Theology Thursday - Zane Hodges on Lordship Salvation

In 1988, John MacArthur released The Gospel According to Jesus and the phrase “lordship salvation” rocketed into popular evangelical vocabulary. Of course, the debate had been simmering long before MacArthur published his book, but he helped turn the simmer to a rolling boil. Charles Ryrie published So Great Salvation, in 1989. And, that same year, Zane Hodges finished Absolutely Free! MacArthur and Hodges represent the two opposite sides of the spectrum in this war of words and theologial systems.

Here, in this short excerpt from his book, Zane Hodges introduces the issue from his perspective:1

It would be difficult to imagine a conversation like this between a father and his son:

Son: “Dad, am I really your son, or am I only adopted?”

Father: “Well, young man, it depends on how you behave. If you really are my son, you will show this by doing the things I tell you to do. If you have my nature inside of you, you can’t help but be obedient.”

Son: “But what if I disobey you a lot, Dad?”

Father: “Then you have every reason to doubt that you are truly my son!”

What sort of father would talk to his son like that? Would he not rightly be accused of cruelty for dealing in this fashion with the anxieties of his child? At a monent like this, is not his child’s most urgent need a sense of acceptance and parental love?

But to withhold this acceptance, in order to secure his boys obedience, is to traffic in rejection and fear. Yet, strangely enough, this is the kind of dialogue some Christian teachers apparently feel would be appropriate between God and man. According to them, if a person wonders whether he is a Christian or not, he ought to be told to look for evidence of this in his behavior. 

It is dangerous, these teachers assert, to offer someone the assurance that they are accepted with God apart from the issue of obedience. For them, there is no such thing as an unconditional love of God that is not, in some way, performance-related. 

This is the tragedy of the evangelical church today. To an alarming degree, it has lot touch with the unconditional love of God. To an amazing extent, it has become blind to the heart of  a loving Father who is waiting, like the father of the prodigal son, to embrace sinners with His total acceptance and with his lavish forgiveness. 

And even if the repenting sinner thinks he should pledge lifelong service to God whom he has offended, the Father will not allow such a pledge to be a part of His gracious acceptance of the offender! 

But many evangelicals today have forgotten this truth. Indeed, they even deny it. The most obvious result has been the spread of what is frequently called “lordship salvation.” This is the view that a committment to obedience must be a true part of spiritual conversion. But beneath the surface lie all the hideous fruits of this disasterous way of thinking. 

Eternity alone will reveal how many thousands of people have been deprived of their assurance by this teaching and have been brought into the bondage of fear in their relationship to God. Instead of promoting holiness, the doctrine of lordship salvation destroys the very foundation on which true holiness must be built. By returning to the principles of the law, it has forfeited the spiritual power of grace. 

A Judgmental Spirit

As if the results already mentioned were not enough, lordship salvation also promotes a judgmental and pharisaical spirit within the church. How tempting it is to our sinful flesh to believe that we have a right to say to a failing professing believer, “You are really not good enough to be on your way to heaven!”

Of course, this point is rarely put in so stark a form. But no matter how carefully the matter is disguised in religious jargon, or obscured by sophisticated theology, the sad fact remains the same. Lordship teaching reserves to itself the right to strip professing Christians of their claims to faith and to consign such people to the ranks of the lost. 

To be sure, there is much reason to think that there are multitudes of people in churches today who have never really been saved. But this is due to their failure to understand the gospel offer, or to accept it. The fact that a person falls below the moral standards laid down in God’s word is always tragic and deplorable. But it is not necessarily a proof that one is also unsaved. Is there any Christian who does not have areas of failure which he or she must seek God’s grace to overcome?

But lordship thought is not satisfied to simply insist that some conversion experiences are not valid. Nearly everyone would agree to that. Instead, lordship doctrine even goes so far as to disallow an individual’s claim to personal trust in Christ on the ground that their life is so unworthy that the claim could not be true. 

But the price paid for the privilege of making this kind of judgment is enormously high. The cost is nothing less than a radical rewriting of the gospel proclaimed by the Lord and by His apostles. And this leads to a complete reshaping of the concept of “saving faith.” The result is that what passes for faith in lordhip thought is no longer recognizable as the biblical quality that goes by the same name. 

