Introduction to the Series
Over the last year or so a growing number of books and articles has appeared which have targeted the Free Grace movement for critique and rebuttal. These publications mention the Grace Evangelical Society and its literature. This is a positive development. GES definitely wishes to have its views seriously discussed in the marketplace of ideas.
It might be possible to describe these writings as presenting what is known as “Lordship Salvation.” But this designation, though widely used, does not indicate the true historical antecedents of the movement in its present form. The term could be used with equal ease to describe many who are Arminian in theology. Yet the major “lordship” writers of today are not Arminian, however much they tend toward conclusions similar to those of Arminians (e.g., on assurance). Instead, these writers describe themselves as Calvinists. But John Calvin himself, were he alive today, would probably disown them because they more closely resemble the scholastic theology that resisted the Reformation than Calvin’s own theology.
In deference, therefore, to the many Calvinists who hold a biblical theology of grace (e.g., R. T. Kendall, M. Charles Bell, Charles C. Ryrie), we refuse to describe the writers we are talking about as Calvinists. Instead, it would be better to identify them with the theology that became predominant in Puritan thought and which was, in significant respects, a rejection of certain basic concepts of Reformation theology. Hence my series title is “The New (i.e., contemporary) Puritanism.”
In this series we will consider some of the more significant recent literature produced from this particular theological perspective. In the process we will seek to determine how fairly, and how effectively, these writers have confronted the Free Grace movement.]
Michael S. Horton is the president of an organization known as Christians United for Reformation (CURE), with headquarters in Anaheim, California. As its journalistic arm, CURE publishes a magazine called modernReformation [sic], which promotes CURE’s point of view. On the masthead of this magazine CURE is identified as “a non-profit educational foundation committed to communicating the insights of the 16th century Reformation to the 20th century Church.”
The book under review here is a symposium volume entitled, Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992; 240 pp.) and is edited by Horton. He also contributed a preface, an introduction, and two out of the eight articles the book contains. Four other contributors (W. Robert Godfrey, Rick Ritchie, Kim Riddlebarger, and Rod Rosenbladt) are listed as “Writers” on the masthead of modernReformation. The two remaining contributors are Paul Schaefer, a freelance writer, and Robert Strimple, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in California (as also is Godfrey, mentioned above).
Clearly there is no reason to quarrel with the designation “A CURE Book” which appears on the title page.
Michael S. Horton’s name has achieved considerable visibility in recent years through a number of books, including The Agony of Deceit (which he edited) and Made in America (which he wrote). But it is probable that many to whom his name is known could not pinpoint his theology beyond saying that it was evangelical. However, as one reviewer of Made in America has noted:
Horton’s major concern is not with the country in general, but how quickly American evangelicals in particular abandoned the Puritan ideal, particularly its Calvinistic theology and world view, and accomodated themselves to whatever the culture dictated [italics added].
Later, the same reviewer notes that “those who do not share Horton’s love for the five Points of Calvinism may find his constant harping on Arminianism excessive” [italics added]. An awareness of the theology behind Christ the Lord is essential if we are to correctly evaluate this book.
II. Let the Reader Beware
In the last analysis, Christ the Lord is a vigorous attack on Free Grace theology from a slightly disguised Dortian (five-point Calvinist) perspective.
The reader should understand that five-point Calvinism generally denies the validity of all free will in human beings and embraces a harsh doctrine of reprobation along with a rigid view of divine election. To put it plainly, those who are lost were unconditionally assigned to hell by divine decree in eternity past. Since they have no free will, there is nothing they can possibly do about their eternal reprobation.
But equally, the elect can do nothing either, not even believe. This leads to the doctrine that our faith does not appropriate God’s gift of life, but rather faith results from God’s sovereign regeneration of the elect person. To the five-point Calvinist, regeneration logically precedes faith, despite all of the Scriptures that condition eternal life and/or justification on faith.
It follows, as well, that Christ did not pay the penalty for the sins of the non-elect, but only for those of the elect. This too flies in the face of Scripture (2 Cor 5:19; 1 Tim 2:3-6; 1 John 2:2).
