Book Review: The Gospel According To Paul

The Gospel According To Paul:  Embracing The Good News At The Heart Of Paul’s Teachings, by John MacArthur

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

I was given this book by my roommate because he said he wouldn’t finish it and he knows (as everyone does, it seems) the extent to which I devour books.  I have read books (and even reviewed a couple of albums) from this author before [1], and I have generally liked them.  I was not pleased with this book, though.  It is not as if this is a bad book–for surely the frequent misunderstandings of the writings of Paul can make for some terrible books.  It is more that this book gave me yet another reminder, as if any were necessary, that even when a Calvinist writer is at his closet to my own perspective that there are aspects of Calvinist writing that are immensely irritating.  Even though in this case I would say that the author and I have common foes of the Gospel, specifically antinomians, this book was not a pleasure to read.  A Calvinist is someone who is not content unless he is making someone else miserable, and this book is only good news for people who like bad news.  Even when the author is right in this book–and it should be noted that he is frequently right–he is insufferable in the process.  Even when Calvinism is right it is wrong, sadly.

This book is actually fairly short, only a bit over 200 pages if one includes its sizable appendices.  After a short introduction in which the author says falsely that this book is not a polemic volume, the author opens with those areas that he considers of first importance, like the issue of atonement.  Then, predictably, the author talks about the bad news of the universality of sin and depravity.  Then the author talks about how one can be right with God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness [2].  Then the author talks about justification by faith alone, penal substitution, being alive together with Christ through regeneration, various false gospels like legalism and antinomianism, and an epilogue about Paul’s testimony.  With that, the main book is done about 135 pages in.  There is, for those readers who are gluttons for punishment, a series of four appendices that include a defense of substitutionary atonement, a sermon from the author on Christ dying for God, a section that tries to give the reason for everything, and a discussion of Paul’s Gospel adapted from sermons by Charles Spurgeon.  The author, it must be conceded, is certainly familiar with his reformation theology.

I am at some pains to note that this book presents a view of Calvanism that is about as close to my own theology as can be imagined.   Yet even so, the author found many ways to offend.  There was, for example, his smug and sanctimonious behavior towards C.S. Lewis (someone who many Calvinists like to criticize for being “squidgy”).  Even more bothersome and substantial was the author’s array of human reasoning and unbiblical terminology.  A great deal of Calvinism exists in some sort of ivory tower of impregnable language by which human reasoning seeks to construct an ironclad worldview through replacing scripture with interpretation.  This book contains a substantial glossary and the author spends a great deal of time engaged in wordsmithing.  Between the author’s unrecognized polemical purposes and his inability to use language that does not come from the Calvinist dictionary, this is a book that is mostly right but a deeply unpleasant chore to read.  I will make it a point to avoid, if possible, the author’s polemical works and focus on those writings of his that I actually enjoy and where I can forget that the author is a Calvinist.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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