Lordship Salvation versus Easy Believism versus Reformed Theology

UPDATE  Sept 2021:  I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches.  He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


[May 26, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

Lordship Salvation destroys assurance. It promotes false guilt in believers who have a sensitive conscience. And it promotes hypocrisy in the visible church.

Lordship Salvation Theology was created to push back against the error of ‘Easy Believism’ Theology. But both these Theologies are wrong. Many of our readers have wittingly or unwittingly been exposed to one or both of these errors.

Why am I writing about complexities of theology, when so many of our readers are exhausted and grieving from all the abuse they have suffered? Because while I know it can be a brain drain to wrap one’s head around theological debates, I believe it is immensely helpful for Christian victims of abuse to understand the errors in the theology they have been taught.

If we understand theology correctly we are much better equipped to identify and resist the spiritual abuse tactics which are employed to oppress victims of abuse. And our love for the Lord becomes even stronger and more vivifying, because we have sloughed off wrong ideas about God and the Christian life.

So dear readers, I encourage you to read this post in full. Take your time if need be. And see if what I’m saying makes sense.

Pastor John Fonville is well-equipped to explain what Lordship Salvation is, how the doctrine originated, and, most importantly, how it diverges from biblical truth. He grew up as a Southern Baptist and studied at John MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary where he was taught Lordship Salvation Theology. He later came to realize how erroneous Lordship Salvation was. So he is very able to explain what Lordship Salvation is….and what its errors are.

Note well: both John MacArthur and John Piper have a Lordship Salvation Theology.

I urge all our readers to listen to this podcast: Lordship Salvation, with Pastor John Fonville. There is some preliminary material and then Ps Fonville comes on about 6:27.

I (Barb) had heard the term ‘Lordship Salvation’ before, but I didn’t know what it was. What an eye-opener it was to listen to this podcast!

The Lordship Salvation doctrine arose because of a concern back in the 80s and early 90s that the double benefits of salvation — justification and sanctification — were being separated.

Some guys from Dallas Seminary were saying that  justification and sanctification were separate deals. In his 1980s book Absolutely Free, Zane Hodges from Dallas Seminary argued that you can accept Jesus as your Saviour and be justified, but you don’t have to accept Him as your Lord. This idea is commonly known as ‘Easy Believism’ and it produces antinomianism (lawlessness, libertinism). Hodges said that if you want later on to accept Jesus as your Saviour, you can do that and thus become a disciple of Jesus. (By the way, this was not a new heresy. Heresies get recycled with variants and new labels down the centuries.)

In order to correct this error, John MacArthur wrote a book The Gospel According To Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith. He argued that Jesus is both Saviour and Lord to all who believe. So MacArthur and his followers came to be known as the Lordship Salvation camp.

MacArthur was correcting the widespread mistaken teaching that you could answer an altar call and sincerely pray the sinner’s prayer and sign this line because you’ve “asked Jesus into your heart” and you would be saved. That kind of theology came out of revivalism. It is also steeped in a Wesleyan two-step view of salvation — a ‘higher life’ Keswick view of salvation — namely, that you can be justified initially but at some later point in your life you have this existential experience with the Holy Spirit and you truly become sanctified and at that point you become a victorious Christian and live the abundant Christian life.

But the problem was, as Michael Horton put it:

While MacArthur was pulling up the weeds of antinomianism [lawlessness], he also pulled up the flowers of the Reformation.

Lordship Salvation confuses and blurs the Law and the Gospel so that ultimately Law just consumes the entire Gospel.

John Fonville gives examples of how Lordship Salvation has infected a lot of the visible church. He uses the example of David Platt’s book Radical. (Platt has a Lordship Salvation Theology.) Here is Pastor John Fonville at 32:50 in the podcast —

[Lordship Salvation] a taxing legalism. ….Platt issues a call to ‘live the Gospel’. ….

Nowhere does Scripture issue a command for believers to ‘live the Gospel’ – that is the unique work of Christ alone. I’ve never met a person who has incarnated themselves. And I’ve never met a person who has perfectly through their active obedience given perfect perpetual personal obedience to God’s Law, ever. I’ve never met anybody who had the authority to lay their life down on the cross and pick it up again the third day and propitiate the judgement and wrath of God for sin. So it’s a confusion of categories and it’s silly to call people to ‘live the Gospel’.

The Bible calls us to believe the Gospel and to obey the Law.

The Law and the Gospel are to be carefully distinguished.

The Law says ‘Do this and live. If you do not do it you will die.’

Ever since the Fall, we have been unable to keep the Law perfectly. God’s Law exposes to us our sin and misery. The Holy Spirit uses the Law to reveal to us our need to repent of sin and our pretence of Law-keeping.

The Gospel gives us the remedy: receive and rest on Christ alone, through faith.

Christ met the demands of the Law. He did this in two ways: His active personal perfect obedience to the Law during His life, and His passive obedience to the Law by suffering the penalty of the Law, namely the wrath of God and death on our behalf. So all a repentant sinner needs to do is receive and rest in the finished work of Christ alone.

