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” (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” ( 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. ( 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 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 (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” ( 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 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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