None of these ideas has any right to be called normative Protestant theology. None has ever been held by a wide cross-section of Christendom. Most importantly, none of them is biblical. In the opinion of this reviewer all of them lie outside the proper parameters of Christian orthodoxy.
Yet the contributors to this book do not lay explicit claim to this set of doctrines. To do so would have “turned off” a large majority of Christian readers. Instead, they feel more comfortable hurling at their opponents such epithets as “Arminian” and “antinomian.” But by concealing the full scope of their own theology—and by laying claim to orthodoxy—they actually construct a fantasy—world. They create the deceptive illusion that the Free Grace movement is an enemy to historic orthodoxy.
But in fact, the Free Grace movement is not an enemy to orthodoxy. On the other hand, most (but not all) Free Grace people are indeed opposed to the “Christian fatalism” of 5-point Calvinism.
The writers of this volume are sometimes so intense that one feels they regard their assault on free Grace theology as a kind of “holy war.” But if this is their view of it, their weapons arc decidedly unho1y. Let us examine some of these “weapons,” which the writers freely deploy. Limits of space require our focus to be mainly on Horton, the leading offender here.
III. Unholy Weapons
Very few books that I have read deal so heavily in caricature and misrepresentation. It was hard for me even to recognize myself after encountering so many false strokes on this volume’s portrait of me. We will look at some of these “false strokes” as we survey the “unholy weapons” deployed in this volume.
- False Statements
- The Issue of Saving Faith
Under his discussion of “Is Faith a Gift?” (Introduction, p. 16), Horton refers to my approving citation of Dr. Robert Preus in
Absolutely Free! (Note 5, pp. 227-28). Horton describes Preus as “perhaps the leading conservative Lutheran scholar in our generation” (p.16), and quotes the section (which I also quoted) where Preus states:
The Arminians too opposed the Lutheran doctrine by making faith (which they granted was trust) a work (actus) of man. Like the Romanists they had a synergistic notion of how man came to faith…Their deviations from the evangelical model are in force today, although in somewhat less gross form. We have all encountered them.
What follows in Horton is an astounding and reckless charge. He writes:
Indeed, we have all encountered them, not least in Zane Hodges’s Absolutely Free! That Hodges can approvingly cite these remarks while laboring throughout the book [italics added] to establish that very Roman Catholic and Arminian view of saving faith as a human act and the product of a synergistic (i.e., cooperative) response of free will to divine grace demonstrates the author’s confusion either as to what the Reformers taught or as to his own position [p. 16].
This is totally “off the wall,” to use a colloquial expression. We should note that, in saying that I labor “throughout the book” to prove what he charges me with, Horton does not cite so much as one single page-reference! Since I do not hold or teach what Horton says I do, Horton’s statement is flatly false.
What is equally bad is the question of whether or not Horton has even read with care the very footnote in my book from which he himself was quoting! In that note I speak approvingly of Preus’s insistence on the traditional Lutheran understanding of faith as “pure receptivity.” I also refer to Preus’s citation of Luther’s own great statement: “Faith holds out the hand and the sack and just lets the good be done to it. For God is the giver… , we are the receivers who receive the gift through faith that does nothing.” This is my view of faith, too.
I do not contradict this position anywhere in Absolutely Free! Horton’s claim that I do is without foundation. Faith is not an “actus” in either the Roman Catholic or Arminian sense. It is “pure receptivity” to the offer of the Gospel. Faith is a persuasion of the heart, not an “act” of the human will.
- The Second or Third Point of Calvinism?
After the discussion above, we are hardly surprised to read another accusation by Horton:
Denying the doctrine of unconditional election (“this tragic error,” Hodges calls it) and the effectiveness of God’s grace in granting faith, the author adds. . . [p. 17; italics added].
This is also an untrue statement. I say nothing in Absolutely Free! about the doctrine of unconditional election (the so-called second point of Calvinism). As a matter of fact, I hold to that doctrine, though probably not in a form to which Horton would give his approval.
