MAX AND HIS CRITICS

GARY W. SUMMERS

   

The July Christian Chronicle (which has proven frequently to be a misnomer--perhaps The Heretic Chronicle would be more appropriate) published a one-page "friendly" (what else would it be?) interview with Max Lucado. To those who have truly chronicled Max Lucado's career, the conversation is laughable. The interviewer, Scott Lamascus, prefaces his remarks by saying: "Some say he doesn't teach baptism correctly" (20).

We have no way of knowing where Scott has been since 1996 when Max Lucado taught that baptism was not a requirement for salvation. To be precise in this matter, we refer to the December, 1996 radio broadcast, in which Max invited the unsaved in his audience to pray these words:

"Father, I give my heart to you, I give you my sins. I give you my tears. I give you my fears. I give you my whole life. I accept the gift of your Son on the cross for my sins. And I ask you, Father, to receive me as Your child. Through Jesus I pray. Amen."

Do these words sound anything remotely akin to Peter's "repent and be baptized" to the multitude in Acts 2:38 on the day of Pentecost? NO! In fact, Max did not mention either repentance or baptism. He simply made up his own version of "the sinner's prayer." So, while ignoring what is in the Bible, he invented what was NOT in the Bible to tell people how to be saved. "Well," someone might protest, "Maybe you took those words out of context." Good thinking. It is always a good idea to make sure that someone is quoted properly; much unnecessary harm could otherwise result.

However, in this case the next few words will remove all doubt. After the announcer speaks, Max again addresses the audience:

Today is the first day you've ever prayed a prayer like that. Could you do me a favor? Could you write me a letter? I don't have anything I am going to ask from you. I do have a letter I would like to send you. I'd like to give you a word about the next step or two. I want to encourage you to find a church. I want to encourage you to be baptized. I want to encourage you to read your Bible. But I don't want you to do any of that so that you will be saved. I want you to do all of that because you are saved. You see, your father has a great life planned for you, and I want to tell you about it. Give us a call, or drop me a note. And thanks, my friend, for making the greatest decision of your life.

So, everyone who understands the English language knows that Max Lucado affirmed in this broadcast that people are saved through prayer and baptized AFTER they are saved. Therefore, the Christian Chronicle can dispense with this phony, "Some say he doesn't teach baptism correctly." We have it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. This radio broadcast has been printed and reprinted for five years. Lectureship books and bulletin articles all over the country have published and commented on it. Tapes of the actual broadcast have been distributed by the hundreds, perhaps the thousands. We cannot imagine how it is that the Christian Chronicle failed to take note of the facts of the matter. What kind of credibility can this publication have as a chronicler of anything when they missed something so noteworthy and widespread?

Too Much Talking

The next statement in the preface to the actual interview also reeks of naivete: "Too many have talked about Max Lucado for a long time. It's time we talked to him." Readers are probably saying, "Wow! What a novel idea? Why hasn't anyone thought of that?" Right! This writer offered to meet with Max Lucado nearly a decade ago; no reply has been forthcoming. Many brethren from Texas and elsewhere have likewise volunteered to meet with him at their own expense; not once has he ever responded. If Scott Lamascus doubts all of the efforts that have been made in that regard, let him call Max and say he wants to interview him for the Gospel Journal or the Memphis School of Preaching, and he will soon find out that the only people who get to talk to Max are liberal brethren and denominationalists.

Sound Bytes?

Max is asked: "Does the discussion (in church of Christ circles) of what you teach reach you? Does it hurt you? Does it impact you?" Lamascus errs in using "church of Christ" as an adjective. He would have been far more accurate to have substituted for that phrase, faithful brethren.

Part of Max's response is: "For every negative sound byte, there are a dozen positive." Apparently, since Max thinks and writes in terms of sound bytes, he assumes that everyone else does too. Actually, brethren who have opposed his teaching have analyzed his writings and expounded on his errors. They are called logical arguments--not sound bytes.

He adds, "And, to my critics, I would say 'I'm sorry for not meeting your expectations ... I seldom meet my own.'" What a humble and inoffensive reply. And misleading. The criticism of Lucado's books does not involve his style. While it is true that some do not like it, most people do. How he writes is irrelevant; it is a matter of opinion and taste. What he writes is another matter entirely. In the afore-mentioned radio broadcast, he did not speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11) on the subject most vital to mankind--salvation. The content of his speeches and books are objectionable because they do not conform to The Book.

No one needs to worry about meeting man's expectations. He should be extremely careful to speak and write the Truth, however. Max not only handles the Word of God carelessly--he disagrees with the plain teachings of the Scriptures. In all of the books he has written, has he ever told his reading public to repent and be baptized in order to be saved (Acts 2:38)? If not, why not? Is his keyboard programmed to shut down when that verse is typed in? Does he ever say the words Jesus said in Mark 16:16? Instead, he says, "Just pray." Brethren, he was taught better than that!

Contradictory Teachings on Baptism?

Nearly six years after the 1996 radio broadcast, the question is posed: "What do you teach and believe regarding central beliefs such as baptism?" Max's response takes two paragraphs:

I believe that baptism is essential for obedience. As far as I can tell there is no example of an unbaptized member of the New Testament church. In baptism the believer is identified with the righteous life of Jesus--buried with him, risen with him. Baptism is sacred. We've baptized over a hundred souls a year at Oak Hills for several years.

At first glance, this answer sounds favorable toward baptism--it comes across as a soothing "sound byte," which is not really meant to be examined. But these words could have been spoken by any religious denomination. In fact, compare Lucado's words with Baptist preacher Bobby Sparks' statement (whom Tom Wacaster debated last November, as was recorded in the December 16, 2002 Spiritual Perspectives):

You can't charge us with not believing in baptism. You can't charge us with not believing that baptism is a command of God. And you cannot charge us with not being baptized because we don't believe it being a command of God. We do believe it is a command of God. And we are baptized in obedience to that command of God.

