(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on Justification from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.
The Antinomian Way of Justification: Faith → Justification - Works
The Antinomian formula is the same as for the neoorthodox view, but without the italics. The reason is that the antinomian has the correct view of Jesus as the second person of the Godhead, and the correct view of justification by faith alone.
So far, so good. Alas, the antinomian shares with the neoorthodox view the fatal de-emphasis on the importance of works. They do not deny the value of good works—we are not talking about a cultic endorsement of licentious behavior—but they miss the connection between faith and works, between justification and sanctification.
And while the antinomian ditty:
Free from the Law, Oh blessed condition,is a caricature, in effect they do not deny the possibility that one could be justified and maintain the attitude reflected in those two lines.
I can sin as I please and still have remission
This form of antinomianism—where the proponent is very orthodox in his view of Christ and justification, but who, while endorsing and advising obedience to the commandments while denying their necessity, is fairly common in evangelical, dispensationalist churches. So much so, that there is a bit of a civil war going on—a civil war known as the “Lordship Salvation” controversy.
We now look at an incendiary debate raging, which is related to neo-orthodoxy and more importantly antinomianism, the Lordship Salvation Controversy.
In a nutshell: Once you accept Jesus as your savior, will you naturally accept Him as your Lord as well, meaning you will attempt (perhaps pitifully) to obey and do good works, or is it possible to at first accept the “savior” part and only, at a later date, accept the Lordship part?
Some cast the debate as one regarding the conditions for salvation, some over the necessary consequences of salvation, and others over assurance of salvation.
Let us begin with a scholarly definition. We will use one from Gentry:
The Lordship view expressly states the necessity of acknowledging Christ as the Lord and Master of one’s life in the act of receiving Him as Savior. These are not two different, sequential acts (or successive steps), but rather one act of pure trusting faith—Kenneth L. Gentry, The Great Option: A Study of the Lordship Controversy, Baptist Reformation Review (BRR) 5 (Spring), 1976, pp. 49-79 .Although this began as a debate within dispensationalism, Covenant Theologians have jumped in, as proponents of Lordship Salvation. As far as I know, no Covenant Theologians argue against Lordship Salvation. So the battle-lines are:
Lordship: Dispensationalists and Covenant Theologians
This may seem mysterious, because we haven’t yet looked at dispensationalism and covenant theology. So here are two, short descriptions:
Dispensationalism teaches biblical history as a number of successive economies or administrations under God, which it calls "dispensations," and emphasizes the continuity of the Old Testament covenants God made with the Jews through the patriarchs. Dispensationalist eschatology emphasizes a premillennial futurist view of prophecy of the end-times and a pretribulation view of the rapture (i.e. a rapture occurring before the Great Tribulation). Most Baptists are dispensational.
Covenant Theology is also a conceptual overview and framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of a covenant as the organizing principle. Covenantalism views the history of mankind's redemption under the framework of three over-arching covenants: one within the Godhead and two betweenGod and mankind (although unilateral imposed by God):
- The Covenant of Redemption, is the agreement that the Father would give a people to His son, the Son would redeem them, and the Spirit would sanctify them.
- The Covenant of Works, was made between God and Adam, who ultimately represented all mankind in a covenantal sense. It promised life for obedience and death for disobedience.
- The Covenant of Grace, promised eternal blessing for all people for trusting in the successive promises of God and ultimately for accepting Christ as a substitutionary covenantal representative.
Another way to cast the same debate is costly-salvation vs. easy believism. Again, the term easy-believism may be considered insulting, but we will use it nonetheless. Here we get a flavor for the debate: it is between those (Lordship) who say there is an immediate and inevitable cost to salvation (imitating Christ, picking up one's cross) and those (non-Lordship) who say that the "cost" of being a Christian does not necessarily begin immediately and in some cases may not be incurred at all.
Yet another way to formulate the debate is over the concept of "carnal Christians". A carnal Christian is one who has sincerely accepted Christ but has shown no change whatsoever in his lifestyle. He continues to live entirely in the world.
Lordship: There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.
Non-Lordship: Carnal Christians exists.
The Lordship position does not hold that every Christian has great piety and is overwhelmingly successful in battling sin from day one. It does say that the process of sanctification, evidenced by good works, begins immediately even if in very small and slowly growing quantities.
Finally, a negative way that the debate is: between those (Lordship) who teach salvation by works and those (non-Lordship) who advocate a form of antinomianism.
The impact of this on evangelism is probably obvious. While one may not endorse the particulars of the following hypothetical encounter, it serves to illuminate further the question at hand:
After we had talked for a couple of hours, the young man seemed to be prepared to give himself to Christ. My friend, no doubt sensing that asked him a question: "In light of all we have talked about this evening, can you think of any reason why you should not become a Christian tonight?"The Non-Lordship observer wanted the witnessing to cease when the young man seemed eager to accept. The Lordship evangelist went on to explain the costs of being a Christian.
The young man sat for a few minutes, then looked back at him and replied, "No, I cannot think of any reason."
I was excited by this, but to my amazement, my friend leaned across the table and said, "Then let me give you some!"
For the next few minutes he began to explain the cost of being a Christian. He talked about the young man’s need to surrender his whole life, his future, his ambitions, his relationships, his possessions, and everything he was to God. Only if he was prepared to do this, my friend explained, could Christ begin to work effectively in his life.
… My friend then leaned even further across the table and asked, "Can you still not think of any reason why you shouldn’t become a Christian tonight?"
After another moment, the reply came, "I can think of some now."
My friend responded, "In that case, do not become a Christian until you have dealt with every one of those reasons and are willing to surrender everything to Christ." –Charles Price, Real Christians (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1987), 55-56.
Here is a homework assignment: Go read how Christ witnessed, and decide whether he also emphasized the cost of following Him.
The history of the debate is not easy to ascertain. Some have tied the Lordship position directly to Calvinism:
Lordship salvation flows from a Calvinistic foundation. God has chosen a people and He will save them. He regenerates them and grants them the gifts of repentance and faith. Such a work of salvation transforms them. God has also justified them and He has begun the work of sanctification in them which He will also perfect. Through trials, difficulties, and even failures, they are not only eternally secure but will persevere in holiness and faith.—Richard P. Belcher, A Layman’s Guide to the Lordship Controversy (Southbridge, MS: Crowne Publications), 1990, p. 99.And indeed, those dispensationalists on the Lordship side of the debate tend to be from the Calvinist-leaning wing, such as John MacArthur.
It may be an oversimplification, but the Reformed school has always been on the Lordship side and so there was no raging controversy within Calvinism. For example when (Calvinist) J. I. Packer wrote in one of his most influential books:
In our own presentation of Christ's gospel, therefore, we need to lay a similar stress as Christ did on the cost of following Christ, and make sinners face it soberly before we urge them to respond to the message of free forgiveness.” –J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press) 1961, p. 73.it did not cause a stir among Calvinists.
No, the battle didn't really rage until Packer's position was essentially endorsed by someone from within the ranks of dispensationalism: John MacArthur in his book The Gospel According to Jesus.
In his introduction, MacArthur writes:
This new gospel has spawned a generation of professing Christians whose behavior often is indistinguishable from the rebellion of the unregenerate. Recent statistics reveal that 1.6 billion people world-wide are considered Christians. A well-publicized opinion poll indicated nearly a third of all Americans claim to be born again. Those figures surely represent millions who are tragically deceived. Theirs is a damning false assurance.—John F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan), 1988.MacArthur's position in a nutshell: Evangelism based on easy-believism has resulted in many who have a false assurance of salvation, as evidenced by the fact that their profession of faith has not changed their lives.
MacArthur's book generated many responses from within dispensationalism. Two of the more important are Charles C. Ryrie's So Great Salvation (Wheaton: Victor Books), 1989, and Zane Hodges' Absolutely Free. (Zondervan), 1989.
It what follows, it can be assumed that within dispensationalism, MacArthur represents the extreme Lordship position, Hodges the extreme non-Lordship, and Ryrie a moderate, in-between position.
(Most of the rest of the post is taken from Mathison's book Dispensationalism, Rightly Dividing the People of God?)
