Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Final Thoughts on Slave

I finished reading John MacArthur's new book "Slave: the hidden truth about your identity in Christ" back on January 14th. Before I started reading Slave I had intended to do a huge review of the work. All the way back on January 13th I recorded my initial impressions of the book.  As I was formulating those initial impressions I was still expecting Slave to be the focus of a detailed review, and a new focal point in the pro/anti Lordship Salvation heresy discussion. I stand by my initial impressions, but my anticipation would have been better spent waiting on the ketchup to come out of a bottle...

Since that time, perhaps, some of you have been anticipating my review of the book. After-all I've been saying that I would review it. In the two months since I finished reading Slave I've been contemplating how to review it fairly. I’ve decided to do less than a review and simply offer my “final thoughts” on the book. I had expected a much stronger work that would need to be answered in detail. I expected it to be compelling. I expected it to at least almost live up to how it was promoted.

Well before I get ahead of myself let's look at the promotional video for Slave. Even if you've seen it before please watch it again.  Back in December I described this video as the Bible X-Files, and I think that description is pretty close to the mark.

The very first words of this promotional video, spoken by Dr. John MacArthur himself, are "Exploring the New Testament I uncovered a distortion truth when it came to the word doulos." So Dr. MacArthur claims to have uncovered a distortion of truth when it comes to the word doulos. I want you to get this claim straight from his own mouth - because it is central to one of the most common criticisms of the book.

According to the hardcover is 240 pages long (I read it using the Kindle app on my Macbook Pro and iPod Touch). Though MacArthur claims there has been a cover-up of biblical proportions to hide an essential truth from the world he has 373 references, and a full chapter entitled "Voices From Church History"... it is true that some chapters have several scripture references, so we can take maybe 30 references out of that number... that would still give us around 343 references of other people telling us about the word doulos. On my kindle app the references for each short chapter are several pages long. The video for the book makes this “cover-up” sound, well impressive. The book makes the failed attempt seem pathetic, or perhaps it may make one think there was no cover-up at all.

When I read and reviewed MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus, I found myself getting upset with the man. The book was filled with proof-texts (out of context short quotations of Scripture) and conjecture. He would posit something over a number of pages – without support from the Scriptures, then move on to another topic which would be supported by saying since we know such and such is true then… and the such and such would be whatever he had just posited without support. I really thought it was intentional, and perhaps I still feel like some of it was. Now though, I’m beginning to think he has been blinded by his own argument. He’s not able to imagine a real argument against it so he doesn’t even bother to try to support what he claims.

Slave is, in my opinion after having read it and then considered it for two months, is a shockingly limp, lazy and loose work which doesn’t even make a point let alone bother to argue for it. I realize that Slave is just one cog in a machine designed to drive MacArthur readers to embrace the theology that I can only describe as the Lordship Salvation heresy. The whole system might be described like this:
Christians are slaves, Roman slaves had no will of their own and were totally subjected to their masters, Christians therefore have this same relationship with their Master, Jesus Christ, therefore Lordship Salvation is true and one cannot be saved unless they are completely, radically, fully, wholly, subjected to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every aspect of their life, for their entire life time.
Previous works by MacArthur fit later in the system than Slave does. Slave is an enterance book – a means to draw new followers of Lordship Salvation.  It’s a lite read, doesn’t draw too many conclusions and so won’t stir up many objections in the mind of a novice to the topic.

When I gave my initial reaction to a Brother I’m accountable to in regard to these matters, he counselled me not to make the review about the last page of the book. What is that last page? An advertisement for the Slave study guide.  Sadly it appears to me that the book has two purposes; first to give the impression that the word doulos can only mean “slave” and that the Roman slave trade is the definition of Christianity, without exploring what that really means to the individual; and second to sell the study guide. There is no good example of exegesis in this book. He quotes several passages but does not dig into any of them to any great depth at all. Perhaps the study guide does?

