Back twenty years ago the evangelical world was torn by a controversy over the very nature of salvation — known then as the “lordship controversy.” Out of the context of that controversy Dr. John MacArthur would write one of the most important books ever to emerge from his ministry. In The Gospel According to Jesus Dr. MacArthur got right to the heart of the matter.
The urgency? Dr. MacArthur rightly believes that “nothing matters more than what Scripture says about the good news of salvation.” His book was a much-needed corrective to dangerous misunderstandings of the Gospel found commonly among some evangelical teachers twenty years ago. The release of this new edition, updated after two decades, is an alarm that these misrepresentations of the Gospel still threaten today.
I was recently asked to rank the most important evangelical books of the last twenty-five years. In my judgment, The Gospel According to Jesus belongs in the top ten of that urgent list.
The gospel in vogue today holds forth a false hope to sinners. It promises them that they can have eternal life yet continue to live in rebellion against God. Indeed, it encourages people to claim Jesus as Savior yet defer until later the commitment to obey Him as Lord. It promises salvation from hell but not necessarily freedom from iniquity. It offers false security to people who revel in the sins of the flesh and spurn the way of holiness. By separating faith from faithfulness, it teaches that intellectual assent is as valid as a wholehearted obedience to the truth.
Thus the good news of Christ has given way to the bad news of an insidious easy-believism that makes no moral demands on the lives of sinners. It is not the same message Jesus proclaimed.
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A particular emphasis upon the nature and structure of the church has been central to the Baptist vision. In other words, ecclesiology is in many ways the chief contribution and distinctive of the Baptists. Sadly, you would not learn that by observing many Baptist congregations. Baptist ecclesiology has been eclipsed by pragmatism and undermined by neglect.
A helpful analysis of what must be recovered comes as Restoring Integrity in Baptist Churches, edited by Thomas White, Jason G. Duesing, and Malcolm B. Yarnell, III [Kregel]. The book contains chapters on the major issues that must be addressed if integrity in Baptist congregational life is to be recovered — including regenerate church membership, believers baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline. Contributors represent a stellar group of Baptist scholars, including, among others, Mark Dever on church membership, Danny Akin on baptism, and Gregory Wills on church discipline.
From the chapter by Gregory A. Wills on church discipline:
Southern Baptists experienced three tectonic shifts that reshaped Baptist identity and rendered church discipline implausible for both conservatives and progressives. First, they lost confidence that Christ commanded a specific ecclesiology and based church practices on pragmatic concerns, on human standards of effectiveness. Second, they adopted a new view of Baptist identity that led them to redefine ecclesiology and theology according to human experience, which among other things recast God in humanitarian terms and weakened their sense of the fear of God. Third, they took guardianship of the social order, which secularized the churches and eroded their commitment to separation from the world.
These commitments so altered Baptist piety that, all things considered, church discipline seemed ill suited to advance the aims of the contemporary church. It seemed ineffective for church growth and irrelevant for ministry in modern society. Southern Baptist pastors finally chose relevance over obedience and quieted their consciences over the loss.
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As Solomon warned, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc 12:12). There is no way to read everything, and not everything deserves to be read. I say that in order to confront the notion that anyone, anywhere, can master all that could be read with profit. I read a great deal, and a large portion of my waking hours are devoted to reading.