The following excerpt was transcribed from the tape, GL PJ-100, titled "The Foolishness of Preaching the Gospel"  Phil Johnson is the executive Director of Grace to You, a Christian tape and radio ministry featuring the preaching ministry of John MacArthur. Phil has been closely associated with John MacArthur since 1981 and edits most of MacArthur's major books. Phil is an elder at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA. He also teaches courses in writing and editing at The Master's College and Seminary. And in his spare time he sometimes does free-lance editorial work for a number of evangelical publishers.

The Foolishness of Preaching the Gospel
(1 Corinthians 1:21)


Phil Johnson

For more of Phil's sermons and messages go to:


This excerpt from the sermon addresses the controversy that exists between the ministry of Dr. John MacArthur and that of Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family),
on the issue of preaching the gospel to change the wickedness of man versus using political legislation to accomplish that end.


We are not to blend the gospel message with human wisdom and think that by doing that we have made it more sophisticated.  Notice our verse again, "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" [1 Corinthians 1:21].  This is God's strategy: preaching the gospel is God's chosen strategy for salvation.  "It pleased God" to do this--this was His choice.  Verse 27, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty..." [1 Corinthians 1:27].  This is God's own chosen strategy and we are not permitted to modify it.  We are not permitted to substitute our own strategies in its place. 

But many people today have modified it, and some Christians, have even made the same mistake I made, before I became a Christian, and that is, they think the solution to society's moral decline is a political agenda, and they have thrown all the energies and their resources into trying to redeem society through politics, which this passages teaches us is an utterly futile undertaking.  Our pastor, John MacArthur has had much to say about this over the years---if you have been listening, you know that, because as the energies of the Evangelical Movement have been diverted more and more away from evangelism and the preaching of the gospel, and invested more and more in political lobbying, public protests, and in some cases, all out war on American culture--as we've seen that happen, John MacArthur has spoken out in favor of preaching and evangelism instead.  He has consistently said what this passage says, and that is that sin is what ails modern society and so the gospel is the only effective remedy.  But that message isn't popular with everybody, even among our evangelical friends. 

John mentioned, I think, jokingly, recently, that he wrote a book two years ago, titled, Why Government Can't Save You and he was joking from the pulpit recently that "almost no one actually read that book" and it is true that it didn't become a best seller, but some people actually did read it, and reacted negatively to it--Focus on the Family in particular, and they published a book in reply (early this year)--the title of the book is, Why You Can't Stay Silent, subtitled, A Biblical Mandate to Shape Our Culture.  The author was Tom Minnery, who is a vice-president of Focus on the Family, and he says he wrote the book at Dobson's urging.  Now I presume that James Dobson is well known to most of you.  His daily radio broadcast is the most listened to syndicated program in all of Christian radio, and in fact, I don't have statistics to prove it, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Dobson's broadcast is heard by more people than any other syndicated radio broadcast in the world--either Christian or secular.  I would imagine that he has more daily listeners and more clout than Rush Limbaugh and Dr Laura combined, and I am not exaggerating when I say that--just from the sheer numbers of radio stations that he is on and the number of people in his constituency. 

Focus on the Family began in the early 1970's after Dobson had become fairly well known through the first of several best selling books he wrote.  I think his first best seller was, Dare to Discipline, and it was a book about parenting.  And the main focus of his broadcasts, in those early days, was parenting and child psychology.  He is the best known Christian Psychologist of our generation, and his broadcasts on the radio immediately struck a chord with audiences that were looking for help on parenting and similar issues.  As his popularity grew in the decades of the 70's and the 80's Dobson began to use more and more of his influence to address political issues.  More and more, with each passing year, he devotes his radio broadcasts and his organization's resources to lobby for legislation against abortion; he campaigns against the gay-rights agenda; he supports conservative candidates for political office.  He has poured his full energies into the Religious Right and he has become their best known and most effective spokesman. 

Now obviously, we would be in full agreement with the moral standards Dr. Dobson affirms.  We share his loathing for abortion.  Like him we abominate homosexuality, drug abuse, and all these other symptoms of our culture's moral decline--we do share his hatred for those evils that have infected our society, but we are convinced that preaching the gospel is a more effective remedy than any political solution could ever offer, because we believe these things are symptoms of sin and the only effectual answer for sin is the gospel.  But as far as Focus on the Family and James Dobson are concerned, our position, he interprets it as an argument in favor of inactivity, passivity, silence.  They have accused us of saying, "Christians ought to remain silent in the face of all these moral evils."  In fact, that accusation is even reflected in the title of Tom Minnery's book, Why You Can't Stay Silent.  Dobson himself recently echoed that accusation in a letter he sent to all his constituents, and that is why I have chosen to deal with this, this morning, because over the past four weeks, since his letter went out, I have been besieged by people with questions.  Many of you have received that letter from him--I did.  Many people, in fact, people all over the country have emailed me and phoned me to ask me, "Are we going to respond to James Dobson's remarks about John MacArthur?"  And the answer is "Yes," here's my response. 

Let me read you first of all what he says.  This is from the letter he sent out this month.  He writes this,

"This month, I want to say a few words about our culture's continued moral decline and, more importantly, the apparent hesitancy of some within the Christian community to try and stem the tide. Despite the relentless attacks by homosexual activists on the institution of marriage, and of "safe sex" ideology, pro-abortion sentiment, and other forms of immorality that are engulfing us, there are those within the church who remain convinced that it isn't our place to make our voices heard on these issues."

