The observations in this article are primarily philosophical. The point is not to overturn the conclusions of those holding Lordship Salvation,1 but to examine certain of the more popular evidences offered in support of these conclusions. While it is true that the issue properly conceived comes down to biblical interpretation, it has been my experience that the following less substantial, primarily rhetorical strategies have a great deal of influence—at all levels of the discussion. Of course, if they are valid, those who use them should expand them into full-blown arguments. If, however, they are invalid, then they have no place in the literature at all, not even as popular asides.
II. Intellectual Assent and Personal Commitment
Saving faith is not mere intellectual assent; it is (therefore) personal commitment.
This abbreviated syllogism2 (enthymeme) is frequently employed in support of Lordship Salvation:
Faith is not the nod of a head to a series of facts. It is following Jesus.3
All offers of salvation in the NT are directed to the will to make the choice of surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus. One does not become a Christian by intellectually comprehending the historical facts about Jesus…[or] by grasping the theological implications of his death and resurrection.4
Simple assent to the gospel, divorced from a transforming commitment to the living Christ, is by biblical standards less than faith, and less than saving….5
By separating faith from faithfulness, it leaves the impression that intellectual assent is as valid as wholehearted obedience to the truth.6
Merely knowing and affirming facts apart from obedience to the truth is not believing in the biblical sense.7
Examples could be multiplied. In each instance the suggestion is that all positions other than faith as personal commitment reduce to faith as intellectual assent, and that since faith is clearly not to be understood as intellectual assent, it must be commitment. Of course, it may in fact be true that biblical faith is commitment (though I personally do not think so), or for that matter, that it is intellectual assent (though those who hold this position would probably want to replace “intellectual” with “personal” or some other similar term). But these are exegetical conclusions. The question here, rather, is a logical one: Does it follow from the assertion that faith is not “merely knowing and affirming facts” that it is therefore personal commitment?8
An enthymeme is an abbreviated syllogism in which either the conclusion or one of the premises is not expressed. Thus, for example, “Socrates is a man, and all men are mortal” is an enthymeme suppressing the conclusion: “Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” Whereas “Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal” is an enthymeme suppressing the major premise “All men are mortal.” In the case in point the suppressed premise is, “Faith can only be understood in one of two ways: either as mere intellectual assent or as commitment,” and the complete syllogism is:
- Faith is not to be understood as mere intellectual assent.
- But faith can only be understood in one of two ways: either as mere intellectual assent or as commitment.
- Therefore (since it is not mere intellectual assent), faith must be understood as commitment.
But 2 is a false disjunction.9 For there is a third position frequently found in the literature that must be included: faith as trust or personal dependence.10 The suppressed premise should therefore read: “Faith can be understood in one of at least three ways: mere intellectual assent, commitment, or trust” and the correct syllogism:
- Faith is not to be understood as mere intellectual assent.
- But faith can be understood in one of at least three ways: mere intellectual assent, commitment, or trust.
- Therefore, faith can be understood in one of at least two ways: commitment or trust.
Thus the assertion that saving faith is not mere intellectual assent cannot be used to establish the claim that faith is commitment, for it is consistent with (at least) two positions: faith understood as commitment and faith understood as trust.11
However, the recognition of a third candidate for the definition of faith not only invalidates the original disjunctive syllogism offered in support of faith as commitment, but it presents the proponent of Lordship Salvation with a sobering, if not frightening, possibility. For if it turns out that trust and commitment are two separate acts, in the sense that commitment does not entail trust, then it is possible that one could make a sincere and lasting personal commitment to Christ as Lord and yet never trust Him as Savior.12 Moreover, the emphasis on lordship found in some Gospel presentations would make the possibility of someone personally committing themselves to obey Christ without trusting Him as their Sin-hearer not only a possibility, but a likelihood. Consider the following attempt by a well-known evangelical to define saving faith, in which he moves directly from intellectual assent to commitment with no mention of trust:
Saving faith is more than just understanding the facts and mentally acquiescing. It is inseparable from repentance, surrender and a supernatural eagerness to obey.13
The question, then, is whether trust and commitment are separate acts—whether commitment somehow entails trust—so that to make a commitment is de facto to exercise trust. While at first glance it might seem that this is the case, several examples will suffice to show that it is not. Take, for instance, the career Air Force mechanic, a sincerely patriotic individual personally committed to the airplanes he services as an essential link in the nation’s defense, but who nonetheless refuses to fly in them. This would seem to be a case of commitment (lifelong commitment, in fact) without personal trust. Or consider the nurse whose commitment to the surgeon who employs her is unswerving, but who personally refuses a needed surgical procedure. Again, this would be commitment (this time to a person) without trust. Finally, consider Martin Luther prior to his “Turmerlebnis”: undoubtedly committed to Christ as Lord (he later wrote of this period of his life: “If ever a monk got to heaven by monkery, I would have gotten there”) but because of his misunderstanding of the Gospel,14 thinking that more was required, never having looked to Him in simple trust for salvation. Disturbing though the consequences may be, it would seem that the possibility of being personally committed to Jesus Christ as Lord without trusting Him for salvation is real.
