17 September 2005

Another item found in my e-mail out-box

...in which I try to pick a fight with a guy who is trying not to pick a fight with me

From: Phil Johnson
To: Carl T______
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Carl,

Many thanks for your message. You wrote,

> I don't like theological "systems."
> I think we ought to be biblical, not
> systematic in our approach to theology.
> Systematic theology wrongly applies
> human rationalism to Scripture and
> inevitably leads people astray.

Kevin Bauder, president of Central Baptist Seminary in Minneapolis, wrote a superb blogpost this week just to answer that very point of view. His article expresses my convictions precisely. You really ought to read what he has to say.

Also, one of my historical heroes, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, had this to say in his commentary on Romans: "People who say they do not hold to any particular system, and that they are 'just biblical,' are simply confessing that they have never really understood the teaching of the Bible." (Romans 7:1-8:4, p. 178). Again, I'm in full agreement with the gist of what Lloyd-Jones was saying there.

> I am, however, persuaded that the Free
> Grace position represented by Bob Wilkin
> and the Grace Evangelical Society comes
> much closer to biblical truth than your
> Calvinistic Lordship position. I'm not
> trying to pick a fight. I'm only 23 and
> I just want to learn.

I'm only 52 and I still want to learn, too. Of course, I don't mind picking a fight now and then over important biblical issues that we're supposed to fight for. So I wouldn't be offended if you wanted to provoke a debate with me. Sometimes, nothing is more invigorating than a good, old-fashioned, gloves-off theological brawl. I've often complained that the contemporary church has become effeminate, lazy, anti-intellectual, and utterly lacking in both conviction and courage. So I certainly wouldn't complain if you tried to pick a fight with me over the Lordship issue, which I think is extremely important.

Meanwhile I hope you'll do some careful reading outside the very narrow circle of the so-called "Free Grace" position. You'll discover, I think, that it is a half-baked theological novelty that hasn't got a single credible proponent apart from certain people with strong ties to one particular seminary and its offshoots. Which is to say it is a complete departure from the historic evangelical mainstream. In addition to that, it is unbiblical, based on a denial or a corruption of everything Scripture teaches about the New Birth.

So bring it.

No, seriously, I understand your desire to find dialogue and get answers on a highly controversial subject without an ugly brawl. I do think the first thing you need to do is read the basic literature that argues against your position. Besides MacArthur's two books on the subject, I have a list of other excellent resources, and I would be happy to supply you with that list. My favorite simple, succinct treatment of the issue, and the place I recommend you begin reading, is an even-handed discussion of the arguments from both sides, A Layman's Guide to the Lordship Controversy, by Richard Belcher. It's a simple, balanced analysis of the debate, though Belcher does in the end come down on the right side of the issue.

And if you decide you want to argue with me about it, I'm game, and I promise to be as civil and polite as possible—if you promise not to mistake directness and droll remarks as incivility or meanness (even when I forget to use that inane smiley-face code). OK?

Phillip R. Johnson
The Spurgeon Archive

Weekend update:

Darlene and I are leaving just after noon today for the Pacific Northwest, where I'm scheduled to speak tomorrow. We'll fly home early Monday, but I might be really late posting Monday's entry, because I have meetings and other business scheduled all day Monday. But even if it's late Monday night, I still hope to write and post a Monday entry. Don't give up on me.

Then in Tuesday's post, I hope to take up where we left off yesterday. See you then.

Phil's signature


Steve said...

Hope you and Darlene enjoy your time in the Pacific Northwest. If you're ever scheduled to speak near us (I don't want to reveal my location here, but you know where we are), let us know.

I find it hard to believe I worked under you for nearly 10 years but have yet to hear you preach from a pulpit. But then I DID get to hear all those great spur-of-the-moment witticisms around the office that so many others never get to hear. :)

Alan E. Kurschner said...

"Sometimes, nothing is more invigorating than a good, old-fashioned, gloves-off theological brawl. I've often complained that the contemporary church has become effeminate, lazy, anti-intellectual, and utterly lacking in both conviction and courage."

Exactly. We have confused being charitable with effeminate; Piety with anti-intellectualism. Frequently, the brutality of the Reformation period is cited to undermine the theological significance. What is really worse? The utter apathy for doctrinal correctness and lack of conviction today, or the brutality of the Reformation days? At least they were willing to die for their doctrinal convictions. Are we?

Let’s take off the theological gloves at times, without shedding blood.

Calvinist Gadfly

Andrew said...

I remember hearing Bill Gothard say once that people shouldn't study systematic theology, because it imposed a human system on Scripture. I thought this was hillarious, coming from the man who developed the "10 Non-Optional Principles", et al.

Matthew Carroll said...

