Is Lawson A Closet Arminian?

Yellow Tulip Mask FramedRecently, a reader challenged my use of the Steve Lawson video on my What Is The Gospel Anyway? page, charging that Lawson seemed to emphasize personal responsibility in his presentation. My reader generally likes Lawson, but she thought that this particular video made him sound more Arminian than Reformed. She made her comment several weeks ago, and since then I’ve been preparing to respond in a full-sized blog post. Her  difficulty with Lawson’s presentation, as well as my decision to feature it on an obviously Reformed blog, deserves more than a brief reply in my Comments section.

Again, my reader felt that Lawson emphasized a person’s free will instead of God’s sovereignty. I agree! He begged non-Christians to willfully commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting only in His shed blood to atone for their sin. He pointed out that if they reject His free offer of eternal life they by default choose eternal damnation for trampling the precious blood of Christ under their feet. He said nothing about God’s sovereignty in electing His own from the foundation of the world, nor did he say that they could believe in Him only if the Holy Spirit gave them the faith to believe.

But let’s go to back to the passage I quoted in my last article, and from there do a little reasoning.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. ~~2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (ESV)

Notice the word “implore” in verse 20. Vines New Testament Dictionary, in writing about the Greek word used here says:

It is used for every kind of calling to a person which is meant to produce a particular effect, hence, with various meanings, such as “comfort, exhort, desire, call for,” in addition to its significance “to beseech,” which has a stronger force than aiteo (see ASK).

Paul, who in no way denied  God’s sovereignty, implored people, wanting his words to result in their actions. He saw no contradictions between trusting the Lord to act on their hearts and expecting them to act on his urging. From this instance, as well as numerous other New Testament passages, I believe we can fairly conclude that God’s sovereignty does not preclude human responsibility. On that basis, I think Lawson was within Scriptural bounds in his insistence that his hearers make a response to the Gospel.

Additionally, Lawson knew that his words had no chance of persuading anyone to come to Christ in and of themselves. He was trusting neither in his oratorical skills nor in the free will of those who heard his message to effect anyone’s salvation. But he knows that the preaching of the Word softens the heart of the elect and hardens the heart of the damned. Those who are not elect cannot therefore claim that God unjustly condemns them. They have heard the Gospel — and heard it forcefully — but have turned away from it in favor of their own pursuits. Therefore, God’s justice is confirmed.

While I appreciate the concerns of my reader, I stand by my decision to include Lawson’s video on that page. If God uses it to produce faith in just one person, I will praise Him for sovereignly working through Lawson. Rather than focusing on Reformed doctrine, we should all focus on the power of the Gospel to save those who are elect.

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9 thoughts on “Is Lawson A Closet Arminian?

  1. Susan

    It only has effect for those whom the Lord gives eyes to see and ears to hear, which Lawson, at least in the afore-mentioned video, did not make clear and I’m not sure why he didn’t, he isn’t a “closet Arminian” , howeverr that is why I didn’t so much like that particular video for the reason I already gave.

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    1. DebbieLynne Post author

      You may have missed the point of my essay. Usually, when we witness, it’s not the time to talk about election and predestination. Those topics can wait. Lawson was, at that moment, addressing non-Christians, imploring them as Peter implored people in Acts 2. Lawson, like Peter, emphasized the urgency of turning from sin and to Christ. In the context of this video, a caveat about election would have confused the issue.

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      1. Susan

        In the essay you stated: “But he knows that the preaching of the Word softens the heart of the elect and hardens the heart of the damned. ”
        That may or may not be what Pastor Larson thinks, I cannot know how he or anyone else thinks, I can only go by what is said. Perhaps it is because I’ve been reading and listening to readings of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons lately. Spurgeon explains that it is the humbling fact that we are unable to come to Jesus without His divine intervention because of the fact that we are dead in our trespasses and sin, that awakens us who are elect to the truth of our terrible plight and causes us to run to Him. I’ll just have to “agree to disagree” with you on this one, but I still love you DebbieLynne. 🙂

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      2. DebbieLynne Post author

        I love you too. But I think picking on this point might neutralize his powerful presentation of the Gospel. That’s what upsets me.

        Yes, only the Lord draws people. My pastor and his wife know Lawson personally, and they will attest that he believes that salvation is monergistic. But in the context of this presentation, an interjection would have watered down his appeal. As important as the distinctives of Reformed theology are, they must never eclipse the preaching of the Gospel.

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  2. Susan

    Ah, and I see it quite the opposite, that he watered down the truth in order to convince others by the power of his flesh (of which I am often guilty myself, I admit) because the truth does not need our softening and our pleading for others to make a decision. We are only to point to Christ, and point to our own sinful miserable condition, and the Lord brings in those that He said are the “whosoever will” that He knows are His sheep when He by His power opens blind eyes and deaf ears….yes it is by the foolishness of preaching of the cross, not of the decision. 😉

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  3. Elaina

    I would not go so far to say Lawson presented a watered down gospel. That’s just not right, especially if you know Steve Lawson and have ever heard him preach, or read any of his books, or DVD collection on the Doctrines of Grace. I think it might be helpful for Susan to understand the audience that Lawson is speaking to. I happened to be standing about 20 feet away from him on that very day of this impromptu gospel presentation and talk he gave there after being asked by Todd Friel…the man sitting next to him. We were at the “Strange Fire Conference” at Grace Community Church in CA. The majority of his audience were charismatic believers….many unconverted charismatics…..many “so-called” believers. So the audience were all familiar with the Bible. His plea I believe was to draw these peoples attention to stop trusting in themselves and their works for their salvation. He urges and urges as we all ought to when we are dealing with that type of crowd. If you’ve not heard Lawson preach on the sovereignty of God and the Doctrines of Grace – I urge you to do that. You’ll get a better understanding of him, and I bet you won’t ever say “That was a watered down gospel message”….it’s just not Lawson.

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    1. Susan

      I’m sure Pastor Larson is a very nice man, I have listened to a couple of youtube videos with his exposition, I think my problem at the moment is more of one of context regarding what I have been reading in scripture at this present time, and with the blessing of listening to Charles Spurgeon, so it would be a little unfair to Pastor Larson only because at present I am comparing him with the likes of C.H. Spurgeon.

      This sermon is the one I had listened to immediately prior to listening to the Pastor Larson video. I hope you have time to listen:
      http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=51505111856
      Of course all men are inferior, we are none of us perfect. It must always be by the Spirit and He can even use a donkey if He wants to get His point across. God bless you.

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