Christ the Lord, Edited by Michael Horton

Michael Horton, ed. Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation. Baker, 1995. 237 pp.

Although slightly outdated, this book edited by Michael Horton helps to bring into focus some important issues that relate to the Lordship/non-Lordship debate. The various chapters are authored by seven different writers who seek to follow in the tradition of the Reformers: W. Robert Godfrey, Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, Rick Ritchie, Rod Rosenbladt, Paul Schaefer, and Robert Strimple (preface by Alister McGrath). Horton is the president of Christians united for Reformation (CURE). It is written on a non-technical level so that the average Christian can read the book with profit.

Christ the Lord enters into the discussion that began with the publication of John F. MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus in 1988 followed by Zane Hodges’s response Absolutely Free! in 1989. MacArthur wrote out of a great burden to call men to the true gospel and away from one that had been perverted and watered down. Hodges responded with a position diametrically opposed to the one set forth by MacArthur. This began quite the stir about the issue of “Lordship Salvation.” This debate was primarily taking place within the ranks of dispensationalism-both Hodges and MacArthur coming from a staunchly dispensational perspective. The controversy raged for a few years, when Horton decided that some clarity and precision needed to be introduced into the discussion.

The book takes issue with both Hodges and MacArthur, although coming down very close to the latter and quite a distance from the former. The writers felt that both Hodges and MacArthur had erred in their extreme positions. This book claims to be a “balanced and informed book” that will “inject sanity and theological responsibility into the discussion” (7). Hodges is identified as an antinomian-one who denies any necessity for obedience to the law of God-for reducing faith to mere mental assent, while MacArthur comes dangerously close to legalism (also called neo-nomianism)-justification by means of human works-by overloading the definition of faith to include obedience, repentance, and works, so that faith might even be equated with them.

During the process of writing this book, the authors were in correspondence with MacArthur (12). Horton spoke very highly of MacArthur’s graciousness in their dialogue. He concludes that the differences that exist are “in the realm of definitions and pastoral practice rather than substance” (12). MacArthur was writing a book at the same time this book was being written. It was entitled The Gospel According to the Apostles, in which he clarifies and corrects some of his previous statements that seemed imprecise and unguarded. Horton says of the sequel that it is “clear, precise, and cautious, and it ought to correct the misunderstandings” of both camps (12-13). Nonetheless, they still decided to produce this book, primarily to deal with the confusion cause by the initial books of both Hodges and McArthur.

The first four of the eight chapters form “Part 1: Light from Scripture,” while the last four are entitled “Lessons from the Past.” The book is highly historical, including a large number of quotations from Luther and Calvin, even in the chapters with a special focus on the Scriptures. Their attempt to evaluate everything in light of the Scripture is sometimes overshadowed by the Reformers’ understanding of the Scripture-a point which may discredit the conclusions for some readers. What is interesting is that both Hodges and MacArthur claim to have the authority of men such as Luther and Calvin for the claims they make. Horton and the other authors, however, seek to show that both misunderstand and misrepresent the Reformers on some points (Hodges more than MacArthur).

While the book is certainly worth the read for the information that it imparts about the issues involved in the debate and clarity is provides in getting to the key points of distinction, the authors seem to be guilty of some of the same imprecision and confusion of terms of which they accuse Hodges and MacArthur. For example, in the introduction, Horton claims that “Luther and Calvin equated repentance with regeneration” and regeneration with sanctification-the three then becoming synonymous expressions for the ongoing process of spiritual change and growth (19). But in the very next paragraph, Horton agrees with Hodges use of Calvin to prove that faith does not include repentance (20). However, this whole line of argumentation is faulty if Calvin and MacArthur mean totally different things by “repentance.” He follows this same line of reasoning again by quoting Calvin that “repentance and faith [are] two different things . . . [which] ought to be distinguished” in response to MacArthur’s statement that “repentance is a critical element of genuine faith” (36). But again, if what Calvin means by repentance is something different than what MacArthur means, then the whole argument is invalid. Unfortunately, this same mistake is repeated often throughout the book.

Another point of imprecision comes in Horton’s analysis of Hodges statement in regards to repentance resulting in “harmonious terms with God” (30). Horton then says that “getting on harmonious terms with God” is nothing less than justification. Then he quotes Romans 5:1 to prove his point, “Having been justified by faith, we have peace [harmonious terms] with God.” The problem is that “harmonious terms” is better equated with the concept of reconciliation rather than justification. And Romans 5:1, rather than proving his point, makes clear that peace with God is not to be identified as justification. It is instead related as a fruit or result of justification.

In addition, there is some mischaracterization of the positions with which they disagree. For example, Horton characterizes Hodges’s position as self-justification-”it is up to us whether we will justify ourselves”-something that Hodges surely would not say (19). Horton also draws some illogical conclusions from MacArthur’s inclusion of obedience as part of faith saying that “if a believer is repeating the same sin, he or she must not be justified yet” (40). But this is clearly not what MacArthur believes or claims in any of his writings. These and others like them diminish the overall value of the book.

The overall thrust of the book seems to be away from the focus of Hodges on the single “act of faith” (better, mental assent) that saves or of MacArthur “on the continuity of faith” that perseveres, and “on the object of faith” who objectively accomplished redemption for all of His believing people. This issue comes up especially as it relates to assurance of salvation. It seems as though assurance to them is purely objective, grounded in the work of Christ alone and necessarily belonging to every believer.

As a whole, the book does have some valuable clarifications to offer to MacArthur’s unguarded statements, chief of which is the issue of equating faith and obedience. If faith is the means of justification, and justification is by faith, and faith is equivalent to obedience, and obedience is essentially works, then justification is by means of works rather than faith. The relationship between faith and repentance is a key one that deserves some careful attention. Horton and the others have some good insight; nonetheless, there is room for a fuller treatment of the issue, especially from a biblical-theological perspective. Unfortunately the little exegetical work of the book is outweighed by the quotations of Reformers.

One Response to Christ the Lord, Edited by Michael Horton

  1. Rev. Brian Tidd May 5, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    I think that your review is essentially fair and on target. I appreciate Horton’s critique of MacArthur’s (old?) definition of faith. If faith includes obedience and obedience is essentially works, then we are justified by means of work rather than faith alone. I like the thrust of the book away from the believer onto Christ as the sole object of our faith. A Lutheran proverb says, “I looked to Christ and the dove of peace flew into my heart; I looked to the dove and it flew away.” As the song says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.”

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