Because Lordship Salvation blurs Law and Gospel, it also has a defective understanding of discipleship. Fonville explains this (43:00 in the podcast) by giving the example of how Platt misinterprets the story of the rich young man in Mark 10.

In that section of the podcast I saw lots of parallels with how churches pressure victims of abuse to keep on submitting to their abusers in order to show radical surrender to Jesus’ Lordship.

As we have said many times before at ACFJ, churches lay false guilt on victims if they don’t adhere to the church’s counsel. And they induce fear in victims of abuse by implying that if they don’t comply they are not true Christians.

Reformed Theology rightly distinguishes Law and Gospel

The Reformed Confessions and Catechisms steer a clear path between the two errors of  Lordship Salvation (legalism, moralism) and Easy Believism (libertinism).

Here is Pastor Fonville.

[Begin transcript of podcast, starting from 54:25]
The Reformed Confessions talk about how we are united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone. ….receiving a whole Christ. We receive Christ as Saviour and Lord. We receive Christ with all of His saving benefits. We receive the substance of the covenant of grace which is both justification and sanctification. …. [speaks about progressive sanctification] ….

Qn 75 in the Westminster Larger Catechism, it asks the question “What is sanctification?”  — [Barb has put the words from the Catechism in italics.]

[Sanctification is a work of God’s grace]

Sanctification, and this is so important: it is a work of God’s grace. So right there, you know that sanctification is not some synergistic effort between you and God to save yourself. But then it goes on and says:

Sanctification is a work of God’s grace whereby they (that is the elect, God’s chosen people) whom God hath before the foundation of the world chosen to be holy are in time (now listen) through the powerful operation of His Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them

So it is a work of God’s grace through the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit who applies the death and resurrection of Christ to us. It’s not our work. And by that work of grace of the Holy Spirit applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto us [believers], then we are:

renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life.
[End transcript of podcast]

The Lordship Salvation crowd (MacArthur, Piper, etc.) blur the distinction between justification and sanctification, so you have to meet certain conditions in your sanctification-works in order to enter into heaven.

In contrast, the ‘Easy Believism’  (Free Grace / non-Lordship) crowd separate justification and sanctification. They emphasize, legitimately, that assurance of salvation is clearly taught in the Scriptures, but in so doing they reduce faith to something less than the full-orbed biblical teaching. They bifurcate justification and sanctification.

But the Reformed Confessions do not blur the lines between justification and sanctification, nor do they unscripturally separate or bifurcate justification and sanctification.

At 103:45 in the podcast, Ps Fonville explains the Law and Gospel hermeneutic of the Reformed Confessions. The Reformed Confessions distinguish between two types of covenants:

  • Law is the covenant of works which is first announced in Genesis 2:15-17.
  • Gospel is the covenant of grace which is first announced in Genesis 3:15 and finds its way from promise there to fulfilment in the New Heavens and New Earth.

Pastor Fonville says:

When you turn the Gospel (the covenant of grace) into the covenant of works and make personal spirit-wrought sanctity a condition for salvation, you have just injected the covenant of works back into the covenant of grace and you have destroyed the Gospel. That’s why it’s so important to make these clear distinctions in the Bible and to have these categories. [the categories of Law and Gospel]

So what is the place of good works?

….once the Holy Spirit has worked Christ-embracing faith in our hearts, all conditions of salvation having been met in Him, do good works then cease to be necessary? Of course not — why would they? Good works are glorifying to God, comforting to the soul of believers, and are used by God to win others to Christ. (source)

John MacArthur and John Piper do not have Reformed Theology. They do not subscribe to any Reformed Confessions. They do not follow the framework that the Reformers articulate. They do not rightly articulate the Law (the covenant of works) and the Gospel (the covenant of grace). So they go very wrong on many things from there.

And here’s another caution. We need to remember that there are people who falsely claim to be Reformed in their theology who inject the covenant of works back into the covenant of grace and thereby destroy the Gospel. The Federal Vision crowd Norman Shepherd & Doug Wilson are obvious examples. But many unstable Presbyterian (PCA) ministers are in this group too.

Michael Horton rightly says —

[Paraphrase] When you collapse the covenant of works into the covenant of grace you don’t have Law and Gospel, you have GoLawspel.  (1:06:00 in the podcast.)

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to beware of false teachers in all tribes of the church.

One benefit of the Reformed Confessions and Catechisms is that they help us learn and pass on to the next generation the true doctrines of Christianity. And they help us identify the false teachers.

Lordship Salvation destroys assurance and it promotes false guilt in believers who have a sensitive conscience.

For a serious believer who is weak and sinning, Lordship Salvation doctrine destroys the believer’s assurance so it leads to despair. For a Christian victim of domestic abuse, Lordship Salvation induces false guilt and terror that they are going to hell if they don’t comply with the church’s counsel and the abuser’s demands.

Lordship Salvation promotes hypocrisy in the visible church.

The other thing Lordship Salvation does is promote hypocrisy in some people in the visible church. And we know what that leads to – it makes the visible church an environment that is conducive to wolves in sheep’s clothing and wolves in pulpits. These wolves create man-made laws by twisting Scripture and they use these laws to oppress others. They hammer their man-made laws especially hard on victims of abuse when victims resist the oppression. And all the while these wolves are pretending to be Law-keepers, but they are wicked hypocrites. Many people outside the church see this and decide to have nothing to do with Christ.

