The deep riches of the “simple” Gospel

The Gospel According to Paul
By John MacArthur
Nelson Books, 2017, 219 pages

Most everyone in America has heard of the “Gospel” (Greek, εὐαγγέλιον, euangélion, “good news”) but the word means different things to different people. The Mormons have their gospel, which is different from the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ gospel, which is different from the Catholics’ gospel, which is different from Biblical Christianity’s Gospel.

In this short book, pastor John MacArthur takes an in-depth look at Biblical Christianity’s Gospel of Jesus Christ using the apostle Paul’s letters in the New Testament.

The bad news is we are all sinners and deserve eternal punishment. But God’s Word declares that Jesus Christ, God the Son, came down to Earth and lived a perfectly sinless life as only He could. He willingly went to the cross on Calvary and died as a sacrifice for our sins. But He rose from the grave, conquering sin and death and offers the gift of eternal life to all those who trust in Him as Savior.

That’s very Good News! No one can possibly merit their salvation but Jesus will save everyone who repents of their sins and accepts Him as Savior by faith alone.

MacArthur does a good job of breaking down the seminary terminology for all of us Theology 101-types but the Gospel in its bare essence is so simple a child could understand it.

Here’s a few of my takeaways and observations from this book:

#1 MacArthur describes Christ’s death on the cross as a part of “The Great Exchange.” The sins of men were imputed (ascribed to a person’s account) to Jesus as He hung on the cross. When we accepted Christ as Savior, His perfect righteousness was imputed to us. I know full well that Jesus “died for my sins,” but the concept that all of my unrighteousness, past, present, and future was imputed to Him just as His perfect righteousness was imputed to me at the moment I trusted in Him, well, that gives me a more clearly defined understanding of what transpired on the cross.

#2 MacArthur quotes Catholic novelist and apologist, G.K. Chesterton, regarding original sin:

“G.K. Chesteron referred to original sin as ‘the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.’ He decried the extreme illogic of liberals in the church who gave lip service to truths ‘which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.'”  – p. 101

Why would MacArthur favorably quote a Roman Catholic apologist who was certainly no friend of evangelical Protestantism? Chesterton, a promoter of salvation by sacramental grace and merit, was as lost as the liberal churchmen he criticized. Weren’t there any evangelical sources MacArthur could have referenced regarding man’s sin nature? I jest of course. MacArthur certainly knows better so how to explain this ecumenical “stumble”? I would have guessed MacArthur to be the last person in the world to succumb to Chesterton mania but it just goes to show we all have our spiritual blind spots.

#3 In this book about the Gospel there’s no invitation to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. Why would that be? I know “decisionism,” leading people to trust in Christ via an invitation to pray a salvation prayer, is looked down upon by some Christian groups and I have some empathy for that viewpoint. I believe untold millions of people have come forward at Christian youth events, evangelistic crusades, and at church “altar calls” and made disingenuous professions in Christ out of pressure and in ignorance. However, I also believe untold millions genuinely accepted Christ by being led to the point of deciding to accept Him or reject Him. Feedback on this is welcomed. Perhaps this topic of evangelistic crusade-style “decisionism” deserves a post all by itself.

#4 MacArthur is of course a member of the Reformed tradition so he promotes the doctrines of predestination and election. Not a problem. I’m somewhere in the middle of the Arminius-Calvin debate and remain politely non-committal.

#5 Overall, I enjoyed “The Gospel According to Paul” very much. It was such a balm to my soul to contemplate with MacArthur some of the glorious depths of the Good News! of salvation in Jesus Christ as proclaimed by His apostle, Paul.

“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.“ – Romans 2:16

A warning unheeded from 22 years ago

Protestants & Catholics: Do They Now Agree?
By John Ankerberg and John Weldon
Harvest House Publishers, 1995, 312 pages

When Chuck Colson’s ecumenical Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) project released its first declaration in 1994, it shook evangelicalism to its core. Some evangelicals greeted the document warmly while many others were appalled by its apparent compromise and betrayal of the Gospel.

Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium basically declared that Evangelicals and Catholics both believed in the core teachings of Christianity and needed to unite in an effort to confront the onslaught of secularism.

