Ashamed of the Gospel: When the Church Becomes like the World. 3rd Edition

By John MacArthur
Wheaton, IL : Crossway (2010). 304 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
21.2 (Fall 2010) : 245-247

The title of this very recent publication could also be used to describe Dr. MacArthur’s deep concern at the shameful redefinition of both the gospel message and the ministry. He is certainly not ashamed of the gospel, but he is ashamed of the caricaturing taking place and the errant methodology being promoted. John MacArthur makes it quite clear that he does not write in anger, but with the prayer that the book would challenge the common way of thinking about the issues covered in the book, so that the reader would go back to the Scriptures (34).

Having read a portion of the 1993 edition of his book, the author was moved to upgrade and update, but not to enlarge its contents by more than two additional chapters (11 and 12) and one more appendix (App. 2). A major reason for not just reissuing the book was to highlight the unchanging nature of its message (24). Presumably, it is the gospel message which is always relevant and beyond review and redefinition.

The reader will find his normal rate of reading will have to slow down, for very good reason, and that is to absorb the host of historical and biographical information as well as a multiplicity of exegetical and interpretive comments accompanying the many cross-references to appropriate passages of Scripture. The reader will find no text taken out of context to support a pretext. It is certainly not the writing of someone who has become an expert in some sphere of knowledge and is now using his own thoughts and proposals, his self-developed formula, in evaluation and measurement. It is not a question of “MacArthurism” versus other “isms” or theories either. Rather, such a critique as offered in Ashamed of the Gospel, is the end result of mastering the divinely inspired text. No! More correctly stated it is “the result of being mastered by the divinely inspired biblical text.” “What does the Bible say?” points to the right source for critical data on the gospel message and the church’s philosophy of ministry and relationship with the world around.

The reader will be introduced to a wide variety of issues within the evangelical world, e.g., post-modernism, the emerging church, pragmatism and its detrimental effect, adopting marketing strategy for ministry, user-friendly churches, the audience as the message-determinant, the Down-Grade Controversy in Spurgeon’s time, worldliness which relegates God and His Word to a subordinate role in the church, the loss of interest in preaching, especially that which confronts the sinner and calls for repentance, and a biblical philosophy of ministry, et. al.

Such serious issues are covered in twelve chapters (220 pages) and four appendices (71 pages). Chapter titles prime the reader as to what will be discussed therein, e.g., “The User-Friendly Churches” (ch. 2), “The Sovereignty of God in Salvation” (ch. 8), or “Carried About by Every Wind” (ch. 11), and in the Appendices, “Spurgeon Speaks to Our Time” (App. 2) or “Charles Finney and American Evangelicalism“ (App. 3). Memorable expressions occur here and there, and may even be added to a preacher’s file of quotations or function mnemonically.

“The new philosophy is straightforward: The church is in competition against the world, and the world is very good at capturing people’s attention and affections. The church, on the other hand, tends to be very poor at ‘selling’ its product. Evangelism should therefore be viewed as a marketing challenge…” (37).

“To be a Christian is to be a warrior. The good soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battlefield” (272).

“There has never been a time when biblical Christianity was not threatened with worldliness and false doctrine” (117).

“Ecclesiastics have altered the gospel, and if it had not been of God, it would have been stifled by falsehood long ago” (266).

Lest some think a book of this nature leaves one despondent and depressed at finding out how much is still wrong with so many evangelical churches, the final words of the book indicate the attitude and demeanor applicable to the man of God facing the reality of much turmoil over the issues identified above: “There are, thankfully, many knees that have not yet bowed to the Baal of pragmatism. May God bless them and make them fruitful. I for one have absolute confidence that no matter how many religious hucksters and marketeers may come and go, and no matter how much wood, hay, and stubble is going to burn up, the Lord is building His church, “and the gates of hell [margin] shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18)” (232).

Ashamed of the Gospel (3rd ed.) stands as a model of how fruitfully Scripture correctly interpreted can be brought to bear critically upon the church in the world. It yields too the type of questions a candidate for a pastorate should be asked, or what a candidate should ask of the elders and other church leaders interviewing him.