Which leads me to the only problem I have with this podcast. It comes near the end of the podcast (1:58:15). A female listener asks how is she to rightly understand these three warning passages in light of the Gospel:

  • Matt 6:15  For if you do not forgive men their trespasses neither will the Father forgive yours.
  • Matt 7:2  For in the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, the measure you use is the measure that will be used against you.
  • Matt 10:33  Whoever denies me before men I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven.

I didn’t see any error in Pastor Fonville’s response to the listener’s question, but I thought his answer was inadequate because:

  • he didn’t consider the possibility that this woman had been taught confusing and defective ideas of forgiveness (see my post Three kinds of forgiveness)
  • he didn’t consider that she might be dealing with a situation where she was rightly judging someone but her church was telling her that her judgement was wrong
  • he didn’t consider the possibility that she might be rightly standing for Christ and Truth but was being told by her church that she was denying Christ by her attitude and behavior.

UPDATE: Please read the comments below by Marissa Namir and Colleen Sharp who are on the Theology Gals team. They explain that they had to edit Ps Fonville’s interview in order to fit it into the podcast. And they’ve followed up with the woman who asked that question, and supported her to move to another church.

[May 26, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to May 26, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to May 26, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to May 26, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (May 26, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading and listening

Grace Community Church Rejected Elder’s Calls to ‘Do Justice’ in Abuse Case — Christianity Today, February 9, 2023.

Former Elder at John MacArthur’s Church Confronts ‘Awful Patterns’ of Endangering Abuse Victims — The Roys Report, February 9, 2023.

The connection between #MeToo and the rejection of ‘salvation by faith alone’ (Sola Fide)

The “Christian” Abuser: Couldn’t He be a “Carnal” Christian? (Part 1 of a 4 part series)


Pastor Fonville is the teaching Elder at Paramount Church, Jacksonville Florida. See the church’s statement of faith here. In the podcast I’ve referred to in this post, Ps Fonville is being interviewed by Theology GalsTheology Gals is a podcast by women, for women. They bring a biblical, Reformed Christian perspective to the table. They discuss theology, studying God’s word and the importance of applying it to the Christian life.

Abuse and the Church — The Theology Gals interview Jeff Crippen.

Heidelcast 95: Reformation Happens — Dr R Scott Clark’s interview with John Fonville.

Justification — With Scott Clark — Dr R Scott Clark and his pastor, Chris Gordon, talk about the doctrine of justification.

The Lordship Controversy — Dr R Scott Clark interviewing Michael Horton in 2013 about the Lordship Salvation controversy.

42 thoughts on “Lordship Salvation versus Easy Believism versus Reformed Theology”

  1. So there was a lot of amazing writing in this post. You did such a wonderful job! I did notice that in the two heresies described, the vital reality of being born again (in and through Him; it is a work of Him, not of ourselves) seemed to be missing. Pastor F thankfully brought it up:

    they are renewed unto a whole man unto the image of God having the seeds of repentance unto life and all other saving graces put into their hearts…

    There was also another huge piece of the puzzle missing in the two false teachings: Joy! Joy that the work is finished in Him, and by Him. Joy that all the law keeping, law abiding, law awareness in the world does not save. Trust that He did it ALL (and “all” means all) to ensure our salvation. I didn’t “have to” lift a finger, prove myself or “appease” Him in order to be saved. And to be loved? Well, He loved me even before I was born again, when I didn’t give one care for Him and frankly hated Him with virtually every bone in my body. No one has ever loved with such purity and perfection to reach out to me when all I cared about was myself. I was a mocker and a scoffer towards Him.

    Brother Paul pointed everything in his life to God’s grace working in Him, shaping and growing him in all he did and would become (1 Corinthians 15:10). I don’t understand how and why grace is so overlooked and put on a shelf when Brother Paul lived by it as we should. If I tried to do any good works myself, even if I had the best of intentions, I know I would mess it up. And worst yet? God would not get all the glory as He so richly deserves. These awful teachings are stealing His glory and all the praise He alone deserves. He had a plan for salvation from the beginning and He accomplished it all on His own.

    There is nothing more wonderful and more satisfying than watching the Lord work. And He did His ultimate work on the cross for us. None of us were there, of course, but He was making sure that condemnation would have no part / no play in our lives anymore. He is forever done dealing with His believers on the basis of His wrath. Fully accomplished and fully satisfied on the cross. If you are attending a church or listening to pastors who are insinuating otherwise, read the Word and ask Him to reveal it to you. We often open ourselves up to deception by taking a pastor’s word that he / she is speaking God’s truth.

    1. Thanks, Helovesme.

      I worked a long time on this post and it’s great to hear comments like yours. You get it. And yes, joy is missing from the heretical theologies. Pseudo-joy may be hyped, faked from the pulpit, manufactured, cranked out by laying guilt on the flock who don’t show the veneer of joy… but true joy comes from being born again by the Word and the Spirit and being IN Christ with the assurance of no condemnation.

