Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review (#31 of 2011) Slave by John MacArthur

Slave: The Hidden Truth About Your Identity in Christ was sent to us for free by mail. It's actually my first MacArthur book to read, though I'm fairly familiar with his teaching.

The MacArthur disciples I've known tend to be dogmatic and quick to judge (I'm stating my bias outright). I would describe their approach to Scripture as "hyper-sola scriptura," usually culminating in the idea that the Bible is so perspicacious that everything that can be known about God is found in its pages, and anyone can discover all there is to know about God by studying it hard enough.  I know one pastor who attended MacArthur's seminary who claimed he could unseal the prophecies given to Daniel (that God says are intentionally sealed until the endtimes) just by studying it harder.  (Daniel apparently didn't study them hard enough, nor did anyone else over the millenia.)  The Holy Spirit seems a minor player, and the idea that "none of us read the Bible alone" seems anathema to MacArthurian thought (though I'm not certain of MacArthur's own stances). 

MacArthur lapses into that caricature at one point in the book (Pg. 75):
“Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching...usurp Christ’s headship, silencing His voice to His sheep... That kind of devastating approach steals the mind of Christ away from the body of Christ...and quenches the work of His Spirit...and sows seeds of compromise. It deflects the honor due to the true head of the church, and the Lord does not take kindly to those who would steal His glory.”  

So, if your pastor preaches a topical sermon he is stealing Christ's glory.  If your church has a ministry, like youth ministry, that is not found in Scripture then it's "devastating."

However, Slave is a good word-study, and MacArthur draws on a large amount of sources who examine the use of the word and the context of slavery that OT and NT writers would have been familiar with in writing the words. One modern study that he draws on a lot is Murray Harris' Slave of Christ.He also draws on many historical church figures.  If you like books with footnotes taking up half the page, then this is a good one. 
The Hebrew word for slave ‘ebed’ is used metaphorically to describe believers (more than 250 times) NT use of the Greek word doulos is similar. It is used at least 40 times in NT to denote relationship of believers to divine master.  An additional 30 NT passages use doulos to teach truths about Christian life.  (Pg. 12)
The Greek word “kyrios” for Lord is used 750 times in NT, fundamentally meaning “master” or “owner”... relational counterpart to doulos. No slave is greater than his “kyrios” (Pg. 77)

MacArthur wrote the book because of what he sees as an "unintentional cover-up" by modern translations and teachers to re-interpret "slave" as something less harsh.  While the KJV translates the word as "servant," this is problematic because servants are hired and slaves are owned. 

Roman slaves had no recognized personality, they were not considered people and had no rights. While there are examples of abusive owners being publicly shamed or facing penalties, there are plenty of examples of abuse.  However, slaves were allowed to be educated and it wasn't rare to find a slave who was a tailor, or a physician, or other skilled trader.  But a slave's worth was based solely upon the worth of his master.  In cases where slaves were freed, they were usually given Roman citizenship.  There are many recorded cases of slaves becoming adopted as sons of the master, which also provides some metaphorical imagery. 

MacArthur draws on John Newton (of Amazing Grace fame) to illustrate the difference between the African slave trade and the Roman one. The major difference being that African slavery was based on racism, whereas Roman slavery was not--slaves were of every race. African slaves were forbidden to learn to read in the American South and if granted freedom were restricted in other ways dissimilar to the Roman time period, where full rights of citizenship were usually bestowed.  But other than that, the life of a Roman slave wasn't much better than an African one--a point MacArthur emphasizes. 

The NT is explicit that we are either slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. Newton's words paint the image most vividly, as he was most familiar with the slave trade having both been a trader and also subject to being enslaved himself for a brief time. Christ frees us from our sins and binds us to Him as His slaves. Even in early church history, believers referred to one another as "fellow slaves."  Ignatius (c. 50-110 a.d.) wrote about the "bishop together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves." The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 130 a.d.) refers to believers as "slaves of God."  I was reminded of the headstone I saw in Ankara of "John" who was known in death as "the slave of God." We don't like to use those terms today. 