The only difference between Sparks and Lucado is that the former was more forceful. The disappointing thing is that Lucado could not bring himself to say: "I believe that baptism is essential for salvation." Just like the denominations, he still believes that one is saved first and then baptized as a work of obedience. He did not say that the blood of Jesus washes away sins WHEN we are baptized (Acts 22:16; Rev. 1:5)--because he does not believe it. If he did, his popularity (not to mention book sales) would plummet.

Apparently, however, Max thinks he has stated his case too strongly; being careful not to offend, he adds:

At the same time, I strongly resist any effort to trust the act of baptism to save. The work of salvation was finished when Christ said it was, on the cross. Baptism, nor any other work, adds to his completed service. My only contribution to my salvation is my own sin. The glory of redemption is not my baptism--but that a sinner like me could stand fearless and saved before a holy God.

What absolute, nonsensical drivel! Has someone advocated that we may atone for ourselves? Of course it is Jesus who atoned for our sins on the cross! But the act of "baptism doth also now save us" (1 Peter 3:21). Max must think that his popularity gives him the right to contradict an inspired apostle! Baptism is glorious because it is the new birth (John 3:1-7).

Do people rejoice at the birth of a baby? Do we consider that a glorious event? Why, because the baby has earned birth? No, he had no control in the conception or the preparations made prior to the time of his arrival. Likewise, when we are born again, all of the preparation has been done by God. Jesus made the new birth possible, and, in fact, baptism is "the operation of God" (Col. 2:12)--not a work of man. Unlike physical birth, however, spiritual birth comes about as a result of our own free will, as the result of making the right decision. For that reason, Peter could exhort the multitude: "Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40). Man does not ADD to Christ's work when he responds to Christ's invitation; he is merely accepting the Lord's terms for being saved.

The only alternative to compliance with the Lord's terms would be NO response to Christ's atoning work, which is Universalism--everyone must be saved. If we cannot respond to the offer of salvation the way the three thousand did on Pentecost (Acts 2:37-41), without being called legalists who are trying to earn salvation, then no one can be lost. If NO RESPONSE is required, then everyone is saved! Jesus plainly said that the majority of people are lost (Matt. 7:13-14). Whereas Max often talks about Jesus, it is surprising how seldom he quotes Him. He does not even capitalize pronouns that refer to the Lord.

Faith Only

The interviewer understands Max to be saying that one is saved first, then baptized, as evidenced by the question: "Does accepting a Christian before baptism pose difficulties in teaching baptism?" Max's reply is typical of Baptist doctrine:

We have discovered that if we preach Jesus, baptism is not an issue. In the teaching position paper that we give to all prospective members we explain this: once a person admits sin and trusts Christ for salvation, a step must be taken to proclaim to heaven and earth that he/she is a follower of Christ. Baptism is that step.

In one point we are in agreement: if we preach Jesus, baptism is not an issue. When Philip preached Jesus, the eunuch said: "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" But Max was not thinking here along Scriptural lines. Would anybody ask to be baptized after Max "preached"? They would not because he does not preach Jesus. But wait; why does a person have to admit sin and trust Christ for salvation? Were we not assured that the "work of salvation was finished when Christ said it was--on the cross"? If a person must admit sin, would he not be adding to Christ's work? Trusting in Jesus is certainly a work; Jesus said so: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29). Max needs to make up his mind IF we should make a response or not.

Max has the uncanny ability to add inaccuracy to nonsense. Consider his further comments regarding the last question:

With the exception of the thief on the cross, Scripture provides us no example of an unbaptized heaven-bound soul. The thief, however, is a wonderful exception. His conversion forces us to trust in the work of Christ and not the work of baptism.... He said only one prayer. But that prayer is enough to remind us that though our doctrine be air-tight and dogma dead-center, in the end it is Christ who saves.

Apparently, Max thinks that men make up doctrine and dogma rather than the Lord. Has he never read, "For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38)?

But the thief is not the only one in the New Testament saved without baptism. First, however, it should be pointed out that Max could not prove that the thief had not been baptized prior to his crucifixion, since "all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem" went out to be baptized by John (Mark 1:5). In three years time, he could have fallen away and then been restored on the cross. But if he had never been baptized, he would still not be the only one to be saved apart from it.

Has Max never read of the paralytic in Mark 2:5, to whom Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven you"? When had this man been baptized? Has he never read of the sinful woman, to whom Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven" (Luke 7:48)? Could he have overlooked the blind man, to whom Jesus said, "Receive your sight; your faith has saved you" (Luke 18:42)? None of these mention baptism, but all of these instances occurred while the Law of Moses was in force (Heb. 8:6-7). After Christ's resurrection, there are no "exceptions." All who are saved are baptized into Christ in order to obtain forgiveness of sins.

Preaching

Max's comments on preaching are telling.

Preaching is hard work. Preachers are in the crosshairs of Satan. I step down from the pulpit every Sunday shivering within, wondering if I've done a good job.

Max should shiver because he is a false teacher who has ceased teaching the truth regarding salvation. Those who hear him will be lost in eternity along with him. Even if he came back to the Truth now, like Manasseh, he could probably not undo the damage he has done. But he could try.

Faithful Gospel preachers do not shiver when they have finished preaching. Regardless of the job they do, they know that the power is in the Gospel, not in themselves or their meager abilities.

*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "MAX AND HIS CRITICS" (08/18/02)."


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