I once sat in on a week-long Systematic Theology seminar hosted by a parachurch ministry as part of their training for new staff. One day after a lecture, the worship band got up to play and the leader said, "Okay, let's put all this theology out of our heads, and just worship!"

Joe said...

Have a nice trip!

Just want to say how much I enjoy your posts. It is almost as good as attending a seminary.

You have so much to teach!

Oh, and I think you should tell us about those witticisms Steve got to hear but we didn't.

Jeremy Weaver said...

Theology finds its fulfillment in doxology, and if it doesn't lead to doxology, it is bad theology.

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...

I always understood the Gospel to mean that we were to surrender control of our lives to God - and come to him on our knees to declare him Lord.

After all, Jesus' ministry began with him preaching "The Kingdom of God is near, Repent and believe the Gospel" - Repenting includes the issue of Lordship.

This has been enforced even more upon me as I have begun to understand Monergism in the last 4-5 years. Once a person has been regenerated by the Spirit, they have no choice but to come to God and both declare him Lord and to plce their trust in Christ for their forgiveness. How can a person be born again, be filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time, and yet not accept Jesus as Lord?

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil, your remarks on the so-called “Free Grace” movement are right on. I was forced by a “Gracer” to attend a Bob Wilkin lecture a couple of years ago and I could not believe all of the misrepresentation, straw men, etc. that he spouted. It was actually very reminiscent of James White’s debate with him (even with him taking pictures too!).

True story: my current job entails removing transients from property. However, I attempt to witness to people while removing them. After dealing with one such man, he said he believed in Jesus but could not articulate the Gospel at any one point. Also considering he had stolen property on his person and that he was intoxicated contributed to my belief that he was not a brother. When a “Gracer” asked me if I thought he was saved, I simply gave the above reasons and said, “no.” Without hesitation I was summarily cussed out (literally – Phil, I am following rule #2). Apparently I was “frontloading the Gospel.” It’s all about the grace.

coner2 said...

Phil said " I've often complained that the contemporary church has become effeminate, lazy, anti-intellectual, and utterly lacking in both conviction and courage."

"Calvinist_Gadfly said... Exactly. We have confused being charitable with effeminate; Piety with anti-intellectualism. "

Yes!!! To love our neighbor is not to leave them in darkness or with "messy" theology. Surgery hurts, but it is meant to bring health. To love is to speak the truth. We must be true to Christ first, (1st commandment), and the 2nd, as Jesus ranked the commandments, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The way I see it, the primary way of loving others is speaking truth even if it hurts for the moment. To the unbeliever... God may use our words as He brings life. To the believer... speaking for myself, as I have had my theology sharpened, I have more reasons to rejoice in the glory of God, because I see God more clearly, through His word and His works as I see the glorious systematic unfolding of God's salvation of His people.

Phil, thanks for your time with this blog.

baldtrainer said...

"Sometimes, nothing is more invigorating than a good old-fashioned, gloves-off theological brawl..."

Though I agree with this statement, should we not preface this by stating we are willing to fight with humble hearts?

While in college, I was full of strong conviction, but my will was also very strong. Arguing for "Lordship" salvation as well as sufficiency of Christ and His Word, I often found myself winning the argument, but the motives of my heart were not pure. Rather than edifying my brothers in Christ, I tore them down. Rather than helping them grow in Christ, I provoked them to anger. I wonder what would have happened had I spoke the truth in love...desiring to see my brothers mature in the faith...instead of desiring to win the debate.

Obviously, there is a place for "fighting"; however, our hearts must be right that we may not cause dissension among ourselves. Anyway, I may be off my rocker...if so, please let me know.

Alan E. Kurschner said...

baldtrainer said,
"Though I agree with this statement, should we not preface this by stating we are willing to fight with humble hearts?"

It is a foregone conclusion that we should have humble hearts. No one is going to deny that. I believe that Mr, Johnson's intention in his remark about a "theological brawl" was that we have become conditioned to think that any robust and pointed theological discussions or debates is seen as "divisive."

I can't imagine the apostle Paul, Timothy, or Titus having tea together and "grappling" with the non-Lordship teaching. :-)

Calvinist Gadfly

Ann said...

You're 52? Wow.

I hope you and Darlene had a nice trip.

Jerry Wragg said...