      Bless you!

  2. Such an important topic as these distortions (heresies) are wreaking havoc among God’s true sheep and giving great occasion for mockery of “the Gospel” by the world, and hurt between genuine believers in different camps. Much to mull over with more time, but 2 gems popped right out to me:

    John MacArthur and John Piper do not have Reformed Theology.

    I personally want to shout from the housetops, over and over!


    The Holy Spirit uses the Law to reveal to us our need to repent of sin and our pretence of Law-keeping

    to repeat to myself, over and over.

    Thank you for this post!

  3. So thankful you are posting from this interview Barbara. Many have been blessed by John Fonville’s teaching on this topic. We interviewed John for 3 hours. The podcast is 2 hours, so it is not that John was unconcerned for the other issues you noted at the end, rather that we only had so much time. Hope that is understood.
    —Marissa Namirr, the guest host on this Theology Gals podcast.

    1. And thanks for explaining that you had to edit the interview because of time constraints. I am very very happy to hear you confirm that Ps Fonville is concerned about the issues I raised at the end of my post.

      It’s hard being a journalist, podcaster or blogger — one often has to cut and condense one’s material before publication.

  4. Thank you Barbara. John loves the sheep. Very protective. I friend requested you on Facebook. Gospel blessings!

  5. I really appreciate that you’re talking about this subject. I believe this teaching has caused many to struggle with assurance because they’re taught to look to their works instead of to Christ.

    I wanted to add to what Marissa said regarding the last question. I know the gal and have been working with her on the topic she brought up, something I told John also. Podcasts should never be seen as a thorough handling of a topic or question. This episode was already way over time. In order to include everything you mentioned would have taken a lot of time and we were in a rush to wrap it up. I’ve given her those things privately, including helping her find a new church.

    Thanks for a great summary of the topic!

  6. Well done. I’m somewhat familiar with Lordship Salvation Theology but I haven’t done an in depth study as you’ve presented here. I am going to listen to the podcast. In a few short conversations with a couple Elders at my church, they expressed the same concerns you’ve presented here and have the same position. . Reading your article has motivated me to do some homework, and I’ll start by listening to the podcast. Thanks!

    In His Grip,

  7. I hate to say it, but my abuser dad would have loved this post. He was really, really into Michael Horton and even went to Kim Riddlebarger’s church for a long time. When he got into monergistic sanctification, he got even worse. He just sat around waiting for God to zap him while he indulged in anything he pleased. His drinking got worse, his abuse got worse.

    This is no silver bullet. You can never tell someone like my dad that he needs to repent and stop the bad behavior, because God might monergistically zap him tomorrow and therefore who are you to judge? (I mean “you” in the general sense.) He would say he can’t do anything unless God does it for him. In other words, he can’t help it and can now blame shift his sin onto God, which is also what he did.

    1. Thanks CA for this interesting story.

      What a clear snapshot you’ve given us of how abusers can use Reformed Theology to evade responsibility. What you said here —

      He would say he can’t do anything unless God does it for him. In other words, he can’t help it and can now blame shift his sin onto God, which is also what he did.

      —yes, an abuser can shift the blame to God. He can blame God for letting Adam sin. He can blame God for allowing all mankind to inherit a sin nature (‘original sin’) from Adam. He can claim that he doesn’t even have to make any self-efforts to rein in his bad behaviour for the sake of others and he doesn’t have to seek Christ’s mercy because the initiative in salvation comes from God not from man. So he can pass the buck to God for not zapping him into repentance and saving faith.

      It sounds like you father had really honed and perfected these kinds of evasion tactics!

      What high-handed sin! What deliberate wickedness! What defiance! What arrogance! What blasphemous taunting of God!

      If your father was reading the Bible and the Reformer’s writings at the Monergism website, he knew full well that he was storing up wrath for himself on the Day of Judgment. Look at Romans 2:5, 6, 8, 9a —

      (5) But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, (6) who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: …
      (8) but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. (9) There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil…

      (5) Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed. (6) He will repay each one according to his works: …
      (8) but wrath and anger to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth while obeying unrighteousness. (9) There will be affliction and distress for every human being who does evil… (CSB)

      1. Thanks, Barb! Yes, he would hate what you just said!

        What does disturb me, however, is that he didn’t seem to be getting these things from Dr. Riddlebarger’s church. (And, I’m sure you know, he and Michael Horton co-host the White Horse Inn radio show.) Other churches that said anything about holiness at all he would hate and say bad things about the pastor, no matter how much the pastor qualified his statements that it is God who makes us holy. Somehow, there was a disconnect at this church. Michael Horton and Dr. Riddlebarger may have things down on paper one way, but in daily preaching to their congregations, what exactly do they have? My father’s conscience was never bothered at that church. Only in other churches.

        No silver bullet, alas. The abuser always wiggles out of personal responsibility, and sadly, even churches with the right doctrine don’t have the guts to preach anything hard.

