Goodreads Review: The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says “Follow Me”? by John F. MacArthur Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This rather old book by John MacArthur was a read that rocked me to my core. I had previously heard of MacArthur’s controversial doctrine of “lordship salvation” from persons (or persons who knew such persons) who clearly had a bone to pick with him.

But I am convinced that MacArthur’s theology is grossly misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, MacArthur does not espouse a works-based-salvation theology. Rather, he advocates for a doctrine as old the New Testament itself: “You shall know a tree by the fruit it bears.”

In a nutshell, MacArthur’s main beef is with ministers who refuse to question the idea that mere assent to basic theological facts (i.e., the so-called Four Spiritual Laws) is equal to saving faith.

Instead, says he, we will know if a person is saved if their actions reveal a changed heart. They are not saved if they insist that they are saved but to do nothing to demonstrate such a reality.

What MacArthur’s ideological opponents have wrong is that they believe that he is espousing a “faith-plus-works” theory of salvation. Such a view is obviously heretical, but this man is no heretic. MacArthur would be a heretic if he stated that we will be saved if we do enough good things meriting salvation, our faith be darned.

But MacArthur plainly does not say this. Instead, he says that faith is good, but it will be known to be genuine, saving faith if a changed life is the result. Such a change can only be effected by the Holy Spirit, a doctrine which no one doubts.

I therefore highly recommend this book as a good kick-in-the-pants for the spiritually lazy. It sure did for me.

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Guest Post: Make A Trendy Noise Unto the Lord

Note: This is a guest post from David van Mersbergen.

Coming from a musical family with a church organist parent and grandparent, David began musical training at the age of eight years old with piano lessons. He began vocal training and choral singing in high school and continued in college with several tours of major cites in North America. He has studied music theory and history. His study of aesthetics as a branch of philosophy had guided his efforts to seek out music and art worthy of study, analysis, and praise. He continues to pursue musical performance by participating in community and professional organizations.  

The discovery was made when I performed “Hotel California,” a piece I had previously detested.

It had been sung very badly on many long bus rides to basketball games, track meets and field trips. Worse was that this piece had been singled out by many charismatic preachers in the late ‘70s to be about the church of Satan.

On playing it, however, the chord progressions were sound and made sense according to the rules of music theory. It should come as no surprise that the shock at how good this song was had context.

After playing Christian contemporary music with its three-chord variety for the last eight months, a song with eight distinct chords was welcome. How fun it was to play music that had intelligence to its chord progression.

I found it odd that music written about ‘materialism and excess’ was more musically deep and lyrically profound than most of the music written for praise and worship.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of pop music is trite, stupid and poorly written so as to appeal to the masses of musically illiterate consumers, but why is it that Christian contemporary music strives to emulate that kind of music?

What makes Christian contemporary music so horrible has been the subject of many posts on Facebook, as well as an episode of South Park.

Lyrics that are theologically untenable or fallacious, as well as overwhelmingly sentimental, provide little more than mind numbing ear candy for churchgoers.

Christian lyricists are not poets by any means.  If a song about creation contains the word “trees,” there will be in the following line the word “breeze.” Sadly, too many lyricists are not familiar with basic theological principles.

Songs proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ come across as if the singer is in love with a matinee idol. Don’t think so? If a song actually names our Lord and Savior instead of just using “you,” substitute “Justin” or “Liam” for Jesus and see how one-dimensional this praise and worship song is.

Pop songs that come across as desperate and codependent are now fit to bring into church because it’s Jesus you’re singing about. They are insulated from literary criticism by virtue of their being “spirit-filled” or “anointed.”

The unfortunate implication is that lyrics are more important for working a crowd or congregation into an emotional high rather than for opening the mind to hear the law and gospel of God.

Why does CCM all sound the same or just plain awful?  The limited number of keys that most CCM is written in explains a few things.

Sadly, the guitar has replaced the pipe organ as the instrument of choice for the church and music director. The keys of E, D, G, A and C are the most comfortable keys for the guitar player. This is true for many pop and country and western songs.

One humorous YouTube video (Editor’s note: Video contains brief profanity) claims that all country and western music is the same, splicing clips of different songs into one loop until it sounds like a regular song.

Why? Aside from topics (trucks, beer, women), the keys and chord progressions are the same. The I-V-IV and I-VI-IV-V chord progressions are the most commonly used progressions in popular music.

Any melody can be written over these three or four chords with hardly any effort at all. With no harmonic variety in the music, the songs end up fundamentally sounding the same.

