What is required for salvation? Mere acceptance of Jesus Christ as having died for mankind’s sins? Or, in addition to that, does salvation also require a life that bears witness to submission to Christ as Lord?

Historically, proponents of the latter view have faulted the former view as “cheap grace.” In his book The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan, 1988), John MacArthur, widely known pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and president of The Master’s College and Seminary, used the term “easy believism” to express the same criticism. MacArthur’s book reignited an old debate, the fires of which continue to burn strongly among some of this country’s leading evangelical scholars.

Sometime this spring or summer, two more books will likely add fuel to the fire. Saving Grace (Redencion Viva Books), by Zane Hodges, and So Great Salvation (Victor Books), by Charles Ryrie, are—at least in part—responses to MacArthur’s book. Hodges and Ryrie, both former professors at Dallas Theological Seminary, are among those whose views on salvation were specifically challenged by MacArthur.

Fruitless Believers

In his book, MacArthur argued that most contemporary evangelical teaching on salvation is rife with “easy-believism,” which, he says, is a doctrine that gives bare intellectual assent to the redemptive work of Christ while failing to call Christians to true repentance and a life of obedience and good works. “Easy-believism,” he wrote, “is justification without sanctification,” resulting in a “community of professing believers populated by people who have bought into a system that encourages shallow and ineffectual faith.”

MacArthur suggested in his book that many who occupy mainstream evangelical church pews across ...

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