In my text the words “this tragic error” refer to the third point of Calvinism, namely, to ‘the doctrine of limited atonement. This doctrine is often denied by those Calvinists who hold to the other four points of Calvinism (including unconditional election). With apologies to the reader, I must quote myself here in order to make my point. I wrote:
Frequently (though not always) lordship salvation is combined with a harsh system of thought that denies the reality of God’s love for every single human being. According to this kind of theology, God dooms most men to eternal damnation long before they are born and really gives His Son-to die only for the elect.
For such thinkers, the declaration that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) must be tortured into meaning something less than His universal love for mankind. It does not lie within the scope of this book to deal with this tragic error” (italics added).
No doubt this section of my book greatly displeased Horton, who evidently holds to “limited atonement.” But why could he not accurately designate the doctrine I was criticizing? Is this carelessness? Or is it an unwillingness to allow his belief in “limited atonement” to be plainly declared. After all, most Christians throughout church history have rejected this doctrine. Furthermore, a powerful case has been made that Calvin himself did not hold it.” Is Horton afraid that “open confession” will undermine his case to the general Christian public?
- Revelation 3:20
Or, we might take the following unwarranted statement by Horton:
Hodges also returns to the faulty, if popular, exegesis of Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” It is clear from the context that Jesus is addressing “the church of the Laodiceans,” not the unbelieving world, as Hodges and others interpret it [pp. 17-18].
How could Horton possibly have come up with this? Certainly not by a careful reading of my book! In fact I say clearly of Rev 3:20 that:
It would be wrong to take this famous statement as a simple gospel invitation, though that has often been done. Here our Lord is addressing a Christian church and, clearly, anyone in the church is invited to respond.”
Moreover, on p. 150 of my book, I refer to Rev 3:20 in connection with Christian repentance! Horton’s statement about my view is totally false.
The observant reader will have noticed that the three false statements I have cited occur on pp. 16, 17 and 17-18. This is falsification at a very rapid clip! Obviously I would soon use up all the space in this article if I tried to enumerate each and every false assertion this volume makes about my views.
Suffice it to say, Horton and his fellow authors are so unreliable in stating these views, that none of their statements about me should be taken at face value unless carefully verified by the reader from my actual writings!
As we have said, the writers in Christ the Lord frequently just misstate my views; on the other hand, they often distort them. Once again we will focus on Horton.
- The Charge of Denying God’s Sovereignty
On p. 21 (still in his Introduction!), Horton rejects my view about the statement in Eph 2:10 that Christians are “created . . . for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” In Absolutely Free! (p. 73), I stated that one cannot find in this text “any kind of guarantee that the stated purpose will be fulfilled.”
Horton replies: “So, once again, the author follows his logic to its sad conclusion: God is not sovereign; he does not achieve his gracious purposes . . .” (p. 21).
Has Horton never heard the formulation to which even many Calvinists hold, namely that, “What God desires, He does not always decree”? God may deeply desire certain goals which, in His wisdom, He has not chosen to attain. Horton’s charge that my theology results in the conclusion that God is not sovereign, is logically absurd.
Horton’s position is also linguistically untenable. The Greek word hina (= “that” in Eph 2:10) tells us nothing about the final results and only describes the intended purpose God has for us as people “created in Christ Jesus.” Whether or not this purpose will be fulfilled in each and every case is a conclusion that cannot be supported from this text.
But in Horton’s theology one is required to hold to its fulfillment by all the elect. From Horton’s perspective, the reason for this is indicated by the words that immediately follow the quotation cited above: [The result of Hodges’s view is that] “the effectiveness of the grace he [God] offers depends entirely on what we decide by an act of the will” (p. 21).
This, too, is a distortion. I do not state, nor do I believe, that obedience to God’s will “depends entirely” on what we decide. God works on the human will to move us (not coerce us!) to a decision to obey, and His enablement is necessary as we seek to carry out this decision (see Phil 2:13). At the same time, the Christian may resist God’s work in his heart.
But leaving this point aside, the real key to Horton’s comments is his complete refusal to allow any role to man’s will either in salvation or in sanctification. Horton appears to think that any allowance for the activity of the human will deprives God of His sovereignty. But this is false.
