Slave: book review

Based on the publisher’s description, John MacArthur’s introduction, and his interview with uber-blogger Tim Challies, apparently MacArthur’s Slave: the hidden truth about your identity in Christ uncovers a centuries-old conspiracy to mistranslate the Greek work doulos. Instead of keeping our sterilized translation of this word as “servant” or “bond-servant,” MacArthur argues that nearly the entirety of the Christian faith stands or falls on it being correctly translated as “slave.” Overstatement? Maybe a little, as he builds an entire book out of this argument. In the introduction, MacArthur actually questions his entire career’s work on defending the gospel, claiming that they are inadequate and incomplete without this concept of slave.

Once past the overstated and alarmist introduction, MacArthur calms down and gives a decent historical and exegetical treatment of slavery and what it means for the believer. The main concept to be reclaimed by the correct translation of doulos is that everyone is a slave of something, and as as former slaves of sin and now slaves of Christ, believers’ relationship to Christ is that of being owned. A servant-master relationship connotes that of a hired hand, whereas a slave-master relationship is based on ownership. Believers have been bought with a price (Christ’s blood), and now live for Christ and are slaves of righteousness (p. 44). Thus, the concept of being a slave of Christ beautifully adorns the tenets of biblical, Calvinistic soteriology. Redemption, adoption, election, and perseverance fit together with this idea of slavery in Christ.

In discussing slavery, MacArthur gives a refreshing challenge to the radically individualistic, feel-good, easy-believism that is characteristic of the evangelical church. We as believers are not merely to partner with Christ on the path to an easy life, but are called to take up our cross daily, die to self, and live to Christ. It’s not an easy calling, but only in true bondage to Christ is His yoke found to be easy and His burden light (p. 141). MacArthur fleshes out many facets of what it means to be slaves of Christ in discussions of our slavery, Christ’s lordship, adoption as sons of God, and how freedom in Christ meshes with slavery.

MacArthur presents some helpful, thought-provoking concepts as relates to the Christian life and our identity in Christ. However, I continue to find MacArthur’s teaching to be an odd mixture of strong Calvinistic thought within a dispensational framework. One of these things is not like the other ones. This shows itself subtly in Slave with mentions of the rapture and frequent hints at the Lordship controversy that loomed large in dispensational circles but was mostly a non-issue in covenantal, Reformed circles. As such, I found myself wondering what a biblical treatment of the concept of being slaves of Christ would look like from a covenantal perspective. It seems like since God is a covenant God, and we are owned as His covenant people, that this would come into play in a discussion on being slaves of Christ. But MacArthur doesn’t go so far as to mention anything about covenant.

In closing, this is a decent book that has helpful, challenging calls to reevaluate our identity in Christ in light of the teaching of Scripture. Are we living in light of being slaves to Christ, or are we living more as hired servants, fighting to retain our own independence instead of heeding the call to die to self? James Montgomery Boice, as quoted by MacArthur, puts it this way:

There is no such thing as absolute freedom for anyone. No human is free to do everything he or she may want to do. There is one being in the universe who is totally free, of course. That is God. But all others are limited by or enslaved by someone or something. As a result, the only meaningful question in this area is: Who or what are you serving?…Since you and I are human beings and not God, we can never be autonomous. We must either be slaves to sin or slaves of Jesus Christ. But here is the wonderful and very striking thing: To be a slave of Jesus Christ is true freedom. 

MacArthur’s discussion is helpful for today’s mainstream evangelical crowd, though its repetitiveness, alarmism, and dispensational undertones hold me back from giving it a more positive review.

Note: Thomas Nelson Publishers provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an objective review.

2 thoughts on “Slave: book review

  1. I'm currently re-reading Chosen By God by Sproul before I give it to a friend and of course he talks about predestination. In that chapter he discusses the mistake Christians make in thinking there is this thing that exists that is autonomous free will that God has endowed human kind with and is unwilling to compromise. Sproul explains the no created thing is autonomous and that we are guided by our strongest inclination at the time of decision. Ultimately we are slaves to our sinful nature or we are freed from sin and slaves to Christ. Our freewill is subject to our nature. Anyway, I thought that it was an interesting coincidence, but not enough to make me read MacArthur's view on the subject. Haha. I appreciate MacArthur's passion in serving the Lord, but I generally find his teaching exactly as you described: alarmist, repetitive and confusing in terms of reformed theology. He tends to take a subject and present it as a brand new topic with his own spin as if everyone else has been getting it wrong. With that said, he's a very sharp guy (way smarter than I am) and obviously has the best intentions for the church.

  2. Interesting coincidence, indeed, Jimmey, and I have a feeling Sproul put it better than MacArthur. I, too, find it strange and kind of annoying that MacArthur presents his work in such an alarmist way, thinking that he "discovered" such important things. I found it ironic that he claims to be championing this slave concept like he discovered this cover up, yet he has copious footnotes pointing to other resources on being slaves of Christ. Plus, I just read a section out of B.B. Warfield (ca. 1910) that discusses being slaves of Christ. Come on, John!

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