It may even be said that lordship salvation throws a veil of obscurity over the entire New Testament revelation. In the process, the marvelous truth of justification by faith, apart from works, recedes into shadows not unlike those which darkened the days before the Reformation. What replaces this doctrine is a kind of faith/works synthesis which differs only insignificantly from official Roman Catholic dogma. 

Notes

1 Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 17-20.

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There are 28 Comments

TylerR's picture

That book is almost as inspiring as this one, which a Pastor friend of mine was going to throw away. I wonder why he didn't find it edifying ...

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

pvawter's picture

Maybe I'm missing something, but I think he mischaracterizes the Lordship position right out of the box. No one believes that God would have that conversation with a struggling Christian, but that his pastor might. Since we cannot know the heart of another man, we cannot give assurance to him, but this is not the same as God keeping him in limbo. Any person living like an unregenerate should have doubts, no?

TylerR's picture

pvawter:

You didn't miss anything. I think this book is pure trash. No balance. No nuance. No fairness. No scholarship. Just angry trash.

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Darrell Post's picture

MacArthur's book has stood the test of time. I grew up in a church that lived out this debate. One faction in the church would go out for Tuesday night door-to-door witnessing, and when they came back to the office you would hear "I got two," and "I got three," and so on. Of course they meant by that the number of people they got to repeat a 30 second prayer so they could be declared 'saved.' Such 'converts' were never baptized, never added to the church, and never heard from again. 'Salvation' was reduced to a magic formula not much different than 'abra-cadabra' -- poof! You are on your way to heaven because you said the magic words.

By contrast, another faction in this church worked to reach unbelievers with a much more biblical understanding of the gospel. I recall one young man in jail that we worked with week after week after he begged us to explain to him what the Bible was all about.

Ed Vasicek's picture

i have long maintained that the best position is halfway between Ryrie and MacArthur. Hodges doesn't even register on the scale.

Many, like myself, believe that repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is what saves.  Lordship make assurance impossible -- you cannot know you are surrendered in all areas unless you are tested in all, and, more importantly, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.  Lordship salvation requires you to trust in your own sincerity or not have assurance. 

Repentance, esp. in the OT sense of returning to the road (turning to God and wanting God to help us live to please Him) plus faith in the atoning work of the cross and resurrection, is my understanding.

I would also argue that discipleship and believing are two different things.  Judas was a disciple but not a believer.  To make the conditions of discipleship the conditions fo salvation is to trash the Jewish understanding of discipleship which is the context of the New Testament.  Disciples had it rough for the little while they left their homes to follow a rabbi.  They were to follow their rabbis' (usually a man would follow several rabbis for days or weeks at a time) teachings throughout life.  But the hardship aspect was only temporary.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

I have always taken Ryrie to be the middle-ground between MacArthur and Hodges. I've read enough of Hodges' book to know I won't get anything but propaganda. I've cast it aside and am going for Ryrie next. 

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

josh p's picture

Ryrie is probably a mid point. The problem with MacArthur is that he is mostly interacting with Hodges so it’s more of a refutation of him than Ryrie’s position. Reading Ryrie at times it almost seems like they are talking last each other. 

Ed Vasicek's picture

josh p wrote:

Ryrie is probably a mid point. The problem with MacArthur is that he is mostly interacting with Hodges so it’s more of a refutation of him than Ryrie’s position. Reading Ryrie at times it almost seems like they are talking last each other. 

 

Ryrie put out his book after MacArthur.  Ryrie's viewpoint is that it is faith alone (w/out repentance other than a change of mind), but (unlike Hodges), Ryrie says real faith must be living and will change the believer's life, even if there was no general turning from sin at the point of conversion. This is a common Dallas Seminary viewpoint, and I was taught this view at Moody by Dr. Marvin Mayer.

Hodges essentially says a dead faith can save (he is quite radical, IMO). 

Between Ryrie and MacArthur are many, like S. Lewis Johnson and a host of others. They say it is faith which includes repentance (a turning from sin to God).  That is my view.  My view is halfway between Ryrie and MacArthur.  MacArthur demands full surrender, something which those of us who try to fully surrender to God find lacking at times.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

josh p's picture

I read the updated Gospel According to Jesus which interacts with Ryrie a little IIRC. I think that Ryrie would say that repentance is absolutely essential but that it is a change of mind and not a sorrow over sin. I could be wrong though, it’s been a while since I read it. 

