Book Review | A Christological Must Read

High King of Heaven Ed. John MacArthur

One of the most difficult tasks in theological writing is to bridge the technical with the practical. Pastors are challenged to do this each week, studying and understanding God’s Word in its language and context and then putting that technical knowledge to use by the hearer of the sermon. Greek forms and cross-references are interesting but the task at hand is help the Christian hear God speak through the Bible. This challenge applies to an even greater degree when it comes to theological literature. Numerous are the excellent technical tomes in the pastor’s library as are the numbers of practical books on the shelf. Few offer a bridge between the two worlds, but “High King of Heaven” succeeds in being one of the small number that offer this link.

Edited by John MacArthur, High King of Heaven is a compendium of articles touching on the person, work and the Bible’s witness to Jesus Christ who “after he had provided purification for sins, eh sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 1:3) The 23 authors of the individual chapters might cause you hesitate to engage the book, thinking that the potential unevenness might not be worth the effort but let me allay your fears. MacArthur has done a wonderful job as editor (no doubt aided by Phil Johnson) and the book reads smoothly from page to page. Though each author has a unique style, the book as a whole speaks of the magnificence of Jesus Christ with a single voice.

Who should read this book? Though labeled as a contribution to the Systematic Theology library, the chapters are accessible by any Christian familiar with the Bible. There are technical points that are explained well enough that almost anyone can understand them and there are practical points that can be filed for later use if they don’t fit the reader’s immediate context today. “High King of Heaven” is a book that invites you to engage it deeply, marking it up, planning for a second full read. This is not a volume that will be read and then shelved with so many others. This is going to become a standard reference volume, even for those theologians outside of the MacArthur-Calvinist circle.

Like John Harper

The Truth About the Lordship of Christ by John MacArthur

It is my presumption that I was not the intended audience for this volume in the Truth About trilogy of books. Each page presents a nugget of truth with a single text that is meant to support the idea. For a new Christian, it would serve as an excellent  primer. Perhaps for the more mature Christian, the book would be useful as a reminder of once-grasped ideas. For me, it was a disappointment.

Closing the last page left me wondering if Dr. MacArthur had reviewed the galleys before sending it to print. The book offers nothing new as it is constructed from material already published in a number of his other books. I believe it is this packaging that makes the book such a difficult read. There is a lack of coherence between the thoughts. What the reader is presented with is a proof-text (in whichever translation best coheres to MacArthur’s doctrine) and a handful of paragraphs in support.

The small thought units by themselves are excellent, as I would expect from Dr. MacArthur. He is unabashed in his Hyper-Calvinism and it is on full display in the introductory pages of the book. Though it may be unintentional, the inconsistencies of this theological system are on full display as it does not lend itself to a sound-bite format.

The Truth About the Lordship of Christ should be put into the hands of young Christians, if only to generate questions for conversation. The small, tightly focused sections offer just enough information for someone new to following Christ to begin the process. As the Spirit develops greater interest, Dr. MacArthur’s full-length works are waiting in the wings.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this book for review.

MacArthur on Baptism in the Holy Spirit

image John MacArthur examines the Charismatic sects of the Church in his book Charismatic Chaos. His well reasoned critique is an indictment of a a faith based upon experience when that experience supersedes the Bible. As I have examined in a series of posts on this topic, at the core of Charismatic belief is the Doctrine of Subsequence (Fee), the second event that follows salvation in which the Holy Spirit is received. This doctrine is constructed around the event recorded in Acts 2:4: (1-4 included for context)

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

The Charismatic believes that this post-salvation experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit is a mark of spiritual maturity. When the Christian is lacking this experience, they are immature, carnal, disobedient, or otherwise incomplete. The danger in this approach, MacArthur says, is that it opens the door to the expectation of continued experience. He denies the validity of Subsequence, primarily because of its reliance on a very narrow interpretation of Scripture that does not consider passages that refute the position.

MacArthur begins by saying that doctrine constructed around the experiences in the book of Acts should at least be consistent throughout that single book. Subsequence as seen in chapter two should be witnessed in each recorded instance of baptism but this does not appear to be the case. In Acts 2 and 8, there appears to be subsequence. In chapters 10 and 19 however, the filling of the Holy Spirit accompanies salvation immediately. A secondary component of the Subsequence doctrine is that the Christian is to be earnestly seeking this second baptism. The scriptures in Acts do not support this expectation. In chapter two, the believers were simply waiting for their next move and in chapters 8, 10, and 19, no one is looking for the baptism. On this brief examination alone, MacArthur points out that the book most closely associated with the idea of subsequence does not provide the consistent pattern necessary to build a Christian doctrine.

It’s important to note that MacArthur is not denying the singular experiences of Acts and other books of scripture. The theological construct that applies to proper exegesis of these events is to view them in light of the transitional nature of the period. There was an overlap in the periods between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and (MacArthur says) “Although the disciples knew and trusted Christ, there were still Old Testament believers. They could not have understood or experienced the Spirit’s permanent indwelling until the arrival of the Spirit at Pentecost.” (pg 177) In other words, markers defining transition served a specific, one time need in the establishment of the faith. MacArthur points out that this one time event is not meant to be translated as normative for all Christians.