        I know people at my father’s congregation would help him to stalk me and my Mom after he left. They helped him abandon us. The Elders didn’t care. He had slandered even me to them, and would come home with advice from them to kick me out when I turned 18. And they had never even met me. They never met my Mom. That church helped him wreck our lives financially. Shucks, I know he was even preying on members of their congregation to commit sexual immorality with them. At the very least, I know that that those Elders knew my father was a drunk. That church gave all the grace to my father, none for innocent people they never even met. I forgive them, but why is their preaching and practice so inept?

      2. Thanks Clockwork Angel!

        You are right: it is very often the case that even churches with the right doctrine don’t have the guts to preach anything hard.

        This is why we have to keep blowing the bullhorn and naming the well known pastors and leaders who are doing this. We believe you, CA, and we are happy to let your testimony stand as naming Dr. Riddlebarger and his church.

        And today I tweeted Michael Horton to give him a heads-up about your testimony in this thread. What’s the bet he ignores my tweet?

      3. Hmm, lemme check my magic 8 ball. It said “yes”, Michael Horton will ignore your tweet.

        Let me know if he miraculously does say anything. I’m sure all of us would be eager to hear.

        Thanks again, Barb!

      4. Thanks for your followup, Barb! Yeah, I’m not surprised that Michael Horton did not reply. Sad. 😦

  8. I’ve understood Lordship Salvation to be the answer to Easy Believism according to Scripture. I have not experienced proponents of this Theology claim that works are indeed required for salvation but rather are evidence of it.

    To take the example in the abuse dichotomy, the abuser is very adept at saying the right things. The victim of abuse may ask the abuser to remember to pick up groceries, put the kids to bed, or other specific requests. The abuser retorts that he doesn’t have to do the specific things to prove his character. That is an unnecessary burden and shouldn’t be required. But on the outside as we discern the situation we can say that the fact that he consistently refuses these requests and has no desire to work toward the underlying attitude that would accompany these requests is proof that he is not the person he claims to be.

    Would the abuser be claiming Lordship Salvation (by analogy) in saying it is unreasonable for others to make specific expectations of them? Or can abuse victims and people helpers discern the situation in such a way to say that the fact that the abuser consistently chooses to ignore the specific expectations or other similar expectations as proof that Christ is not the Lord of his life?

    I guess to surmise I’m wondering at what specific points proponents of LS go from claiming repentance and fruit filled living is evidence of salvation to actually claiming it’s required for salvation. It may seem like a foggy line but as I read scripture I see countless evidence that a transformed life, aspiring to holiness and servanthood in response to our salvation is reinforced repeatedly. We also do these things joyfully because of our gratitude for God’s mercy is calling us when we were dead in our sin and therefore unable to respond to Him without His grace and mercy intervening.

    Am I missing something? I do wholeheartedly agree that I have seen evidence of LS taken to the extreme that keeps abuse victims oppressed in the way described; but I believe this is the result of those taking a far end of the continuum- extremists, just as there are for any other teaching under the sun. I have heard many messages from teachers who left me feeling defeated and shamed rather than motivated to joyfully serve. And I’d also say some of those times it was the Spirit convicting me that I’ve been far too self-focused and it was the enemy who used that conviction to discourage me. Just some thoughts.

  9. Good blog, thank you for exposing this. I had been a victim of some Lordship Salvation street preachers. I began to believe their heresy and felt defeated all the time. I was bewitched as the book of Galatians puts it.

    I was a victim of domestic abuse and the group of street preachers I was in condemned me for speaking up against the abuse my (now ex-) husband has done. A couple of the women took me aside and told me I would be judged my the same measure I had judged my husband and that I was in sin for not being discrete.

    It was during the time of me separating from my ex that I began to see the ugly fruit, the hypocrisy and heresy of those Lordship Salvation street preachers.

  10. Re-reading from some time ago…

    In re-reading the original post, I begin to wonder: Maybe this explains why I never felt I belonged to any “c”hurch…and why I’ve been feeling the draw towards Reformed Theology.

    The first step was creeping out of the fog, a fog enhanced by the mixture of “teachings” received over the course of my life.

    The other part was receiving proper understanding on Reformed Theology.

    In the past – and somewhere in the muddle – the word “Reformed” had become associated with hard core, patriarchal, authoritarian organized religion. (The fundamentalist version?)

    Yet I never attended such a “c”hurch….at least, not in name. 🙂

    I still find myself not-quite-belonging.

    Maybe the sense of not-quite-belonging will never change.

    Maybe the feeling of “belonging” would mean I am following man, not God.

  11. The first time I read this — it is enjoyable to read. Another person I remember who rejected both of these Theologies as wrong is a pastor named Charles Lawson. One thing I enjoyed was a story about the conversion of Charles Spurgeon.

  12. This was a very helpful article, as it confirmed what I believe.
    I have come to love the grace-filled truths of Calvinism this past year. Through the ministry of John Piper.
    I see how Lordship teaching is in much of the teachings of many of the popular Reformed teachers of today, Chan, MacArthur, Piper.

    I have noticed it can be taught in a legalistic way, that kills assurance, and believers’ capacity for God.

