Immediately following the first edition of The Gospel According to Jesus (1988) men who wanted to be sympathetic toward Dr. MacArthur’s Lordship interpretation of the Gospel have referred to some of the more polarizing elements as “overstatements.” Some of these men were on the faculty of The Master’s Seminary. I have spoken to men with those concerns. They have been frustrated with MacArthur’s alleged “overstatements.” The Anniversary Edition contains many of the same themes and “overstatements” found in the original version of this volume.
The answer is quite simple: they are not “overstatements!”
In the preface to the Anniversary Edition this statement appears,
“The cost of discipleship; the need to hate one’s own sin; Christ’s call to self-denial; His command to follow Him; and (especially) every mention of submission to Him as Lord were systematically expunged from the message Christians proclaimed to unbelievers. Sanctification became wholly optional. A whole new category ‘carnal Christians’ was invented to explain how someone could be converted to Christ and given eternal life but left totally unchanged in heart and lifestyle by such a transaction.”One must remember that the primary crux of the controversy over Lordship Salvation is Dr. MacArthur’s view of what he believes are the requirements for the reception of eternal life. There is a difference between the requirements for and the results of salvation. My concern is primarily with the conditions Lordship Salvation places on the lost for salvation, that the Bible does not. It is this area that makes the difference between Heaven and Hell. The eternal destiny of human souls is as stake. This is why I wrote In Defense of the Gospel: Biblical Answers to Lordship Salvation.
Dr. MacArthur’s Anniversary Edition of The Gospel According to Jesus is a continuation of his Lordship Salvation interpretation of the Gospel. For example, in the preface I cited above one can see that MacArthur continues the pattern of blurring the line of distinction between the doctrines of salvation and discipleship. He still insists the “carnal Christian” is a modern day invention completely disregarding the Holy Spirit’s inspiring Paul to define and address the reality of “carnal” believers in the first century church.
IMO, MacArthur does not condition salvation on the performance of the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of a disciple. He does, however, require an upfront commitment to the “good works” of discipleship in “exchange” for salvation. (See Is Lordship Salvation an “Exchange?” & Lordship Salvation’s “Barter” System)
Another theme that reappears in the Anniversary Edition is the *false dilemma. MacArthur argues against and seeks to answer what is portrayed as the only alternative to his Lordship interpretation of the Gospel. MacArthur points readers to the opposite end, the extreme edge of the theological pendulum swing. On the far end of that swing are the egregious errors of Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin, the Grace Evangelical Society’s Crossless/Deityless interpretation of the Gospel.
The reductionist Crossless Gospel is a legitimate target for criticism. MacArthur acknowledges that others are answering the Lordship view, but barely recognizes that these are more balanced biblical positions in sharp contrast to the reductionist extremism of Zane Hodges. While MacArthur references Dr. Charles Ryrie’s Balancing the Christian Life, he (MacArthur) never references Ryrie’s major contribution to the Lordship debate So Great Salvation.
MacArthur’s second Lordship apologetic, The Gospel According to the Apostles does include a discussion of elements in Ryrie’s So Great Salvation (SGS). However, in none of his three editions of The Gospel According to Jesus, which is regarded as the foremost defining apologetic on Lordship Salvation, does MacArthur refer to SGS.
Dr. Charlie Bing’s dissertation Lordship Salvation: A Biblical Evaluation & Response is one of the most balanced and compelling refutations of Lordship Salvation on the market. Dr. Bing is a relatively well-known theologian and major contributor to the discussion over Lordship Salvation. The Grace to You staff is very familiar with Dr. Bing and his dissertation. Nevertheless, nowhere in any of MacArthur’s Lordship apologetics, does he acknowledge or cite Bing’s work on the Lordship gospel.
Many of you are aware I have been working on a revised and expanded edition of my book, In Defense of the Gospel (IDOTG). This process has gone well past the time frame I gave myself to complete the project. Many have called to ask me when it will be done and made available. Some, more than once, have called to encourage me to finish at my earliest convenience.
