John MacArthur released a new book this month, titled The Gospel According to Paul, and I received it in the mail two days ago. I just read the introduction tonight.
I have recently mentioned the Seeker Sensitive Movement, and it’s more militant offspring the Emergent Church movement, at the conclusion of a sermon I preached on 1 Cor. 15:1-8. I studied both movements in seminary, especially the Emergent movement. In a recent blog post, I spoke of how Paul Young’s The Shack was old-line liberal theology repackaged as fiction (and as a funny side note, I could even say fiction repackaged as deeper fiction, but I am not very funny so that joke may seem obscure)—but I must also add The Shack is a work thoroughly standing in the Emergent stream carrying on the subversion by fiction instead of non-fiction (or should I say drifting in the Emergent stream? Standing may be too certain and clear a term). And Paul Young has recently repudiated the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in his runaway bestseller Lies We Believe About God, a work of non-fiction to follow up his fable of fiction The Shack.
At any rate, John MacArthur gives a good synthesis of all the above in his new book. He writes:
Sadly . . . a different kind of threat arose within the evangelical movement in the form of pragmatism. By the early 1990s several seeker-sensitive megachurches were aggressively advocating a philosophy of ministry that was almost devoid of any concern about sound doctrine and very thin on biblical content. The result was a shift away from anything that could legitimately be called preaching. The Bible was purposefully relegated to a footnote or an afterthought. Speakers focused instead on themes like success in life and business, relationship advice, and whatever topics were trending in popular culture. The gospel was often omitted altogether from these motivational-style talks. Mere attendance figures were generally deemed the main measure of success and influence. I wrote about that issue as well in a book titled Ashamed of the Gospel.
When the seeker-sensitive movement became common and familiar enough, the triteness and frivolity it nurtured became distasteful to many young people who had grown up in it. The backlash gave rise to the Emergent movement, a mostly liberal and highly postmodernized repudiation of virtually everything historically deemed distinctive to evangelical Christianity. Leading voices in that movement aggressively promoted unorthodox teachings, attacked the doctrine of the atonement, denigrated the authority of Scripture, and endeavored to redesign and redefine the gospel. Perhaps most ominously, Emergents seemed to despise the concept of substitutionary atonement and all other truths related to God’s wrath against sin. This . . . was like tearing the very heart out of the gospel message.
Reflecting on those controversies, what is most surprising is that in every case, the threat I was writing about had originated within the evangelical movement. When I was in seminary, I had prepared my mind and heart to answer assaults from the world against the authority of Scripture and the truth of the gospel. I did not anticipate that so much of my time and energy would be spent trying to defend the gospel against attacks from inside the visible church—including assaults on gospel truth from respected leaders in the evangelical movement.
Meanwhile, the truth is by no means being vanquished. Some of the most encouraging growth in the church today is happening among those who take the Word of God seriously. They understand the importance of guarding the gospel, and they love sound doctrine. . . . There is currently a resurgence of Reformation values among conservative evangelical churches. That has given rise to a corresponding emphasis on biblical preaching, a newfound interest in church history, and many young people who have repudiated the rank superficiality that their parents tolerated in the name of seeker-sensitivity.
John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Paul: Embracing the Good News at the Heart of Paul’s Teachings (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2017), xxiv-xxv, xxvi.