  13. One thing I remember about John MacArthur is he spread another heresy, that said taking the mark of the beast could actually be forgiven. Revelation 14:9-11 makes it very clear that will not be forgiven.

    And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. Revelation 14:9-11 KJV

  14. In the Lordship Salvation debate, the two extreme positions are the hardcore Free Grace view of Zane Hodges and the hardcore Lordship Salvation view held by John MacArthur. From the way I see it, I agree more with Free Grace Theology than Lordship Salvation but reject the extreme views of Zane Hodges and prefer instead the softer views of Chuck Swindoll, RT Kendall and Charles C. Ryrie.

    The following are my soteriological views (I do not expect everyone to agree with me and I respect that):

    1) Critique of Lordship Salvation:

    RT Kendall writes —

    For years, the English Puritans had been my heroes. But that was before I examined them very carefully. These men had in common the belief that a person must be “prepared” for grace before he or she could be truly saved. Such preparation to me smacked of salvation by works.
    This widespread teaching is called “lordship salvation.” Sadly, those who teach this do not say it means affirming that Jesus is God, which (in my opinion) is what Paul actually means by lordship salvation. They say you cannot claim to have Jesus as your Savior until you first receive Him as Lord. Agreed.
    But what does it mean to acknowledge Him as Lord? Does it mean you must obey all His commands before you can be sure you are saved? There are those who virtually put sanctification before salvation as proof you are really saved!
    I do not accept this kind of teaching. That is precisely what I was set free from. If I am told I cannot be sure I am saved unless I am always manifesting holiness — good works — that is bondage. I would be looking inside myself day and night to see if I am still saved, checking my spiritual pulse every day, asking, “Am I in, or am I out?”
    Puritan teaching encouraged endless and unfulfilled introspection. Whereas the teaching of salvation by true faith set people free, the Puritans raised the question “How do you know you have true faith?” And people were back to square one. The result was that virtually no one knew for sure that he or she had true faith. People were told to look for proofs of faith—loving God’s Word; loving the Sabbath; showing “universal obedience,” as in keeping all of the Ten Commandments; loving God’s ministers and turning away from every known sin. People were afraid they had not come up to the standard whereby one could say they had true faith by turning from every known sin. And the liberty that came with Reformation teaching turned into a new bondage.

    I fully concur with Dr Kendall’s criticism of Lordship Salvation. If believers are told to keep looking within themselves for evidences of holiness living as proof of their salvation they will get little to no assurance of their salvation. But as Dr Kendall points out, there is still a need to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Lordship in the context of salvation refers to the deity of Christ and hence the authority Jesus Christ has to either save or to condemn sinners. If one is not going to acknowledge that Jesus Christ has the authority to save or condemn, there is no chance that same individual will believe on the Lord Jesus as Savior.

    2) My view on repentance:

    Repentance is necessary for salvation. While repentance is itself not saving faith, nevertheless repentance is the process which sets an individual up to receive a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross. When Peter preached his famous sermon on Pentecost, the consciences of his Jewish audience became convicted and they asked what should they do (Acts 2:14-37). Clearly, the Holy Spirit was at work in the hearts and minds of these people producing in them an attitude of repentance which set them up to believe on the Lord Jesus for their personal salvation. When these people believed in the Lord Jesus for their salvation, they are in effect turning away from the cardinal sin of refusing to believe in the Lord Jesus (and this sin is described in John 16:8 in the NLT version in a very precise fashion). Without an attitude of repentance, no one would be able to transfer his “trust in (his) good works to what Jesus did on the cross” as is often described by RT Kendall.

    3) The issue of fruit bearing and how it relates to saving faith:

    I adopt a moderate view of perseverance and concur fully with Charles C. Ryrie’s view on the subject. Dr Ryrie wrote the following in his book “So Great Salvation”:

    Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Otherwise that person is not a believer. Every born-again individual will be fruitful. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, without faith, and therefore without salvation.
    Having said that, some caveats are in order.
    1) This does not mean that a believer will always be fruitful. Certainly we can admit that if there can be hours and days when a believer can be unfruitful, then why may there not also be months and even years when he can be in that same condition? Paul exhorted believers to engage in good works so they would not be unfruitful (Titus 3:14). Peter also exhorted believers to add the qualities of Christian character to their faith lest they be unfruitful (2 Peter 1:8). Obviously, both of those passages indicate that a true believer might be unfruitful. And the simple fact that both Paul and Peter exhort believers to be fruitful shows that believers are not always fruitful.
    2) This does not mean that a certain person’s fruit will necessarily be outwardly evident. Even if I know the person and have some regular contact with him, I still may not see his fruit. Indeed, I might even have legitimate grounds for wondering if he is a believer because I have not seen fruit. His fruit may be very private or erratic, but the fact that I do not see it does not mean it is not there.
    3) My understanding of what fruit is and therefore what I expect others to bear may be faulty and / or incomplete. It is all too easy to have a mental list of spiritual fruits and to conclude if someone does not produce what is on my list that he or she is not a believer. But the reality is that most lists that we humans devise are too short, too selective, too prejudiced, and often extrabiblical. God likely has a much more accurate and longer list than most of us do. Nevertheless, every Christian will bear fruit; otherwise he or she is not a true believer. In speaking about the Judgment Seat of Christ, Paul says unequivocally that every believer will have praise come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