One of the chief concerns voiced by virtually all proponents of Lordship Salvation is that those who preach less than personal commitment to Christ as Lord give many converts false assurance of salvation.15 Ironically, if the above distinction obtains, many converted under a Lordship gospel may also have been assured wrongly.
III. Jesus: Savior and Lord
Jesus is both Savior and Lord; to receive Him at all is (therefore) to receive Him as both.
This is another enthymeme that is frequently found in the literature:
You cannot believe in a half-Christ. We take Him for what He is—the anointed Saviour and Lord who is King of kings and Lord of lords.16
Spurious believers want Christ only as a Priest to procure pardon and peace, but not as Prophet to instruct them or as a King to rule over them. We are not saved, however, by one of the offices of Christ, but by Him (emphasis original).17
Evangelism also means summoning men to receive Christ Jesus as all that He is—Lord as well as Savior—and therefore to serve Him as their King (emphasis original)….18
He [Jesus] does not become anyone’s Savior until that one receives him for who he is—Lord of all.19
In each instance (and again examples could be multiplied) the point of departure is the person of Christ: “We take Him for what He is,” “We are not saved…by one of the offices of Christ, but by Him,” “summoning men to receive Christ Jesus as all that He is,” “until one receives Him for who He is.” The conclusion drawn is that somehow because Christ is both Savior and Lord, we cannot trust Him as Savior without submitting to Him as Lord. Such statements are not essentially exegetical conclusions, but rather they are philosophical arguments to the effect that to come to someone with multiple offices with regard for one office only is in and of itself impossible and produces, in the present instance, such absurdities as coming to a “half-Christ” for salvation, or seeking salvation from “one of the offices of Christ” and not from Him. Once more the question is not exegetical but logical: not whether in fact one must respond to Christ’s lordship in an act of personal submission in order to be saved, but whether somehow our Lord’s multiple offices entail this.
In this enthymeme the suppressed premise is something like: “One cannot relate to a person with multiple offices in regard to one office only. ” The complete syllogism is:
- Jesus is a Person with multiple offices, two of which are Lord and Savior.
- Now one cannot relate to a person with multiple offices in regard to one office only (for to do so is either not to relate to the person at all, but to an office, or to relate to only a “half-person”).
- Therefore, those who would relate to Jesus in His office as Savior (i.e., be saved) must also relate to Him in His office as Lord (i.e., submit to Him).
But do we want to grant this premise?
If all number 7 is intended to mean is that we cannot benefit from a person in regard to only one of his or her offices, then it is patently wrong. And two examples will suffice to show this. (1) To be a mother is to be many things: protector, disciplinarian, teacher, and so on. As such, a mother has many offices, none of which are accidental to her being a mother. But surely a young child in need of protection, however rebellious or unwilling to submit to discipline, may call on its mother for help. Here the child clearly benefits from the mother’s office as protector without submitting to her other office as disciplinarian. Likewise, (2) to be a husband is to be many things: provider, leader, lover. But surely a wife who rejects her husband’s leadership may still receive his love. Actually, this is a particularly interesting case because here most pastors (even of the “Lordship” variety) not only separate the offices of lover and leader, but counsel the husband to continue to give his love even though his leadership is spurned—counsel not completely dissimilar to that given Hosea. But it is likely that number 7 means something more than this.
