Book Review: In Defense of the Gospel

In Defense of The GospelOften authors will provide humble but shameless support for their own books. But I don’t know if I have ever read a personal endorsement that compares to the magnitude of Lou Martuneac’s verdict on his own book, In Defense of the Gospel, when he writes, “In my opinion there is not a single work on the market that brings as comprehensive and balanced an answer to the Lordship position as my book does” (p. 25). Yet my expectations were not as high as Lou’s because earlier the author commented, “Much of what I have written is along the order of ‘milk’ for the relatively new or untrained believer” … “most at risk” … and a “primary target of the pro-Lordship advocates” (p. 22). I would think someone at risk of being swayed by false teaching ought to sit a little higher as a student in order to grapple with more detailed, precise theological instruction on the Gospel and quit the milk-only diet.

And another disappointment for this reviewer right at the start of Lou’s book was the suggestion “to read Appendix C – What About Calvinism?” (p. 24). I did. And even as a pastor presently positioned not as a “five-point Calvinist” (and looked upon by other Calvinists as either inconsistent or as altogether incompatible with the theological system), I was insulted by the author’s superficial caricature of the doctrines of grace. But turning back to page 24, I should not have been surprised. Because Lou continued, “If you are interested in reading a thorough work on Calvinism I am going to suggest a fairly recent publication … May I suggest you purchase Dave Hunt’s, What Love Is This: Calvinism’s Misrepresentation of God. This book is the most comprehensive work I have read on the subject. It is comprehensive, fair, balanced and highly readable.” Yet do I find “Berean” Dave Hunt “comprehensive, fair, and balanced” with the text of Romans 9? Hardly. And incidentally, though Calvin was far from perfect, his teachings happen to be a healthy corrective to some of the full-blown, pulsating, swallowing Latter Day Saint Arianism (borderline neo-Pelagianism) in the intermountain West.

So Lou put me in a bad mood before I could hardly get out of the opening gates of his book. But with respect for Lou as a Christian college professor and missionary, I went through every chapter and appendix.

There are some conservative church ministries and/or Christian books that I feel very limited in liberty for open critique especially when the other brother-in-Christ is unavailable for Internet comment. But since Lou’s book is advertised on SI and the author has apparently posted on the website, I felt quite free to post a series of questions following brief excerpts in the book. Here goes.

