The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008) pp. 234 plus xxxvii, hardcover $16.00
In MacArthur’s preparation for writing his book Truth War he found a common theme throughout much of his reading: “That if Christians want to reach unbelieving people in a postmodern culture, we need to be less militant, less aggressive, less preachy and less sure of our own convictions” (p. ix). MacArthur determined as a result to write this volume to show that Jesus’ approach was just the opposite.
This is a book that needed to be written, but MacArthur is fighting an uphill battle. The mood of the moment is indeed as he described. Even those with excellent biblical discernment are hesitant to speak out or offer honest critique in fear of being accused of being negative or mean-spirited. We are often told that even serious evaluation is received as militant and rejected by postmodern young people. Yet, interestingly enough, these very young people, and their leaders, very openly and harshly attack conservative evangelicals and especially those who challenge their position.
I am not sure things have changed all that much since the time of Jesus. As MacArthur demonstrates, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day hated Him. Most of them bristled at His corrections, challenged His every teaching, and orchestrated His destruction. Yet none of this deterred Jesus from direct and open assaults on their errant doctrines and lives. Rather than enter into a dialogue with these false teachers, where each side calmly and gently gave its point of view, Jesus went on the offensive and pointedly condemned them.
In truth, Jesus was often gentle and gracious to even the worst sinners He encountered, but not so with the Pharisees and Sadducees whose teachers were pulling the people away from God (p. 1). MacArthur sees a clear principle in Jesus’ methods: “The closer any given doctrine is to the heart of the gospel, the core of sound Christology, or the fundamental teachings of Christ, the more diligently we ought to be on guard against perversions of the truth—and the more aggressive we need to fight the error and defend sound doctrine” (p. xiii).
This is the message MacArthur wants to convey to his readers and he does so by demonstrating that this was Jesus’ approach throughout His public ministry. Jesus was not, nor should His followers be, pugnacious nor did He love conflict. Spiritual warfare, however “is necessary because of sin and the curse—not because there’s anything inherently glorious or virtuous about fighting” (p. xxix). MacArthur takes to task some of the misdirected ignorance of fundamentalists who actually embodied the pharisaical spirit by fighting the wrong battles (and people). But MacArthur does not see these people as authentic fundamentalists in the original sense of the term (p. 16). Nor should their error deter us from fighting the right battles (for core biblical truth) in the right way.
Our example is not that of men, but of Jesus. What did Jesus do (not what would Jesus do) is the thesis of this book. With that in mind The Jesus You Can’t Ignore begins to examine what Jesus actually did, beginning with the two Passovers in which He cleansed the Temple (chapter 2). MacArthur points out that it was Jesus who fired the first shot, not the Pharisees. Other narratives explored are Jesus’ direct conversation with Nicodemus (chapter 3), forgiveness of sin—thus declaring Jesus’ deity (chapter 4), breaking the Sabbath (chapter 5), strong preaching (chapter 6), especially the Sermon on the Mount and the Bread of Life discourse announcing the Pharisees’ unpardonable sin (chapter 7), and pronouncing “woes” on the Pharisees (chapter 8).
MacArthur makes his point well—we cannot ignore Jesus’ powerful and courageous confrontation with those in His day who perverted the truth of God. The reader is left with few options: follow Christ’s example, attempt to explain it away, or outright deny it. But ignoring what Jesus did is not viable.
I was surprised by MacArthur’s quote of Roman Catholic author G. K. Chesterton (p. 181). While the quote is fitting, using Chesterton without explanation seems contradictory to the whole thrust of this book. As a Catholic, Chesterton was a promoter of a false gospel—he should therefore be confronted, or at least revealed, but not quoted without caveat.