A Gospel of Doubt: The Legacy of John MacArthur’s “The Gospel According to Jesus.” By Robert N. Wilkin. Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society. 305 pp. Paper, $22.00.
John MacArthur wrote The Gospel According to Jesus (TGAJ) in 1988. It has been very well received in the evangelical world. A new edition was published in 2008. It is safe to say that when it comes to the Lordship Salvation debate, this book is the most well-known and read.
When it was originally written, Zane Hodges, perhaps the most well-known Free Grace proponent, considered writing a specific rebuttal to the theology in TGAJ. Instead, Hodges wrote a book entitled Absolutely Free!
This book by Wilkin is a direct response to MacArthur’s book. Even though it has been over 25 years since TGAJ was first published, Wilkin’s response is needed due to the massive influence it continues to have.
Wilkin’s book responds to TGAJ in a chapter-by-chapter format. Thus, it is easy to follow. In each chapter, Wilkin explains what MacArthur teaches and gives a Free Grace response. Wilkin consistently points out that Lordship Salvation is a gospel of doubt. If anybody accepts what MacArthur says about the gospel, they will accept a gospel that does not provide assurance of salvation. In fact, Wilkin states that it is impossible to have assurance of salvation if one accepts MacArthur’s gospel (p. 146). In one footnote, Wilkin mentions that in every chapter MacArthur teaches that the professed Christian should doubt his or her salvation (p. 131). Wilkin specifically points out that if a person believes in the gospel proclaimed by MacArthur in TGAJ, he will not have believed in the Biblical gospel (p. 149).
In this book, Wilkin also points out on numerous occasions that TGAJ teaches that faith in Jesus alone is not sufficient. MacArthur does this by saying that true faith includes works. These works include things like turning from one’s sins, obedience, taking up a cross, and perseverance. Wilkin says this is a denial of the Biblical gospel.
Even though Wilkin disagrees with MacArthur on the gospel, he makes it clear that he has no personal animosity towards MacArthur. He points out that MacArthur holds many Biblical positions (p. 11). In addition, MacArthur is zealous for good works, loves God, is concerned about people, and is an outstanding preacher (p. 261). Throughout the book, Wilkin states that he wants MacArthur and those who have accepted Lordship Salvation to return to a Biblical understanding of the gospel. No works are necessary for salvation and when a person believes in Jesus Christ for eternal life they have assurance of that salvation.
Wilkin states that MacArthur is often inconsistent in what he says about the gospel. MacArthur seems to say in some places that salvation is simply by grace through faith. Then he will immediately add works to it (p. 110). There is a great deal of double speak in Lordship Salvation. For example, MacArthur says that salvation is both free and costly (p. 148).
In addition, when discussing many texts in the NT, MacArthur will add things that are not in the text. For example, he adds the requirement of being sorry for one’s sins and guilt over those sins as being necessary in order to be saved. He does this in his discussion of the first soil in the Lord’s parable of the four soils (p. 121). Of course, Jesus does not mention these additional requirements.
Wilkin’s response is that one should not interpret the Bible based upon his theological tradition as MacArthur does. Instead, he calls the reader to be like the Bereans of Acts 17:11 and search the Scriptures to see if their theological positions are correct (p. 139). In many cases, MacArthur does not cite Scripture to support his views. He simply makes pronouncements (p. 146).
Wilkin states that the issues addressed in TGAJ to which he responds are of extreme importance. Even though it is unintentional, Lordship Salvation is guilty of the same type of willful sin that the author of Hebrews addresses in Hebrews 10. It maintains that the shed blood of Christ is not sufficient to pay for our sins. We must contribute to our salvation by taking up our crosses and follow Christ until death (p. 180). The book ends with the same appendices that end TGAJ. The first appendix deals with what other writers of the NT said about the gospel. The second addresses how Christendom has understood the gospel in the past. The third lists a number questions from readers that MacArthur answered.
This is an outstanding book. It discusses many of the parables of the Lord as well as passages like James 2. Even if a person is not familiar with the Lordship Salvation and Free Grace debate, this book will be very informative. Wilkin takes the teachings of the Lord that MacArthur discusses and does what MacArthur does not. He looks at the context of these teachings and gives a Biblically based understanding. It is a breath of fresh air to see once again that the Lord offers eternal life completely free. Assurance is part of that offer. This book is a reminder that the truth is not always found in what is the most popular view of the day. Due to the great amount of influence that TGAJ has had on the evangelical church, Wilkin’s book provides an excellent refutation to a gospel that distorts the free offer of eternal life. I highly recommend this book.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society