20 December 2007

How Vital Is the Truth?

posted by Phil Johnson

et another entry in a week's worth of excerpts from The Truth War. The following excerpt is from pages 32-34:

With increasing frequency nowadays, I hear people say things like, "Come, now, let's not bicker about what we believe. It's only doctrine. Let's focus instead on how we live. The way of Jesus is surely more important than our arguments over the words of Jesus. Let's set aside our disagreements over creeds and dogmas and devote ourselves instead to showing the love of Christ by the way we conduct our lives."

Many people these days evidently find that suggestion appealing. On the face of it, it may sound generous, kind-hearted, modest, and altruistic. But the view itself is a serious violation of "the way of Jesus," who taught that salvation hinges on hearing and believing His Word (John 5:24). He said, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). To those who doubted His truth-claims, He said, "If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24). He never left any room for someone to imagine that the propositional content of His teaching is optional as long as we mimic His behavior.

In fact, the New Testament consistently stresses otherwise. One vital principle about our redemption from sin destroys the whole argument: Faith, not works, is the sole instrument of justification (Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 2:16). In other words, what we believe rather than what we do is what secures us a righteous standing before God—because we lay hold of justifying righteousness by faith alone, and not by our works (Romans 4:5).

Paul says in Romans 9:31-32 that "Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law." In other words, regardless of how meticulous they may have been in their external observance of God's law, their unbelief was sufficient to exclude them from the kingdom. "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (10:3-4). They doubted the truth of Christ, and that proved spiritually fatal, in spite of how well they had perfected an external display of piety.

Notice: Paul expressly says they were pursuing righteousness. But they were looking for it in all the wrong places. Because they clung to wrong beliefs about the righteousness God requires and rejected the righteousness Christ would have provided for them, they were eternally condemned. Their failure was first of all an error about a vital article of faith, not merely a flaw in their practice. Their whole belief system (not merely their behavior) was wrong. Unbelief was enough to condemn them, regardless of how they acted.

It is not kindness at all, but the worst form of cruelty, to suggest that what people believe doesn't really matter much if they feel spiritual and do good. In fact, on the face of it, that claim is a blatant contradiction of the gospel message.

Besides, real righteousness simply cannot exist in isolation from belief in the truth. In order to make the case for any concept of "practical good" that subsists apart from sound doctrine, one quickly has to remove just about everything that is truly righteous from the definition of good. Naturally, it doesn't take very long for that kind of thinking to undermine the foundations of Christianity itself.
John MacArthur's signature

Talk amongst yourselves.

Phil's signature


Theophilus said...

"I hear people say things like, "Come, now, let's not bicker about what we believe. It's only doctrine. Let's focus instead on how we live."

What confounds me is how many people are unable to see how one's beliefs determine one's behaviour.

We wouldn't dream of treating the symptoms of cancer without addressing the tumor, so why address wrong behaviour without addressing the wrong thinking from which it springs?

One Salient Oversight said...

Sorry but JMc has been saying this stuff for years and while I agree with it in theory, in practice it is turning into a "spot the liberal" event.

I mean check out the SBC. Here's this supposedly wonderful organisation that has returned to Biblical faith but is now apparently happy to divide over issues like alcohol and church planting.

Legalism is unbiblical, and the pursuit of truth often leads not just to battles with postmodernists but also with legalists who put stumbling blocks in the way of fellowship.

What sort of things? Apparently it's not enough these days to be teetotal, it's now essential that a pastor or church member to believe that drinking any form of alcohol is a sin. That's not Biblical, but it's happening in the SBC.

What else? Apparently it is not enough to have a disagreement between, say, pedobaptists and credobaptists - it's now essential for credobaptists to refuse to celebrate the Lord's supper with pedobaptists.

It's happening in the SBC. It's happening in other denominations.

Sorry but I have to argue that the argument behind "The Truth War" is now seriously out of date. What the book says may be true enough, but the battle these days is in a different place.

Habitans in Sicco said...