Ed Vasicek's picture

Ryrie defines repentance as a change of mind regarding Jesus Christ and God.  I do not think he views it in the OT sense of the word as a "return" to God's path.  He does say, however, that once one accepts Christ, the Spirit will work within and create that desire to do God's will.  I can live with Ryrie's position, and, in actuality, when one accepts Christ, he/she often does not understand everything anyhow.

The idea that making the Gospel more difficult is somehow going to improve the ration of wheat to tares is ridiculous.  Many of the tares already have a too hard "gospel" of works.  IMO, the Gospel message is like a bulls eye, and anything near the bulls eye will do the job --if the Spirit is working.  Although we should aim for an accurate gospel presentation, we should not at the same forget iresistable grace.

There are a lot of genuine converts with Ryrie's gospel, MacArthur's gospel (and if Hodges is presented with a clear description of the atonement, even his version). And there are many false converts with all of the above.   But the gospel (assuming it is close enough and focuses on the atonement) perspective we start with as believers also affects the path we choose after conversion.  Much theology affects our personal walk, our ability to serve well, become and make truly solid disciples.  So it does matter, but will not cure the false convert blues.

BTW, Ryrie is my favorite "top tier" theologian.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

I've always liked Ryrie. He's balanced. I personally have a more Reformed view of salvation, but I can get along and minister with anybody who is as balanced as Ryrie.   

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Joel Tetreau's picture

So ... not out of the norm.... I'm with Ed......

John MacArthur is probably my favorite Bible teacher and preacher..... ever. Having said that......

Ed, I have used those exact same words. My belief and description of Salvation  and it's connection to Lordship and Faith is "somewhere between Ryie and Mac." 

In my view.... (for the three of you who care)....Hodges and others from the Free Grace Movement have ignored the full-orbed teaching on what repentance is. 

Yes we can find examples of Scripture of those who in faith had a high level of volitional commitment in righteousness. Yes we can find examples of Scripture of those in faith who had a hot - then cold level of volitional righteousness. Nowhere in Scripture is there clear evidence of their being a believer who had.... no level of volitional righteousness. Hodges argues that it is theologically possible. The epistle of John (and elsewhere) argue that's not possible.

I would say some of the stronger definitions of Lordship can be dangerous. You end up having to be fully sanctified before fully justified. This kind of double-justification is similar to Rome and even kissing cousins to the Wesley's.... For the record I've heard John MacArthur describe his understanding of Lordship that at times sounds much closer to Ryrie than the Gospel According to Jesus. 

Having said that you have to remember the context of 1987-88, etc.... Mac was writing in the face of a grand amount of easy-believe-ism in every wing of evangelicalism. I've chalked up some of John's strongest descriptions of Lordship as a Lion-hearts desire to stop what at the time was a gross ongoing plague of Finnyism. (Finneyism?) That is too many believed and preached a kind of "decisional regeneration." A decision is miles away from a conversion. 

Salvation means the Holy Spirit gifts/brings/births faith and repentance. Satan believes and yet no repentance. You can't have repentance without their being a baseline desire to follow and serve Christ.... in submission to Him. That's Lordship. To suggest perfect Lordship isn't possible.... With either sanctification of justification... a perfection oriented Lordship will have to suggest a post-salvation Keswick or Wesley-ish kind of perfectionism. Furthermore the Scriptures themselves paint a Christian experience where we grow in grace and in faith and in faithfulness. 

Sorry guys.....I'm rambling.... good night... you all continue with this.... Shalom....&*

Straight Ahead! 

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

G. N. Barkman's picture

So called "Lordship salvation" does not mean perfect obedience, total surrender (is there really any such thing?), entire sanctification, or any other other of the mistaken concepts that some critics have charged.

