December 28, 2006

If You Aren’t Lordship, Your Doctrine is not Fundamental

To All:

In a new installment at Pulpit Magazine John MacArthur identifies his Lordship Salvation interpretation of the gospel as fundamental doctrine of the faith. See What Doctrines Are Fundamental,? (Part 2) from December 28, 2006.

In the foreword from The Gospel According to Jesus, Dr. James Montgomery Boice says, speaking of the opponents of Lordship Salvation:

“...they are mistaken--dreadfully mistaken and they need to be shown their error from Scripture, which is what this book does. They also need to be shown that their view has never been the view of any major Bible teacher or theologian in the church until our own weak times.”

Dr. Boice is not speaking merely of the Easy-Believism proponents. He indicts anyone who does not share Dr. MacArthur’s Lordship interpretation of the gospel. In this article by Dr. MacArthur he identifies his lordship position on the gospel as exclusive truth. The consequence is: If you do not believe in Lordship Salvation’s plan for eternal life, as defined by Dr. MacArthur, then you do not hold to the fundamentals of our faith.

In what is typical fashion, however, Dr. MacArthur’s Lordship position is not fully defined in this article as he believes it. The Lordship position is mixed in with what is otherwise orthodox truth. At face value Roman numeral III above appears sound, but when the terms he uses are defined by him from his other writings the real meaning and subsequent error is exposed.

If I were to take the time there is much that I could discuss about the article. I am, however, going to limit myself to just one subject from the article. That subject is Dr. MacArthur’s reference to “saving faith” as a fundamental.
In Roman numeral III above he identifies “saving faith” as a fundamental. It is important that we be reminded how Dr. MacArthur defines “saving faith.” We will look more closely at this in a moment.

For just a moment I want to refer to this quote in the article above, “Romans 10:9 confirms that the resurrection is a fundamental doctrine, and adds another: the lordship of Christ. ‘If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.’”

The deity and resurrection of Christ are indeed fundamentals. Jesus is the Messiah. The Sonship of Jesus is a fundamental, but ironically Dr. MacArthur once erred gravely on the eternal Sonship of Christ, but later acknowledged his error. In this quote on Romans 10:9 Dr. MacArthur identifies “the lordship of Christ” as “a fundamental doctrine.”

Romans 10:9 is speaking of salvation, therefore, when Dr. MacArthur speaks of the lordship of Christ from the verse he is speaking of what he believes a man’s response must be to the lordship of Christ in order to be born again. This is important because Lordship’s “saving faith” has primarily to do with what they believe must be man’s response to the lordship of Christ to result in salvation.

Just before I quote Dr. MacArthur’s definition of “saving faith” we need to be reminded that in the article above, and in the quotes to follow, he is speaking of the reception of eternal life, not the results of a genuine conversion.

In defining “saving faith,” Dr. MacArthur has written,
“The gospel Jesus proclaimed was a call to discipleship, a call to follow Him in submissive obedience. . . . Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion; it is the sine qua non of saving faith.” (The Gospel According to Jesus: [Revised & Expanded Edition], pp. 27, 142.)
The indispensable condition of “saving faith,” according to Dr. MacArthur, is following Christ, “submissive obedience” and “forsaking oneself.” Following is John MacArthur's definition of saving faith from the original edition of The Gospel According to Jesus: “Saving faith is a commitment to leave sin and follow Jesus at all costs. Jesus takes no one unwilling to come on those terms.” (p. 87.)

From the Revised & Expanded Edition, John MacArthur reworked the above statement as follows,
“Saving faith does not recoil from the demand to forsake sin and follow Jesus Christ at all costs. Those who find his terms unacceptable cannot come at all.” (p. 95.)
Again from his original edition, MacArthur writes,
“Thus in a sense we pay the ultimate price for salvation when our sinful self is nailed to a cross. . . . It is an exchange of all that we are for all that Christ is. And it denotes implicit obedience, full surrender to the lordship of Christ. Nothing less can qualify as saving faith.” (p. 140.)
To reiterate, Dr. MacArthur is defining the terms or conditions for the reception of eternal life. When he speaks of “saving faith” he is defining what he believes is required for the reception of eternal life. He believes salvation is conditioned upon “wholehearted commitment, unconditional surrender, a commitment to leave sin."

Dr. MacArthur states salvation (the gift of eternal life) is based on, “A full exchange of self for the Savior.” These are the terms he uses to define the Lordship interpretation of “saving faith.”

Lordship Salvation requires much more than a faith that is depending on Jesus Christ to save from sin, death and Hell. The Lordship position does not depend solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Lordship Salvation, according to John MacArthur requires an “exchange” of what man must offer Christ by way of commitments to obedience, surrender, and following, to receive His free gift of salvation.

To define “saving faith” as though receiving the free gift of God requires a lost man to make upfront commitments in “exchange” for salvation is a departure from the fundamentals of our faith!



  1. Shane said,
    I wonder if the issue is also between dispensationalism and covenant theology. Many LS advocates apply teachings that are primarily for Israel such as the Sermon on the Mount. Also, the confusion between Church truth and kingdom truth. I think there is a definite difference between the pre-Cross revelation and post-Cross. That doesn't mean that there is more than one way of salvation, but that the content of our faith has progressed with continuing revelation. It also seems that many LS advocates want to put the believer back under the law as a means of sanctifcation, rather than grace (Rom 6). Though I reject Zane Hodges approach, and do believe the regenerate will bear fruit,yet I think LS advocates often put the cart before the horse. I don't see how one can have much assurance of salvation with LS theology.

  2. Very odd, I must say. If one were to study through the old liberal/fundamentalists debates, one would find that it was in fact the liberals who were touting salvation by obedience or commitment. Very odd to say the least.

  3. Shane:

    There is likely some factual basis for your finding issues with dispensationalism and Covenant theology in LS. It is, however, not something I have look deeply into.

    I have read some men who say MacArthur leans toward Covenant Theology, which some Calvinists eventually gravitate towards. MacArthur, however, does try to appear dispensational.

    As for the Sermon on the Mount, MacArthur says it contains, "pure gospel." In his book Hard to Believe he has a chapter titled, Highway to Heaven. In that chapter he deals Matthew 7:13-14, and says the LS gospel is that narrow way. For example, he writes,

    "Hell will be full of people who thought highly of the Sermon on the Mount. You must do more than that. You must obey it and take action." (p. 81)

    Later he says,

    "No doubt I believe that...some of the people who take a pledge, sign a card, or come down front at those services are brokenhearted, aware of their sinfulness, and ready to follow Jesus as Lord by bearing their crosses with total self-denial." (p. 84)

    Again, with JM, the conditions of discipleship are the requirements for salvation.

    "You must also enter the narrow gate in utter surrender to Christ." (86.)

    In Hard to Believe we have JM saying obedience to the conditions in the Sermon are the requirements for entry into Heaven.

    In the chapter, as JM does so often, he keeps moving to and from the results of and requirements for salvation. That is why it is imperative to read him very carefully. Most is orthodox, but the error can always be found woven in.


  4. Shane:

    You wrote, "I don't see how one can have much assurance of salvation with LS theology."

    I have made this point. LS is a man-centered gospel. LS requires a lost man to make a commitment to live in obedience to the Lord in "exchange" for salvation.

    Once he finds out he can't live up to the promise he made, he is likely to struggle with assurance.

    At least he is going to become frustrated.