When we read above that “We are not saved…by one of the offices of Christ, but by Him,”20 it is clear that the question is not one of simply benefiting from a person with multiple offices, but of establishing a personal relationship with such a One. The contention is that we are saved by a personal relationship with Christ (John 1:12, for example, says that we are to “receive Him”21), and that to come to Him for less than all He is—i.e., to come to Him simply in light of one of His offices (namely Savior)—is not to establish a personal relationship. Rather, such a relationship is significantly less than personal (being a relationship with a “half-Christ”); in fact, it is merely “official” (being a relationship with “one of the offices of Christ”). This is a much more substantial objection, but it is equally problematic.
Now I would certainly agree that we are not saved “by one of the offices of Christ, but by Him.” I would be quick to add, however, that just as it is not a single office of the Lord’s that saves us, neither is it the whole ensemble of His offices—it being the Lord Himself who saves us, as He relates to us through one or more of His offices. The real question, then, is of the relationship between “person” and office, and whether office can in fact mediate “person.” If, as some seem to be arguing, “person” is not mediated through one office, the question remains as to how it can be mediated through many. To put it another way, if “person” cannot manifest itself through a single office, how does the mere multiplication of offices help? If coming to Jesus as Savior is looking to an office, not a person, for salvation, then why is not coming to Jesus as Savior and Lord simply looking to two offices? What is needed is not the multiplication of offices, but the “transparency” of office. But that is precisely what we have, whether we are speaking of one office or many. For when we come to Jesus as Savior, we come to Jesus as Savior. We come to the Person. Just as when we receive a missionary into our home precisely because he or she is an emissary of Christ (cf. Mark 9:37, 41), we receive a person and not—as some would be forced to say—a half-person or an office.
On a somewhat related theme, it is often argued that the term “Lord” in the title “Lord Jesus Christ,” means “Master” or “Sovereign” and that this implies submission on the part of the one who comes to him for salvation. Critics of the Lordship position22 have countered that “Lord” actually means “God” and points rather to Christ’s deity. But it has been rejoined that deity most certainly entails sovereign lordship, that to be God is a fortiori to be Master.23 Of course, the rejoinder is correct; if Jesus Christ is anything, He is our Sovereign Master. At the same time, however, it seems to me that the whole discussion is somewhat sidetracked. The point of contention is not who Jesus is—if anything that is the point of agreement—but rather what we must do to receive His salvation. To be sure, Jesus is divine and thus King of kings and Lord of lords, and to be sure, if we are to be consistent with this truth, we must without reserve submit ourselves to His rightful and complete lordship over our lives. But the most that can be concluded from this is that Jesus therefore has the right to require personal submission from those who would be saved. In no way does it show that He actually does require such submission, or that He does not save those whose commitments are inconsistent with His divine lordship.24
IV. “Cheap Grace” and “Easy Believism”
Grace that requires no change in life is “cheap grace”; faith that requires no change in life is “easy believism.”
As far as I can tell, the term “cheap grace” was first used by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but it has since become a commonplace in the debate over the terms of salvation. A leader in the Lordship movement acknowledges its general usage when he writes of “the invasion of it [the Church] by what has become known as ‘easy believism’ or ‘cheap grace’ (emphasis added).”25 And he does not hesitate to use the term himself, defining it as “[t]he promise of eternal life without surrender to divine authority.”26 There is no question that this is a powerful rhetorical device.
While it might conceivably (though I think wrongly) be argued that a grace that produces no change in this present life is “cheap grace,”27 it simply cannot be maintained that a grace that requires no change in this life is “cheap.” This is a category mistake. Simply put, cheap refers to value, not cost.28 Now the fact that a gift requires nothing of its recipient says nothing about its value. Rather, that a gift requires nothing of its recipient says something about its cost (to the recipient)—namely, that it is free. Thus, properly conceived (though less potently formulated) grace that requires nothing of its recipient is not “cheap grace,” but (redundantly) “free grace.”