MacArthur explores a paradox, for we are also adopted as Sons of God. Pg. 175-176:
"Through Christ we have been set free. We are no longer slaves to sin, to the fear of death, or the condemnation of the Law. But we have been made slaves of God, for Christ, to righteousness. Such is true freedom. Thus, we are simultaneously sons and slaves. The two realities are not mutually exclusive--even if the metaphors are different. Forever we will be part of His family. Forever we will be in His glorious servitude." 

(The above passage contains sixteen NT references footnoted.)   MacArthur deals with John 15:15 where Jesus told His disciples "No longer do I call you slaves...but I have called you friends."  Pg. 176:
"At first glance, it seems as if He might be obliterating the slave metaphor altogether. But such is not the case, as evidenced by the fact that the disciples continued to refer to themselves as 'slaves of Christ' long afterwards...Moreover, Jesus defined friendship as submission to Him: 'You are My friends if you do what I command you' (John 15:14)...That Jesus views believers as both friends and slaves is supported by a host of New Testament passages."

We are also citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, another aspect that MacArthur explores.MacArthur explores how many NT Christians were both actual slaves or owners of slaves, like Philemon. Slaves are exhorted to work "as for the Lord" and masters are exhorted to treat their slaves well with the understanding that they themselves are slaves of the Master. 

MacArthur spends several chapters delving into how the proper contextual understanding of the word "slave" jives with theological Calvinism (which MacArthur never calls Calvinism, but rather "doctrines of Grace.").  Slaves had no choice about their ownership, and neither do we as the elect. The imagery of slavery and submission are difficult for all modern believers, and generally rejected by various modern liberal traditions I run into, which helped motivate MacArthur to write Slave. I recommend it as a study and as a good reference for other historical works dealing with the issue. 

In all, 3.5 stars out of 5.

5 comments: said...

One of my favorite MacArthur unbiblical but yet biblical random moments. Was at Together for the Gospel when Mohler taught on contextualization and exegeting the culture. They had a panel discussion afterwards and asked MacArthur about it and he basically said I don't do that I exegete the Scriptures we don’t need to study culture. I live in LA, read the LA times, and talk to people in LA so why would I need to exegete the culture. It was kinda funny because Mohler said that is exegeting the culture you just call it something different.

JDTapp said...

He similarly uses very many extra-biblical sources in this book to exegete the NT culture.

Paul J. Sohn said...

This is by one of the most profound and life-altering books I've ever read in my life. Thank you for the summary. The key point is understanding the relationship with slave/master. We were bought with a hefty price - the very blood of Christ. What is amazing is how we find true freedom in slavery in Christ. That's amazing. Here's another post that complements yours. Thank you!

benotdeceived said...

If you check the endnotes in John MacArthur’s book, Slave, you will find that most of them reference the heretical works of Gnostic, modernist and postmodern scholars who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. Many of these scholars are rabidly anti-Christian and their works, which MacArthur recommends as authoritative, are filled with slander and blasphemy of the Lord Jesus Christ.

For example, John MacArthur favorably references Dale B. Martin’s book, Slavery as Salvation, on page 38 because it likens the Christian life to the abusive institution of slavery in the Roman Empire. Dale B. Martin is Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University, an admitted homosexual and author of a blasphemous book titled Sex and the Single Savior which portrays Jesus as a homosexual. John MacArthur never discloses Prof. Martin’s true identity in Slave.

Another scholar whose translation of Gnostic writings is recommended by MacArthur is Bart D. Ehrman, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prof. Ehrman is a New Testament critic who claims that he was an evangelical Christian until he discovered “errors” in the Bible. Dr. Ehrman now writes books which debunk the New Testament and advocate for Gnostic forgeries such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot to replace the New Testament canon.

Slave is a best-seller among young Christians who are led to believe that the sources referenced therein are Christian books, or at least neutral historical sources. Theological heretics Dale Martin and Bart Ehrman are only two of many academics of the “Jesus Seminar” variety whose scholarship is recommended without an honest identification or disclaimer to warn the reader. By concealing the identity and agenda of his sources, John MacArthur is deceptively promoting Gnostic books and the Gnostic heresy to many young Christians who are not yet established in the faith.

For documentation and detailed information on the heretical sources in Slave, please read the following expose:

Justin Tapp said...

Well, benotdeceived, your website is the most interesting thing I've read today. Thanks for posting.