Several books followed in response to ECT including those written by James R. White, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Michael Horton, and this one by John Ankerberg and John Weldon. Remember John Ankerberg? His Christian apologetics show used to be very popular back in the 80s and 90s and it can still be found on cable and satellite TV (see website, far below).

This is a well-written response to ECT. The Catholic church has not officially changed any of its doctrines since Trent, including its false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit, so how could the evangelical writers and signers of the ECT document see clear to suddenly embrace Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ?

The authors compare many of the vague, conciliatory statements in ECT with Catholic and evangelical doctrine. Not only are there the contrary positions on justification, how a person is saved, but there are the many ancillary differences including the disagreements with Catholic teaching on authority, the papacy, transubstantiation, sacerdotalism, the mass, Mary, sacramental grace, confession, purgatory, indulgences, etc., etc.

The chasm between Catholic and evangelical belief is just too wide to bridge but the ECT writers and signers downplayed or completely dismissed doctrinal differences in their desire for ecumenical unity. But make no mistake, Rome’s understanding of unity has always meant acquiescence to the Vatican.

It’s been 23 years since the ECT controversy and ecumenism continues to make inroads into evangelicalism. At this point, many would wonder what all the fuss was about regarding ECT. A 2015 poll revealed 58% of evangelical pastors consider the pope their brother in Christ. Most Christians bloggers at WordPress probably consider a blog named “excatholic4christ” to be downright distasteful.

Steadfast evangelicals wonder where are the young pastors and para-church leaders who will take the baton from MacArthur, Sproul, D. James Kennedy (d. 2007), Ankerberg, and White in the battle to uphold the Gospel and withstand compromise with Rome? Or is the betrayal just a foregone conclusion at this point? Take heart Christian brothers and sisters who are faithful to the Gospel! The Lord is on His throne and He’s fully aware of the compromise and betrayal taking place.

“And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” – Acts 20:30

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” – 1 Timothy 4:1-3

Below are the “evangelical” signatories and endorsers of Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium (1994):

  • Charles Colson, Prison Fellowship and Southern Baptist Convention affiliated
  • Dr. Kent Hill Eastern Nazarene College
  • *Dr. Richard Land, Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • *Dr. Larry Lewis, Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • Dr. Jesse Miranda, Assemblies of God
  • Mr. Brian O’Connell, World Evangelical Fellowship
  • Mr. Herbert Schlossberg, Director of the Fieldstead Foundation
  • Dr. John White, Geneva College and the National Association of Evangelicals.
  • J. I. Packer, British-born Canadian Christian theologian in the low church Anglican and Reformed traditions.
  • Dr. William Abraham, Perkins School of Theology
  • Dr. Elizabeth Achtemeier Union Theological Seminary (Virginia)
  • Mr. William Bentley Ball, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
  • Bill Bright, Campus Crusade for Christ
  • Bishop William Frey, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry
  • Os Guinness, Trinity Forum
  • Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary
  • Mark Noll, Wheaton College
  • Dr. Thomas C. Oden, Drew University
  • Pat Robertson, Regent University and the 700 Club
  • Dr. John Rodgers, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry

*Both Land and Lewis eventually withdrew their endorsement of the document due to pressure from within the Southern Baptist Convention.

The John Ankerberg Show

New book examines Mariolatry

Thanks to Maria at Pilgrim’s Progress revisited – Christiana on the narrow way for making me aware of this forthcoming book devoted to the topic of Mariolatry. “A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Mary: the Mother of God?” by evangelical pastor and leader of an outreach ministry to Roman Catholics, Leonardo De Chirico, is due to be published on December 1st. Amazon is currently accepting pre-orders. See here. De Chirico’s previous book, “A Christian’s Pocket Guide to the Papacy: Its origin and role in the 21st century” (2014), is excellent and is available at Amazon. See here.

The most important difference between Catholics and Bible Christians is their contrasting beliefs on how a person is saved. Catholics believe in salvation by sacramental grace and merit while Bible Christians believe in the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Another major difference between the two groups is their opposing views on Mary. Catholics believe Mary was sinless and shares in the offices of Jesus Christ as the Mediatrix, Co-Redemptrix, and Channel of all Graces. Catholics in error go to her regularly in prayer, asking for her help in their efforts to merit salvation. Bible Christians believe that while Mary was certainly blessed to be chosen as Jesus’s mother, she was still a sinner who needed to accept Christ as her Savior by faith alone. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say sinners must entreat Mary as Catholics do. In contrast, the Bible specifically warns against elevating Mary to a position she certainly would oppose.