  1. Lou–“A system that seeks to add a ritual, a sacrament, commitment, or any good work to the finished work of Jesus Christ can be identified as a false gospel through the addition” (p. 29). Does any evangelistic presentation requiring prayers also qualify as a false gospel? And right after this particular citation in the book, there is an illustration of D. L. Moody witnessing to a Mormon (p. 29). Is the author implying that the Lordship Salvation doctrine taught by John MacArthur, whom the author references more than 100 times throughout the book, ought to be on the same heretical footings as Mormonism, that MacArthur’s exegesis is no better than Robert Millet’s eisegesis on the Gospel? And does the author realize that carnal Christianity is the best advertisement for Mormonism? In fact, I have stories by the boatload of “carnal Christians” converting to Mormonism.
  2. James Montgomery Boice in the foreword of MacArthur’s book, The Gospel According to Jesus, “ … they are mistaken–dreadfully mistaken and they need to be shown their error from Scripture, which is what this book does. They also need to be shown that their view has never been the view of any major Bible teacher or theologian in the church until our own weak times” (p. 34). Is Boice attacking all opponents of Lordship Salvation as the author seems to suggest, or is he just zeroing in on all the Dallas doctrine, for example, some of the deficiency of Ryrie and then extreme statements of Zane Hodges?
  3. Lou–“Recently I have spoken with two pastors who, by clear evidence in their own sermons, are men who irrefutably hold to the Lordship position. In both cases when I asked if they preach Lordship Salvation, they said, they do not. These men reject the use of the term ‘Lordship Salvation’ to describe their position on the gospel. When asked therefore, if they believe Lordship Salvation is their interpretation of the gospel, they believe they are being honest when they say no” (p. 40). Will the author not concede that there is great elasticity among pastors’ positions in regards to “Lordship Salvation” as well as “Calvinism,” and that some in either camp might not find it desirable to lump themselves with others that claim the same umbrella title?
  4. Lou–“The Calvinist believes in an Unconditional Election. That means those who are not of the elect are preordained to Hell” (p. 51). Can one believe in the unconditional election to heaven but not the unconditional election to hell? And does belief in unconditional election to heaven have to imply the elimination of human responsibility or have to be categorized as sheer determinism or fatalism?
  5. Lou–“To say that salvation is at the same time both free and costly is not a paradox” (p. 62). So would the author consider any paradox in the Gospel; and if so, where?
  6. Lou–“These men have suggested that submission in discipleship is necessary as faith in order to be saved” (p. 62). But is Jim Wallis really in the same category doctrinally in believing the Gospel as James Merritt, John Stott, and J. I. Packer? Let me illustrate. Seventy years ago, Frank Capra directed a famous, romantic, comedy film, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Jim Wallis, Tony C., and the younger but wildly popular Shane Claiborne would use the film as a good sermon both religiously and politically and probably title it, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Heaven.” But the latter men Lou quoted would not.
  7. On the back cover, “For much of the last decade advocates of Lordship Salvation have dominated the forum.” I don’t know about that. The Calvary Chapels and CSN (Calvary Satellite Network, headquartered in Twin Falls, Idaho) dominate Southeastern Idaho. So there is a steady diet of Dave Hunt, recorded messages of J. Vernon McGee, and a host of other conservative evangelical, anti-Lordship Salvation contenders. Don’t you think it all depends upon where you live? I am sure that Lordship Salvation among all “professing evangelicals” in Southern California is more diminished than what exists among all the reformed evangelical culture of South Africa and all their various degrees of belief and distortion over Lordship salvation. Pastor Doug Van Meter in Lou’s book does sound extreme.
  8. Lou–“The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) does not deal with salvation; it talks about discipleship (p. 78). Huh? No scrap of Gospel in the Lord’s sermon to all the masses of people? What about the Kingdom of Heaven? And how to enter it? Obviously, the author is biased against D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. So the spiritual classic, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount would either go unread or be sniffed out for heresy. But what about reading The Sermon on the Mount (1978) by D.A. Carson?
  9. Lou–“Dear reader, do not allow the Lordship teacher to rob you of your joy and confidence in the finished work of Christ” (p. 79). Still puzzled. John MacArthur’s latest study Bible is pulling me away from my joy in the finished work of Christ?
  10. Lou–“The book of Romans was written by the Apostle Paul. He was writing about his own struggles with carnality” (p. 89). Is this the main purpose of Romans 7?
  11. A quote from Charles Bing, “While affirming that Christians can fall into sin, and act carnally, one Lordship author proposes that ‘carnal Christian’ is a ‘contradiction in terms’ ” (p. 91). Don’t even unbelievers look upon the carnal Christians in local assemblies as perfect examples of contradiction in terms? Paul fervently contrasts the carnal mind with the spiritual mind in Romans 8.
  12. There is an extended portion of a sermon by Joel Mullenix, “What Is The Gospel?” (pp. 98-102). I am showing my ignorance. Is this man still a professor at PCC and does he believe man needs to show repentance in order to be saved? I disagree with him about speculating over the matter of King Saul in the Old Testament as being a carnal Christian whom we will see in heaven.
  13. Lou–“Lordship advocates make behavior, not believing, the key to eternal life and evidence of a genuine conversion. That doctrine is certainly not the gospel of the Apostles, nor the doctrine according to Jesus” (p. 130). But isn’t a changed life “evidence of a genuine conversion”? And I know clearly Grace Community Church elders do not make personal works the means to appropriate saving grace. Compare LDS Robert Millet’s book, Grace Works, with MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus. There are huge chasms between the two soteriological systems, night and day different from each other. Millet, not MacArthur, is the example of one who muddily exchanges forensic justification for progressive sanctification and refuses to clearly share with his Mormon and “Christian” readers the whole picture of MacArthur’s belief about the Gospel. This is what I call a “spread insidious” (p. 23).
  14. Lou–“It is clear that John MacArthur, representing the Lordship position, makes salvation conditional not on simple belief, but also on the addition of a work of man in order to earn the free gift of God” (p. 155). I would think that any conservative evangelical or fundamentalist who places a statement like this in public print to be sold to the masses ought to spend some face-to-face interaction and clarification with John MacArthur. Is John really sneakily upholding a conditional salvation under the masquerade of unconditional election?
  15. A quote from Charles Bing–“The forsaking of one’s possessions, or the willingness to do so is never made a condition of salvation in other evangelistic encounters in the New Testament” (p. 160). If an unsaved man flat out questioned while you were witnessing to him, “Do I have to give up Mammon as my master?”—Do we ignore this Holy Spirit conviction?
  16. Lou tucks in between Colossians 2:9 and John 8:24, “If He is not God, he is not the Savior” (p. 172). Amen! And additionally, I pose this question. If Christ is denied the position of Master, how can He be a true Shepherd?
  17. A quote from Robert Lightner, “The term Lord in Acts 16:31–or anywhere else it is used of Christ–does not mean Master over one’s life. Rather it is a descriptive title of who He is–the sovereign God” (p. 185). I agree 100% that the title declares Christ as sovereign God. But does not sovereignty imply mastery? Do not people deny the existence of God because they do not want to be accountable to this God? To be fair and balanced, where is the biblical data that supports “lord” as meaning master in Lou’s book? How come there is an absence of where kurios is actually translated “master” by the King James translators? Is this not important for proper exegesis?
  18. According to Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Romans 10:9-10, if a professing Christian refuses to “confess Christ openly and without shame” (p. 178) and shows no remorse about this, is there really in existence a union of Christ and the individual?
  19. Lou–“Dr. Piper also believes regeneration must precede faith, which I define as one of the identifying marks of a hyper-Calvinist” (p. 236). Really? This is gracious balance? Is Dr. Piper actually at the top end of a super-duper, Calvinism hyperness? What then would the author think of Jonathan Edwards, one of the godliest theologians whom God had graciously placed in America? Has the author ever written Dr. Piper to consider what other examples he might offer of “hyper-Calvinism”?
  20. And the granddaddy of all by Lou in my opinion: “It is somewhat ironic that if you identify a brother who is promoting a false gospel and biblically mark him, he will likely accuse you of being divisive” (p. 211). Ironic? How can the author use the exegesis of Mark Minnick on Romans 16:17 for the purpose of targeting the doctrine of John MacArthur or Mike Harding in their interpretational nuances of the deep matters of the Gospel when we are all swimming in water over our heads? I am dumbfounded, flabbergasted, confounded by the main thesis of Lou’s book. It is preposterous! Lou offers this translation of Romans 16:17 toward the Lordship Salvation contenders as though they were Lordship Judaizers, “Now brethren, I strongly urge you to look at, to fix your eyes upon those who produce and author divisions and stumbling blocks contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and I command you to continually shun, avoid, turn aside, and deviate from them” (p. 216). Once again among independent Baptists, it is biblical separation gone amuck, a Romans 16:17 too narrowly nuanced. In my opinion, the thesis of this book is way out of line.