The relationship between divine control and human freedom has long been a controversial theological issue. The reader may be interested in a recent and highly competent treatment of this difficult subject. He will find it in an article by David Basinger entitled, “Divine Control and Human Freedom: Is Middle Knowledge the Answer?” in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36 (1, March 1993): 55-64. The complexity of the issue can easily be seen from Basinger’s discussion. Horton’s perspective evidently requires what Basinger calls “theological determinism.” In my view, the approach designated “middle knowledge” is superior to other views. In “middle knowledge” full account is taken of God’s omniscience so that room is left for the biblical concept of human responsibility as well as of divine sovereignty. A discussion of the whole question cannot be taken up here.
Suffice it to say, Horton apparently charges me with theological indeterminism of an Arminian type, which is not at all a fair or correct assessment of my position.
- The Charge of Antinomianism
Naturally, Horton also charges me (and others) with antinomianism. This is pretty standard fare for my critics in the New Puritan camp. I was certainly not surprised to find it in this book too.
What did surprise me was Horton’s apparent lack of accuracy in discussing the so-called “antinomian controversy” in seventeenth-century New England. In a section entitled “The Antinomian Controversy” (found on pp. 142-47 of Horton’s chapter called “Christ Crucified between Two Thieves”), Horton depicts that controversy in a way that is, historically, almost unrecognizable.
The best resource for students of this controversy is the volume edited by David Hall and entitled, The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1638: A Documentary History. Here all the essential original documents have been collected and printed in full. The first edition was published in 1968 (Horton apparently errs in citing it as 1989 on p. 228), while a second edition appeared in 1990. I have read the documents in their entirety. But has Horton? I seriously doubt it, even though he cites the book four times. On inspection, his citations from the first edition are from p. 15 (twice), p. 19, and p. 53. But this is a book of well over 400 pages!
Strikingly, Horton critiques the New England Puritans who opposed(!) antinomianism because they “appeared to be following a system more akin to the medieval penitential system, with assurance of God’s favor being granted through successive stages of contrition, purgation, illumination, and finally union” (pp. 144-45). And who is Horton’s “hero” in this controversy? Astoundingly, it is John Cotton, the leading clergyman on the antinomian side! Of Cotton he writes:
For whatever reasons, John Cotton had become more aligned with the thinking of the Reformers (and, I think, the New Testament) after his move to Boston [p. 144].
Cotton argued, quite traditionally, that we do not attain union through a series of stages; rather we are united to Christ immediately by the Holy Spirit through faith. His opponents, however, like many of their English contemporaries, followed a line closer to the medieval scheme [pp. 144-45].
All of this is to be taken cum grano salis because it throws a false slant on the controversy. As Hall has reaffirmed in the preface to his new edition, “I argued in 1968, and would argue again, that assurance of salvation was the central issue in the controversy.” The argument among the Puritans revolved around whether assurance of salvation could be immediately given by the Spirit at conversion, or whether assurance must wait on one’s sanctification—i.e., on a manifestation of obedience to the law. Those who opposed making obedience to the law a necessary condition of assurance were the “antinomians” (= those against law). As I have noted, Cotton was the leader of the “antinomians.”
But if Cotton, the “antinomian,” is Horton’s hero in the controversy who is his villain? This dubious distinction falls on Anne Hutchinson, whom Horton acknowledges to have been “one of his [Cotton’s] devoted parishioners” (p. 144), Of Hutchinson Horton writes:
Now it must be said that Anne Hutchinson, in addition to being a strange person, was certainly an antinomian. Very often, charges of antinomianism are not seaworthy, but Anne clearly denied the necessary connection between faith and repentance, justification and sanctification, and relegated the latter to “works-righteousness.” Every command, every requirement in Scripture, was viewed as a form of legalism [p. 144].
Where is the documentation for these claims? Horton offers none. Apparently he wishes to distance Hutchinson from Cotton, but in so doing he distorts history.
