These people do not stray away from the law, away from God’s wrath against sin, God’s righteous judgement on sinners, God’s atonement and substitute for those who would surrender and submit to Christ, God’s call for sinners to repent and put their faith in Jesus alone, God’s call on the sinner to count the cost, God’s call on the sinner to take up his cross daily and follow Him, God’s call to die to yourself and live for Christ out of thankfulness for his kindness and grace and love for that which we do not deserve.
Please do not read this and think I am bashing anyone – this pastor or Rick Warren or Purpose-Driven. What I am addressing here is the gospel. I believe this pastor is a saved brother as is Rick Warren as are many people who attend Purpose-Driven and seeker-sensistive churches. What I am saying is that each of these do not fully explain the gospel correctly as laid out in Scripture. This is not conceited or prideful to say because we are to be sure and convinced of that truth which God lays out for us so clearly in Scripture. And each of these people and churches strategically leave out and omit parts of the gospel that are necessary and essential. That being said – it is God who fully saves and He is fully sovereign and He can use junky, insufficient, even awful presentations of the gospel to save through the Holy Spirit, but it is our responsibility to get it right and faithfully proclaim every part of the gospel as God has given to us in Scripture.
Rick Warren’s gospel presentation in the Purpose Driven Life is “Receive Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior. Receive His forgiveness for your sins. Receive His Spirit who will give you the power to fulfill your life. Wherever you’re reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity. ‘Jesus, I believe in You and I receive You. Go ahead.’ If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations, welcome to the family of God.”
That is a minimalistic, watering-down, compromising gospel presentation. There is nothing about the cross, nothing about the sin that the sinner is accountable to God for, nothing about resurrection, nothing about repentance, nothing about self-denial, nothing about the price on the cross or counting the cost. That is a prayer anyone could pray, have false assurance of salvation, and just go right on being a lost sinner. An insufficient gospel modeled by hundreds if not thousands of pastors.
There are those who love to cite fallacies, insufficiencies, and problems with others but offer no solution. I am not one of those. As was Martin Luther – I am a man who sees my own sinfulness, insufficiency before God…and I am eternally grateful for His grace and mercy in saving me and granting me repentance and faith in Him alone. And in that He justifies me and credits to my account Christ’s righteousness so I can glorify Him for all eternity.
In the midst of all of this Martin Luther saw fallacies, insuffiencies, and problems with the Roman Catholic Church and was able to hold that institution up to Scripture and reason as his standard and not only address those issues but also offer expositional answers in response according to God’s Word. So if you do not like what I say or John MacArthur says or Martin Luther says just because it hits a nerve, please do not – it is out of love and a standing up for God’s Word.
So in response, I will continue to write about the gospel as laid out in Scripture. And I will continue to give my responses with problems that I see in evangelical Christianity according to the Bible in hope to bring some of us back to the full submission of Scripture. This is my passion and this is my heart.
So in the words of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms:
Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest reasoning, I stand convinced by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.