About 25 years ago a friend of mine we will call “Steve” told me that his Southern Baptist Pastor has mentioned the book The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He said it was a great book.
So Steve bought the book and read it.
Even though Steve was a Free Grace guy, he was persuaded by Bonhoeffer’s passion in the book. He told me he was considering selling their house and all their possessions and taking his wife and kids on the road for an itinerant preaching ministry. But Steve had no Biblical training and no source of support.
I managed to talk Steve out of his plan. But it scared me. Here was a Free Grace guy who read a Lordship Salvation book and did not realize the flaws in the book or even what the author was saying.
A friend recently asked me to listen to an online message. I did and I was struck that the preacher favorable mentioned Puritan Richard Baxter.
Nearly all of the Puritans believed in a strong form of Lordship Salvation and in the idea that we cannot be sure of our eternal salvation until we die.
Not all modern Calvinists are pleased with the legacy of the Puritans. Calvinist David Engelsma says, “Puritan preaching…is forever questioning your assurance, forever challenging your right to assurance, forever sending you on a quest for assurance, and forever instilling doubt” (The Gift of Assurance [The Evangelism Committee of the Protestant Reformed Church: South Holland, IL: 2009], p. 53).
I went online and looked up Richard Baxter. I saw a Wikipedia article about him and wondered if it might be helpful. I was moved by the perseverance he showed in the face of great persecution. Yet I was also amazed to find this quote: “His views on justification and sanctification are somewhat controversial within the Calvinist tradition because his teachings seem, to some, to undermine salvation by faith, in that he emphasizes the necessity of repentance and faithfulness.” What amazed me is that Wikipedia of all places would have such a terrific faith-alone statement.
The online speaker would be shocked if someone charged him with undermining salvation by faith and by teaching the necessity of repentance and faithfulness to have everlasting life. Yet he favorably cited a man, Baxter, and a movement, the Puritans, both of which taught those things.
The same day, I read an article in The Sword of the Lord that expressed this very concern. In an editorial Dr. Shelton Smith lamented that some fundamentalist preachers are favorably citing books by emerging church pastors and by Calvinists “like Sproul, Piper and MacArthur” (p. 10). But he says that such men “are not fundamentalists.”
Then Smith makes this telling observation, “Even if one of these men should happen to write a great book on something, the minute you recommend the book you have embraced the author and endorsed his ministry to others” (p. 10).
Now it is possible to precede such a recommendation with a warning that the author proclaims some messages with which you disagree and that you are not endorsing his other books or his ministry in general. However, that is awkward and rarely done and the effectiveness of such a warning with endorsement is questionable.
I often quote men like Sproul, Piper, and MacArthur when I want to show that I’m not making up the warnings I give about people to teach that you can’t be sure you have everlasting life (or who teach Lordship Salvation). When I do, I typically take the opposite tack of the one Smith warns against. I say something like this:
“I have no animosity toward Dr. MacArthur [or whomever]. Indeed, I appreciate his stand on inerrancy, the young earth, creationism, the Flood, expository preaching, marriage, parenting, and so on. I do not question his integrity or his desire to please God. However, what he says about evangelism and assurance is sadly inconsistent with God’s Word. So I will quote him to show you that the concerns I raise are real. Dr. MacArthur is the Pastor of a church of 10,000 people, he has a worldwide radio ministry reaching untold millions, he has published scores of books which have been translated into many languages, and he is exceedingly mainstream. It is I who is out of step. Don’t think I’m saying he is in the minority. But I believe that I correctly understand the Scriptures concerning the promise of life and assurance and unfortunately he does not.”
Then I go on to give some quotes.
My warning about endorsements is simple: Be careful whom you favorably cite. Whether you are a preacher telling your congregation, a parent telling your kids, a Sunday school or Bible study teacher telling your class, or someone telling his friend or coworker, be careful when you endorse an author or a book (2 John 7-11).