Thomas Nelson, 2007. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
That the Bible puts a very high premium on truth is indisputable. But sadly, the church today has largely downplayed and abandoned truth, content to follow the spirit of the age. That spirit is comprised of postmodernism, relativism, emotionalism and subjectivism. Truth cannot flourish in such poisoned soil.
John MacArthur’s new book tackles this head on. He simply reminds us what Scripture has always taught: truth is vitally important, and we dare not allow falsehood and error to overtake truth.
Using as his key text Jude 3 (“contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”), MacArthur reminds us that truth is under attack big time today, and basic Christian beliefs must be defended and promoted.
Many evangelicals, especially those in the emerging church movement, have recently declared that doubt, uncertainty, mystery and questions are superior to certainty, belief, faith and conviction. This seems to stand in marked contrast to the affirmations of Scripture. Consider a remark made by John Stott some 40 years ago in Christ the Controversialist:
“In those things which are clearly revealed in Scripture, Christians should not be doubtful or apologetic. The corridors of the New Testament reverberate with dogmatic affirmations beginning ‘We know’, ‘We are sure’, ‘We are confident’. If you question this, read the First Epistle of John in which verbs meaning ‘to know’ occur about forty times. They strike a note of joyful assurance which is sadly missing from many parts of the church today and which needs to be recaptured.”
Today many church leaders are glorying in doubt and uncertainty, and are telling us that having firm convictions and strong beliefs is arrogant and somehow un-Christlike. But as MacArthur reminds us, “this is not authentic Christianity”. To refuse to embrace and defend the revealed truth of God “is a particularly stubborn and pernicious form of unbelief”.
Scripture commands us to know and love the truth. We are set free by the truth. We are sanctified by the truth. On and on go the biblical affirmations about truth and its importance. Yet today we want to throw it all away and embrace the trendy beliefs which say we can have no certain knowledge of anything.
Truth and doctrine are everywhere championed in Scripture, yet very few believers today are willing to stand up and defend these things. But the battle for truth has always been part of the Christian job description. In every generation this battle has been unavoidable, because “the enemies of truth are relentless”.
From the very earliest days of the Christian church the disciples had to defend the gospel against falsehood, deception and heresy. Indeed, as MacArthur reminds us, the fight over truth goes back to the earliest days, when the tempter asked Eve, “Has God indeed said?”
In the days immediately following the resurrection of Christ, the church was embroiled in battles with false doctrine and teaching. “Virtually all the major epistles in the New Testament address the problem in one way or another.”
Of course MacArthur is fully aware that one can have plenty of orthodoxy and little or no orthopraxis. But the two must go hand in hand. Both right belief and right living must be the hallmark of the Christian witness. We must not force a false distinction between them, but fully affirm and embrace both.
MacArthur reminds us that much of the assault against truth comes from within the church, not without. Sure, there are plenty of unbelievers and enemies of the faith, but the most worrying forms of deception are those which arise within the body of Christ.
Paul had warned about “savage wolves” who would come into the churches and not spare the flock. The dangers of false teachers and apostasy are warned about throughout the New Testament.
The book of Jude speaks directly to this problem. Indeed, it is the “only book in the Bible solely devoted to the subject” of apostasy and stealth heresy. It forcefully commands us to contend for the faith in the face of these destructive challenges.
Truth is so important, MacArthur reminds us, because “truth is the only thing that can liberate people from the bondage of sin and give them eternal life (John 8:32; 14:6)”. That is why apostasy in Scripture is “always portrayed as a deadly danger”.
And he also reminds us that we of course are only commanded to fight over the important things: “the faith once delivered to the saints”. Romans 14:1 and other passages clearly instruct us not to go about picking fights over secondary issues.
This is a book with a strong message. While somewhat more academic and scholarly treatments of this theme have appeared recently (such as David Wells’ No Place for Truth), this is a good popular-level discussion of the issue. It is a helpful and much-needed antidote to the truth decay which is plaguing the contemporary church.