One Salient oversight:

Congratulations on the most incoherent string of non-sequiturs I've ever seen put together in one place.

The SBC is teetotal so "the pursuit of truth" is out of date?

FYI, the SBC has been teetotal for more than a century. That didn't happen last year.

rpavich said...

One Salient oversight,
As was said, you're argument doesn't hold up.

jerryb said...

I am no historian or the son of a historian but it seems to me that there were relativists around in the first century too. While the Jews had world view based upon absolute truth, I think the Greek / pagan mind was often relativistic. Perhaps Pilate's question, "what is truth?" is revealing. The Greek/Roman worshiper with all his gods was not looking for truth or a relationship with his deity but for a way to bribe the gods to leave him alone or to send the rain. Socrates wrote once that "perhaps one day someone would come who would bring us a "logos" / "word". I think he was saying there must be an absolute truth outside of ourselves somewhere. Thus the Gospel impacted Western history to a great degree by establishing that Christianity is a revealed religion based upon truth. In commenting on "How we know" Britannica states that only recently "have we begun to break off the shackles of an Augustinian world view". So whenever I begin to wring my hands and think "what am I going to do now that no one believes in truth", I remind myself that such was the world of the first century. In fact, a relativistic world is the perfect place for the Gospel to shine. Instead of being humble and pretending that I do not know the truth to avoid offending, I must still proclaim it. It is the cure for the darkness.

Jason Alligood said...

First off, and I ask this truthfully and graciously, one salient oversight, can you please tell us where you think the battle is now? This is probably not the place for such a discussion, but if you could direct me to a place where you have possibly expounded on this a bit more... I don't agree with you, but would like to see where ou are coming from.

Secondly, "He (Jesus) never left any room for someone to imagine that the propositional content of His teaching is optional as long as we mimic His behavior."

This is a brilliant and concise statement. We cannot overlook that the "way" in which Jesus acted (odd to say that about the unique son of God) flowed from His perfect character and therefore demands a perfect standard!

donsands said...

Satan deceives with 1/2 truths, 3/4 truths, and 31/32th truths.

He gets you looking, and talking, and walking like a Christian, and with the lips we say all the right stuff.
But our hearts don't believe. Our hearts are far from God.

I watched a superb, and even magnificient, Christmas concert last night on PBS. The Scriptures were read with conviction and beatifully really. The music and singind was perfect.
i was blessed.

Then I find out it was The Mormon Tabernacle.
Talk about deception. It don't get any better, I mean worse, than this.

The ECers need to take things like this to heart, and not get pulled away from the true faith.

"Now I BESEECH you, brothers, mark those who cause divisions and offences CONTRARY to the DOCTRINE which you have learned; and avoid them." Rom. 16:17

"Grievous wolves shall eneter in amoung you, not sparing the flock.
.. of yourselves shall men arise, speaking CONTRARY things". Acts 20:29

ECers need to see these words, as we all do, for what Paul the Apostle meant them. If that never happens, then false teachers will continue to be embraced more and more, and the Church will become saturated with them, as a body is with cancer.

DJP said...

OSO — Habitans said my thought, but much better.

But you read the whole book anyway, as per the rules? And all you came away was "Divestiture, I tell you! Divestiture, and plastics! Wave of the future!"?

Hadassah said...


I don't know where you are getting your "Apparently" from, but if you are right, then I am in big trouble.

I don't think drinking is a sin.

I believe in (gasp)INFANT baptism.

I go to an SBC church.

I better watch out, they might divide me out if I'm not careful.

Thanks for filling me in, man, I was under the impression that the SBC was a group of redeemed sinners saved by grace.

Sorry this is so off-topic. Couldn't resist.

Bill said...

6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
Hosea 4:6

It seems to me that knowledge (and certainly acceptance) of the truth is vitally important to God.


Cubby Martinez said...

Yo, oso --

that's funny, chico. I asked some body back when Steve Camp was defending Pagitt how to define "watchblogger". The next time I need an example, I'm gonna point at you, dude.

