Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation, Michael Horton, ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992. 240pp. (Paper) (Reviewed by Prof. H. Hanko.)

Seven different authors have cooperated, under the editorship of Michael Horton, to write a book that deals with an extremely pressing problem in our day. The problem is defined in the subtitle as the question of “Lordship salvation.” At first glance this seemingly innocuous title refers to nothing else than the fact that Christ is the sovereign Lord of the life of believers. It would seem that all people of God would readily agree with that proposition.

However, when one gets a bit further into the question, one discovers that some believe this and some do not; and that even those who believe this sometimes have an altogether wrong conception of it. The book is particularly interested in two extremes, both of which, in the opinion of the authors, deny fundamental truths of the Protestant Reformation.

On the one side is a group of theologians, under the leadership of Zane C. Hodges, who take what the book calls an Arminian-antinomian position with regard to the question of Christ’s lordship. An Arminian-antinomian is indeed a rare breed, the likes of which one does not often meet. He is, according to the authors, one who believes that a person is saved because of his own acceptance of Christ as Savior and willingness to cooperate with Christ in the work of salvation. He, with the Arminians, denies eternal election, total depravity, particular redemption, and irresistible grace.

But he does not stop there. His antinomianism comes out in his denial that Christ is Lord of His life. He takes, instead, the position that once one has made the choice of faith he is guaranteed salvation no matter how he lives. He teaches a doctrine of “carnal Christians,” that is, Christians who have accepted Christ but who live no differently from the world. So, one can be a Christian without being a follower of Christ. It is not wrong, of course, to recognize Christ as Savior, or to follow Him, but it is not necessary to salvation. Only in this way, says the Arminian-antinomian, is it possible to explain justification by faith alone.

On the other extreme is another group of evangelicals, represented in the book by John F. MacArthur, Jr. (a very popular radio speaker and author), who teaches that salvation indeed means that Christ is Lord of the believer’s life. But in maintaining this, these people insist on the necessity of faith and obedience, or faith and repentance in justification; in short, they teach justification by faith and works.

MacArthur, so the book alleges, teaches that perfect obedience (to Christ as King) is not required, but a willingness to be obedient is necessary. Obedience and repentance, says MacArthur, belong to the faith that justifies. One has to receive Christ as Lord of his life and walk in service to Christ as King to be justified.

And so the two extremes stand as opposites. Hodges says that discipleship is optional; MacArthur says it is saving (p. 79). Hodges presents faith as intellectual; MacArthur includes obedience in faith (p. 81). MacArthur claims Hodges is antinomian; Hodges claims MacArthur is legalistic (p. 102). Hodges denies the “faith alone” principle of the Reformation; MacArthur compromises the “faith alone” truth by adding obedience to faith.

The authors are convinced that this disagreement is the most important issue facing evangelicals today, and that it has, in fact, torn the evangelical community into fragments. They are right. There is no question about it that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is under fierce attack from many quarters. It is being attacked by post-millennial reconstructionists who want to carry the whole church back to the law. It is being attacked by many within the Reformed community who insist upon a conditional salvation and a conditional covenant. One wonders whether there is anyone left today who holds to the profound Reformational truth of justification by faith alone.

The writers in this book, however, come to a defense of this great truth. They argue convincingly that both camps stray dangerously from the Protestant Reformation and its emphasis on faith alone. They quote from Calvin and Luther to sustain their argument, and they point to the decrees of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent to demonstrate beyond doubt that to deny the great doctrine of justification by faith alone is not only to repudiate the Reformation, but to rush into the arms of Rome from which the Reformation delivered us. The book is a sober, sharp, convincing and sometimes powerful call to return to the doctrine of the Reformers who repudiated synergism, antinomianism, and salvation by faith and works, and whose word to a divided evangelical world today is, in effect, “A plague on both your houses.”

Furthermore, the book contains some excellent discussions of related topics. In discussing the question of justification by faith alone, the book rightly warns against making faith a work. Horton calls attention to Calvin’s discussion of faith and offers some quotes from Calvin in which Calvin so emphasizes that faith is a gift of God that with regard to justification faith is “something merely passive” (p. 53).

Riddlebarger, in discussing what faith is, points out that Hodges makes faith the instrumental cause and condition of justification, and thus opens the door to the well-meant gospel offer.

Horton has an interesting and helpful discussion of assurance on pp. 142ff. And in chapter 7 Paul Schaefer describes a fascinating debate between B. B. Warfield and Lewis Sperry Chafer over the question of the possibility of a “carnal Christian,” a debate that continues to the present.

Nevertheless, the entire discussion brings up other interesting questions which cry out for answers. The questions center in the relationship between the law and the gospel. The general position of the authors seems to be that the law and the gospel are disjunctive, that is, not related to each other. The law, so it is said, has as its sole purpose to bring the hearer under the conviction of sin. The gospel reveals the grace of God in Christ. The law is works; the gospel, grace. Ritchie even goes so far as to suggest that the Sermon on the Mount is condemnatory, for it is about law (p. 71).

This question, in turn, involves other questions. What is the relation between faith and works? Does the faith that justifies include in it repentance and obedience? That is, is it not true that obedience and repentance are necessary for justification inasmuch as they are implicit in a justifying faith? This latter point is the point which those who deny justification by faith alone insist upon.

These questions are not new. Luther debated them and discussed them. So did Calvin. They were burning questions in the Marrow controversy of the early eighteenth century. They are questions on the first page of the church’s agenda today.

Without entering into them in this review, I am troubled by the fact that the book, in its otherwise strong defense of justification by faith alone, makes a false disjunction between law and gospel so that lost from sight is the obvious truth that Scripture considers the law, at least in some sense, to be gospel as well. The Sermon on the Mount is the “law” all right, but it is the royal law of the kingdom of heaven governing the lives of the citizens of that kingdom. Psalm 119 in many different ways exalts the law as the power to give innumerable spiritual blessings. Psalm 19 speaks of the law as having the ability to make wise and even to convert the soul. Jesus refers to the entire OT Scriptures as “the law and the prophets,” pointing out that these Scriptures were “gospel.” Even the ten commandments are cast in the form of gospel: “I am the Lord thy God which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Without denying that Scripture speaks of law also as the opposite of grace when it speaks of work-righteousness, the fact is that Strimple is right when he tells us, in his discussion of Romans 6, that the believer must become more and more what he really is by grace (pp. 61-68). In this respect the law as grace plays a role, for it is the rule of gratitude.

But read the book!