Now, notice the charge: the people he says he's concerned about, he says are, "hesitant to try and stem the tide of immorality, and they believe Christians should not make their voices heard on these issues."  That's his accusation.  He continues,

"In their estimation, controversy about sexuality, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family are "political" in nature and therefore unworthy of our attention."

Again, he's suggesting that someone is saying "these moral issues are unworthy of our attention.  They are things we shouldn't be concerned about."   And I read that and I thought who are these Christians who advocate silence and passive acceptance of society's moral decline?  Dobson tells us who he thinks they are.  He says this,

"Some recent examples of this perspective..." 

This perspective that he's been describing, this view that we ought to remain silent and not be concerned about moral issues,

"Some recent examples of this perspective are seen in the following quotes:"

And guess where the first quote he cites comes from?  It's a quotation from John MacArthur's book, Why Government Can't Save You.  Here's the quotation he [Dobson] finds objectionable.  John MacArthur writes,

"God does not call the church to influence the culture by promoting legislation." John MacArthur, Why Government Can't Save You, 2000

Now frankly, if you object to that remark by John MacArthur, it would seem to me that you would also have to object to the Apostle Paul's statement that "righteousness doesn't come by law."  But Dobson doesn't quote the Apostle Paul.  The next person he quotes is Jim Bakker, ex-convict and former host of the PTL Club.  I think there may have been some deliberate strategy in juxtaposing those two quotes.  Dobson also blames Cal Thomas, the syndicated newspaper columnist and former leader in the religious right who became something of a black sheep in the religious right when he began to suggest that Christian's time and resources might be better spent on evangelism rather than politics.  But Dobson disagrees with that--he is fully convinced that the solution to America's problem is a political solution and he is determined to keep pouring his ministry's resources into political lobbying.  And he says in his letter, that he believes, by doing this we are preaching the gospel.  I hear in that an echo of my own thoughts before I became a Christian--I thought that was the gospel message.  That's virtually the same thing I said to Rob Holtzinger, when he began to argue with me that the gospel was more important than politics.  I said, "Politics is the gospel.  This is the only way we are going to save our society. This is the only way we can turn things around."  That's precisely what James Dobson is arguing.

Now let me sum up quickly by showing you in practical terms why I think this is a serious mistake.  Here's why: Because in order to work in the realm of secular politics, you have to make certain compromises.  Politics is built on compromise.  Anybody who's involved in politics will affirm that for you.  There are some things you cannot talk about in the political realm and the gospel is one of them.  James Dobson's political allies in the realm of moral reform include multitudes who would not share his commitment to the gospel of the New Testament; who would not agree with him on the exclusiveness of Christ, because in the words of John 3:18, the gospel is the message that, "...he who believes on Him is not condemned," but it also includes the truth that "...he who believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God."  The message of Christ is an exclusive message--it's either-or, Jesus said, "If you are not with Me you're against Me," and what He meant by that is, "If you are not a believer, you are not on My team."  And when your political agenda involves forming alliances with Mormons, Moslems, Jehovah's Witnesses, Moonies, and all kinds of humanistic moralists, you simply cannot afford to speak frankly about the exclusivity of Christ--it's an issue you can't bring up.  You have to stifle the truth about justification by faith alone, because Roman Catholics, who are your political allies reject that doctrine.  You're better off, in fact, not to mention the name of Christ at all, because Jewish people, who are our political allies, are sensitive about that, and so the gospel is stifled as a consequence whenever people become political activists, they begin to trim away the offensive parts of the gospel.  It is the natural and inevitable consequence of moving the fight to the political arena--happens all the time. 

Frankly, if I can just speak frankly, you can see the effect of this on James Dobson's own broadcasts.  You can listen for weeks, and you'll hear messages about the practical side of parenting; you'll hear lots of discussion about political and moral issues; you'll hear shrill warnings about how the moral fiber of our society is unraveling more and more all the time; you'll hear social critiques and calls for moral reform; you'll hear interviews with people about all kinds of things, including non-Christians who happen to be our allies in political issues; you'll occasionally hear references to God and the Bible, but if you ever hear any actual Bible teaching--it's rare--and rarely will you hear the name of Jesus Christ mentioned, and almost never will you hear a clear and uncompromising presentation of the gospel.  The gospel is inevitably stifled when your main concern becomes political issues, and I frankly think that is a dangerous and wrong-headed direction for any Christian ministry to go--it subtly undermines the gospel.  It's the very thing Paul is warning about here in 1 Corinthians 1.  That kind of strategy diverts the focus of Christian people who listen to and trusts that ministry--they become concerned about and consumed with things other than the gospel.

Now consider the irony of all of this: Focus on the Family has accused ministries of ours of advocating apathy and silence, but they are the ones who have been silent on the issues that matter most. They are the ones who have abandoned the foolishness of preaching and opted instead for worldly methods and worldly wisdom--they are the ones that are out-of-step with Scripture.

Scores of people, as I have said, have asked me, in recent weeks, "How we intend to answer James Dobson's letter?"  Well, that's my answer.  I hope that he'll get back to what matters, and I hope that his faith does not stand in the wisdom of men and the strategies of the politicians, but in the wisdom and the power of God, because that is the only hope for our society--the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, and if we preach it--those whom God calls will hear it and they will respond, and that's the best hope our society has. 

For more of Phil's sermons and messages go to:

Transcribed and added to Bible Bulletin Board's "MacArthur's Collection" by:

Tony Capoccia
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