So Great Salvation. By Charles C. Ryrie. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1989. 166 pp. Cloth, $12.95.
If this book had been written only several years ago, it would be hard to imagine a debate over the conditions of salvation such as there is today. For many years Dr. Ryrie has caught the brunt of the attack from Lordship Salvation advocates because of his single chapter in Balancing the Christian Life (first published in 1969 by Moody Press). He has not answered in print until now, but the wait has been worth it.
Though the book is more a positive statement about the issues of salvation than an answer to John MacArthur’s The Gospel According to Jesus, it does answer Dr. MacArthur convincingly and clearly. The reader will quickly see and appreciate the difference between MacArthur’s dogmatic rhetoric and Ryrie’s reasoned theology.
Ryrie covers all the essential issues in the Lordship debate. There are separate chapters on the four most crucial and controversial issues: the meaning of faith, repentance, Lordship, and discipleship. But he begins where he should, i.e., with the nature of God’s grace. At its heart, Lordship Salvation is a subtle perversion of God’s grace forcefully argued with slippery semantics. But as Ryrie points out, semantics is the battleground, and clarity in terms and definitions is essential.
Other chapters are welcome, such as the chapter which buries four favorite straw men of Lordship proponents. The reader will also be thankful that a chapter has been devoted to defining the Gospel clearly and simply, especially if he has previously read the cumbersome and confusing presentation in MacArthur’s book.
The chapter on Christian fruit-bearing is also very helpful. While advocating that all Christians will bear fruit, Ryrie goes on to argue that a weakness of the Lordship argument is the inevitable subjectivity of “fruit inspectors” in determining what is acceptable evidence of genuine salvation. He then gives a biblical study to show that fruit is not always obvious and discernible (for example, one’s inner character, praise to God, or giving). Ryrie demonstrates that the subjectivity of the Lordship argument is one of its glaring weaknesses.
The doctrine of justification is too often neglected in the Lordship debate, but Ryrie devotes a good chapter to it. He argues that the biblical idea of imputation refutes the Lordship argument that justification makes one righteous. Again, he also raises the Lordship problem of subjective judgment if justification is determined by analyzing one’s works. Though there is a chapter on the doctrine of sanctification, it would have been helpful if Ryrie had said more on the relationship of sanctification to justification.
Ryrie does not handle all of the biblical texts used by Lordship proponents (e.g., Matt 7:21–27; 11:28–30; John 2:23–25; 3:36; Rom 1:5; 16:26; Col 1:23; Heb 3:18–19; 4:6; 5:9) but he does interpret some very important ones (e.g., John 1:12; 15:1–17; Acts 16:31; Rom 10:9–10; Jas 2:14–26). Unfortunately, a discussion of Eph 2:8–9 is lacking. This would have been especially helpful since it is so often used to characterize faith as a divine dynamic. But Ryrie’s gift to the evangelical world and to those grappling with the Lordship Salvation issue is his convincing logic and biblical theology communicated with gratifying conciseness. Though every Lordship passage is not answered, he has shown that they all can be; thus his arguments and questions definitely place the ball on the Lordship side of the net.
It is somewhat surprising that Ryrie, a champion of dispensationalism, fails to note many of the dispensational issues involved in the Lordship Salvation debate. Granted, this may have been beyond his design for the book, but MacArthur has challenged dispensationalism and its interpretation of many crucial passages that bear on the Lordship question. Ryrie would certainly have been the one to answer him.
Nevertheless, in my opinion this is the best introduction to the theological issues in the Lordship Salvation debate. It is also a book that demands answers from Lordship advocates. Though not his explicit purpose, Ryrie has taken the offensive in the debate by writing a book that is easy to read and understand.
The Lordship Salvation issue is as important as the Bible’s teaching of salvation itself. There is no room for careless handling of the Scriptures or for theology that can’t be clearly supported from the Bible. So Great Salvation does a careful and responsible job in handling Bible texts and in presenting a consistent theology. It is a book every evangelical should buy and read. In fact, every Christian concerned about the clarity of the Gospel should buy a half dozen copies and pass them around to others.
Charles C. Bing
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society