Much more accurate, it seems to me, are the publisher’s comments on the back cover of the paperback edition:
This new edition of the 1968 volume, published for the first time in paper, includes an expanded bibliography and a new preface, treating in more detail the primary figures of Anne Hutchinson and her chief clerical supporter, John Cotton. Among the documents gathered here are transcripts of Anne Hutchinson’s trial, several of Cotton’s writings defending the Antinomian position, and John Winthrop’s account of the controversy. Hall’s increased focus on Hutchinson reveals the harshness and the excesses with which the New England ministry tried to discredit her and reaffirms her place of prime importance in the history of American women.
This does not sound at all like Horton’s description of things!
What is crucial here is the account, or transcript, of Mrs. Hutchinson’s examination by the General Court at Newtown in November of 1637. This account was first found in an appendix to an historical work published in Boston in 1767. It sheds significant light on Mrs. Hutchinson and is included in Hall’s volume on Pp. 312-48.
It is plain from the transcript that Mrs. Hutchinson was routing her accusers with her responses until she admitted that she had received divine revelations. As Hall has noted,
Her trial by the Court was nearly a disaster, for Mrs. Hutchinson made the various charges brought against her seem ridiculous. Not until she spoke of receiving revelations from God did the Court find an issue on which she could be banished. With her proscription the Controversy drew to a close.
So, in reality, Mrs. Hutchinson was not banished for her antinomian views, but for what amounted to her “charismatic” tendencies!
The reader may be interested in a brief extract from the exchange between Anne Hutchinson and her accusers at this hearing. In segment, the Deputy Governor charges her with disparaging all ministers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by saying “that they have preached a covenant of works, and only Mr. Cotton a covenant of grace.”
The transcript proceeds as follows:
Mrs. H. I pray Sir prove it that I said they preached nothing but a covenant of works.
Dep. Gov. Nothing but a covenant of works, why a Jesuit may preach truth sometimes.
Mrs. H. Did I ever say they preached a covenant of works, then?
Dep. Gov. If they do not preach a covenant of grace clearly, then they preach a covenant of works.
Mrs. H. No Sir, one may preach a covenant of grace more clearly than another, so I said.
- Gov. We are not upon that now but upon position.
Mrs. H. Prove this then Sir that you say I said.
- Gov.When they do preach a covenant of works do they preach truth?
Mrs. H. Yes Sir, but when they preach a covenant of works for salvation, this is not truth.
- Gov. I do but ask you this, when the ministers do preach a covenant of works do they preach a way of salvation?
Mrs. H. I did not come hither to answer questions of that sort.
- Gov.Because you will deny the thing.
Mrs. H. Ey, but that is to be proved first.
- Gov.I will make it plain that you did say that the ministers did preach a covenant of works.
Mrs. H. I deny that.
- Gov.And that you said they were not able ministers of the new testament, but Mr. Cotton only.
Mrs. H. If I ever said that I proved it by God’s word.
Court. Very well, very well.
Mrs. H. If one shall come to me in private, and desire me seriously to tell them what I thought of such an one. [sic] I must either speak false or true in my answer.
Here it is plain, as it is throughout the entire transcript of the proceedings, that the court was having considerable difficulty in nailing down any significant charge against Mrs. Hutchinson. Moreover, John Cotton stood with Mrs. Hutchinson in her defense virtually to the end of the hearing. A segment near the end of the examination is illuminating:
Mr. Peters. I was much grieved that she should say our ministry was legal. Upon which we had a meeting as you know and this was the same she told us that there was a broad difference between Mr. Cotton and us. Now if Mr. Cotton do hold forth things more clearly than we, it was our grief we did not hold it so clearly as he did, and upon those grounds that you have heard.
Mr. Coddington. What was wrong was that to say that you were not able ministers of the new testament or that you were like the apostles—methinks the comparison is very good.
Gov. Well, you remember that she said but now that she should be delivered from this calamity.
Mr. Cotton. I remember she said that she should be delivered by God’s providence, whether now or at another time she knew not.
Mr. Peters. I profess I thought Mr. Cotton would never have took her part.
It should be clear enough from these segments of Hutchinson’s trial before the General Court that something quite different was taking place than what Horton describes. The issues were fundamentally her charges of legalism against the Puritan ministers and her claims to direct revelation. Mrs. Hutchinson was not banished from the colony for antinomianism in any widely accepted sense of that word, such as “lawlessness” or “libertinism.” As much as anything she was banished (as we said earlier) for her “charismatic” tendencies. Pastor Cotton did not desert her.
