Years ago, after having read John MacArthur books on the ‘Lordship Controversy’ I read Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, edited by Michael Horton. Finally, there was a book I could recommend on this controversy that shaped its arguments carefully from a Reformation perspective. The contributors include a spectrum of Reformed and Lutheran writers and was very helpful to me. Recently, Westminster Seminary California’s Office Hours dedicated an entire program to discuss with Michael Horton this controversy that continues to haunt even Reformed and Lutheran circles. The podcast is available here
This excellent book is available through the Westminster Seminary California bookstore
Michael Horton wrote in the preface -
The purpose of this volume is not to provide an exhaustive defense of what we would regard as the biblical position on the ‘lordship salvation’ debate. Indeed both leading spokesmen on either side, Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, Jr., have offered some reason for discomfort over the terms lordship/no-lordship salvation. As James Boice, J.I. Packer, and others have argued in their works, no respected, mainstream Christian thinker, writer, or preacher has ever held such extreme and unusual views concerning the nature of the gospel and saving grace as Zane Hodges. In this book, there is no doubt that we are taking a firm stand against what I would rather label the “no-effective-grace” position. While Hodges insists that he is only following the Bible, apart from any theological system, it is clear that he is missing the point of the gospel itself–to make enemies friends, to reconcile sinners to God, to break the power of sin’s dominion, and to bring new and lasting life to those who before were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).
It is, in part, because of that tendency, sometimes evidenced on both sides in this debate, to pretend that one is reading the Bible without any theological influences or biases, that motivated us to get involved in this sensitive and emotional issue. Both Hodges and MacArthur claim the Reformers for support. In our estimation, there is not the slightest support for Hodges and Ryrie to claim the Reformers’ favor for their novel views. The antinomians (that is, those who denied the necessity of Christian obedience) of the Puritan era so pressed the Reformers’ defense of justification to the the point where there was no place left for sanctification. However, the modern antinomianism, represented by Ryrie and Hodges chiefly, appears not to be motivated by an unbalanced fear that any talk of human responsibility will take away from God’s glory, but by fear that any talk of the effectiveness of grace will erode confidence in human responsibility and choice. In other words, the antinomians since the Reformation have erred by denying human cooperation to the point where every divine operation is while dependent on human willing and running, contrary to the words of the apostle Paul (Rom 9:16).
Nevertheless, this book is not merely an endorsement of John MacArthur’s position, either. We will argue that MacArthur at certain points risks confusion on some fundamental evangelical convictions, particularly, between justification and sanctification. It must be said, however, that MacArthur has been most gracious in considering our concerns and we have been in dialogue with him for some time now. Significant changes have been made, as he has fine-tuned his definitions and applied a more specific theological framework to his exegesis. Revisions will appear in forthcoming editions of The Gospel According to Jesus and we are grateful for MacArthur’s eagerness to discuss these issues. While other differences remain, there is a great deal of discussion taking place and there is every reason to believe that the chief differences lie in the realm of definitions and pastoral practice rather than substance. MacArthur’s humility has been a lesson to us and we hope that we will be able to show our critics the openness he has shown us.
Nevertheless since we are reviewing a position, and not a person, and most readers of this volume will have read the earlier edition of The Gospel According to Jesus, we have retained our criticisms on these points for the reader’s benefit, noting MacArthur’s revisions at the appropriate places. Let me also say that John has graciously allowed me to read the draft of his book, The Gospel According to the Apostles, which should be released about the same time as this volume. The sequel is clear, precise, and cautious, and it ought to correct the misunderstandings not only of those like Hodges, who have misrepresented MacArthur’s position through caricature and hyperbole, but even perhaps the misguided zeal of some “lordship salvation” disciples as well.
It is because both positions claim to be echoes of the Reformation that we thought the debate was in need of a more historical treatment. For that reason, one will not find in Christ the Lord a comprehensive exegetical treatment. While there are chapters devoted to covering the biblical material (which is, after all, our “only rule of faith and practice”), the book has a decidedly historical tone to it. It is offered unabashedly as a “Reformation response” to the positions thus far presented, not because the Reformers and their successors were infallible, but because evangelical Protestantism owes a debt of gratitude to them for digging the gold out of the rich spiritual veins through the centuries so that we could learn from those who have gone before us. Theology, preaching, teaching, counseling, and pastoral care are not done in a vacuum; we are all influenced and shaped by our own traditions, upbringing, seminary education, and church curricula, and these are all shaped by certain theological systems. It is the goal of this book to help rub the sleep from our eyes, to drive away the naive assumption that we can just be “Bible teachers” without careful theological reflection from a particular systematic point of view.
The Reformers were certainly not infallible–they would be the last to say they were–but they were wise, wiser than any of us around these days. And we would be poor stewards of the inheritance God has given us through them if we did not at least attempt to gain their counsel on these important debates.
Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation
- W. Robert Godfrey
- Michael Horton
- Alister McGrath
- Kim Riddlebarger
- Rick Ritchie
- Rod Rosenbladt
- Paul Schaefer
- Robert Strimple
More Office Hours programs are available here: http://wscal.edu/resource-center/office-hours/