That there is significant confusion in the literature on this relatively simple matter is evinced when one Lordship author attempts to draw the same distinction himself, only to further obscure the point. Confronted with the notion of freeness from Rev 22:17 (“let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost”) he writes: “While it is free, it is not cheap; the Savior Himself paid the ultimate price….”29 But even the fact that Jesus “paid the ultimate price” for sin (unless we want to add “and Jesus got His money’s worth”!) does not touch on the issue of value, but only on the cost to Him. What he should have said is: “While it is free to us, it was not free to Him….”
Finally, as the initial quotation in this section also makes plain, “easy believism” is another term that is paying frequent dividends to the proponents of Lordship Salvation. Interestingly, some have felt it necessary to respond that trust in the unseen Christ is not all that easy.30 But the term easy should not be offensive to either side in the discussion. Since all parties emphatically affirm unmerited favor, what possible gain can there be in conversion being conceived of as “difficult”? The only thing I can see that makes the term “easy believism” opprobrious (besides the “…ism” itself), is that it capitalizes on the commonsensical (hence dubious) assumption that something as tremendous as eternal salvation cannot be easy.31
Contemporary studies in communication have made it clear that there is a rhetorical aspect to all human discourse. We all seek to persuade. This is neither to be denied in ourselves nor despised in others. But Aristotle’s distinction between good rhetoric and bad rhetoric still applies. One student of the classical tradition, Charles Baldwin, has helpfully described good rhetoric as the “energizing of knowledge and the humanizing of truth.”32 As for bad rhetoric, Aristotle’s own description is best: “reasoning that has only the appearance of validity.”33,34
1In defining “Lordship Salvation” I follow Charles Ryrie, who uses the term to refer to all claims that there must be “a commitment to Christ as Lord of one’s life” in order to be saved. (Balancing the Christian Life [Chicago: Moody Press, 1969], 169.)
2For those readers who may be rusty on their logic, a syllogism is “a form of reasoning in which a conclusion is reached from two statements, as in “All men must die; I am a man, therefore I must die” (Oxford American Dictionary, New York: Oxford University Press). Ed.
8It might be objected that Lordship Salvation is not redefining faith as commitment but simply saying that a changed life is evidence of regeneration and that when such a change is not present it is a sign that regeneration has not taken place. Now there is, to be sure, such a position on regeneration and the changed life. It is commonly called “the perseverance of the saints,” and it states that true believers visibly persevere in the changed life saying. When Chantry writes that “[f]aith is not the nod of a head…it is following Jesus, “he is saying that “following Jesus” is part of “faith.” And when Packer says that “[s]imple assent to the gospel, divorced from transforming commitment…is less than saving, “he is saying that “transforming commitment” is part of “saving” faith. And when Ray Stedman writes that “[a]ll offers of salvation in the New Testament are directed to the will to make the choice of surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus,” he is saying that “surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus” is part of the “New Testament” faith. Likewise, when MacArthur says that “[m]erely knowing and affirming facts apart from obedience to the truth is not believing in the biblical sense,” he is saying that “obedience to the truth” is part of “believing in the biblical sense.” Thus associated with faith, “following Jesus,” “transforming commitment,” “surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus,” and “obedience to the truth,” become not the consequences of salvation but the conditions for it. To put it another way, these are not merely offered as descriptions of how Christians persevere, but of how one becomes a Christian in the first place.
For a different view, see Darrell Bock’s recent review of MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus in Bibliotheca Sacra 146 January-March 1989), 21-40. Bock argues that there is a “difference between MacArthur’s [polemical] rhetoric and his actual position,” which position is found not in the text as such but in “disclaimers every 10 pages or so, sometimes in footnotes.” In other words, while MacArthur seems to say one thing in the text (viz., that good works or a commitment to good works are a part of saving faith), in the footnotes he makes it clear that this is not his position (viz., that good works or a commitment to good works are rather evidence of salvation). Bock’s effort to give a sympathetic reading to MacArthur is commendable, and his thesis is suggestive. My sense of the book, however, is that it does not simply reflect MacArthur’s “rhetorical” style (a style, by the way, not found in his other polemical book, The Charismatics [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978]), but what amounts to a dialectical quality in his thought–a quality that in my opinion is symptomatic of the Lordship Salvation position as such (where, for example, statements like “salvation is free but costs you everything” abound).