In all sincerity there have been times of frustration over having to devote so much time to the Crossless gospel, which kept me from completing the revision of IDOTG. In the back of mind, however, I knew the Grace Evangelical Society’s Crossless gospel had to be exposed and biblically refuted, the Lord’s timing is perfect, and there must be some compelling reason for the delay in finishing the revision.
Thankfully I did not rush the completion, but instead waited on the Lord’s timing. I would have been disappointed had I rushed to completion only to have my revised and expanded edition released just ahead of MacArthur’s 20th Anniversary Edition.
From his review of the original The Gospel According To Jesus, Dr. Ernest Pickering noted,
“John MacArthur is a sincere servant of the Lord, of that we have no doubt.... We believe in his advocacy of the so-called lordship salvation he is wrong. He desperately desires to see holiness, lasting fruit, and continuing faithfulness in the lives of Christian people. This reviewer and we believe all sincere church leaders desire the same.... But the remedy for this condition is not found in changing the terms of the gospel.” (Lordship Salvation: An Examination of John MacArthur’s Book, The Gospel According to Jesus)Dr. Charlie Bing made a similar observation,
“They are motivated by the worthy desire to see those who profess Christ go on to maturity and fruitfulness. Faced with the sad realities of inconsistent behavior, ‘backsliding,’ and outright apostasy by some professing Christians, they have proposed a gospel that demands up front an exclusive commitment to an obedient lifestyle in hopes of minimizing these problems.” (Lordship Salvation: A Biblical Evaluation and Response, p. 11.)I share the thoughts expressed by Pickering and Bing. All of us share the distress over men and women in our churches who profess Christ as Savior, but show little interest in living for Him as Lord. The answer, however, “is not found in changing the terms of the gospel.”
My initial review of The Gospel According to Jesus: Anniversary Edition leads me to conclude that this is a continuation of the same teaching found in each of Dr. MacArthur’s preceding major apologetics on Lordship Salvation.
The “overstatements” run like a thread through each of MacArthur’s Lordship Salvation apologetics. They define exactly what the Lordship message truly is. That is a message that frontloads faith with a “wholehearted commitment” of “submission” and “surrender” to perform the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of mature, born again disciple of Jesus Christ. (See John MacArthur’s Discipleship Gospel)
I whole-heartedly support the biblical call upon the Christian to live in submission and sacrifice to the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 12:1-2). MacArthur, however, speaks in terms that in one sense go beyond, but also precede what should be the natural result of a genuine conversion. To reiterate from above, MacArthur does not precondition salvation of the lost man on the performance of the good works (Eph. 2:10) expected of a disciple. He is teaching what he insists is the requirement for the reception of eternal life. That teaching, which frontloads faith with commitment in “exchange” for salvation, is present and as stark in this 20th Anniversary Edition as it was in the 1988 original.
Later in the week I am going to post a follow up to this article. I will be taking one page from this latest edition of The Gospel According to Jesus and from that single page demonstrate the most glaring and obvious error of the Lordship Salvation interpretation of the Gospel. IMO, that single page provides all one needs to affirm Lordship Salvation is a works based, man-centered message that frustrates grace (Gal. 2:21).
I invite you to read a companion article, Ominous Signs of Lordship’s Coming Storm! This article provides a unique historical perspective of the Lordship controversy from a man who was on staff at Moody Press with Phil Johnson who is John MacArthur’s senior editor. This article details pertinent events just prior to the release of MacArthur’s original The Gospel According to Jesus.
*The student of logic will spend some time studying fallacies. One of the logical fallacies people use in an attempt to prove their point is sometimes called the “false dilemma.” This fallacy occurs “when the two alternatives are presented, not all the possibilities have been explored.” This fallacy presents itself in the current debate. Those who advocate the lordship salvation position see only the mental assent or “easy believism” position as an alternative. Likewise those who hold to Hodges’ mental assent position decry all others as advocates of lordship salvation… There is a balanced, biblical position on the issue of salvation. (Dr. Fred Moritz, Preach the Word, Oct. – Nov. 1999, p. 10.)