¿porque sabe que los Bautista son peores que liberales, si?

Henry (Rick) Frueh said...

Faith cannot be authentic or effective unless it is placed in truth. Without truth as an object, faith is just sentimentality. Having faith when you take the wrong exit doesn't make it right.

Without Biblical truth our faith is a conduit for deception.

DJP said...

Henry, dude -- again, very well-put!

Josh said...

Hadassah - I believe in Infant Baptism

This is why the Truth War is still on

Mike Riccardi said...

Legalism is unbiblical, and the pursuit of truth often leads not just to battles with postmodernists but also with legalists who put stumbling blocks in the way of fellowship.

This is another move that I simply cannot understand. Now, if you're concerned about doctrine, you're a legalist.

If you believe that Scripture states something plainly and stand up for it, that is naturally going to affect your fellowship with others who don't believe the same things. It doesn't mean that you say that everyone who doesn't believe alcohol is forbidden isn't a Christian (which is what OSO is accusing people of). It does mean, however, that your fellowship will be impeded. You can still serve and partner in some capacities. You can still enjoy each other as brothers in Christ. But there are some aspects of ministry and fellowship that you won't be able to enjoy.

It sounds to me like OSO is just bitter over the whole Acts 29 defunding thing. Sounds like an ulterior motive.

But legalism is stating that more things are required for salvation. Ironically, John MacArthur dealt with this in the original post. It's the those who would push us past these "insignificant doctrinal issues" and focus on "how we live" instead of what we believe that are legalists. That, as was stated, is legalism; not the reverse.

When there has had to be a sacrifice of either unity or truth, unity is the one to go. It's not something I say happily; indeed it is very sad. But it's true. Paul's pleadings for the church to be united didn't mean blurring the lines and ignoring the differences. It meant to hold fast that form of teaching to which we were committed. As that teaching was unified, so we should be. But when someone deviates from that teaching, we shouldn't ignore it.

For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. -- 1 Corinthians 11:19

SolaMeanie said...

The Truth War is out of date?!?!?!?!

I was about to say something snide in connection with Ichabod Crane, but I'll restrain myself.

Daryl said...

What I don't get is what advantage anyone sees in the EC "winning" the Truth War.

I look at my life and, well, it's not pretty. I look at truth and, well, it is. When I need to be reminded that I've been redeemed looking at my life of obedience is a really really limited value, being reminded that my situation before God hang's on Christ's work alone assures me of the standing I've been given before God.

Again, what is the value of all the emphasis on "living like Jesus" (as though anyone ever has) at the expense of doctrinal truth?

I don't get it...(sigh)

Anonymous said...

"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

1 Peter 1:5-11

Knowledge is a virtue? If that's the case, than knowledge must be an essential feature of Christian character.

Anonymous said...

One term I keep seeing repeated by emerg***'s that Dr. Mac refers to here is "the way of Jesus". Man, this sounds so great, doesn't it? We need to follow the way of Jesus. But just what does that mean? What specifically is the way of Jesus? Obviously, as vaguely meant by most that would use the phrase, it refers to following Jesus as a good moral example, as a teacher that we should all emulate in pursuing social justice and living in community. But is that really the Biblical definition of the way of Jesus?

Jesus said that He Himself is "the Way, the Truth, the Life." So any attempt at pursuing the way of Jesus must first start with the real, true person of Jesus Christ. And you cannot separate the person of Christ from the work of Christ - redemption. When we define the way of Jesus the way that He Himself defined it, we get a much different outcome. One that results in following Him and pursuing social justice and living in community, but that first starts with propositional truth of who He is, what He accomplished, and our proper response to Him. Anything less than this is mere moralism with a facade of Jesus pasted over it.

Strong Tower said...