9I do not mean to suggest that proponents of Lordship Salvation see commitment as not including intellectual assent. The point is only that they have identified two positions—faith understood as mere intellectual assent, and faith understood as commitment (which commitment obviously entails assent). What is more they seem to be saying that these are the only two positions. The disjunction, then, is not predicated upon assent and commitment being unrelated concepts, but upon their being distinct positions regarding the definition of faith.
10Actually, the position most frequently offered in place of faith as commitment is faith as trust, making faith as mere intellectual assent into something of a straw man. However, at least one author has argued that faith be understood as trust taken as a certain kind of intellectual assent: namely, assent to a proposition of the form “So and so can be relied upon for this.” (See Gordon Clark, Faith and Saving Faith [Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1983], especially 106-107.) Of course, “trust” can be used in this way: “So and so can be relied upon for this” = “I trust so and so” (said in the appropriate context). But there still seems to be a real difference between believing that someone can be relied upon and actually relying upon that person. It is one thing to believe that someone can be trusted; it is another thing (related, to be sure, but distinct) to actually trust him. Simply consider the following statement: Mr. Smith can most certainly be relied upon for this, but I refuse to be indebted to him, and so I personally will never do so.” The individual uttering these words clearly trusts Mr. Smith in the sense of believing him to be reliable, but just as clearly refuses to trust him in the sense of actually relying upon him.
11Of course, the fact that many of the proponents of Lordship Salvation are guilty of this piece of fallacious reasoning, does not mean that all are—or, for that matter, that those who employ it in one place may not manage to avoid it at another. Thus Elmer Enlow (“Eternal Life: On What Conditions?” Alliance Witness [January 19, 1972], 3) acknowledges up front the possible definition of faith as trust and simply denies it: “To ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’ involves more than knowledge, assent, and trust (reliance)…. It means to receive Christ as one’s own Lord, the ruler of one’s own life. (emphasis mine)” And J. I. Packer (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961], 89) asks: “Will it [i.e., our presentation of the Gospel] leave them supposing that all they have to do is to trust Christ as a sin-bearer, not realizing that they must also deny themselves and enthrone Him as their Lord…? (emphasis mine).”
12As indicated in note 9, even if the positions of certain theologians on the notion of saving faith are distinct, the concepts by which they articulate their positions may be related. The case in point having been that while faith understood as “assent” and faith understood as “commitment” are distinct positions, commitment normally presupposes assent. The question now is regarding the relationship of trust to commitment. Even if faith understood as trust is something other than faith understood as commitment, might it be that commitment presupposes or includes trust as it seems to presuppose or include assent? If it does, then to be committed is de facto to trust (so that to call for commitment is at the same time to call for trust). If it does not, then one may be committed and yet not trust (so that to call for commitment is not necessarily to call for trust).
13MacArthur, The Gospel, 31. My point here is not to say that MacArthur would not include trust in his notion of saving faith if he were questioned on it, but simply that he has here, in a strategic attempt to clarify the nature of saving faith, clearly omitted it. Even if those who preach the Gospel intend trust as part of saving faith, those who hear them may well not hear trust preached if it is omitted or hidden in terms like “surrender.”
