October 12, 2009

The Gospel of the Christ: The “Lordship Salvation” Label

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Earlier this month I had the privilege of introducing the new book by Pastor Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical response to the Crossless Gospel Regarding the Contents of Saving Faith.

In Tom Stegall’s introduction of his book he noted:

My objective in writing the book was to provide a biblical response to the controversy within the Free Grace community over the subject of the ‘crossless gospel’ and the contents of saving faith. Part I of the book lays the groundwork by introducing the problem of the crossless/promise-only/Grace Evangelical Society (GES) gospel and its associated doctrines. The remainder of the book still interacts with the new GES theology but it is primarily an exegetical synthesis of dozens of key passages involving the terms ‘gospel’ and ‘Christ’.

Let’s continue with the powerful series of excerpts from Tom Stegall’s book.

The “Lordship Salvation” Label

Finally, the origin of the phrases “Free Grace” and “Lordship Salvation” is worth recollecting for a moment. Both designations resulted from the salvation controversy that peaked in American Evangelicalism in the 1980s. The Grace position coined the phrase “Lordship Salvation” for the opposing viewpoint, and like it or not, the label stuck. Initially, this designation was meant to convey the idea that something more was being added to the sole condition of faith in Christ for salvation. A commitment or submission to the Lordship of Christ over one’s life was also being required by many evangelicals. Thus the phrase, “Lordship Salvation,” was originally meant to convey a negative idea, conjuring up the impression in most people’s minds of a works-oriented salvation that is contrary to God’s grace. This was clearly how those on the Lordship side perceived it as well. That is why John MacArthur, the leading spokesman for the Lordship view, stated in 1988:
I don’t like the term “lordship salvation.” It was coined by those who want to eliminate the idea of submission to Christ from the call to saving faith, and it implies that Jesus’ lordship is a false addition to the gospel. As we shall see, however, “lordship salvation” is simply the biblical and historic doctrine of soteriology. I use the term in this volume only for the sake of argument.1
Clearly, MacArthur did not initially appreciate the designation and the negative associations it left in people’s minds. Five years later, this was still smoldering in his thinking, as he reiterated the same point in his second book:
I don’t like the term lordship salvation. I reject the connotation intended by those who coined the phrase. It insinuates that a submissive heart is extraneous or supplementary to saving faith. Although I have reluctantly used the term to describe my views, it is a concession to popular usage. . . . Those who criticize lordship salvation like to level the charge that we teach a system of works-based righteousness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although I labored to make this as plain as possible in The Gospel According to Jesus, some critics continue to hurl that allegation.2
Yet, in spite of the fact that MacArthur and many others voiced their objections to the “Lordship Salvation” label, and even felt it was a misrepresentation of their doctrinal position, those on the Grace side continued to use it based on their personal, biblical conviction that MacArthur and others really were advocating a works-gospel. That is why the crossless teachers of today’s Free Grace movement have themselves routinely used the rather pejorative designation, “Lordship gospel,” to summarize the message of MacArthur and others on the Lordship side. 3 There is not much difference between referring to the Lordship view as the “Lordship gospel” and referring to the crossless saving faith view as the “Crossless gospel.”


Please continue to- The “No Lordship” Counter-Claim

1) John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says, “Follow Me”? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 28-29n20.

2) John F. MacArthur, Jr.,
Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 23 (ellipsis added).

3) “Similarly, if the Lordship gospel is correct, then Free Grace theology is not” (Bob Wilkin, “Lordship Salvation for Dummies,” Grace in Focus 21 [September-October 2006]: 2). “It follows from what I have just said that nobody ever got saved by believing the Lordship gospel. Of course some people do believe that gospel who are already saved. I am not talking about that. I just mean that on the terms of the Lordship gospel alone, no one can get saved, since this form of doctrine garbles the gospel so badly that assurance of salvation is not available. And if some people do find assurance in a Lordship gospel, that assurance is a delusion since it is not founded on biblical truth.” (Zane C. Hodges, “Assurance: Of the Essence of Saving Faith,” in
JOTGES 10 [Spring 1997]: 4).

For additional study on the “Lordship Salvation” interpretation of the Gospel I invite you to read:

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