The death of Charles Caldwell Ryrie (1925-2016) was recently reported. With his death, his person, ministry and published works are remembered. It is encouraging to hear of his godly character, of how he lived faithfully the truth he taught to others.
I never knew Ryrie personally, but only from a distance through his writings. Two of his more influential works are Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody, 1969), an articulation and defense of the Dispensational view, which I read in the 1980s, and which has been reprinted through the years, and his much-used The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago: Moody, 1978), including 10,000 footnotes/commentary espousing the Dispensational view, which has sold 2.6 million copies. This study Bible influenced many, and continued the earlier influence of the Scofield Reference Bible, compiled by Cyrus I. Scofield and published in 1909 (revised in 1917), though to a lesser degree.
Ryrie was also involved in what was referred to as the Lordship salvation debate of the late 1980s. One of the articles mentioned as one reflected on Ryrie was one written by S. Lewis Johnson (1915-2004), a former colleague of Ryrie’s at Dallas Theological Seminary, for CT in 1989: How Faith Works. It was in the midst of the Lordship Salvation controversy, the debate among Dispensationalists regarding the role of faith and works, although its reach went far beyond Dispensationalists and Dispensationalism.
The public face was primarily seen in two individuals: Zane Hodges (1932-2008), The Gospel Under Siege (Redencion Viva, 1981) and Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989), and John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988).
Although Ryrie was in Hodges’ camp, he was a slightly softer version of it, which can be seen in these books: Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago: Moody, 1969), and So Great Salvation: What It Means to Believe in Jesus Christ (SP Publications, 1989). In the earlier work he distinguishes between Jesus as Savior and Lord in the lives of some, but Johnson thinks he was misunderstood, attempting to address not a sharp theological bifurcation between the two, but rather that some inconsistently live in this way.
In addition to the wise word written by Johnson, two other helpful works responding in the midst of the debate were by J. I. Packer, a non-Dispensationalist, “Understanding the Lordship Controversy,” and Darrell Bock, a Progressive Dispensationalist, in a review of MacArthur’s book, “A Review of The Gospel according to Jesus”
The Lordship salvation controversy gave impetus to the free grace ministries in the stream of Hodges, i.e., Grace Evangelical Society (1986) and the Free Grace Alliance (2004), both grounded in Dispensationalism. Although this specific Lordship salvation debate is dated, the major issues it addresses, that of justification and sanctification, of faith and works, continues. Think for example of the discussion and debate between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung. And lest we think this is a contemporary problem, it goes back to the early church as recorded in the New Testament, e.g. Paul and James or Paul vs. James?, with various iterations surfacing throughout the history of the church.
In the EFCA, we address this issue in Article 8, Christian Living, in our Statement of Faith: “We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose.” Although justification and sanctification are not one and the same and must be treated separately as doctrinal truths, they are organically related and “must not be separated” as one considers the broader doctrine of salvation and experientially.
As you think about this, here are a few questions of application and implication for you:
- How do you understand this issue?
- What impact does your understanding have on your own personal life?
- How does the way you view this affect your ministry and how you approach others in discipleship and counseling settings?