John MacArthur sees the imminent need for the church to reform. A new reformation, as he understands it, would require a return to the five solas of the sixteenth century Reformation. Short of such an appreciation and adherence to the solas (pp. 177-194) any attempt for church revival will be superficial and temporal. Of late the church has gotten sidetracked by any number of things, including social justice (pp. 9-11), attempts to attract unbelievers through worldly means (p. 99), minimizing theology (p. 25), subjectivism (pp. 4, 180-181), the prosperity gospel, and tolerance of the pagan culture (pp. 110-114). Depending upon the reader’s perspective, MacArthur is either taking the opportunity to ride his hobby horses or is offering insightful application of the text of Scripture. I choose the latter, fully realizing that these are well-worn themes in MacArthur’s teaching ministry but obviously still pertinent.
The author chooses to address his concerns through study of the seven churches of Asia found in Revelation chapters two and three. As such Christ’s Call is a helpful preaching/teaching commentary on these two chapters. As with almost all of MacArthur’s books, this one is based on sermons he has preached and then “polished” by an editor into book form (p. 195). As a result, this volume has a sermonic flavor that might displease the scholar (see. D.A. Carson’s negative critique of MacArthur’s commentaries in The New Commentary Survey, p. 48), but are most helpful to the average Christian, Bible teacher or busy pastor. To such, a wealth of material will be found.
The author takes a clear pretribulational approach to the church, as is most evident in his argument for the rapture drawn from Revelation 3:10-11 (pp. 151-154). I disagree with his contention that sin in the church invites the Lord’s judgment on His people (p. 71). Perhaps he meant discipline since Christ has taken the condemnation of the believer upon Himself (Romans 8:1). And his exegesis of Revelation 3:20 left me confused. First he declares that there was not a single Christian at the church of Laodicea (p. 173), which I find problematic since a church, biblically, is not a church without believers, and why does the Lord bother addressing them at all if that is true? Second, he chides those who use this verse as an evangelistic illustration (p. 172). While his point, that Jesus is not just hanging around outside the heart door of the believer begging to be let in, is on the money, his explanation that this is an invitation to apostate churches such as Laodicea does not follow (p. 173). If Christ is not in that church, as MacArthur contends, then what does Christ’s invitation mean? He says it is “a promise to come and bring the reality of true salvation into that apostate group if even some would respond to His call to repent and receive Him” (p. 173)! But if true, is not this an invitation to individuals to receive Christ, which is what He just wrote is not the case? I find his reasoning incongruent at this point and it leaves unexplained what exactly this invitation addresses and for what reason. Is it an invitation to salvation, or an invitation to the church to repent and fully follow Christ and thus enjoy rich fellowship?
This is a relatively minor issue in an otherwise fine book on the need for spiritual renewal of the present day church, coupled with a teaching commentary on Revelation chapters two and three.
Christ’s Call to Reform the Church by John MacArthur (Chicago: Moody, 2018), 199 pp., hardback $19.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel