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Monday, October 10, 2005

Book Review

Hard to Believe by John MacArthur

Ouch. It's been a really long time since I've done a book review. Yes, this is the first book I've finished since July. I started one book that just became tedious to finish about half-way through (perhaps some day, I'll finish it and let you know) and little Kari coming right when we entered the "Grace Anatomy" series really put a crunch on my reading time.

I humbly confess that I used to dislike John MacArthur. I found him to be a legalist and too narrow in his approach. I also got so frustrated with "MacArthurites" who seemed to trust however he interpreted a passage like little lemmings. But I kept finding myself exposed to his ministry and couldn't escape the fact that he exegetes a passage as well as anyone, and is faithful to the passage, even if the results are unpopular.

If I ever meet MacArthur, I hope he'll understand I've matured, and I would owe him an apology.

While chapter one is entitled "Tastes Great, Less Filling," this book is hardly intended for pop culture. Rather, MacArthur lays out that the seeker sensitive gospel just prepares people for disappointment. MacArthur takes us through statement after statement (though this book does not address all of them) by Jesus about how being His disciple is hard.

I highly recommend this book to anyone. For those of us in ministry, I think we would all have to confess that there are times we worry about how the audience will respond (by the grace of God, however, hopefully we don't let it dictate what we say). This book will serve as encouragement to continue to be faithful to the Word, even if the results aren't applauded by the world. Even if you are not in the ministry, this is a great book to read to make sure you aren't presenting a diluted down gospel to co-workers and friends. Sadly, it's important for you to read to make sure your pastor isn't preaching "Christianity Lite" to the congregation.

MacArthur does a much better job of saying what I tried to say. If our gospel message is popular with the world, we are pulling off something that Christ Himself wasn't able to accomplish.

In the end, trusting Christ that "narrow is the road" that leads to salvation actually heightens grace. Grace is not cheaper, but rather more wonderful, when I acknowledge that my own works are not acts of righteousness. Any other thought but grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, is truly relying on my own works. Any thought of "legalism" I once attributed to MacArthur was due to my own misunderstanding of that word (as I believe much of Christianity misunderstands and misuses). The narrow message, is actually that of grace. But salvation is not found without repentance, submission and trust in Christ (As MacArthur shows the Bible teaches). Faith is not something cheap that comes by simply raising your hand, or signing a card. MacArthur even covers the issue of "What happens to people groups who die without hearing the name of Jesus?" in one of his last chapters.

Thoughts about MacArthur: Did you know he was a decorated collegiate athlete? Granted, I've never read any of his other works, and really haven't listened to him that much, but I just pictured him stuck in a library, never having anything to do with sports. I now realize he'd probably be a pretty fun guy to sit next to at a game, if he brought even a tenth of the passion for the Word to rooting for a team. That passion is also seen at one point when he states that he sometimes prays the imprecatory psalms about certain individuals that distort the gospel. While I share his absolute aversion to this (as does God) I think statements like that in print may be what gives him a bit of a bad rap.

In the end, I'd call this one a "9-point Caribou." I'm looking forward to reading more of his work sometime.


  • At 5:53 PM, Blogger ChrisWoznitza said…

    Hi I´m Chris. Greatings from Germany Bottrop !!

  • At 7:06 PM, Anonymous ~d said…

    "Faith is not something cheap that comes by simply raising your hand, or signing a card."

    I heartily agree!! This practice has long bothered me because it caters to pride, inhibits accountablity, and rarely inspires lasting change.

    The book sounds interesting. Is it part of your personal library, available for lending?

  • At 8:55 PM, Blogger The Honus said…

    MacArthur's problem has never been an inability to exegete (an overrated capacity if it's your only ability I might add), but rather an inability to live up to the name of his church. He never seems to provide "grace' or "community" unless you are willing to do things his way. Admittedly I haven't read anything of his for the last five years or so (a book on leadership that made me so mad i swore him off forever), and he may have found some balance in the meantime. While I agree with your notion expressed in the past that "legalism" is the church's way of crying "racism", this guy seems to meet the textbook definition (Colossians 2-3) of someone who teaches that you'll be a lot closer to act the way I tell you to act.

    Just a thought.

  • At 8:57 PM, Blogger The Honus said…

    I'm not sure what happened there ... it should say at the bottom "... a lot closed to God if you act the way I tell you to act."

  • At 9:12 PM, Blogger David said…

    Danny - I'm thrilled to see you doing a book review. Reading is good. Books are our friends.

    I must confess I have never read anything by MacArthur. Maybe it's because his name makes me think of a dead military leader. While I'm at it, I must also confess that this probably won't change any time soon. Maybe it's because his name...Oh, never mind. It does sound, however, like this book covers a topic I would find compelling. We'll have to talk about it more some time.

  • At 9:15 PM, Blogger David said…

    By the way, nine points, on what I can only guess is a ten point scale, is pretty high no matter how you look at it. Is that rating based solely on the content and theology of the book, or does it take into account quality of presentation as well?

  • At 9:27 PM, Blogger danny2 said…


    is this spam, or do i have a christian brother in germany i don't know? or did you just cruise by the site and would like to hear more about the imputed righteousness of Christ?


    got it from linda g. i'm sure once charity gives it back (who is also reading it) you could check with linda.


    i would argue the opposite. by his aggresive teaching against any form of semi-pelagianism, he is truly calling people to return to genuine grace. you may be suprised if you pick this one up. he deals a ton with the issue of imputed righteousness, that none of my works can earn favor with God. he just calls people to quit wondering if our discipleship is failing when people "get saved but don't grow" or if they never really got saved anyway. (i john 2).


    yes, i do read. i'm not a total lout. i'm not as much a literary critic as one who checks out content. the middle of the book walks through john 6. it's his strength to walk through passages, so it certainly didn't feel like it was written by a 10-year old with ADHD. (at least not that section).

  • At 7:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    danny, ahhh!! I KNEW you would like this book!!
    ~d, You can read it as soon as i get it back! can you believe it? a book that I am recomending to YOU! :) lg

  • At 12:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just finished this book, and for the most part, agree with you. The first chapter is a good "hook" into the rest of the book; I felt that much of the first half, though, was somewhat general and repetitive - he takes 18 pages to say what he could have stated in 3. In my humble opinion, the best part of the book was chapter 8 to the end, where MacArthus unapologetically discusses what makes a true disciple, according to Scripture.

    MacArthur does not shy away from truth, which I found quite refreshing. He consistantly backs his words with Scripture, and does a marvelous job explaining difficult passages by taking readers back to the original languages.

    I give this book a 9 for content, and a 7 on the literary scale.


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