by Mike Ratliff
I completed reading John MacArthur’s book Ashamed Of The Gospel over the weekend. This fine book has the following subtitle, “When The Church Becomes Like The World.” There are several editions of this book. The one I have was marketed in 1993 as the Expanded Edition for it contains several Appendix sections. While this is not a “new” book, I still found it very up-to-date for MacArthur paralleled the trend in our time of “church marketing,” “seeker-sensitivity,” and “soft-selling the Gospel” with the Down-Grade Controversy that consumed the last several years of the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon in the 19th Century. Our enemy may enlist his followers because of their supposed innovations in ministry, but honestly, there is nothing new under the Sun. The very same error being made by seeker-sensitive ministers such as Rick Warren and emergents like Doug Pagitt is simply a repeat of the very same errors made by the liberals in Spurgeon’s day, which is to attempt to minister pragmatically rather than by faith.
Pragmatism is the notion that meaning or worth is determined by practical consequences. It is closely akin to utilitarianism, the belief that usefulness is the stand of what is good. To a pragmatist/utilitarian, if a technique or course of action has the desired effect, it is good. If it doesn’t seem to work, it must be wrong.1
Perhaps the most visible signs of pragmatism are seen in the convulsive changes that have revolutionized the church worship service in the past decade. Some of evangelicalism’s largest and most influential churches now boast Sunday services that are designed purposely to be more rollicking than reverent.2
Some church leaders evidently think the four priorities of the early church—the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42)—make a lame agenda for the church in this day abd age. Churches are allowing drama, music, recreation, entertainment, self-help programs, and similar enterprises to eclipse traditional Sunday worship and fellowship. In fact, everything seems to be in fashion in the church today except biblical preaching. The new pragmatism sees preaching—particularly expository preaching—as passé. Plainly declaring the truth of God’s Word is regarded as unsophisticated, offensive, and utterly ineffective. We’re now told we can get better results by first amusing people or giving them success tips and pop=psychology, thus wooing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they’ll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.3
The focus of this book is on showing that even though C.H. Spurgeon was reviled and censured by his peers when he stood against their apostasy, he was right and what he was concerned about actually happened as those once solid churches apostatized because of the liberal focus of their leaders. MacArthur parallels this with what is going on in our age as well.
There are 9 chapters plus an Epilogue and 4 Appendix sections in this book. I would like to look first at “Chapter 7 – Paul On MARS’ Hill.” Why? We are currently contending with those who have misread and misapplied the account of Paul preaching on Mars Hill stating that he was “contextualizing” the scripture and we should as well. MacArthur does a fine job in this chapter of showing that it is one thing to relate to culture, to communicate with those in it in a way that is effective, but a very different thing to actually change the Gospel as part of this. The latter depletes the Cross of its power and Paul did not do that in his sermon as MacArthur clearly shows us in this chapter.
Acts chapter 17 proves that while Paul adjusted his style in speaking, he never adapted his message. Most significantly, he never adopted the spirit of his age…He never conformed himself—and more importantly he never tried to conform the God he declared—to the tastes and expectations of his audience. He was content—as we must be—to allow the power of the gospel to speak for itself.4
I also highly recommend “Chapter 9 – I Will Build My Church” for there is a subsection in it titled “Marks of an Effective Church,” 181-189. In this section we see that effective churches minister in a way that is bound to the Glory of God through ministering through His Word. Worship is reverent and God focused. Coolness has little to nothing to do with any of this…
I recommend this book to you my brethren. There is a new version that is being released very soon, if it has not already, which deals specifically with the Emergent stuff. In any case, a careful reading of Ashamed of the Gospel, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore, and The Truth War will equip you to do battle effectively for God’s glory alone in these final days.
1John F. MacArthur, Ashamed Of The Gospel (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1993), xii.