Ironically, Hutchinson was later tried by Cotton’s own church in Boston, with Cotton participating. But this was on an array of new charges, many of which were unrelated to the original controversy. Although she was convicted and excommunicated by Cotton’s church, Hutchinson professed to have held none of the censured convictions prior to her imprisonment, which followed her trial at Newtown. Cotton acknowledged his.own previous unawareness that she held these views. But at this point the larger antinomian controversy was over.
In conclusion, it must be said that Horton’s discussion of this historic controversy is so distorted and flawed, that one wonders how he could manage to be so far off target. It is therefore almost grotesque for Horton to write:
Like Anne Hutchinson, the Dallas position is clearly what its critics insist it is: nothing short of the antinomian heresy. The gospel is distorted in bizarre ways by Hodges, Ryrie, Cocoris and the like [p. 146].
With words like these, Michael Horton descends to new depths of irresponsibility.
[The review of Horton will continue in the next issue]
 For just one of the points on which this seems true, see Paul Holloway, “A Return to Rome: Lordship Salvation’s Doctrine of Faith,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 4 (Autumn 1991): 13-21.
 Robert W. Patterson, “Did the Reformation Take a Wrong Turn in America?” Christianity Today 35 (14, November 25, 1991): 30-32.
 Ibid., 32.
 One can obtain an instructive exposure to five-point Calvinism in the volume by John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991).
 Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, and Dallas: Redenciòn Viva, 1989).
 Robert D. Preuss, “Perennial Problems in the Doctrine of Justification,’ Concordia Theological Quarterly 45 July 1981): 172
 Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 227.
 One might note here Kendall’s crisp summation of Calvin’s view of saving faith: “What stands out in these descriptions is the given, intellectual, passive, and assuring nature of faith. What is absent is a need for gathering faith, voluntarism, faith as man’s act, and faith that must await experimental knowledge to verify its presence.” R. T. Kendall, Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 19 (italics added). I, of course, concur with such a view of saving faith.
 Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 85-86.
 For effective discussions of this issue, leading to the conclusion that Calvin held to unlimited atonement, the reader should refer to Kendall’s book (cited in footnote 7); to M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1985); and to A. N. S. Lane, “Calvin’s Doctrine of Assurance,” Vox Evangelica 11(1979): 32-54.
 Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 129
 It must be said that Basinger does not himself hold to the “middle knowledge” position. His critique of this position, however, does not seem to me to do full justice to the tremendous scope of God’s foreknowledge, which includes knowing all things that could be conceived of as occurring, in all of their conceivable permutations—and knowing all this with full immediacy. Such a God can instantaneously take account of an infinite number of possible scenarios and could ordain precisely that scenario in which His will is completely worked out within a cosmos containing actual free will. For Basinger’s evaluation, see the article cited in the text above, 61-64.
 David D. Hall, The Antinomian Controversy, 1636-1 638: A Documentary History, 2nd ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1990).
 In the second edition, to be exact, xxi + 453 pages.
 Hall, The Antinomian Controversy, xiv.
 Cotton was charged with antinomianism, for example. by Robert Baillie, who was a minister in the Church of Scotland as well as a delegate to the Westminster Assembly (which drew up the Westminster Confession). Cotton’s defense of himself against this charge is set forth in Hall’s volume. See Hall, The Antinomian Controversy, 396-437.
 Given in Hall’s chapter, “The Examination of Mrs. Anne Hutchinson at the Court at Newtown,” 311-48.
 Specifically, according to Hall, p. 311, “the second volume of Thomas Hutchinson’s History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay (Boston, 1767).” Hall calls Hutchinson “a notable historian and political figure in pre-revolutionary Massachusetts.”
 Hall, The Antinomian Controversy, 10.
 Ibid., 318.
 Ibid., 318-319.
 Ibid., 347.
 For the account of this trial, see Hall, The Antinomian Controversy, 349-95.
 Ibid., 372.