OK, I need to settle down before Lou thinks I am going through reincarnation as “hot lead” or that I am beating the drums for a “spiritualized tar and feathering” (p. 23). I am not. So let me say, I agree exactly with what he writes on page 231.

It would seem reasonable to me that men who claim the Bible as their sole authority should meet together and discuss their doctrinal positions, which we had pressed for all along. This at least allows for a better mutual understanding, if not reconciliation. The Bible teaches that doctrine is the basis for all unity and practice. How then can men call for unity while simultaneously being unwilling to openly discuss their doctrinal positions?

On a positive note, let me then close with some remarkably good quotes and an interjection of humor in the last selected excerpt.

  1. Lou–“The Bible teaches that a man is saved by God’s grace when he repents and places his faith in the substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (p. 31). Lou is not camped in the Zane Hodges’ mental-assent-only theory for salvation.
  2. Lou–“It is possible to make a heretical statement without being a heretic. Always begin by giving the benefit of the doubt” (p. 44). I am taking this quote out of the author’s context. But I remember in seminary when our systematic theology professor passionately quizzed our precision over Trinitarian belief. It was amazing how dangerously close many of us seminarian newbies were to heresy, revealed by the professor’s test sections of “match the statement to the heresy or orthodoxy.” Believe me. I was sweating.
  3. Lou–“There are three aspects involved in biblical repentance. They are intellect, emotion, and volition” (p. 114). Yes, A.H. Strong’s systematic theology discussing all three elements is excellent.
  4. A Spurgeon quote–“If thy faith be fixed on Christ, though it seems to be in itself a line no thicker than a spider’s cobweb, it will hold thy soul throughout time and eternity. For remember, it is not the thickness of this cable of faith, it is the strength of the anchor which imparts strength to the cable” (p. 133). It is the Object of my weak faith that gives me the whole foundation for sustained, personal assurance of salvation. Thank you, Lou, for bringing out this excellent emphasis. But just as a sidenote, it never ceases to amaze me how Spurgeon is a hero for Lordship and Free-grace, Particular and Non-particular, Independent and Southern (even the renegade Saddleback guru himself), Reformed and Dispensational, Topical and Textual Baptist preachers of all stripes and sizes. Today’s admiration in 2006 truly vindicates Spurgeon and the touch of God upon his ministry. (Unfortunately, preachers love to find “infallible” quotes by Spurgeon to put power behind their own theological biases. Here is one of the latest and greatest Spurgeon quotes that I just saw this week on a Baptist conference flyer: “We believe Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the Reformation. We were reformers before Luther or Calvin were born; we never came from the church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the very days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents” [April 2, 1861]. But do you think Charles Spurgeon would separate from Grace Community Church because they don’t have “Baptist” in their name?)
  5. “Christian leaders are generally willing to expose doctrinal error in denominational or fellowship circles outside their own, but there is a tendency to recoil when error is pointed out within one’s own sphere of fellowship” (p. 203). I found this statement true and humorous. Yet has the author ever heard the position of the site founder and owner of on the downside danger of fellowships? And do young fundamentalist (YF) bloggers have any reticence at all for tearing to shreds the inconsistency of the independent Baptist fundamentalist leaders of their upbringing?

In conclusion, Lou’s book does carry some solid truth and treasure; it is just scanty in the spiritual nourishing of one’s heart among the lopsided exegetical argumentation, mucky contending, superficial equipping, and chiefly, the unbalanced (Rom. 16:17) invoking. But I suppose Lou feels safely backed up by the men’s articles in the appendix from John VanGelderen, Fred Moritz, George Zeller, H.A. Ironside, Kevin Brosnan, and Stewart Custer.

Todd Wood is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He received his B.A. in Missions, M.A. in Theology, and M.Div. from Bob Jones University. But more than anything he hungers for the A.I.G. degree affixed to Apelles (Rom. 16:10).

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