The Way of the Cross-

Jesus in contending with Peter said that the things of God were not in his heart. Quite contradictory when He had just commended his right confession. Of David it is said that he was a man after God's own heart. God's heart displayed in Christ was to be the propitiation for sin. To strain at the gnat avoids swallowing the whole camel, but for Christ, the requirement is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. These thing you ought to do and not to the neglect of anything. Life, Way, Truth, a three fold cord not easily broken, but take any strand away and the line will not hold.

The proper respect for Truth then will not negate, but be in all and fill all so that the only question remaining for the disciple is: "Which Way shall we go, you alone have the Words of Life?"

Strong Tower said...

Hey my last word identification was lifopoxy-

Vim, vigor, vital-

Union with the life of Christ means a desire for the pure milk of the Word-

poxy is a suffix meaning oxygen- wow- were would you affix life without the Spirt's breath of truth?

Oh well, I know that was a little too spooky charismatic, but hey, its the gifting season-

stratagem said...

I read OSO's post; it is absolutely ironic that the SBC could be used as a example of legalism and truth as a means of dividing people out. HELLO!!? THE LARGEST SBC CHURCH IN THE COUNTRY IS HEADED BY MR. PURPOSE-DRIVEN, "I-RECOMMEND-YOU-THROW-OUT-ANYONE-WHO-DARES-OPPOSE-MY-PROGRAM", HIMSELF!!!

Does anyone want to make the argument that the Purpose-Driven pogrom within the SBC (and elsewhere) is being done to preserve TRUTH at the expense of UNITY, or is it the other way around?

Therefore, isn't the assertion that truth-devotion is the root of all divisiveness, a bunch of bunk?

Also ironic: the EC is constantly playing "spot the fundy", yet somehow John MacArthur is to blame for spotting liberals? God bless him for doing so, since most of the degeneration of Christianity in the past 90 years has come about due to theological liberalism.

DJP said...

Blogger doesn't like long strings.

You wrote:


carolczech said...

donsands posted:
"Now I BESEECH you, brothers, mark those who cause divisions and offences CONTRARY to the DOCTRINE which you have learned; and avoid them." Rom. 16:17"

Somehow this has gotten all twisted around, hasn't it? Those objecting to false teaching or insisting on Christianity with lines around it are more often than not accused of causing divisions in the body. The truth is that those bringing teachings not based in truth into the church are the ones causing the divisions.


Rick said

Faith cannot be authentic or effective unless it is placed in truth. Without truth as an object, faith is just sentimentality. Having faith when you take the wrong exit doesn't make it right.

Without Biblical truth our faith is a conduit for deception.
Hank, TRUDAT! Welcome back Hank!
What's next, you gonna patch things up w/ Silva?

BTW I read/listened to The Truth War - word

SEALCON said...

I have just finished reading "The Truth War" and found it very helpful - especially the Jude expositions. Excellent book.

I don't accept your premise that Pastor John's conclusions are outdated. This book to me is timeless because it seems with every new generation comes another wave of error that needs confronting and correcting. IMHO, he has done that well in "The Truth War."

I found your comment here off topic and a bit offensive. Steve Camp did not defend Doug Pagitt at all; in fact, he recently wrote an article calling for his repentance. I recall he was just asking for primary source documentation about what he believes. Pagitt is a slippery bird and there is not as much material from him as say from McLaren or Bell. Camp more than acknowledges that all three are heretical and has written as such.

I have also found that his and Dr. MacArthur's convictions on the emergent church to be on the same page.

I fully agree with you. Why are men like John MacArthur criticized and labeled as being divisive, when it is those introducing error into the church as being the ones who are truly the divisive ones?

Thank you for what you said.

In His mercy and truth,


Mr. PDL sounds a lot like Mr. T lately. Won't it be nice when he has Huckabee around to facilitate his P.E.A.C.E. mandate.

Cubby will probably be incarcerated at Gitmo for not being a team player :)

Sorry Phil
I'm back on task

SolaMeanie said...


If people are playing "spot the fundy," they should probably write some replacement lyrics for the Genesis song, "Spot the Pigeon." Then again . . .

