The Truth War

By John MacArthur
Nashville : Thomas Nelson (2007). 224 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Greg Harris
19.1 (Spring 2008) : 132-134

The Bible reveals some future drastic changes in mentality regarding God’s Word that has already begun and will progressively grow worse before the Lord’s return. In his death-row epistle, in what would become the final chapter he ever wrote, the apostle Paul both charged, instructed, and explained the necessity of what his beloved Timothy—and any other future beloved Timothy—must do. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 4:1-4:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.

Several crucial matters from this final epistle of Paul are significant. First, the “they” (4:3) who will not endure sound doctrine refers to people who call themselves Christians; atheists have never endured sound doctrine. Second, the Bible clearly states that, contrary to what some may claim, “sound doctrine” does exist, otherwise they could not turn away from it. Third, coupled with this, those who turn will know at least the corpus of what the Bible presents as sound doctrine; that is, though they may never have held it personally, they certainly abandon previously held orthodox theology. Fourth, and perhaps most important in understanding this mindset, “they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires (epithumia, used regularly in the NT for the word “lust,” such as a cognate verb used in Matt 5:28). In other words, the order is important: their lusts will already have been established; they will then go out, literally in the Greek, “to collect” teachers who support and justify their own lusts, which they most likely will not acknowledge. Fifth, in a summary statement of how God views this, such people “will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” Sadly, this is an accurate description of what many today call evangelical Christianity; this phenomenon is the basis for John MacArthur’s The Truth War.

The introduction alone (ix-xxvii) should convince the reader that contending for truth is not an option for those who take God, His Word, and their own walk seriously. A foundational question to be addressed at the beginning is “What is truth?” MacArthur repeatedly calls the reader not only to define truth biblically, but also repeatedly emphasizes its all-encompassing significance, since establishing what is and is not truth determines eternal destinies. MacArthur argues, “Here is a simple definition drawn from what the Bible teaches: truth is that which is consistent with the mind, will, character, glory, and being of God. Even more to the point: truth is the self-expression of God” (2, emphasis in the original). He remains true to this definition throughout the book.

If one is not alarmed by the end of the second chapter (“Can Truth Survive in a Postmodern Society?”), he most likely will neither finish nor like the remainder of the book. New theologies spring up (especially the Emerging Church), and their proponents think they have stumbled upon some new and vibrant teaching. MacArthur shows that it is simply rather a repackaging of previously held false doctrines and agrees with The Preacher of Ecclesiastes that “nothing new under the sun” (1:9) exists. The author traces the quest of secular human philosophers to define and explain truth (4-9), and how this led to “Modernity” that was characterized by accepting only what can be proven by the scientific method (9-10). He shows reasons why Modernity should be followed by “Post Modernity” (10-16), which in spite of how it defines truth is at its core agnostic. In a section entitled “Uncertainty Is the New Truth,” (16-23) MacArthur traces some previous heresies that afflicted the church in the past (thus the nothing-new-under-the-sun scenario), and then draws the reader into its modern application with “War in the Church” (23-26). The last section is important in that much of what happened outside the church (in essence 1-15) gradually creeps inside the church (16-26), but comes in subtly and unannounced to all but those who are biblically diligent.

It is a sign of the times that a book such as The Truth Wars is needed. The book would be most beneficial for individuals or groups studying the books of Jude or Second Peter. It will also be beneficial in responding to the author’s repetition of Jude’s appeal, “that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).