This is another one that is a bit close to my heart, partly because a few Lordship teachers are men who I’ve greatly benefitted from, but also because learning about this controversy helped me come to the reformed understanding of law and gospel. I will be speaking about law and gospel in October for reformation month, but the podcast episodes that I’m linking here (especially the Reformed Brotherhood) and the two books I read in prep for this unit (Christ the Lord which was compiled and edited by Michael Horton, and Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ) were such a comfort to me and I so highly recommend them if you’re looking for a new read.
Also want to note that this is not a heresy, those that teach it are brothers in Christ and clearly do love the Lord. This view is not compatible with reformed theology and is barely compatible with Calvinism. I also want to give a MASSIVE thank you to Coleen Sharp for helping with so much of this. You can tell that this is something she is very much passionate about and the TG podcast episodes on this topic have been a huge blessing in my life in really shaping my understanding of theology as far back as the 2017 episode that I got mentioned in.
What is lordship salvation?
The Lordship controversy was a debate between dispensationalists. Both sides are in error and inconsistent with Reformed theology. Both are built on a dispensational framework. On the anti Lordship side was Zane Hodges and Charles Ryrie that taught you could be a carnal Christian, and not grow in obedience. This was a type of easy believism or free grace. This is contrary to a Reformed understanding of justification, sanctification, and union with Christ. Zane Hodges went so far as to promote a type of antinomianism.
On the other side was John MacArthur. MacArthur was right to oppose the theology of Ryrie and Hodges, but MacArthur promoted another error.
According to Dr. MacArthur in his book The Gospel According to Jesus, the distinctives of Lordship Salvation are as follows:
- The gospel calls sinners to faith joined in oneness with repentance.
- Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved utterly apart from any effort on their own. Even faith is a gift of God, not a work of man.
- The object of faith is Christ Himself, not a creed or a promise.
- Faith therefore involves personal commitment to Christ.
- Real faith inevitably produces a changed life.
- God’s gift of eternal life includes all that pertains to life and godliness.
- Jesus is Lord of all, and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender.
- Those who truly believe will love Christ.
- Behavior is an important test of faith.
- Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith.
So distilling this down a little bit, Matt Slick again at CARM says this:
Though there are variations on what Lordship salvation really is, it is basically the view that in order to become a true Christian a person must receive Jesus as both Savior and Lord and that he must also cease from sin or be willing to cease from sin in order to be saved (i.e., repent). The controversy deals with whether or not salvation is a one- or two-step process.
Who teaches or affirms lordship salvation?
- John MacArthur
- Todd Friel
- Paul Washer
- David Platt
- Justin Peters
- John Piper
Where do they get the foundation for what they believe?
This view is very much inseparable from dispensationalism, which we’ve already covered in a previous TEW. In fact, Dr. MacArthur says in The Gospel According to Jesus that this is an issue specifically for dispensationalists and that covenant theologians do not have this problem. He also focuses on scriptures that emphasize showing good fruit and having a changed life after regeneration.
A Reformed Response:
A lot of this section was written by Coleen. She put things so well that I didn’t really want to change too much, but one quote from her that really helped in this was:
MacArthur himself doesn’t include Reformed theologians in the debate saying, “Yet the fact remains that virtually all the champions of no-lordship doctrine are dispensationalists. No covenant theologian defends the no-lordship gospel.”. Even MacArthur essentially writes covenant theologians out of the debate basically implying we don’t have the antinomianism problem. If he would have clarified that statement explaining Confessional Covenant Theologians, I would agree with him. Unfortunately there are antinomians within certain covenant theology camps of hyper Calvinism, but those either deny the confessions altogether or take exceptions to them. Reformed confessions leave no room for antinomianism, as neither does true covenant theology.
In the book Christ the Lord, Rick Ritchie explains:
Must one submit to the lordship of Christ in order to be saved? What often remains unnoticed in the current debate is that, while the two sides differ in their answer to this one question, they both come to the question with a common theological background, dispensationalism, which determines in advance the possible range of answers. We might call the proponents of the two positions “Dispensational Lordship Salvationists” and “Dispensational Decisional Salvationists.” Before we offer our support on one side of the debate, we ought to take notice of the fact that both parties occupy the same theological continent and have pledged allegiance to the same doctrinal constitution. The better question for us might not be, Which side shall we support?” but, “How can we avoid the mine fields of both positions and find our way back to our true country?”
To many American Christians, dispensationalism is not just a peripheral set of doctrines tacked onto a core of beliefs held in common with the rest of Christendom. Dispensationalism is the grid on which these Christians hang all of their doctrines, even the ones they claim to derive from other Protestant theologies. When dispensationalism is the interpretive grid by which theology is understood, it affects even the understanding of those doctrines which originated outside of the dispensationalist system.
When we witness MacArthur and his adversaries using Luther and other Reformation theologians to support their respective positions, we might be tempted to think that they are our cousins in the Reformation faith; however, even when they use the same vocabulary as the Reformers, their interpretive grid has already given to certain key terms a meaning that is foreign to the theology of the Reformation. This is never more evident than where they speak of “law” and “gospel.”
One response I really appreciate from Michael Horton is, “We’re not saved by making Jesus savior or Lord. We’re saved because he’s savior and Lord.” My husband took that even a step further and said, “how can Jesus send anyone to hell if he wasn’t their Lord?”
Historically faith is defined as knowledge, assent, and trust. Dr. MacArthur redefined it as knowledge, assent, and a determination of the will to obey. This ultimately adds works to faith, which changes what is meant by sola fide, faith alone.
Lordship Salvation also does not recognize law/gospel distinctions. For instance, Dr. MacArthur calls the story of the Rich Young Ruler “gospel.” In the story of the rich young ruler, Christ gives him law to show him he is not perfect. One purpose of the law is to show us our sin. To call this story “gospel” would mean the “good news” (gospel) is do more, obey more. This is not good news.
A reformed view of the church needs to have room for false converts. There is a distinct difference between the visible church and invisible church, but the difference is one of the heart.
All Theology Gals episodes on this (in the order that I would listen to them in):
http://bit.ly/tglgimportance, http://bit.ly/tgGospel, http://bit.ly/tglawgospel, http://bit.ly/tgTheGospel, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP1, http://bit.ly/tgLawGospelP2, http://bit.ly/tgTheLaw, http://bit.ly/tglordsalvation, http://bit.ly/tglordcontroversy, http://bit.ly/tgantinomlegal, http://bit.ly/tgordosalutis, http://bit.ly/tgGoodWorks, http://bit.ly/tgsanctification, http://bit.ly/tgpracticalLawGos, http://bit.ly/tgcanwehave, http://bit.ly/tgassurance, http://bit.ly/tglordselfhelp, http://bit.ly/tgparentinpews, http://bit.ly/tglawgosparent
The reformed confessions also address this in:
- Belgic Confession, Articles 23-24
- Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 2, 81, 87-90
- Savoy Declaration Ch 10-20
- 39 Articles of Religion, Articles 16 and 27
- Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 29-33, 35, 87
- Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 58-59, 66-71, 75-78
- WCF Ch 10-19
- 1689 LBCF Ch 10-20
The above are also expounded of here: http://bit.ly/apmordosalutis