A Layman’s Guide to the Lordship Controversy. By Richard P. Belcher. Southbridge, MA: Crowne Publications, 1990. 123 pp. Paper, $6.95.
On the surface, this book promises the layman a grasp of the Lordship Salvation controversy. What will quickly grasp the uninformed layman, however, is a limited presentation of the Lordship Salvation debate and thus a skewed understanding of the real issues.
The title of this book promises an objective presentation of both the Lordship Salvation and Free Grace positions. This it does to a limited degree. The book would better be titled, “A Layman’s Guide to the John MacArthur—Zane Hodges Controversy,” for these are virtually the only two men he chooses to represent. The great weakness of the book is that Belcher does not realize or admit that the Free Grace position has one theology which encompasses different interpretations consistent with that theology. He never cites any Free Grace advocate other than Hodges, not even Charles C. Ryrie (mentioned only in passing). Ryrie’s book So Great Salvation was also a response to MacArthur. Evidently, Belcher hasn’t interacted with any copies of the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Societyeither! In a phone conversation, the author told me that he chose to represent only Hodges because his book, Absolutely Free!, was the most controversial, was most often contrasted with MacArthur’s by laymen, and was better systematized than Ryrie’s. This is not enough to convince me that Belcher has treated the Free Grace position with objectivity.
Although the title and introduction claim to represent both sides objectively, the reader quickly perceives that Belcher is not so objective after all. (He does not admit that he supports MacArthur’s position until his conclusion, pp. 105–106.) The first two sections present and contrast MacArthur’s views and Hodges’s views somewhat fairly (though he prefers the term “non-lordship”, while we prefer “Free Grace”—a hint of bias to come). However, the five specific interpretations by Hodges that he critiques seem chosen arbitrarily or because they represent very controversial viewpoints (Jas 2:14–26; Rom 10:9–13; 2 Cor 13:5; Rom 8:17; 1 Cor 6:9–10).
Thus from the outset, the book appears on a mission to discredit the Free Grace view as a “new view of salvation” (p. 83). By the time the third section is reached (“A Critique of Non-Lordship Salvation”), the book assumes an acrimonious air. Discussion of Scripture passages is superficial or neglected. This is to be regretted because Hodges’s exegesis and research should be answered with comparable exegesis and research, or opponents should be silent.
Belcher chooses to argue rhetorically and theologically, yet he fails to avoid dogmatism. Also, “straw men” (a favorite term of his) are erected in his chapter on “Theological Weaknesses of Non-lordship Salvation” (I counted six straw men out of the eight representations of the Free Grace position).
The book is long on rhetoric and short on the kind of critical interaction that is needed in the debate. I fear that it will guide laymen, but only in the wrong direction, and that it will inflame rather than inform. Belcher should have taken the time to acquaint himself with other interpretations that represent the Free Grace position and to have made the effort to answer the more serious theological issues at the heart of the Lordship Salvation debate.
Charles C. Bing
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society