“As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” – Luke 11:27-28

In all its theological force and devotional ramifications, Mariology is an inescapable, all-embracing, and fundamental tenet of Roman Catholic theology and practice. Moreover, it is a deeply troubling development because it is impossible to see a linear and coherent connection between this Marian devotion and the more sobering account of what the Bible actually says […]

via Go read! Leonardo De Chirico — Pilgrim’s Progress revisited – Christiana on the narrow way

Postscript: It’s a small point but I must say I’m not a fan of the cover designs for the two books; far too nondescript.

An unbeliever’s history of evangelicals in America

The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America
By Frances Fitzgerald
Simon & Schuster, 2017, 740 pages

Several weeks ago I saw some reviews of this weighty tome and I finally ended up borrowing a copy from the library, even though I hesitated because of its length. However, because of the interesting subject material, especially the first half of the book, I breezed through it pretty quickly.

Unbeliever Fitzgerald examines the history of evangelical Protestantism, from the First Great Awakening in the 1730s to 2016. It’s fascinating stuff for history buffs. She begins with the revivals in Colonial America spearheaded by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, followed by the Second Great Awakening, which included Arminian revivalist, Charles Finney, and then proceeds to frontier revivalism, the polarization of the church over slavery, the rise of higher textual criticism and the social gospel, the splintering away of biblical fundamentalists, the rise of Billy Graham and the New Evangelicals, and the move into political activism and ecumenism.

The first 260 pages take the reader up to the 1960s. The remainder of the text, about 360 pages, deals with the rise of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson and the intricate details of the Christian Right’s misguided efforts to mix nationalism with the Gospel and “reclaim America for Jesus.”

The heavy over-emphasis on the last fifty years of evangelical history is a drawback. I wasn’t altogether enthusiastic about the minutiae regarding the support for this and that congressional bill and for this and that presidential candidate, although I did enjoy learning more about the inspirations behind the political Christian Right, R.J. Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer. The author is at her best describing the broad sweeps of pre-1970s evangelicalism. Fitzgerald is not a believer and is often not complimentary of the Christians she writes about or their beliefs. I dismiss the scoffing for what it is but I wholeheartedly agree with her that Christians in America have not always done a good job of sticking to the Gospel and witnessing for Christ.

Come home! Rome calls out to her daughters

Catholics and Protestants: What We Can Learn From Each Other
By Peter Kreeft
Ignatius Press, 2017, 204 pages

Peter Kreeft is one of Roman Catholicism’s most prolific apologists. When the new, young pastor of the Southern Baptist church we used to attend cited Kreeft as one of his favorite philosophers from the pulpit a couple of years ago, I knew it was time for us to leave.

In this new book, Kreeft makes an appeal in simple, everyday language to non-academic evangelicals to unite with Rome. In Catholic parlance, “unity” always means returning to the authority of the Vatican and to the Catholic sacraments and liturgical worship.

Right off the bat, Kreeft contends that the Reformation’s main debate over the issue of justification was resolved with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Rome and Lutherans in 1999 so therefore evangelicals have no good reason for remaining outside of Catholicism. Not so fast, Professor! Mainline liberal Lutherans and Methodists may have signed this vague accord, but Catholicism still teaches the same false gospel of sacramental grace and merit that it taught in 1517. Nothing has changed. Catholicism teaches good works/sanctification merit justification/salvation. In contrast, Bible Christianity teaches good works/sanctification are the fruit of genuine justification/salvation through faith in Christ alone. The two approaches are diametrically opposed. For an excellent evangelical response to the Joint Declaration, see here.

After quickly dismissing the rhubarb over justification as yesterday’s news, Kreeft then looks at a few other Protestant objections to Catholicism including the “real presence” of Jesus in the eucharist and Mary’s role in salvation. Regarding the former, he simply advises Protestants to visit the nearest Catholic church and pray to the Jesus wafer in the tabernacle and ask if it’s really Him or not. For the latter, he uses the typical Catholic sophistry that all that veneration/worship of Mary is, at the bottom line, actually devotion to Jesus.