The problem is that the person who reads Slave and then decides to get the study guide has likely already bought into the Roman slave trade view of Christianity based on MacArthur’s convincing before they ever get a chance to examine the Scriptures. This is a horrible reversal of how theology is supposed to be developed in a Christian’s mind. Our understanding is to be driven by the Scriptures, not the other way around. Of course one might bring up that the Bereans listened to Paul first and then went to the Scriptures but I caution to you read what is said of the noble Bereans. Acts 17:11 They listened to Paul with ready minds and then went to the Scriptures to see if what he said was actually true. They did not listen to Paul and then have him lead them in a study. Likewise we ought to obey 1Thes 5:21

One sincere person recently showed a clear example of what happens when you get this wrong. In so doing he gave me the push I needed to actually finish this blog article. I will paraphrase him anonymously because I’m reasonably sure he would not want to be quoted.  

Why not just let the Word speak for itself? The word is doulos and it only means “slave.” Look it up, it’s Strong’s # 1401. 
Do you see the system I described above in this man's words? Do you see how if this teaching style is used, this one word can define Christianity without even the aid (not to mention the correction) of the rest of Scripture? If not, hopefully you will before the end of this article.

Following the same pattern that I found so offensive in The Gospel According to Jesus; in Slave MacArthur makes the argument that doulos only means slave, and therefore Christianity is like Roman slavery, and every time the Lord spoke of a person doing work, or being employed by someone else He was actually using what MacArthur calls “slave language” to show what true Christianity is. It is a brilliant practice to employ with people who will not test your argument rigorously.

You may have noticed in the video that MacArthur ties the word “bought” into the equation of understanding that true Christians are slaves of Christ. This of course gets discussed in the book as well. Frankly, it is an understanding of redemption that is corrupted by forcing the doctrine of Limited Atonement on it.

If those whom Christ bought are all “doulos” to Him, and if the word doulos can only mean slave, and this defines Christianity as slavery to Christ then all those who are bought are slaves in total subjection to Him. This is how Slave helps you think, and it is the intent of the paraphrased quote above.

2Peter 2:1-3

 1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.
Here are a group of false prophets who were “bought” by the Lord. Most obviously these people are going to be destroyed in judgment – they will be going to the Lake of Fire. These are not saved people.
But what if I’m wrong, what if they are saved people who have gone astray and will face harsh judgement at the Judgment Seat of Christ, being "saved as though by fire"? 1Cor 3:9-15 Even that doesn’t help the MacArthur doctrine. The problem remains, they are either bought and going to be destroyed or they are bought and most obviously not in subjection to the Lordship of Christ in every aspect of their lives. There is no solution for the MacArthur doctrine in this example.

That ought to be enough, but Scripture is actually full of examples that show the complete failure of MacArthur’s doctrine. We’ll look at just one more.

Were the Corinthians saved people? Yes. Were they bought? Yes. (hint: Jesus Christ paid for everyone, and everything at the Cross. The Cross wasn’t just about the Elect because it wasn’t just about people – it was about all of Creation.)

Anyway let’s look at the Corinthians.

1Cor 6:20

For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
Paul is telling them that because they were bought that they are to glorify God in their bodies and spirits. Why would you have to tell someone to do this if they were a slave, without will and in total subjection to the Lordship of Christ? Were they saved or not?
OK well one Lordship Salvation proponent might say that since all Creation was bought by the Lord on the Cross, that Paul giving a Gospel presentation, a salvation appeal even! Well no, actually the Corinthians Paul was writing to had long before received the Gospel; as we read back in Acts 18.

Acts 18:5-8
5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. 6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook  his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." 7 And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.
Paul was preaching that Jesus is the Christ, though many Jews rejected this message many of the Corinthians heard, believed and were baptized. These are saved people, and yet they went on to have a famously fleshy assembly filled with all kinds of infighting and sexual immorality. So can it be said that these bought and saved Christians lived in a Roman slave-like relationship to Christ for all their days? If you think they did, please… please read 1st and 2nd Corinthians.

In this article I have followed the example of the noble Bereans. I have listened to what MacArthur has taught and then I have gone to the Scriptures to see if what he teaches is true; it is not. I therefore must reject what he teaches in accordance with 1Thes 5:21.

Slave is a disappointing read and it builds a false view of Salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.  


Jan said...

