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When churches trade power for popularity

Everywhere there is apathy. Nobody cares whether that which is preached is true or false. A sermon is a sermon whatever the subject; only, the shorter it is the better. – Charles Spurgeon

This review will fall into the category of “one of the best books I’ve ever read.” I don’t say that often.

When it comes to John MacArthur, I don’t believe there’s a more trustworthy theologian in the U.S. The new, third edition of his classic apologetic, “Ashamed of the Gospel,” is vitally important for understanding how far heresy and apostasy are reaching today in our culture.

I thought it was a brave book when it was released in 1993, and “Ashamed” continues to show its prescient nature, when describing false teaching in the church. The new edition, from courageous publisher Crossway, includes even more updated information, particularly on the seeker-sensitive movement.

In a most compelling way, MacArthur drops back and forth between our time and that of famed London preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In fact, the book opens with this statement:

“As I stood by Spurgeon’s grave, I couldn’t help thinking how much the church needs men like him today. Spurgeon was not afraid to stand boldly for truth, even when it meant he stood alone,” MacArthur writes.

A particular point of contention for MacArthur when he wrote “Ashamed of the Gospel” almost two decades ago was what is known as the seeker-sensitive movement. Popularized by Chicago’s Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Ill.), the movement begins by polling/canvassing a community in order to find out “what they want” in a church.

This, of course, is far different from the first preachers, such as Paul and Peter, who simply went out and boldly proclaimed the gospel. Although Paul worked within a community and was himself a tent-maker by trade, he didn’t first offer to fix someone’s oxcart, or hold their hand to listen to their inner child.

MacArthur, a preacher himself at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., apparently never compromises the gospel message and, as such, sets himself quite apart from many preachers today. The fact that his earlier warning is now a full-fledged alarm is evidenced by “pastor/teachers” who sit in cars onstage, or recline on beds while discussing sex with a giddy congregation.

MacArthur makes a key point in his book by analyzing the theme of many seeker-sensitive groupies: pragmatism. The concept states that if something works, it must be good.

“Pragmatism as a test of truth is nothing short of satanic,” MacArthur writes.

Well. That won’t win him any speaking slots with most pastors conferences today. MacArthur also rightly notes that pragmatism has its roots in Darwinian philosophy, and so it logically follows that many pastors and Christian leaders today have no problem embracing some form of Bible/evolution hybrid philosophy.

One of the most fascinating aspects of MacArthur’s book is his review of Higher Criticism, a scholarly evil birthed in Europe (primarily Germany) after the Enlightenment. In short, the higher critics allege that the Bible is some combination of history, myth and metaphor-on-steroids. Genesis, of course, is not real history – that is the view.

MacArthur then explains that today’s modernists, those who are center-left with Scripture and embrace the higher critics’ allegations, view doctrine as a “secondary issue.”

This is why we have a mish-mash of teaching today that has confused and discouraged legions of young people. They no longer go to church. There is something valid in the statement that “church is not relevant” today.

J. Vernon McGhee said a generation ago that the church overall had lost its power, and one sees that quite clearly in “Ashamed of the Gospel,” as it describes the subsequent decline in Christian teaching.

The modernist will attempt to lure people into a church by changing the church name to something friendly/generic/non-threatening. They will give voice to all sorts of vain philosophies, because to stand rigidly against them would invite offending someone.

For what it’s worth, I believe this is a primary reason that most pulpits today are silent about Genesis as real history and, from the other side of the coin, the relevance of predictive prophecy. A once staunchly Bible-teaching church, once a seeker-sensitive plan is in place, cannot afford – literally – to offend the stew of Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and Pentecostals who just might attend on a regular basis.

As is typical with his writing and preaching style, MacArthur says some hard things:

“External criteria such as affluence, numbers, money or positive response have never been the biblical measure of success in ministry,” he writes. “Faithfulness, godliness and spiritual commitment are the virtues God esteems.”

Again, MacArthur would be free to purchase and view DVDs of popular pastors conferences today, but he won’t be invited to many. He doesn’t seem to care, thank goodness!

“Ashamed of the Gospel” is literally a must-read for any serious, conservative Christian who is called to preach.

Discover how real and relevant Bible prophecy is to you with Jim Fletcher’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine): How to stop worrying and learn to love these end times”