One of the upcoming debates that is sort of “flying below the radar” is my encounter in April in Oklahoma City with Dr. Robert Wilkin, the Executive Director of the Grace Theological Society. Though we had a fair amount of difficulty getting the debate set up, I think its focus upon the nature of regeneration and the issues of monergism and synergism will be helpful. Dr. Wilkin is a leading anti-Lordship advocate. From my perspective, his position is grossly imbalanced because it insists upon only a single element of the truth to the exclusion of everything else. “Faith alone” becomes “faith separated from the work of regeneration, the Spirit, the new nature,” etc. Faith without repentance (all repentance passages are consigned to “discipleship”), belief without discipleship, etc. It is a very imbalanced perspective, one that comes from an over-reaction to a works-salvation mindset.
Today I ministered the Word in both the morning and evening services at PRBC (and the adult Bible Study class, for that matter), and I spoke from John 8:12-59. One of the passages that struck me, in light of the upcoming debate with Dr. Wilkin, was John 8:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word He will never see death.” Keeping Christ’s word is surely more than a naked faith (faith without regeneration, faith without a new nature), and yet surely we see the parallel to John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the one hearing My word and believing in the One who sent ME has eternal life and shall not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”
There are so many passages that are utterly unintelligible, outside of special pleading, in the anti-Lordship “naked faith” position. Two come to mind immediately:
how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20-21) How do you separate repentance toward God and faith in Christ in this passage?
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14) Saving grace teaches us to live sensibly and righteously; and the people of God in Christ are without question described as “zealous for good deeds.”
Reformed theology cuts the ground out from underneath the position presented by Wilkin, for the faith that saves is the work of the Spirit in regeneration itself, and hence cannot possibly be separated from the rest of the work of the Spirit. Hence, there is no contradiction between saying that a person who believes has eternal life and saying that a person who keeps Christ’s word has will never see death. Only the synergist has to struggle to explain the relationship: the monergist has a consistent understanding.
I will be noting many more problems with the non-Lordship position in future commentaries.