by Phil Johnson
ob Wilkin, founder and chief mouthpiece of the Grace Evangelical Society, published this "review" of The Gospel According to Jesus in the October-November 1988 issue of the GES newsletter, within a few weeks after the book was first released:
I wrote Bob a letter on 4 November 1988, in which I identified myself as the book's editor and said,
While I had no expectation that GES would be supportive of Dr. MacArthur's position, I had hoped for an honest evaluation of the book....
In the first place, assurance is not, as you state, one of the four main issues of The Gospel According to Jesus. The book barely touches on the subject. Its focus is the message Jesus proclaimed and the response He demanded. The book clearly is not intended to be a treatise on assurance. Far from teaching that assurance is impossible, however, Dr. MacArthur consistently encourages readers to examine their lives by the biblical standard, and be sure of their salvation.
Also, despite what you say, Dr. MacArthur never once speaks of "doubt and worry over one's salvation as a strong motivation . . .for people to live holy lives."
Perhaps one further quotation from your review will serve to show the utter dishonesty of the way you dealt with this book. You write, "[MacArthur] even admits at one point that [repentance] is in part a human work. He says, 'Nor is repentance merely a human work' (p. 163). That is, he sees it as a work of God and us" (your emphasis).
But did you read the paragraph in its entirety? Here it is:Nor is repentance merely a human work. It is, like every element of redemption, a sovereignly bestowed gift of God. The early church, recognizing the authenticity of Cornelius's conversion, concluded, "Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18; cf. Acts 5:31). Paul wrote to Timothy that he should gently correct those who oppose the truth, "if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 2:25). If God is the One who grants repentance, it cannot be viewed as a human work (emphasis added).Perhaps you haven't thoroughly read the book. If not, I encourage you to do so. I have no doubt that because of your theological position, you were predisposed to disagree with the book before you even saw it. But please do yourself and your constituents a favor and read the book again carefully and completely. The gospel is too important an issue for you to treat this book so cavalierly.
You mention at the end of your article that you're planning an expanded review for the Spring issue of your journal. I hope that review will be written with more integrity than this one. I hope you'll use more quotations, and more in-depth ones. I hope you'll let the book speak for itself, rather than taking it upon yourself to explain what Dr. MacArthur "never says . . .in so many words." I hope you'll respond to Appendix 2 of the book, which seems to me to offer convincing proof that your view of the gospel is the one that deviates from the historic Christian faith. Above all, I hope you'll interact with the biblical data Dr. MacArthur brings out in the book. Rather than simply attacking Dr. MacArthur for urging believers to examine themselves, why not explain why you believe 2 Corinthians 13:5 doesn't mean what it says?
Awaiting Your Reply,
Phillip R. Johnson
When I received no reply or acknowledgement from Bob Wilkin, I wrote him again on 25 April 1989, enclosed a copy of the original letter, and again requested a reply. More than fifteen years later, he has still not replied to or acknowledged that letter, and yet the original "review" is still posted at the GES website in its original form.
For more than a decade following the book's initial release, I replied to every letter sent to our ministry regarding The Gospel According to Jesus and the lordship debate. There were literally hundreds of letters on the issue, and with no more than three or four notable exceptions, every bit of interaction I ever had with hardcore no-lordship advocates was equally fruitless.
That's why I have been less than responsive to the spam and goading that appears from time to time in the comments here on the blog. Frankly, I think the GES version of no-lordship doctrine is as outlandish as some of the distinctive doctrines of the major cults. And given the obvious lack of seriousness in the commenters here who have advocated those doctrines, I'm no more inclined to devote multiple posts to the subject at PyroManiacs than I would be to discuss the Seventh-Day Adventists' doctrine of "investigative judgment."
But, in an effort to keep the spam out of other comment-threads and appease the handful of people who are itching to debate the issue here, I'll open the comment-thread in this post to the discussion. I just want to make a few ground rules, which I will strictly insist on:
- Raise only one issue at a time, and no more than three twelve-line paragraphs per comment (including Scripture references). Ask a question, make a challenge, or make a point, and I will try to answer it. Post a long diatribe or a term-paper-length "comment," and I'll ignore it. (I might even delete your comment if it seems a deliberate breach of this rule.)
- No prefabricated cut-and-paste-style comments, and no rambling propagandizing or graffiti-style posts.
- If you cite Scripture and the point you are making isn't stated plainly by the text itself, please cogently explain the point you think the text makes.
- If I raise a question in reply, you must give an answer to the point, and not a deflection that introduces a different issue.
- If you ignore my questions or counterpoints, I will delete your subsequent comments.
- I will endeavor to honor the same rules, and if you think I have failed to do so, please feel free to call me on it.
- Keep your comments on the lordship issue in this thread, and nowhere else on my blog. Starting now and until this thread is closed, comments on the lordship issue in other threads will be automatically and unapologetically deleted.