What? Over 300 references to doulos by other Christians, including Strong, that reference doulos as slave? No cover up after all?

Oh poo.

Do you suppose his next book will be "Never Mind"?


Kevl said...

Heheh Jan, actually I think the next book ought to be called GREEK!

Here's a potential teaser:

"It started with just one word; doulos. Dr. John MacArthur uncovered a conspiracy of biblical proportions to cover up its true meaning, and he saved us from it. Now, an even bigger conspiracy has been uncovered by the Dr! The WHOLE NEW TESTAMENT wasn't actually written in English! It's a cover up of Biblical... errr.... UNIVERSAL proportions and Dr. John MacArthur will reveal yet another thing that has completely changed his view of Christianity!




Kevl said...

On a more serious note... how many times in his professional preaching career has John MacArthur had his understanding of Christianity completely changed?

When he preached through Matthew for 7 years he discovered Lordship Salvation... when he read a book on a plane he discovered Roman Slavery Christianity... what's next? What other things have completely changed his view and at what point do his followers say - "Dude, if you aren't sure what Christianity actually is perhaps you should spend less time at the pulpit and more time in the pews..." ????


Jan said...


I thought in his latest TGATJ he said his views are essentially the same as they were 20+ years ago.

I am getting confused...:(


Lou Martuneac said...


You wrote,

"Slave is an enterance book – a means to draw new followers of Lordship Salvation. It’s a lite read, doesn’t draw too many conclusions and so won’t stir up many objections in the mind of a novice to the topic."

This, probably more so than his previous books on LS, is what facilitates the insidious spread of Lordship's errors. It is so much like the cults, create a void, in this case, however, a convenient conspiracy, lead and tease with what on the surface appears to be sound answers, with Lordship Salvation's radical departures from Truth covered with a veneer of Divine authority.

Thanks for doing a workman's job of exposing this apologetic for Lordship Salvation's works based, man centered theology.


Kevl said...

Hi Lou,

Thanks for the comment - especially since I did stray from your suggestions somewhat.

You are correct about how this book, and these types of arguments, fit into the the landscape of efforts to spread the bad news of Lordship Salvation.



Lou Martuneac said...


Since his first edition of The Gospel According to Jesus (1988), MacArthur has become much more subtle. Th first had some glaring and obvious excesses, which he toned down in the later two editions. However, his teaching is no less dangerous and erroneous. The problem is that his Lordship Salvation gospel is not as easily detected by the unsuspecting as it was with the first TGATJ.

Thanks again,


Glenn said...

Hi Kevin,

First I want to thank you for going to all of the work and then publishing a review. I find work like this to be very valuable.

Secondly I wanted to share something with you. After reading your post I went out to the Wenstrom Bible Ministries web site and read Bill Wenstrom's word study of doulos (link here). Two things really jumped out at me after reading the word study:

1. From the lexicons that were quoted I see no reason to believe that the meaning of doulos was hidden for almost two millenia. It just doesn't ring true.

2. The Greek concept of slavery was very different from the Jewish concept of slavery. It appears that John MacArthur has decided that the Greek concept of slavery is the one that the authors of the New Testament were using. I have a really hard time believing that. The authors of the New Testament were mostly, if not all, Jews. Why would they start thinking like Greeks just because they wrote using Koine Greek?

That was very interesting and please keep up the good work.


Liam Moran said...


This book is yet another work of MacArthur’s in what is a long-standing history of highly controversial works that emphasize perseverance, fruit, obedience, turning of one's sins, willingness to obey, submission of Christ’s Lordship and now the demands of slavery for one to believe in and be saved by.

Most of what he says in this book is nothing new from his previous works. He just takes a new angle on the debate by arguing from doulos.

Stephen said...

Agreed. And, speaking of "turning from sins" as a requirement for salvation, what of 2 Cor 12:21? If Paul is writing to those he considers saved believers, and I think he is, this is one (of many) problem for the Lordship view.

"21 I fear that when I come my God will again humiliate me in your presence, and I will grieve for many who sinned before and have not repented of the moral impurity, sexual immorality, and promiscuity they practiced." -- 2 Cor 12:21 HCSB