Praise and Worship leaders with little education in Western music, whose only exposure to music has been radio, television, and movies, churn out songs that reflect that exposure to the three-chord harmonic progression.

The result is that second-rate lyrics and simple chord progressions that were once the bastion of pop music have become customary in the Christian contemporary music.

Taking their cue from pop culture’s standard of quality, pastors and worship leaders embrace the lowest common denominator and clean it up (or wash it in the blood of Christ) for church.

Christian contemporary music is bad because the popular music it copies from the world is bad.  Lost is the idea of sacred music and the effort to produce it.

For most of the history of Western art in general, and music in particular, the Church, along with some of the aristocracy, was the major benefactor funding music for church worship services and ceremonial occasions.

Now the Church has become a consumer of popular music in its effort to reach a broader audience.

Pastors with little adherence to orthodoxy and practically no education in music or art now think the process of approaching God with humility, begging for forgiveness, receiving pardon for sins and resolving to lead a sanctified life should make way for a more palatable, seeker-friendly message.

Wanting to attract newcomers or those who are “turned off by traditional religion,” pastors and church leadership make the church service entertaining.

Congregations now confuse worship with entertainment, as if God needs a catchy tune get an audience. Such an objective can also be accomplished via a pole-dance.

Getting membership has become more important than proclaiming one’s sins can be and are forgiven, and that we are restored to a relationship with God.

Pastors have allowed the attention-seeking lead singer to educate the congregation on what music is.

Hymns with four-part harmony and theologically sound lyrics are replaced with karaoke-style sing-a-longs.

The cycle is complete when the young musician with mediocre talent decides to go to school to be a music leader, but has never read or sung a hymn, heard an oratorio, or seen an orchestra perform a symphony.

The church used to transform the culture, now it has become transformed by it.

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1984: A World Without God

I read 1984 earlier this year, and found it to be one of the best novels I’ve ever read.

It’s utterly bone-chilling, moves at a break-neck speed, and foretells all sorts of things happening in this day and age, from microaggressions (see “thoughtcrime”) to NSA shenanigans. It also reminded me that the novel is indeed an art form, and should be treated as such.

But my biggest takeaway from reading 1984 was on a theological level. Simply put, 1984 depicts a world without God. Such a world is a very scary place.

In this book, evil has gone ape over the whole world. The terms “true” and “false” have no meaning, because “the Party” determines by fiat what the facts are.

War, death, and sex are the primary objects of worship. The state effectively controls reality, and there is no means of stopping it from within or without. There is no hope of freedom or happiness, for the Party actively suppresses both through the omniscient Thought Police.

In this world, the character of O’Brien bluntly denies the common justification for Communist dictatorships, that such tyranny is necessary for the ultimate good. He instead states that “God is power” and that the Party seeks only to maintain its control over Oceania.

They know that they will forever remain in perpetual warfare with Eurasia and Eastasia and their people will continue to wallow in poverty. They rejoice in their evil, fully immersed in the concept of “doublethink.”

“God is power.” How appropriately demonic. Having just recently finished rereading The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, which seems like an amusement park compared to 1984, I can see the connection with new clarity.

In a world where the Devil has won and God has no power, good has no hope of winning because He that is good, God, does not exist. If God existed, the Devil could not win.

The novel’s protagonist, Winston Smith, is asked at one point by O’Brien whether he believes in God or not. Winston replies in the negative, instead appealing to “the spirit of man” as the source of truth and goodness. But when O’Brien demonstrates from Winston’s own words that he was perfectly willing to do evil things in the name of freedom, Winston realizes that he has no moral high ground to stand on.

The book’s author, George Orwell, an anti-religious atheist and, paradoxically, a socialist, probably would not agree with my interpretation of his work. From what I’ve read of him online, his personal biography and writings are rife with contradictions and leaps of logic.

All that said, I am only encouraged to read more of his writings, namely Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, his autobiography. It’s important to read primary sources.

1984 is a novel which I was thoroughly engrossed by, but which I would be reluctant to read again. But Orwell was without a doubt a visionary. He wrote of a plainly totalitarian, fascist regime which is not too far off from what you might see in North Korea and China, all in the year 1949.

Orwell may not have had much affection for God, but he undoubtedly understood that the principles which spring from the Bible, on which Western civilization is built, are incompatible with Communism. If only this colorful Englishman had been able to see the full implications of this line of reasoning. Perhaps he did.

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