Kreeft strongly compliments evangelicals for their passion for Christ and roundly criticizes cultural Catholics for their apathy and begs evangelicals to return to Rome because the only proper place for the “flame” is the “authentic fireplace.” Kreeft drops the names of ecumenist C.S. Lewis and Mother Teresa throughout the text because he’s certainly aware these two religious celebrities are highly recognizable to doctrine-lite evangelicals and are possible bridges to interest in Rome.

Kreeft gently chides Protestants for basing their identity on a negative, i.e., “protesting” Catholicism, rather than joining Catholics and positively proclaiming the (g)ospel. He also defends Rome’s unscriptural interfaith approach to non-Christian religions, repeating the Vatican line that goodness and truth can be found in all faiths and can be Christ-sanctioned roads to redemption.

There’s no logical flow to this book; each short chapter encompasses an individual thought about Catholic-Protestant reunion so you can put it down and pick it up two days later without missing a lie…er…I mean, a beat. This book would appeal to Protestants who have scanty knowledge of Catholic theology and church history and are eager to embrace every person as a fellow Christian who says they “love Jesus, too” (a la Rick Warren). Please note that prominent evangelicals, Timothy George (always a Judas cheerleader for Catholicism) and Eric Metaxas, contribute glowing recommendations on the back cover. There’s already plenty of accommodation, cooperation, compromise, and betrayal within evangelicalism. With this book Kreeft is hoping many will take the next “logical” step.

Postscript: To read how Bible Christians came to be called “Protestants,” see here.

Postscript II: Imagine Spurgeon’s or Lloyd-Jones’s response if someone asked them what they could learn from Catholicism?

Chasing after “hip spirituality”

I’ve always loved to read. Even before I was a teenager, I used to like to hop on a bus into downtown Rochester N.Y. and stop at all the bookstores and news/magazine stores. There were a quite a few of them. Well things have changed quite a bit since the 1960s. There are no longer any bookstores downtown, in fact there’s hardly anything downtown except for some government buildings, lawyers’ offices, and many, many empty buildings. There aren’t any bookstores in the suburbs either except for a couple of Barnes and Nobles. With all the information on the internet and Amazon corralling the remaining hardcopy readers, bookstores and magazine racks are almost a thing of the past.

I still like to peruse the small magazine rack at our local supermarket. Yesterday, I saw a special edition from Newsweek titled “Spirituality Now.” Curious, I picked it up and leafed through it quickly just to see how Newsweek defines “spirituality.” Well, the entire magazine was about Eastern religions and New Age mysticism. A few of the names I recognized were Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Ram Dass; the usual suspects. Was there any mention of Christianity in this “Spirituality Now” special edition? No, not a mention. Eastern religions and New Age mysticism are seen as “hip” and “cutting edge.” Christianity? It’s viewed by many as “yesterday’s news” but how wrong they are.

Most Americans are chasing after some kind of meaning to their life but won’t consider Jesus Christ. They surely won’t find any fulfillment in the words of Chopra, Tolle, or Dass.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10

“For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” –  Acts 17:23

A terrific little summary of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity

Catholic Doctrine In The Bible
By Samuel Benedict
Faith Baptist Church Publications, (no date provided), 93 pages

In this booklet, Samuel Benedict compares Roman Catholic doctrine with God’s Word. The chapter headings are as follows:

  • The Church and St. Peter
  • Infallibility of the Pope
  • Transubstantiation
  • Sacrifice in the Mass
  • Purgatory
  • Prayers for the Dead
  • The Blessed Mary
  • The Crucifix and Other Images
  • Confession
  • Salvation
  • The Bible and Tradition
  • Catholic or Roman?

Benedict, who ministered for Christ in the early 20th-century, does an excellent job of succinctly presenting Catholic doctrine in comparison to the Bible. This short work would be a fantastic resource for Catholics who are seeking Christ and for evangelicals who wish to know about the main differences between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity without wading thorough much lengthier examinations. Copies of “Catholic Doctrine In The Bible” can be obtained by contacting The Conversion Center. See here.

Resources on the differences between Catholicism and Christianity were once widely available but in this era of growing ecumenical compromise and apostasy, they’re becoming harder to find unless you know where to look. See my Books and Links lists here and here for resources.