Opposite Poles: Contradictions within Sola Fide? By Frederick W. H. Wright. NP: Xulon Press, 2003. 276 pp. Paper. $15.99.
This book has an attractive cover and a provocative title and subtitle. The back cover has impressive endorsements from, among others, Vernon Grounds and Warren Wiersbe. However, the writing is hard to follow and the point Wright is making is less than crystal clear.
In this book Wright is trying to consider Lordship Salvation, especially the version advocated by John MacArthur on the one side, and Easy Believism on the other. Concerning the latter, Wright has no one main author he cites. On a number of occasions he discusses the views of R. B. Thieme. Even more than that he considers Charles Ryrie, but he doesn’t regard him to be truly in the Easy Believism camp.
The book is hard to read because early on Wright suggests that MacArthur feels that there are five groups in Christianity today, four wrong and one right. Wright lays out these five groups (p. 29) and then explains these five (pp. 30-122), with by far most of the discussion covering views #4 and #5.
The five views are:
- No need for either justification or sanctification.
- Self-justification—justification through sanctification.
- Antinomianism—justification without sanctification.
- Lordship sanctification—justification with full sanctification.
- Justification with progressive sanctification—justification with a sanctification that grows progressively in conformity to Christ’s demands for holy living (p. 29).
Two things make it very hard to follow the author. First, there is a complicated outlining system used with Capital Letters, followed by Arabic numbers with a period after the numbers, then lower case letters with a parenthesis after them, then Arabic numbers with a parenthesis after the number, then lower case letters followed by brackets, then Arabic numbers followed by brackets.
Second, after initially laying out the five groups, thereafter Wright refers to #1, #2, and so on, without even giving a brief title for that view. The reader is expected to remember what all five views are.
For example, consider these quotes from one single page (224): “Perhaps Thieme belongs in #3.” “Of whom is MacArthur speaking? Is he dealing with a person out of #1, #2, #3, #4, or #5? Judas denied Christ. And Peter denied Christ. Was Judas in #1, #2, #3, #4, or #5? He certainly was not in #4 or #5—except only as a false professor.” “So should 2 Timothy 2:12 be used to unsettle the true Christians in #4 and #5?” “And remember that Peter was in #4—#5 when he denied Christ.”
Wright repeatedly speaks of “Brother MacArthur” (e.g., pp. 22, 33, 38, 39, 46, 54, 85, 224, 233, 235). Similarly he often speaks of “LS [Lordship Salvation] brethren” (e.g., pp. ix., 235, 242).
He says that Easy Believism confuses unbelievers into thinking they are believers (pp. 234-35). Since he seems to put the JOTGES position in that camp, he believes ours is a false gospel.
Wright suggests that ongoing obedience and holiness are guaranteed for all true believers (e.g., pp. 41, 58).
While he criticizes MacArthur for robbing people of assurance (p. 238), he nonetheless suggests that assurance is to be found by looking at our desires, concerns, fruit, etc., going on for nearly two pages about all the things we need to see in our attitudes and lives before we can be assured (pp. 231-32).
I’m not quite sure where the author stands. He seems to be mildly in the Lordship Salvation camp, but uncomfortable with some of the extreme statements made by MacArthur.
It should be noted that the author does not cite Hodges, Dillow, Radmacher, Stanley, or myself. He seems to only know of Ryrie and Thieme. And Thieme, though mentioned in the text, doesn’t find his way into the bibliography. The author’s understanding of the Free Grace view seems quite limited. He clearly hasn’t done much research of the Free Grace position, and indeed may be totally unaware of it. How that can be if he read The Gospel According to Jesus is hard to imagine, since MacArthur regularly cites Hodges, Dillow, GES, and many others.
There seems to be some helpful material buried within the pages of this book. But it is so hard to follow that I can’t recommend this book except to the person who wants to have a complete library of books on the issue.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society