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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.