Baldtrainer -
Read John 8...Jesus has quite a theological brawl with the Jewish leaders! About His humility...v28 indicates that He only spoke what the Father taught Him to say, namely truth. Often, when we talk of a "humble" exchange between two points of view, we imagine quiet tones, soft and "understanding" dispositions, and the avoidance of all perceived offenses. However, these things may be relationally attractive but maintaining peace in all relationships cannot safely become our highest priority. In fact, the assumption of scripture is that sometimes the pursuit of peace is one-sided(Rom. 12:14). The nature of biblical truth is such that it demands the most careful and thorough research, the deepest meditation, and the most ardent defense. Clearly, there is to be no wrath or dissension amongst believers (1Tim. 1:8) yet, the truth is to be contended for (1Tim. 4:6). On the one hand, we are to avoid being quarrelsome (strife-monger), seeking only to gently (free of vengeance) and skillfully train others in the truth (2Tim. 2:24-25). On the other hand, sound doctrine is to be fiercely guarded and spoken with "all authority" (Titus 2:1,15).
Furthermore, in a doctrinal debate between Christians the mutual focus must be upon clarity. Clarity is forged in the debate process where assertions are systematically challenged and cross-examined. We are forced to re-think our deductions, clarify our meanings, and rearticulate our propositions. Depending on the individual's stomach for such distilling, this exchange can be both lengthy and intense (Phil's "theological brawl" so to speak). But the interchange is crucial in two ways:
(1) It forces our otherwise lazy hearts to labor for the truth (did we think clear, biblical understanding would come easy?).
(2) It protects us from falling into so many "fear of man" errors (i.e. love of approval, peace at any cost, etc.) which have historically plagued the church. Phil has nailed the issue, as have many others---The church is more concerned about being "culturally relevant" (a synonym for love of the world) than guarding the truth. Consequently, when important issues could use a good scholarly debate, too many will quickly "tap out", raising the clarion call for "harmony and peace" because they have no stomach for the work and intensity. We shouldn't give a platform to strife-mongering or personal dissension. But neither should we equate such obvious brow-beating with good theological argumentation sheathed in strong conviction.

Char said...

I think "brawling" for the truth can be a good thing as well (I've done enough of it), but I just want to say that I agree with baldtrainer on the need for humility. I don't think he is saying don't argue loud and proud :), but do so well. If you are arguing a theological point just to win, you are probably not doing it with the right motives.

I come from a long line of arguers, we argue just for the sheer fun of it. Life with my family is one long on-going argument, so I know that there is a robust way of arguing that is also productive-and a way of arguing that is done for it's own sake and useless for anything but entertainment to people like us.

In order to brawl effectively, I think our aim is not necessarily supposed to be to win, but to convince-and that does require humility. Really, the easiest way to win an argument is to play mental games with your opponent until they are absolutely seething, and can no longer articulate their view. This is not productive arguing, as it only serves to alienate the other person, rather than convincing them.

JerryW said:
Often, when we talk of a "humble" exchange between two points of view, we imagine quiet tones, soft and "understanding" dispositions, and the avoidance of all perceived offenses.

While I would not advocate that one must be quiet or passive (I'd be a hypocrite if I did), I do think that we should be careful not to cause unnecesary offense-I've learned that the hard way. Besides, the truth is usually offensive enough on it's own.

Moderation in all things...

Jerry Wragg said...

Well said, Char!

FX Turk said...

Phil said "bring it". I love it when he says that.

FX Turk said...


"frontloading the Gospel"? How did you not break out in bawling laughter when he said that? What kind of Gospel is it that renders no evidence in the life of the believer?

Chris Freeland said...


Take him up on the offer. I had this debate with Phil about 4 years ago, and he still hasn't disowned me.

Centurion asked: "What kind of Gospel is it that renders no evidence in the life of the believer?"

I'm no "Wilkinite," but this question still makes me squirm. My major concern with the lordship guys was that they always wanted to put people in boxes based on their behavior. I agree with your statement, but the actual living out of your statement isn't as black and white.

And the statement in the the mind of someone unfamiliar with the lordship debate can shift the assurance of salvation to one's lifestyle rather than their faith in Christ.

Many (not all) lordship guys look to a guy's lifestyle to say whether or not he's saved before they look at whether or not this person professes faith in Christ.

This, to me, is extremely dangerous. I know lots of unbelievers who live a better lifestyle than me, although I have no doubt that I've truly put my faith in Christ.

I know you don't want to quantify. But your question makes me want to ask "How much transformation do I need to see before I can be convinced that I'm "in?""

Again, I'm not a Wilkinite, but still get pretty queezy with some of the lordship jargon... if that makes sense.


Jonathan Moorhead said...

Chris, I think you are following the “Free Grace” mindset when you take Centuri0n’s statement to mean only behavior. “Evidence in the life of the believer” is also correct doctrine. If you notice my statement above, I wrote, “ he said he believed in Jesus but could not articulate the Gospel at any one point."

Chris Freeland said...

Hi Jonathan,

I think I understand that you're a PhD student at DTS right now. We probably pass each other in the library every day although I've never met you.

