Michael Horton, Editor
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House (1992)
240 pages, paperback, $11.95
Oh, no! Not another polemical work in a generation that so desperately needs more love and less doctrine. Isn't it true that "doctrine divides while love builds up?" But who takes the time and effort to define love properly?? We must admit, this is not a age of doctrinal precision and doctrinal concern, in the light of such simplistic analogies as that stated above.
But then a book like this one, from a strongly biblical and Reformation standpoint, comes along challenging many of our popular notions and mistaken doctrinal beliefs. Horton writes, in response to the views of both Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, a major work for all of us to consider carefully.
Hodges, author of Absolutely Free!: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Zondervan, 1989), wrote in response to John MacArthur's earlier book, The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan, 1988). Hodges believes that MacArthur has added something to faith, thus making salvation to be faith plus works. This charge is very serious. MacArthur had earlier charged that Hodges destroyed the meaning of repentance and saving faith by a thousand qualifications, thus making faith to be something far less than the term means in the new Testament. Hodges, wishing to argue for what he believes is the position of the Protestant Reformation and the New Testament, reasons that MacArthur, and other "Lordship" preachers, add to faith, thus making salvation to be by faith plus works. MacArthur attacks Hodges' position by saying that Hodges separates being saved by faith in Christ from "making Christ one's Lord" at a later point in the Christian's life. This means, in MacArthur's view, that Jesus is "Savior only: for those who do not trust Him later on as Lord. This is where the names used in this present debate actually originate, names like "Lordship Salvation." MacArthur insists that a person must come to Jesus as both Savior and Lord and begin to work out the dynamics of what it means to be under His lordship day by day. The idea of coming to Christ as Savior "only" is untenable, he reasons.
Michael Horton, editor of this helpful volume, has searched this debate out very intensely. He has read both MacArthur and Hodges with considerable care. He has criticisms of both parties in this debate, but particularly displays the fatal error in Hodges' thought. He attempts to correct MacArthur a several points, especially regarding his definitions of faith and repentance (he at times treats them as synonymous terms in the Scriptures). Horton tells us that he has met with men from MacArthur's staff, and that future editions of The Gospel According to Jesus, as well as the newer volume, Faith Works (1992), will correct these mistakes.
Horton's argument is as follows. In the introduction he is concerned about clarity in preaching the gospel. He uses Hodges' and MacArthur's books to illustrate the point he makes. "What is the gospel?" That is the real question being debated, and Horton begins with definition. Further, he asks, "what is faith?" The, "what are justification and sanctification, and where do they differ and agree?" The answers he gives are those of the classical Reformation position and are plainly given and tightly argued.
The book has two equal divisions. The first section is an exposition of Scripture, showing plainly that Luther and Calvin, the major Protestant Reformers, were in full agreement on these matters, and that their views were in harmony with those of the Scriptures. These men discovered the gospel, especially the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Their precision in stating these matters is needed in our time, argues Horton. They said, "Salvation is by grace alone, by Christ alone, and through faith alone." In this section of the book, Kim Riddlebarger answers the important question, "What is Faith?" Robert Strimple deals with "Regeneration," while Horton includes an essay by himself dealing very thoroughly with "Union with Christ." Rick Ritchie writes on "The Law According to Jesus." Each of these chapters is filled with careful scholarship and makes a vital contribution to this whole debate.
The second section of this volume gives us "Lessons from the Past." Here we encounter Calvin's response to the Council of Trent, where Roman Catholicism sought to repel the gospel message of the Reformers. The historic struggles between Pelagius and Augustine are also discussed. One of the more interesting movements in our time has been the recovery of Puritan theology. Just how did the Puritans deal with doctrinal matters that touch upon the "Lordship" debate? I found Paul Schaefer's chapter titled "An American Tale," to read like a modern saga, rich with insight and pastoral help.
This book calls for clarity at a time when so little of it is evident in the present North American scene. The late J. Gresham Machen said that revivals were often born in doctrinal controversies and that these controversies would still be around when the revivals subsided. Horton helps prepare us for dealing with a major doctrinal controversy of our time, one that must be addressed if we would desire true revival.
Recently an 80-year-old man told a pastor friend of mine that he was sure he was going to heaven because his pastor had told him he would. Could this be true with many in our day? Would not a heaven-sent awakening bring many to realize that they needed to repent and believe the gospel genuinely?
In preparation for reformation and revival in our time I urge pastors and concerned church leaders to read and ponder this book very carefully. It could be a major contribution to the recovery of the gospel needed in our generation.
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