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Posts Tagged ‘lordship salvation controversy’

I have established that the overall pattern of Jesus’ preaching in gospels and the apostles’ preaching in Acts is clearly marked by the call to repent. This is because repentance in part and parcel of the gospel message. Thus, the New Testament simply does not envision believers who have not yet repented. Repentance is inseparable from faith in the call of the gospel and it is the necessary fruit of true conversion. In this short post, I intend to show that in addition to the gospels and Acts, the New Testament epistles also echo Christ’s command to repent and believe.

It is clear that Christ’s message was one of repentance and his disciples were faithful to retain Jesus’ pattern of preaching as their teaching prominently features repentance as well. For example, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Thus, Paul clearly believed that repentance is intricately tied to salvation.[1]

Peter’s second epistle also clearly ties repentance to the fulfillment of God’s promises in salvation: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). It is extremely difficult to make sense of these passages if repentance is understood to be something that takes place after conversion. Faith and repentance, if rightly understood, should be placed together as the biblically commanded human response to the gospel call. Repentance is a work of God and man–sinners must repent to receive salvation, yet God enables them to do so (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). The Gospels, Acts, and the New Testament epistles clearly tie repentance to conversion–a great deal must be read into these texts in order to see repentance as applying only to sanctification.

In my next post, I will discuss the Greek words used for repentance and how both lordship and non-lordship proppnents understand them. I will argue that non-lordship teaching incorrectly defines “repentance” to the detriment of the church.


[1]Other key Pauline texts on repentance include 2 Timothy 2:24-26 and Romans 2:3-4.

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It could be argued that the Lordship Salvation Controversy has been around for ages–ever since repentance lost its rightful place in the church’s gospel preaching. In this post, however, I will briefly trace the clear development of non-lordship theology from its early 20th century beginnings to its present form.

The Lordship Salvation Controversy can be traced back to the interaction of two early 20th century theologians, Lewis Sperry Chafer and Benjamin B. Warfield. Warfield was concerned about Chafer’s soteriology, claiming, “in [Chafer] we hear of two kinds of Christians whom he designates respectively ‘carnal men’ and ‘spiritual men’” (B.B. Warfield, “A Review of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He That is Spiritual,” 324). Chafer grounded his belief in two types of Christians on his commitment to Sola Fide, claiming that, “the eternal glories which are wrought in sovereign grace are conditioned, on the human side, by faith alone”  (Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, 371). Chafer claimed that repentance and faith are essentially the same thing, thus Chafer could affirm both that “repentance is essential to salvation and that none could be saved apart from repentance,” and that “it is clear that the New Testament does not impose repentance upon the unsaved as a condition of salvation” (373, 76). Chafer directly addresses how his theology should influence preaching of the gospel, claiming that, “in all gospel preaching every reference to the life lived beyond regeneration should be avoided as far as possible.”

Thus, according to Chafer, the gospel preacher is to call sinners to believe but not explicitly to repent and believe. Hence, Chafer saw two great spiritual changes taking place in Christian’s lives: “the change from the ‘natural man’ to the saved man, and the change from the ‘carnal’ man to the spiritual man” (He that is Spiritual, 8). Chafer claimed that what many evangelicals termed “repentance” and placed alongside faith should actually be placed after conversion in an act of adjustment toward the Holy Spirit. Chafer’s theology reflects the movement of removing repentance from the gospel call and placing it in the arena of sanctification. (Randall Gleason, “B. B. Warfield and Lewis S. Chafer on Sanctification,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 40.2, 250). Warfield, seeing “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15) as unitary call unto salvation, claimed that “these things [repentance and faith], cannot be separated, and it is a grievous error to teach that a true believer in Christ can stop short in ‘carnality,’ though having the Spirit with him and in him” (Warfield, “A Review of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s He that is Spiritual,” 326). Warfield thus saw Chafer as teaching that Christians could be justified without experiencing the Spirit’s progressive work of regeneration.

The Lordship Salvation Controversy was later taken up in Eternity Magazine through a brief exchange between Everett F. Harrison and John R. W. Stott. Harrison, effectively workng out Chafer’s theology, placed repentance in the realm of discipleship (Everett F. Harrison, “Must Christ be Lord to be Savior? NO!” Eternity, 14). Stott, arguing that Jesus Christ must be accepted as Lord and savior, emphasized the inseparable connection between saving faith and repentance (Stott, “Must Christ be Lord to be Savior? YES!” Eternity, 17-18). In recent years, Charles C. Ryrie and Zane C. Hodges, both opponents of the lordship position, wrote books in response to John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus, a major work representing the lordship position. Ryrie, much like Chafer, argues that repentance should be understood simply to mean “changing one’s mind about Jesus,” whereas repentance that denotes a conscious turning from sin should be practiced by believers for the purpose of restoring “fellowship with our Father and His family” (Ryrie, So Great Salvation, 100). Hodges takes Chaferian theology to its logical conclusion claiming that “faith represents the call to salvation” while “the call to repentance is the call to enter into harmonious relations with God” (Hodges, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation, 146). Hodges represents bold and significant departure from the traditional reformed position on the doctrine of repentance by clearly placing repentance in the realm of sanctification. In so doing, Hodges establishes his belief in two kinds of Christians.

MacArthur, however, claims that “repentance is a critical element of conversion” and “not simply another word for believing” (MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, 178). Therefore, while Lordship and non-lordship proponents have debated over regeneration, justification, and sanctification, it has been shown that at the heart of the lordship salvation controversy is a fundamental disagreement on the biblical doctrine of repentance. In posts to follow I will set forth a brief biblical theology of repentance and answer a number of non-lordship objections.

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Mark 1:14-15 reports that “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” According to Jesus’ statement in Mark 1, repentance and faith are essential to the gospel message that Jesus preached. Biblical repentance, however is not present in much preaching today—“the word repentance is still in our vocabulary today, it is nonetheless a tragically misunderstood and carelessly disregarded term” (Richard Owen Roberts, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002, 16). Thus, the question arises—how does repentance relate to salvation? Are sinners saved only by faith apart from repentance or are repentance and faith intricately connected? Proponents of what has been termed “lordship salvation” have long held that true saving faith is faith that is inseparably joined to repentance. Proponents of what may be termed the “non-Lordship” position claim that salvation is by faith alone and repentance comes after faith as a result of growing in likeness to Christ. Such divergent claims reveal the need for a thorough biblical theology of repentance and its tie to salvation.

In a series of posts to follow, I will discuss the history and the key tenants of both sides of the Lordship Salvation Controversy while revealing the Bible’s clear teaching on repentance. It will be shown that the non-lordship position fails to do justice to the biblical data, misunderstands the place of repentance in the work of redemption, and does harm to the church which Christ died to redeem.

Although the theology of “non-lordship” theologians is no longer holds the same influence it once did, its affects upon the evangelical church are widespread. In fact, I think much of today’s poor preaching on conversion is likely tied in some way, shape, or form to non-lordship teaching. I hope these posts are helpful to you and establish clearly in your mind that repentance and faith are the necessary response to the gospel!

Next Post: Brief History of the Lordship Salvation Controversy.

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