Book Review: The Truth War


One of my favorite books of the New Testament is Jude. This very short letter, in many ways, shows just how much control the Holy Spirit had over the authors of Scripture, in that Jude wanted to write about one thing, but felt compelled to write about something entirely different. He says in v. 2-3, “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 for all delivered to the saints.”

Why do I bring this up? Because in writing The Truth War, John MacArthur seeks to carry out the command to contend for the faith.

As a Bible teacher, there are few that surpass MacArthur. He knows how to handle the Scriptures well and carefully. In reading the book, you can feel a deep love for doctrine, for the truth of the Word, and it’s a great thing—indeed, I think we would all do well to learn from his example in this regard.

But truth and sound doctrine aren’t things that are highly regarded or desired, according to MacArthur (and a quick perusal of iTunes and any bookstore’s “Christianity” section would agree with his assessment).

“The idea that the Christian message should be kept pliable and ambiguous seems especially attractive to young people who are in tune with the culture and in love with the spirit of the age and can’t stand to have authoritative biblical truth applied with precision as a corrective to worldly lifestyles, unholy minds, and ungodly behavior. And the poison of this perspective is being increasingly injected into the evangelical church body” (Introduction, xi).

There is an idea that you’re more mature and holy be being ambiguous or uncertain about what you believe, but, MacArthur rightly states, this is by definition a kind of unbelief, and “[r]efusing to acknowledge and defend the reveald truth of God is a particularly stubborn and pernicious kind of unbelief” (ibid).

MacArthur sets the stage for his critique of the Emerging/Emergent Church movement discussing the rise of postmodernism (which is really just repackaged existentialism), and its “tendency to dismiss the possibility of any sure and settled knowledge of the truth” (p. 10), because “the subjectivity of the human mind makes knowledge of objective truth impossible” (p. 11).  But Scripture disagrees with this idea, as Jesus said “I am…the Truth” (John 14:6).

As I read through the book, I found I could easily relate with most every critique and concern that was raised. The idea of looking at the Bible as a human product, as Rob Bell sees it, is terrifying and foolish. The idea that we’re to “search for a kind of truth” and that doctrinal distinctives are of “marginal” value, as Brian McLaren says in A Generous Orthodoxy, will surely lead to a shipwrecked faith. That the atoning death of Christ on the cross was an act of divine child abuse, as many, including McLaren, have written in the past is nothing short of blasphemous and damnable error.

But while I read, I also felt myself grating against his words. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s because I have never experienced pastors contending for the faith by speaking against error, or if it’s something else. One passage in particular hit me a bit close to home:

Sound doctrine? Too arcane for the average churchgoer. Biblical exposition? That alienates the ‘unchurched.’ Clear preaching on sin and redemption? Let’s be careful not to subvert the self-esteem of hurting people” (p. 150).

I read this and it stung, because I’ve heard very similar words from some people that I know well, who are in my prayers more frequently than ever.

While I think that MacArthur does a terrific job outlining his concerns, I have to wonder if his painting of all “contextualization” as worldliness is a bit too broad? Everything—from the Scriptures themselves, to our clothes, to our methodology in church—is contextualized. But using methods that make sense for 2009 doesn’t mean you have to compromise on doctrine. That speaking in everyday vernacular means you’re selling short the gospel. I have to wonder if maybe he’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater on this issue? I honestly don’t know, though. Perhaps I’m reading in something that’s not there.

Additionally, there are a couple of men addressed briefly in his critique—Rick Warren and Mark Driscoll—who at the very least are being implicitly labeled as false teachers, which is not a fair assessment of either man. The comments about Driscoll are based on his over-hyped reputation as “the cussing pastor” as described in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Do I affirm everything that Mark Driscoll or Rick Warren does as good and right and true? Heck no! But it seems unwise and uncharitable to put them in the same category as some of the other gentlemen MacArthur critiques in this book.

Bottom line: Would I recommend The Truth War? Yes. The biblical principles espoused are rock solid and the message is sound: Contend for the faith. Where I would caution any reader is on his critique of other pastors and teachers. Do not build your entire opinion of any of these men solely on the opinions of MacArthur; do your homework and avoid straw-men.

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  • Le Petit Geant

    To all who are reading this and are Bible believing Christians….is there any ONE Christian who is 100% right on all thelogical doctrine?…

    ….all together in unison…..NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

    Somehow Macarthur is combining being sensitive to non-believers with complete false teaching. At the same time, he is subtly claiming to be 100% right on his doctrine.

    For the record, i’m not a huge Rob Bell supporter (I don’t know much about him), so that is not my angle.

    I’m not a huge Mark Driscoll supporter either, yet he once said “the end message no matter how Holy does not justify the way in which it is delivered” (i quoted this on a previous blog along with supporting scripture) and this is where Macarthur HUGELY fails.

    I’m not advocating the “Emergent Church” or whatever that is, but one thing that movement does have going for it is that it has people who otherwise wouldn’t open the Bible or talking about God, are actually doing it. Macarthur’s approach is akin to early Catholocism – Don’t ask questions cause the religious big-shooters have it all right. Masses…you need not worry.

    The biggest irony in all of this? Macarthur is a huge Calvinist, where God is sovereign over all….yet somehow that position doesn’t apply to the “Emergent Church” or Rob Bell or Mark Driscoll. Nope…let’s all panic and scream heresy when it comes to them.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      I think you’re bang on with the assessment that Macarthur seems to imply that he’s 100% right in all his doctrine, and the idea that using appropriate methods to clearly deliver the message means your faith is in question. It’s very dangerous territory to walk because you have to be willing to take the same kind of shots you give.

      That said, the thing I’ve found interesting over the last few years, is how false teaching rises, exactly the way the Bible says it will. I think it’s important that we contend for sound doctrine (not simply because we are commanded to do so all throughout the Bible, but because it really, really matters), but I think we have to remember that false teachers have also been ordained by God to strengthen our resolve and glorify Him.

      If our reaction to people with questionable methodology, never mind false teachers, is to go shooting first and ask questions later, I have to wonder where our joy is coming from? Is it coming from savoring Christ (to use a Piper-ism) or is it because we like to be the smartest kid on the block?

      And I say this as someone who definitely has a tendency toward doctrinal pride, so I’m particularly concerned about such things in myself.

      Like I said in the review, Macarthur’s right in a lot of his assessments (though some might be suspect), but I think his application is lacking.

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