MacArthur has noted seven fundamental points on which all three agree:
- Cross. Christ’s death paid the full penalty for all our sins and purchased salvation. (Rom. 3:24-26, 1 Cor 15:54-57)
- Justification by Faith. Salvation is by faith through Jesus alone—plus minus nothing. (Eph. 2:8-9)
- Good Works. Sinners cannot earn salvation or favor with God. (Rom. 8:8)
- Prerequisites for Salvation. God requires no preparatory works or prerequisite self-improvement. (Rom. 10:13, 1 Tim 1:15)
- Eternal Life. Eternal Life is a gift from God. (Rom. 6:23)
- Immediate Justification. Believers are saved and fully justified before their faith ever produces a single righteous work. (Eph. 2:10)
- Believers and Sin. Christians can and do sin. Even strong Christians are in constant battle against the flesh. Genuine Christians sometimes commit heinous sins (David, c.f., 2 Sam. 11)
However, MacArthur lists nine points upon which there is disagreement: Repentance, Faith, Faith’s Object, Faith’s Effects, Salvation’s Extent, Christ’s Lordship, Holy Desires, Assurance and Perseverance.
Below we present a table (from Mathison) that shows that radical Non-Lordship (Hodges), moderate Non-Lordship (Ryrie), and Lordship (MacArthur) positions on each of these points of contention
|Radical Non-Lordship||Moderate Non-Lordship||Lordship|
|Repentance||Repentance has absolutely nothing to do with salvation and should therefore never be included in the gospel message.||Repentance is not a part of conversion but simply a change of mind about something. It is not meant to be part of the gospel message.||The gospel calls sinners to faith in oneness with repentance. Repentance is turning from sin, not a work but a divine grace. Acts 2:38, 3:19, 11:18, 17:30, 20:21, 26:18-20;2 Pet. 3.9; Luke 3:8, 24:47; 2 Tim 2:25|
|Faith||Faith is simply the belief in the truthfulness of certain facts. It is solely the work of man and not a gift of God.||Faith is primarily being convinced of the facts of the gospel, but it also includes an act of the will and an element of trust in the person.||Salvation is all God’s work. Those who believe are saved apart from any effort on their own. Even faith is a gift, not a work of man. Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:1-5,8; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 11.|
|Faith's Object||The object of faith is the collection of facts of the gospel message.||The object of saving faith is The Lord Jesus Christ.||The object of faith is Christ Himself, not only a creed or promise. Faith therefore involves personal commit-ment to Christ. All true believers follow Jesus. John 3:16, 10:27-28; 2 Cor. 5:15|
|Faith's Effects||The only necessary effect of faith is salvation from the eternal penalty of sin. A life of continued growth in grace (progressive sanctification) and salvation from the power of sin are not necessary effects.||Some fruit is inevitable in a true Christian life, though it may never be outwardly visible.||Real faith inevitably produces a changed life. Salvation includes a transformation of the inner person. The nature of the Christian is different, new. The unbroken pattern of sin will not continue. 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6, 1 John 3:9-10|
|Salvation's Extent||Salvation means gaining eternal life. The other aspects of Christian life are different kinds of ‘salvation’, which believers must experience after conversion.||Salvation guarantees justification and “positional” sanctification but not necessarily “progressive” sanctification.||The gift of God, eternal life, includes all that pertains to life and godliness, not just a ticket to heaven. Rom. 6:6, 8:32; 2 Pet. 1:3.|
|Christ's Lordship||There should be absolutely no aspect of submission to the lordship of Christ in the gospel message||A person can accept Jesus as savior without acknowledging Him as Lord of one’s life and without being willing to allow Him control over ones life.||Jesus is the Lord of all and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender. He does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him. Rom. 6:17:18, 10:9-10; James 4:6|
|Holy Desires||The scriptural revelation knows nothing of a doctrine in which Christian love is guaranteed by the mere fact that one is a Christian.||Ryrie argues that believers my live like unsaved people for extended periods of time, but he does not believe this will be the lifelong state of any Christian.||Those who truly believe will love Christ. They will therefore long to obey Him. John 14:15,23; 1 Pet. 1:8-9; Rom 8:28-30; 1 Cor. 16:22|
|Assurance||When a person believes he has assurance of life eternal. A continuous lack of fruit in a believer’s life should never cause him to question his salvation.||The bible offers two grounds for assurance. The objective ground is that God’s word says that I am saved through faith…The subjective ground relates to my experiences.||Behavior is an important test of faith. Obedience is evidence that one’s faith is real. The person who remains utterly unwilling to obey Christ does not evidence true faith. 1 John 2:3-4|
|Perseverance||It is possible for a person to cease believing and yet remain a Christian.||Ryrie agrees with Hodges: faith is a point in time action and may not continue in a Christian.||Genuine believers may stumble and fall, but they will persevere in the faith. Those who turn completely away show that they were never really born again. 1 John 2:19; 1 Cor. 1:8|