It means submission to the authority of Christ as Lord.  Before conversion, we are in a state of rebellion against Christ's rightful authority.  (enmity)  In coming to Christ by faith, we are submitting to His rightful authority in our lives.  We agree that He has the right to rule us, and we acknowledge that whenever we disobey His commands, we have sinned, and need to confess our sin and re-submit ourselves to His rule.  It's a change of orientation from self rule to Christ's rule, and it's a permanent change.  It has nothing to do with perfect obedience, which is impossible.  It has everything to do with submission.  Before conversion, our fundamental attitude was that of resisting submission to Christ.  Conversion brings submission, the proper attitude of the creature to his Creator.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

I might be rusty, but I thought MacArthur demanded total surrender for salvation?  Yes, he allows for sin, etc., but a will totally surrendered, at least in intent.  The problem I have with that is that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).  It does not stop being deceitful and desperately wicked anytime during our pilgrimage on earth, IMO. Therefore, to say I or you or anybody is totally surrendered (or at least desires to be) must require that tricky heart of ours to not deceive us.  I do not trust myself or anyone who says they are fully surrendered.

Paul seems to suggest that, of all his many godly assistants, only one seemed convincingly "fully surrendered," and that was Timothy (Philippians 2:19-21 ESV):

9 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 

MacArthur needs to take more seriously the human heart and how we lie to ourselves.

Proverbs 28:16 NASB

He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered

If I have to determine whether I am truly surrendered, I am an incapable judge.  Therefore, I could never have assurance of salvation.

I think such pressure encourages our already pre-existing culture of Christian lying.

MacArthur:

Do we literally have to give away everything we own to become Christians? No, but we do have to be willing to forsake all...We must be eager to do whatever he asks...

Again, I would argue, how can we know we are willing to do whatever He asks UNTIL He asks?

MacArthur has attempted to correct a problem through overkill.  This, again, encourages a culture of Christian lying; we anticipate people will inflate what they mean. 

 

 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Have you visited MacArthur's church?  Have you interacted with his vibrant congregation?  If so, you would know that he has a huge congregation of dedicated, active, joyful Christians who are very secure in their relationship with Christ.  Lack of assurance?  Hardly!  You will find the same thing in the hundred of churches led by men MacArthur has trained.  Evidently, you misunderstand MacArthur's teaching if you think it makes assurance of salvation impossible.  My observation leads me to conclude that those who are taught "Lordship salvation" are some of the most mature and godly Christians anywhere.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

G. N. Barkman said, If so, you would know that he has a huge congregation of dedicated, active, joyful Christians who are very secure in their relationship with Christ.

I don't disagree with you.  My point is that what MacArthur says in his book is overkill and inaccurate.  I have great respect for MacArthur, but I never think it is right to overstate one's case; you have to be pinpointed and accurate on a matter as important as salvation.  The issue is not MacArthur's church or his teaching in general (which is excellent), but the impossible paradigm of complete surrender for salvation in light of man's deceitful heart.  To believe I have to be willing to do anything the Lord might tell me to do requires me to trust in my own heart's sincerity.  Jonah, for example, may have thought he was willing to do whatever God might ask.  But he really wasn't.

It is not MacArthur alone, but much of the evangelical world that assumes our hearts can be completely sincere and honest.

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ed, I think I understand what you are saying.  But to say that we cannot desire to fully submit, even though we will find out later that we have failed, is different than being unwilling to submit.  I think that's the crux of the matter.  MacArthur, as I understand him, is simply saying that faith in Christ involves a willingness to be ruled by him.  If we are unwilling to submit to His rule, we have not savingly believed.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

This matter is where I see a disconnect between systematic theology and real life. Hodges is off the reservation; no doubt about it. But, when you get to the difference between Ryrie and MacArthur, I think we're splitting hairs a bit. From a purely theological, systematic standpoint, I'm with MacArthur. I'm thoroughly Reformed in my soteriology. I also believe regeneration logically comes before repentance and faith.

But, real life doesn't fit into neat, systematic categories. We're walking so fine a line here, between Ryrie (i.e. Vasieck) and MacArthur (i.e. Barkman)., that I wonder if the discussion is even worth having! I keep coming back to these points, which I think we can all agree on:

  1. Jesus is Lord, and will rule as King over all Creation one day
  2. We need to tell people who He actually is
  3. Real faith will produce fruit
  4. Real faith will produce loving submission to Christ
  5. This submission and sanctification will grow over time, even if there are lots of fits and starts along the way

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

G. N. Barkman's picture

Yes, Tyler, I certainly have no problem with your five statements.

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

G.N. Barkman and Tyler, I love the way you think.

But here is a point that is missed: not everyone is alike. 

