“Hard to Believe” is another hard-hitting, no-holds-barred strike against the modern church. Much as he did years ago in “Ashamed of the Gospel”, MacArthur takes aim at easy-believism and a watered-down, seeker-friendly gospel. In particular, he criticizes the influence of those who preach self-esteem, a health and wealth gospel and aim to be overly seeker-friendly. This book forceful – so much so that there were several places where the force of his words and his anger at the perversion of the gospel shocked me and stopped me short. MacArthur’s righteous indignation reminded me of Spurgeon who wrote many similar books and essays in his day. In case you are wondering more specifically who he is writing about, the only person he mentions by name is Robert Schuller and his infamously antibiblical book “Self Esteem: The New Reformation.” However, it is easy to see shades of many popular Bible teachers if one reads between the lines.
While I have utmost respect for MacArthur and regard him as one of my most trusted Bible teachers, I often find that he speaks out against a caricature of a movement rather than a more accurate portrayal. He tends to speak in generalities and criticize a worst-case scenario. I suppose this is necessary lest he speak out against a specific person or church, yet it does cause his words to lose some of their impact. I have been heavily exposed to the seeker-friendly movement and have found that much of it is not as badly corrupted as he would indicate. Despite that small complaint, this book is powerful and contains a clear depiction of the gospel. And even more important, it contains a clear call to maintain the purity of the gospel and to ensure that the church continues to focus on preaching the pure gospel. To allow unbelievers to influence our churches to such an extent that we replace the gospel with something friendlier to the unregenerate is to deviate from God’s plan and further, is to lead the church into inevitable decay. The gospel is not meant to be kind to unbelievers; it is meant to either convict or offend. As with all MacArthur’s books, he quotes liberally from Scripture and exposits God’s word to the reader. Few men are more gifted in that task than he is.
I did find one particularly troubling statement in the book. One page 93 MacArthur writes, “Salvation isn’t the result of an intellectual exercise. It comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the Scripture; it’s the fruit of actions, not intentions. There’s no room for passive spectators: words without actions are empty and futile… The life we live, not the words we speak, determines our eternal destiny.” While I agree that faith and actions can not be separated, to say “salvation…comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ” is dangerous ground. I know enough about MacArthur to understand he is not preaching salvation by works, but one could easily understand his words to mean that. In his eagerness to criticize the seeker-friendly gospel, it seems he almost begins to advocate works-righteousness.
“Hard to Believe” presents the gospel as it is – as something that is more than hard, but actually impossible to believe without the Spirit’s help. Watering it down - making it easy to believe - can never succeed. When we tamper with the gospel we tamper with the very wisdom of God, who saw fit to share news that is so foolish that none can believe it without His illumination. Our job is to preach the gospel, and full gospel, and leave the results to God. “Then, instead of being unbelievable and foolish, these words that are so hard to believe become the only balm that soothes a sinful heart…Those hard words become precious and welcome and treasured. ‘All that the Father gives to Christ, they will come.’ They will come. Our calling is to reach them with the truth.” (page 215) That very truth is the foundation of this book.
I am happy to recommend this book. I believe it would make an interesting companion to “Ashamed of the Gospel” which covers much of the same material but from an earlier perspective. While “Ashamed of the Gospel” serves as a warning, “Hard to Believe” serves as a wake-up call. And truly the church needs to wake up and return to the clear, forceful preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ!