Lordship Salvation

The "lordship salvation" controversy (also "Lordship Controversy") is a theological dispute regarding key soteriological questions within Evangelical Protestantism, involving some non-denominational and Evangelical churches in North America since at least the 1980s.[1] The dispute spawned several books, pamphlets and conferences.

While many Protestants affirm salvation by grace alone received by faith alone, some Protestants use 'accepting Christ as...' language, sometimes 'accepting Christ as Savior,' or 'accepting Christ as Lord', to describe a condition of initial conversion, taking a cue from Colossians 2:6 in the Good News Bible for the "accept" and in the New International Version, for "receive" as synonym.

Given the accepting-as phraseology of the popular GNB of Colossians 2:6, and the receiving-as phraseology in the widely popular NIV of Colossians 2:6, an exegesis based on the NIV, for example, offered an explanation of what manner of receiving this was.[2] John F. MacArthur Jr, in turn, taught that such a receiving was both non-passive toward Christ and actively submissive to Christ,[3] offering this as a way of understanding the English idiom, of what receiving a person "as" Lord, really means.

Yet the "as Lord" language was not the only metaphor of the controversy. In 1959 Eternity Magazine featured a twin set of articles[4][5] which ignited the debate[6] and the use of the idiom from the titles: what Christ must "be." This asked what Christ must "be" to the one accepting Christ... must he "be Lord" in order to "be Savior," both, etc. Ten years later (1969), Charles Ryrie used this idiom in a chapter title, verbatim!,[7] quoting exactly the title of the articles in . This idiom, what Christ must "be", was used to derive and discuss the implications for salvation associated with what Christ is. One author, Arthur W. Pink (1886–1952), had already associated Christ's Lordship with surrendering to it as a sine qua non at the initial point.[8] Therefore the controversy dates back to before 1959, to at least before 1953 in the case of Pink, and shows the subject's connection to evangelism.

In 1988 John F. MacArthur Jr published the first edition "The Gospel According to Jesus".[9] By defining salvation by what it produces and what salvation will not fail to produce—namely, not only glorification, but good works, repentance, faith, sanctification, yieldedness, and obedience,[10] the book in its sales not only heavily spread the extent of the debate, but the debate expanded in scope, from questions about conversion issues, to questions about what is also necessary, and who it is who does what, throughout the Christian life. Using surrender language in the gospel[11] became not the only issue.

Free Grace theology became an umbrella term for a variety of opposing or contrasting positions, sometimes arguing that Lordship salvation was legalistic, sometimes more opposed to it than that, for example, faulting it about not being specific about what degree, quality, and current visibility there must be to the obedience necessary.[12] The controversy continues to be debated in discussions about not only all the gospels, but in discussions about almost any of the Pauline epistles, and the rest of the New Testament, as well as much material about salvation in topical studies, and in systematic theology.

History of the debate


Figures of the Reformed tradition and their historical dispute with Arminian Protestants over a person's participatory role in salvation, a debate which many Calvinists identify with the original sin issue Augustine wrote of in his polemics against the British monk Pelagius, gave Reformed scholars and church leaders an intellectual tradition from which to oppose what they considered a false gospel.[13]

An early discussion about the initial conversion aspect of the Lordship salvation issue was in the 1948 systematic theology of Lewis Sperry Chafer, using (and criticizing) the phrase "believe and surrender to God".[14] AW Pink (d. 1952), also used this language, but anticipated (and advocated) key terms in the later debate, speaking of both 'surrender' and 'Lordship'.[8] Connection of the word "Lordship" and salvation existed in a Ph.D dissertation at Wheaton College in 1958.[15] Therefore the use of the term 'Lordship salvation' came before the first edition of MacArthur's 1988 book,[16] possibly after the 1959 debate in Eternity magazine, Sept., 1959, between Presbyterian Everett F. Harrison, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and John Stott, an Anglican theologian.

Modern dispute

The controversy moved to the forefront of the evangelical world in the late 1980s when John F. MacArthur argued that the one-third of all Americans who claimed to be born again according to a 1980 Gallup poll reflected millions who are deceived, possessing a false, soul-destroying assurance.[17]

There was lots of published response, particularly from seminary faculty. For example, an early review of the 1988 edition of The Gospel According to Jesus appeared in a Jan–Mar 1989 Bibliotheca Sacra article by Darrell L Bock.[18] Also in 1989, Charles Ryrie published So Great Salvation and Zane C. Hodges published Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation. The two 1989 book publications confined the direct debate largely to their authors' footnotes, but the Bock article, in addition to specifically giving points of disagreement and agreement with MacArthur's book, added definitional discussion of terms such as "disciple" and "Lordship," and introduced the consideration of rhetorical devices such as overstatement, into the discussion[19] (However, the debate was on. Since both MacArthur's and Hodges' books were published by Zondervan, some bookstores displayed them together under the banner, "Which One is Right?".)

Yet very soon on their heels, in 1992 before the Revised Edition of MacArthur's work, an anthology of responses from various faculty of Reformed Seminary appeared on the subject[20] and include criticisms of both MacArthur and Hodges, especially in Michael Horton's contribution, "Don't Judge a Book by its Cover."

MacArthur later published Faith Works (1993) and Hodges published the second edition of his earlier title, The Gospel Under Siege, in 1992. Two ministries, The Grace Evangelical Society, founded in 1986, and the Free Grace Alliance, founded in 2004, arose with the purpose of advancing free grace soteriological views which opposed some concepts introduced by proponents of Lordship salvation. Each group contributed numerous books, journal articles and pamphlets detailing the problems of Lordship salvation or its alternatives.

While the concept of "free grace" dates to the 17th century or before, "Free Grace" became the popular term for the opposing camp in the Lordship salvation debate, and for the ideas against Lordship salvation by authors such as Charles Ryrie, Chuck Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Norman Geisler, and Bill Bright. While free grace is nominally undisputed in Protestantism, and the "Free Grace view" affirms good works are a proper response to salvation, it argues they should not be taken as the only or sine qua non evidence of one's salvation or righteous standing before God.

Proponents of Lordship salvation, on the other hand, criticize opponents as advocating an acquiescence in sin by allowing greatly sinful behavior to exist together with the same assurance of salvation as someone who does not currently allow greatly sinful behavior, but is to some degree subduing sin.

See also



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External links

  • , explaining "how and why" so-called lordship or discipleship-faith falls short of the correct Scriptural teaching of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.
  • (advocating Lordship salvation).
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