14The example of Luther is particularly relevant, because to many Christians, Lordship Salvation appears to be teaching salvation by works. Aware of this, one author attempts to ward off such a criticism in a prefatory comment:…someone will accuse me of teaching salvation by works. Let me say as clearly as possible right now that salvation is by God’s sovereign grace and grace alone. Nothing a lost, degenerate, spiritually dead sinner can do will in any way contribute to salvation. Saving faith, repentance, commitment, and obedience are all divine works, wrought by the Holy Spirit….” But this betrays a general misunderstanding of the issues at stake. To be sure such a statement distances him from Pelagianism (salvation as a human work) and from classical semi-Pelagianism (salvation as a divinely assisted human work) and thus, strictly speaking, from “teaching salvation by works.” But what may come as a surprise is that it does not succeed in drawing a line with so-called scholastic “semi-Pelagianism” (better classified as semi-Augustinianism, because the debate had by that time moved from the divine versus human basis of salvation to the subjective means of appropriating that grace, e.g., baptism, faith, sacraments, etc.), for Thomas Aquinas can write the same thing. In Summa Theologica I-II, 111.2, ad 2, Aquinas responds to an objection to the notion of “sovereign grace” (gratia [simpliciter] operans). The objection takes its lead from a statement by Augustine that “He who created you without yourself (sine te) will not justify you without yourself (sine te).” Aquinas agrees that “God does not justify us without ourselves (sine nobis), for by a movement of our free will, while we are being justified, we consent to God’s justice.” “However,” he continues, “this movement [of our will] is not the cause of grace, but its effect; thus the whole operation belongs to grace (Ille tamen motus non est causa gratiae, sed effectus. Unde tota operatio pertinat ad gratiam).” Philip Schaff is absolutely correct when he writes that “if we reduce the doctrine of justification by faith to the more general term of salvation by free grace” we fail to grasp the real issue of the Reformation. For “the question between the Roman church and Luther turned on the subjective appropriation of the righteousness of Christ which is [for all parties involved] the objective ground of justification and salvation; while faith is the subjective condition (History of the Christian Church, 8 vols. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974], 7:123, n. 1; emphases original).” In a nutshell, the question is not “teaching salvation by works”—a question that in most theological circles is 1,300 years passé—but salvation by grace through faith. It is a question of the appropriation of grace and of the nature of faith.
20Tozer, see note 16. above. Tozer also wrote: “To urge men and women to believe in a divided Christ is bad teaching for no one can receive half of Christ, or a third of Christ, or a quarter of the Person of Christ! We are not saved by believing in an office” (Heresy!, 10-11); again, quoted in MacArthur, The Gospel (210), with approval.
21Though this is a verse quoted frequently by Lordship authors, the substantial qualification placed on “received Him” at the end of the verse—”even to them that believed on His name”—is not to my knowledge ever mentioned. However, when this is taken into account, even if it is admitted that to “receive Him” means trust Him for salvation and submit to His lordship—though my present aim is to show that such a reading is not required—the case can be made that to “receive Him” for all that He is (both Lord and Savior) is sufficient for Salvation precisely because to receive Him simply as Savior is itself sufficient. The point is: “those who received Him” were given eternal life, because even those who just “believed on His name” were given it.
24On an exegetical note, Jesus’ words to the woman in John 4:10 seem to support this. She must know (1) the gift of God (eternal life) and (2) with whom she is speaking Jesus, the Divine Savior, cf. John 8:24), but all she must do in response to this knowledge is ask Him for His gift. Of course, to be Consistent with her knowledge of the One with whom she is speaking she must do many other things. But to receive the gift she must only ask.
26MacArthur, The Gospel, 16. Elsewhere he writes: “The message of Jesus cannot be made to accommodate any kind of cheap grace or easy believism. The kingdom is not for people who want Jesus without any change in their living.” (Ibid., 183)
28I do not mean to suggest by this that cheap is univocal. Nor do I mean to suggest that the semantic fields of cheap and free do not overlap some. But only that cheap carries with it the notion of inferior quality or value and that it is this notion that makes the term “cheap grace” pejorative. If this were not the case, and if cheap simply meant “inexpensive,” then the term “free grace” would be more offensive, since free does not mean “inexpensive” but “of no expense at all.”
31The sense that salvation should somehow be difficult, while theologically unjustified, is nonetheless psychologically satisfying, in that it mitigates the scandal of an ostensibly arbitrary election. A historian of ideas might be tempted to see lurking behind it the scholastic notion of “merit of congruity” (meritum de congruo) in which salvation is not strictly deserved (meritum de condigno; “merit of condignity”) but in which the bestowing of salvation is at least made appropriate or fitting.
34I would like to thank Tim Deibler for his very helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Dr. Deibler and I disagreed on several points, but he nonetheless was kind enough to make available to me his philosophical expertise, which surpasses my own.