As to today's John MacArthur excerpt, I can't help thinking about how some in the EC are "red letter" biblicists. In other words, they'll take the words of Jesus as authoritative, but the rest of the New Testament is just advisory or window-dressing. You can see how funny such a stance is when you actually read many of the things Jesus said, especially His statements on Hell.

This movement that doesn't want to be called a movement gets curiouser and curiouser by the day.


The distinction is whether the Word contains His Word or is His Word. The answer (for us) is both. Most EC'rs would only admit to it containing his word. And whatever they admitted- would depend on who they were speaking with at the time.

Cubby es un combatiente enemigo, ¿no?

stratagem said...

DJP: I'm probably dense, but I don't understand what you are trying to tell me. RU saying you had to "rescue" my post from auto-extinction?

Fred said...

J. Gresham Machen

"Again, men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end ... It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of the truth" (What Is Christianity, as cited in Biblical Separation, by Ernest Pickering, p. 97).

DJP said...

No. Read your post, part got cut off. I restored it.

Oh, wait, I get it -- it's cut off in Firefox, and NOT in IE. Weird.

SolaMeanie said...


For some reason, when I call up TeamPyro to read the post of the day, the box where John's "Truth War" is posted partially comes up underneath the sidebar. Any idea whazzup there?

stratagem said...

Thanks for doing that, Dan! I feel the restoration! :-)

I'll pretend I know what Firefox is, so thanks for that, too, whatever it is.

Laura said...

"Also ironic: the EC is constantly playing "spot the fundy", yet somehow John MacArthur is to blame for spotting liberals?"


Cubby Martinez said...


Mi Papi dicho, "Cada perico a su estaca, cada changa a su mecate." Anyone can be criticized in the blogosphere except emergent pastors and Senor Estaban Camp.

pastorbrianculver said...

The first paragraph is the exact copy of what kind of dialogue I am having with a mormon woman over at reformationnation.wordpress.com. She is just saying things like, "see, I live a life like Jesus would." But she is totally blind to the truth of who Jesus is! You bring up Scripture and it amazes me how many people will say you are picking on them. Or that you are attacking them. I have enjoyed your comments on here! Great to see Christians who will stand up for the Word of God! The inerrant Word of God!

Blank Slate said...

Just finished The Forgotten Spurgeon and was ammazed at how similar the fight was to what "we" are fighting today. I guess that's why T-Pyro have a dose every week!!

Blessings to all you Truth Warriors!

Keith Crosby said...


En ingles... do you really think that the Baptists are worse than liberals?

Cubby Martinez said...

senor Keith:

Mira ese -- sacrcasm.

centu is right about translating jokes. Babelfish can't help some people.

4given said...

careful and planned ambiguity clothed in velvet on an unfinished canvass of confusion that celebrates uncertainty... that is how I have come to define the EC.

4given said...

...especially after reading "Velvet Elvis" and several popular EC sermons.


eastendjim said...

I don't like to be wrong. Never have and probably never will.
It hurts my pride.

Having no "real truth" is very appealing to me.
It enables me to continue to live in my sinful condition of pride by never really having to admit that I am wrong, plus I get the bonus ego boost from claiming that I am truly humble because I allow everyone else to not be wrong as well. Except for those bible worshiping doctrine cops of course. Even generous orthodoxy has to have its limits.

Who wouldn't want to sign up for that?

I would in an instant....... except for the fact that God chose to make me a Christian and now I have to submit myself His Way, His Truth and His Life.

But I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes, huh?

Lane Chaplin said...

What doesn't occur to most is that when someone says, "We shouldn't worry about doctrine," they are presenting doctrine or teaching. It's ridiculous. Paul talked about both true and false doctrine. They can make the claim that those who hold to sound doctrine are the only ones who hold to doctrine or teaching, but that just isn't accurate. They are presenting teaching, too. Their problem is not that one end is holding to doctrine and the other isn't, it is that sound doctrine is inherently opposed to false doctrine which is exactly what Christ talks about with light and darkness.