Thanks for your reply.

Whether the comment was referring to behavior, doctrine, or both, it still seems muddy to me. Do I have to have 75% good works and 75% good doctrine to be considered "in" or only 50%?

If I can articulate the Gospel correctly, but can't give you a concise definition of the Trinity, can I still "get in?"

My challenge is not with the lordship position as much as it is the jargon wrapped up in the debate.

I'm not going to argue that a new creation is different from the old. But many (not all) of the lordship guys seem to want to point to someone as "saved" or "not saved" based on either their lifestyle or their current doctrine. I think that's wrong.

Unbelievers can live good lives and correctly articulate doctrine. What makes them unbelievers is their unbelief.

Wouldn't you agree that it's possible for believers to have really bad days where they do and say stupid things? Is it possible for a believer to be led astray by false doctrine? Paul seems to caution his readers against both as though that's a possibility. So does John.

I have no beef saying that something changes in a new creation which makes it different from the old. But I have a real problem with pointing to lifestyle or doctrine as fail-safe proof that someone is or is not saved.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Chris, I agree with your comments. I think Dr. MacArthur makes all of those qualifications that you are making in The Gospel According to Jesus. Unfortunately, some of the hyper-lordship folks have gone beyond MacArthur with a Whitefield mindset of being able to tell who is in and who is not. MacArthur clearly separates himself from this idea as do I.

BTW, come by the Police Kiosk some time for a chat.

Chris Freeland said...

Is this what you guys do in that police kiosk? Carry a gun, check your blog, and beat mischevious seminarians with a billy club... I need to get a job over there!

The challenge with lumping people in boxes like "lordship," "free grace," "Calvinist," and "Arminian." There are so many permutations of those labels that the boxes fail to adequately describe the people they're supposed to describe.

I consider myself a free-grace guy who believes Jesus Christ must be the lord of your life, but isn't comfortable with some of the hyper-lordship jargon. What box do I fit in?!

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Chris, have you read "The Gospel According to Jesus"? I have found that about 95% of Free Gracers have not.

When I first got to DTS I was asked if I was lordship. I naively said, “yes.” The response was, “Oh, so you believe in works salvation?” I won’t make that mistake again.

There are A LOT of misconception of what Lordship (and I don’t like the title) is because the Free Gracer (and I don’t like the title) community only knows the straw men that the Free Grace professors/students give them.

Chris Freeland said...

Yah. Several times. In fact, I marked all over it.

I think we would agree substantially. Much of the mudslinging you're talking about from the "free grace" guys is also true about the other side.

It seems in order to have an honest discussion about lordship/no lordship, you have to spend a LOT of time defining terms and preconceived notions.

While it's true that the free gracers have pinned a lot of things on the lordshippers that isn't true of them, the reverse is the same.

For example: Similar to your story... I had a DTS professor ask a class if anyone in the class was a "free grace" guy. I raised my hand, and he called me a heretic in front of the class. Then he proceeded to lambast me on all kinds of things that I don't believe.

Back to the box analogy, it seems we're extremely quick to put someone in a box so we can label them and crush the box, and we don't take the time to get to know what argument that individual is actually making.

BlackCalvinist aka G.R.A.C.E. Preecha said...

Well... I got to know the 'Free Grace' argument very well... and it's heretical to the core. It borders on blasphemy because it denies that the Holy Spirit does ANYTHING in the life of a believer other than 'make him look different to God'. It divorces sanctification from justification - and while the two are *separate* they are not *separated*. Just as a good tree bears good fruit, when God the Holy Spirit indwells, He causes folks to 'walk in His statutes' (Ez. 36). Not *perfectly* but progressively. The believer, unlike the 'free gracer' can never become an 'unbelieving believer' because his new delight is in the law of God (Romans 7), even when struggling against sin.

But, eh. This is all old hat to me. The absolute best work on the subject is C. Ryan Jenkins' M.A. Thesis for the Masters' Seminary - "Lordship Salvation and Pastoral Counseling". I'd love to see him publish it as a book one day. It's very technical (as a dissertation is supposed to be) and deals with EVERY passage of scripture related to the subject of LS. It was very handy when I debated Bob Wilkin last year.

D.R. said...

I may be a little late to comment on this, but my position regarding the Lordship issue is the "means of salvation" view put forth by Tom Schreiner (who happens to be the pastor of the church I attend) and Ardel Canaday. From what I read of Piper's book "Future Grace" that is his working position as well. I wonder what MacArthur and Phil think of this and if they have ever debated the subject with anyone. It seems to me to be the best to explain certain nuances in the Scriptures such as the future emphasis in passages that explicitly teach Lordship.