Definitions are always difficult. As my dad taught me, if you can define the terms, you always can win the argument. That’s a lesson that MacArthur uses in Slave, as he takes a look at some of the New Testament’s language and tries to interpret it in a way that is more faithful to both the original context and our current cultural situation. Thus, rather than translating it “Paul, servant of Christ” he puts it “Paul, slave of Christ” – both more faithful to the original Greek (as far as I understand it) and a word with more weight than a mere translation of “servant.”
That, according to MacArthur, is what we mean by Christian – a slave of Christ, one who acknowledges God in Christ as his true Lord and Master. Although this carries a bad odor in our modern society with our constant desire to preserve as much personal freedom as we can, it is the true reflection of what Christianity is. As Dylan puts it – you’ve gotta serve somebody, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’ve gotta serve somebody.
That is one of the strange things about this book: MacArthur alternates between attempting to prove that his understanding of Christianity is a true historical one (which it is) and making claims that this is a more biblical reunderstanding of the Christian faith. Needless to say, this is something that desperately needs to be heard within the context of a feeble American Christianity (and needs to be spoken to my weak faith as well), but it is also something of a truism in the kind of circles that I usually run in.
As I said to a friend when checking this book out, Slave is the kind of book that is very Geneva. Having gone to a school that is committed to the Lordship of Christ in all areas (in a good Neo-Calvinist means), this didn’t have anything new to me, precisely. Still, having old chestnuts repeated isn’t terrible for devotional reasons. I always need to be reminded to keep reorienting my life toward God “as the eyes of a servant look to the hand of the master” (Ps 123:2).
Now, of course, we face the problem of actually applying this principle to life. If I say that I am perfectly willing to do whatever God wishes, how can I actually know what God wishes me to do? This leads us, unfortunately into the tricky area of calling and vocation, which I really don’t feel like touching on right now, so we’ll pass over it.
It is interesting to compare Slave with These Three are One, which has a much looser conception of who God is. MacArthur’s conception of the Lordship of Christ would read as authoritarian and misguided to Cunningham. Although Cunningham, I’m sure, still falls into a orthodox conception of who God is, somehow, the slave-master language seems very harsh for him. Rather, he would probably talk about a relationship of participation in the divine – something like the orthodox deification. Which is also a traditional way to view the God-man relationship, and has some scriptural support.
Like I said, Slave doesn’t break any new ground, not that I think it was actually intended to. Rather it fostered devotion, and a renewed commitment to the kinds of practices of personal piety and devotion that I ought to be committed to in the first place. And as such, it served its purpose well, although not quite as groundbreaking as the author suggested or seemed to want.