    It is my view that even carnal believers do actually produce fruit and I like the following quote attributed to John W. Follette:

    In being patient toward all men, we must bear with the young and immature lives. We exercise this grace in nature in everyday life. We are willing to let the green apples hang on and enjoy the sunshine and rain until autumn. We patiently wait, knowing that green apples do not necessarily mean poor apples. They are good apples in process. Young Christians (and even older ones) have moods and cycles of experience, and characteristic and perfectly normal phases of growth. We have to be patient while each passes through his or her period of testing. Failure on the part of a Christian is often his greatest blessing. It breeds tolerance in his heart. Having failed, he is not so quick to judge. He is more patient and more often stands in the shadow and prays. The older we grow the more mellow our spirits become, and tolerance and understanding come into their own. Does it not take faith? Such faith is choice in His sight since it has cost the Christian his price.

    It is therefore my view that carnal Christians should be seen as “Green Apple Believers” instead of “Fruitless Believers”.

    4) Areas of improvement for Free Grace Theologians

    They should avoid making sweeping statements like —

    there is no need for anyone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord; all that is required is for Jesus to be acknowledged as their personal Savior


    repentance is not needed for salvation

    They should also adopt a more positive attitude with regards to fruit bearing; expect true believers to bear at least some fruit but then if no fruit seems evident to the naked eye there is a need to hold back judgement and to avoid immediately condemning the individual as phony.

    1. Hi jonathanjameslim, welcome to the blog. Sorry I took a while to moderate your comment; I am on vacation at the moment.
      I added a bit of formatting to your comment, to make it easier to read. 🙂

      You said:

      It is therefore my view that carnal Christians should be seen as “Green Apple Believers” instead of “Fruitless Believers”.

      While I think you made a good argument for your point of view there, I want to give you something else to think about. As you may have realised, this website focuses on domestic abuse in a Christian context – particularly spousal abuse. When Christian victims of spousal abuse have sought help from church leaders or ‘wise Christians’ they have sometimes been told that their spouse is a ‘carnal Christian’ so they must endlessly pray / submit / be longsuffering to the spouse no matter how much and how long the abuse continues. This advice hurts victims immensely. But more to the point, it is unbiblical advice. An abuser, by our definition, cannot be a Christian. An abuser who professes to be a Christian is making a phony profession of faith. If you want to read more about this, I encourage you to look at this link which is one of our FAQ items:

      Can someone be an abuser and be a Christian?

      1. Hi, Barbara.
        Apologies, I did not realize that my comment had been replied to and am sorry for my failure to appreciate that the focus of your website is to minister to people who are hurting from domestic abuse. My intention was simply to give my honest thoughts on your article about the Lordship Salvation debate. Yes, if a professing Christian were to commit very serious sins like persistent domestic abuse, I may suspect that the individual may not be a true believer even though I do identify myself as a “mild Free Gracer”.

      2. Hi, jonathanjamesslim, thank you for both your comments. I have just published them. Sorry for the delay. Your first comment went to Spam (sometimes WordPress does that) and was retrieved by my assistant. I held both your comments in moderation till I had the mental energy to focus on them.

        I do not know nearly as much as you do about Ryrie and Hodges, so thank you for sharing that information about them. And thank you for recognising that this blog focuses on domestic abuse.

  15. This is excellent! I was reading Clark’s recent post about this. I came out of a “Lordship Salvation” church into a confessional church and this resonates with me. I even had the list on the refrigerator to help me with assurance!

  16. If there is one person who is badly misunderstood in the Lordship Salvation debate, it has to be Charles C. Ryrie. What Lordship people seem to fail to realize about Ryrie is that:

    1) Ryrie did actually acknowledge that repentance is necessary for salvation.
    In “Basic Theology”, Ryrie wrote that —

    saving repentance has to involve a change of mind about Jesus Christ so that whatever a person thought of Him before, he changes his mind and trusts Him to be Savior.

    While I prefer “change of heart” than “change of mind”, I appreciate Ryrie’s approach in focusing on the root of repentance, rather than the heavy-handed approach of Lordship people who bark the “turn from sins” message all the time at the pulpit. But Ryrie avoided the mistakes of Hodges who seems to completely dismiss the role of repentance in salvation.

    2) Ryrie affirmed that true believers will bear at least some spiritual fruit.
    People often take for granted that Ryrie and Hodges are in the same camp but fail to acknowledge that Ryrie did write in “So Great Salvation” that true believers will bear some fruit, somewhere, somehow and at some point in time. But Ryrie avoided the heavy-handed legalism of the Lordship guys when he gave attention to examples in the Bible of people who were saved but lacked commitment. He wrote in “Basic Theology” that —

    (Lot’s life) scarcely qualifies as an example of commitment at any point, yet the New Testament declares that he was a righteous person.

    Ryrie also implicitly said that sometimes it is hard to distinguish between a carnal Christian and a false believer. Perhaps Ryrie could do more to explain as to what is the spiritual fruit that Lot demonstrated (if any) that perhaps gave secondary evidence that he was a true believer but that’s beside the point.