Some people are very introspective and aware of their failings.  They may be very deep people, and their view of sin runs deeply.  They are painfully aware of their deceitful, sinful heart.

Then there are people who are more superficial.  They emotionally jump in with both feet, making promises and commitments that they later break or feel "led" to abandon.

Most of us dwell in between those two examples.  

MacArthur's overkill is no problem for the second type.  The first type, however, is both too humble and too aware of the sinful depths of his heart to announce that he is fully committed.  This person takes MacArthur seriously, particularly what he writes (which is probably an inflated version of what he really believes).

I do not think of myself as either extreme, but I definitely have a deeper view of the sinfulness of my heart, the duplicity of my two natures (which sounds like ego/id to Aaron, but it could be that Freud wrongly labeled what really is, in the case of a lost person a conscience and self-serving nature, in the case of a Christian an intensified conscience and a self-serving nature).

It is much clearer and universal to say that salvation requires repentance (returning to God and wanting Him to help you live rightly) and faith (dependence upon the atoning work fo Jesus) and not confuse it with discipleship, which is related but not equivalent.  Equating the two makes for confusion.

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Actually, discipleship is equivalent.  It is one of the several names for a Christian in Acts.  (Acts 11:26, et. al.)

May a person savingly believe in Christ while knowingly rejecting His rule?  Or is it not true that saving faith includes a willingness to submit to Christ's rule?  It really boils down to willingness to place oneself under the Lordship of Christ.  Of course we will fail to obey perfectly, and thankfully, the NT give us the remedy for failure.  (I John 1:9) A person is not required to promise perfect obedience, just surrender to Christ's authority.  To do any less is to leave that person in a state of rebellion against Christ, which describes those who are lost, not saved.

The underlying question is, "What is the nature of saving faith?"  Can a "faith" involving known defiance of Christ's rule save you?  Answer:  no.

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

The last time I spoke to a child who wanted me to baptize her (11 y.o), I asked her, "Do you understand that being one of God's children means you want to do what He says, and agree that He's in charge of your life?"

She said, "Yes!"

Did I emphasize "lordship salvation?" Meh. Call it what you want but, to me, saving faith has to include an acknowledgement of submission ot God and His Son Jesus Christ. How can you believe in Christ if you don't acknowledge who He is, and agree with it?

Tyler Robbins is a pastor at Sleater-Kinney Road Baptist, in Olympia, WA, and an Investigations Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Ed Vasicek's picture

Discipleship comes from a Jewish context.  All men were expected to leave home for stints with a rabbi. At the time of Jesus, there were hundreds of rabbis roaming the countryside with their bands of disciples.

Discipleship was a hard venture -- for a time.  Then you went home and returned to your business.  You were still considered a disciple of the rabbis you followed (often more than one) and tried to live out his teachings.

In contrast, being a believer is more specific. Many of Jesus disciples left him, and even Judas was truly a disciple but not a believer.

I have written extensively about this.  Here is a link to one of my articles (not just someone else's) if you would like to read further (if you want to pursue my thoughts): http://www.midrashkey.com/?page_id=104.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

I agree that one can be a disciple without being a true believer.  Judas clearly represents this category.  The real question is whether one can be a  true believer without being a disciple?

G. N. Barkman

Ed Vasicek's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

I agree that one can be a disciple without being a true believer.  Judas clearly represents this category.  The real question is whether one can be a  true believer without being a disciple?

Being a disciple simply means being a learner.  To confuse the demands of temporary Jewish discipleship (temporarily leaving all to follow a rabbi, a practice in which thousands of Jewish men had practiced for centuries) with taking the lifelong role of a learner results in illegitimate interpretation.  Allegorizing "leaving all" to refer to being willing to be completely surrendered is an improper move, albeit a common spiritualization.  This viewpoint, in the past when Jewish backgrounds were not readily available, is understandable.  And I think because the old commentaries, etc., codified such an interpretation, it continues on, even though now we have plenty of resources to understand what discipleship meant in Jesus' day.

"The Midrash Detective"

G. N. Barkman's picture

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.  And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be my disciple."  (Luke 14:26,27)

Does this sound like Jesus is saying that a disciple is "simply" a learner?  The New Testament indicates a level of commitment which exceeds that.

G. N. Barkman

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