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John MacArthur’s “Hard To Believe” And Lordship Salvation

In August of last year I read and reviewed John MacArthur’s book Hard To Believe. While I found the book challenging, well-researched and worthy of recommendation, there was one section I found particularly troubling. I quote here from my review:

“On page 93 MacArthur writes, “Salvation isn’t the result of an intellectual exercise. It comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the Scripture; it’s the fruit of actions, not intentions. There’s no room for passive spectators: words without actions are empty and futile… The life we live, not the words we speak, determines our eternal destiny.” While I agree that faith and actions can not be separated, to say “salvation…comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ” is dangerous ground.”

Clearly there was something strange going on. At the time I wrote to Phil Johnson and Grace To You asking what had happened and if this accurately reflects MacArthur’s theology. I received no reply from either source. Today I believe the mystery was solved. In the most recent issue of Think on These Things newsletter, Gary Gilley answers a question posed by a person concerned with the issue of Lordship Salvation. This person mentions the same section from MacArthur’s book and expresses his concern and discouragement. Here is Gilley’s reply:

The questions that you bring concerning Lordship salvation, especially as found in MacArthur’s latest book, Hard to Believe, are important ones. I challenged the same statements as you in my review of this book…I also contacted “Grace To You” editors concerning these statements, then recently had lunch with Phil Johnson who is in charge of editing MacArthur’s books. Phil went back and examined these statements and was astounded. Upon further research he says that these comments do not reflect MacArthur’s teaching and that they are nothing less than works-righteousness. It appears that there were some changes made in the text by the editors of the publishing house that were not sent to MacArthur for affirmation. Therefore the books went to press with statements that are quite disturbing. They plan to make changes if there is a second printing of the book.”

That makes you wonder about the editors of the book, doesn’t it? It is one thing to change the occasional word or punctuation mark, but to change the very theology of the book is absolutely inexcusible. Is there any possibility other than that this was deliberate? I suppose speculation is wasted but this should teach us to give the benefit of the doubt to the author based on what we know of him and on his years of ministry rather than to one section from one book. At the time of the review I wrote “I know enough about MacArthur to understand he is not preaching salvation by works, but one could easily understand his words to mean that. In his eagerness to criticize the seeker-friendly gospel, it seems he almost begins to advocate works-righteousness.” It turns out that the words were not his to begin with.


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