    I don’t think Ryrie is perfect, but he made excellent attempts to address salvation and sanctification in a biblical yet non-legalistic way and also the enthusiasm in his attempts to preach a biblical view of grace. All in all, I hold a “mild Free Grace” position in the controversy. I acknowledge though that Free Grace Theology is not perfect and the one major area of improvement is that [the] Free Grace guys should not be asking “whether is there any need to accept Jesus as Lord” [but] rather “what does it mean to acknowledge Jesus as Lord”.

  17. 2 Peter 2:19
    While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.

    Your words about Lordship Salvation promoting hypocrisy in the church accurately describe what is written in 2 Peter 2:19.

  18. James 5:6
    Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

    And again James 5:6 captures what is said at the top of this.

  19. Hello, I would like you to clarify some questions I have about Calvinism / Reformed Theology that has caused me psychological and spiritual damage in particular. It made me turn away from God in a way, as I saw God as an abusive and authoritarian [God] who uses His sovereignty to save some and send others to hell for His “glory”, something that made me anxious to know if I am really a “chosen one”. Is this the God of love and mercy? J MacArthur and many others teach predestination.

    I know it’s late but I would really appreciate it if you could answer me. I am a young Christian and the Lord made me not to listen to this kind of Calvinist teaching. Blessings.

    1. Hi Young Christian,

      My apologies for the delay in Approving your comment. Your comment — as sometimes happens with WordPress — sent your comment to Spam, and your comment is definitely not Spam.

      You might notice I’ve changed the screen name you submitted with your comment to Young Christian. I did this for your safety and protection, as the name you submitted with your comment might have been too identifying, and I don’t know if you’re at risk from an abuser (spouse, family member, church, etc.).

      I’ll email Barb (Barbara Roberts is the owner of the ACFJ blog) and let her know you have some questions — Barb is much better at answering the kinds of questions you’re asking. There might to a delay to her answering your questions, so please be patient.

    2. Dear Young Christian, I hear you and I feel for you.

      The doctrine of predestination does occur in the Bible, and it has to be handled with special care. All Scripture quotations I’m about to give you are from the NMB (New Matthew Bible). Click here to learn more about the New Matthew Bible.

      (Ephesians 1:3-12) (3) Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all manner of spiritual blessings in heavenly things by Christ, (4) accordingly as he had chosen us in him before the foundation of the world was laid, to be holy and without blame before him through love. (5) And he predestined us through Jesus Christ to be his heirs, in accordance with his pleasure and will, (6) to the praise of the glory of the grace with which he has made us accepted in the Beloved, (7) by whom we have redemption through his blood; that is, the forgiveness of sins, consonant with the riches of his grace, (8) which grace he shed on us abundantly in all wisdom and understanding.

      (9) And as it pleased him, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, (10) and purposed in himself to have it declared when the time was full come – namely that all things, both the things that are in heaven and also the things that are in earth, will be gathered together in Christ; (11) that is to say, in him in whom we are made heirs. To this we were predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will, (12) so that we who before believed in Christ will be to the praise of his glory. [Emphasis added.]

      When the Bible talks about the Lamb’s Book of Life, it is alluding to the doctrine of predestination. Here are some passages which talk about the Book of Life, and how some people’s names are not written in the Book of Life.

      (Philippians 4:3) Yea and I beseech you, faithful yokefellow, help the women who laboured with me in the gospel, and with Clement also, and with my other labour-fellows whose names are in the book of life.

      (Revelation 3:5) He who overcomes will be clothed in white array, and I will not put his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.

      (Revelation 13:8) And all who dwell upon the earth worshipped him [him refers to the beast which rose out of the sea], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb, who was killed from the beginning of the world.

      (Revelation 17:8) The beast that you see was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit, and will go into perdition. And they who dwell on the earth (whose names are not written in the book of life from the beginning of the world) will marvel when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

      (Revelation 20:12) And I saw the dead, both great and small, stand before God. And the books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by those things that were written in the books, according to their deeds.

      (Revelation 20:15) And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

      (Revelation 21:27) [speaking about those who will inhabit the New Jerusalem] And there shall enter into it no unclean thing, neither whatsoever works abomination or makes lies, but only they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

      As I mentioned, the doctrine of predestination has to be handled with special care.

      Chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession of Faith [Internet Archive link] talks about how the doctrine of predestination has to be handled with special care. Here is the final paragraph in that chapter (I’m not able to use superscript here, so I’ve put the footnotes in parentheses) [I changed Barb’s parentheses to superscript, since it’s something that requires some specific computer coding that’s not (currently) available in creating or editing WordPress comments. And it’s something I like to do. 🙂 Reaching Out.] —

      The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and carea, that men attending the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal electionb. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of Godc; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospeld.

      Footnotes • a. Deut 29:29; Rom 9:20. • b. 2 Pet 1:10. • c. Rom 11:33; Eph 1:6. • d. Luke 10:20; Rom 8:33; 11:5-6, 20; 2 Pet 1:10.

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