December 5, 2006

Faith Works!

This is a paper that Andy Preslar, a dear friend of mine, wrote on the Lordship Salvation controversy. It's Great. Here's the url to his blog
"Free Grace" Theology (Hodgism)
The following is a paper I wrote in order to clarify one of my reasons for changing my mind about an important aspect of the particular brand of evangelical theology which I had adhered to for more than 20 years (since childhood). The paper assumes a fairly high level of background knowledge about the teachings of "Free Grace" theology, which is promoted by the Grace Evangelical Society (GES) and is largely based upon the writings of Zane Hodges (hence, "Hodgism").

A part of my purpose is to analyze their use of John 6.47 as the fundamental Gospel message. My focus is pretty narrow here, so I do not address important questions such as the relationship of the act of faith to the sacraments of the Church. Also, the paper is more than three years old (although slightly updated). My reason for posting it now is that several friends have expressed some curiosity about my changing theological outlook.

The basic problem which I address (albeit in a roundabout way) is the GES contention that a person can believe in Christ (in the Johannine sense) and yet remain morally unaltered, which implies that faith unto salvation can co-exist with hatred and rebellion.

In what follows, "Hodgism," "free grace," and "GES" are used interchangeably.


“Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47)

1. (The fundamental proposition)

The Gospel may be summarized by what we will call the fundamental proposition (FP): “Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.” This proposition is fundamental in the sense that it summarizes, without restricting, the Johannine doctrine of salvation. In other words, one who has read the entire Gospel will recognize this proposition as expressing the essence of the saving transaction. He will understand that John presents Jesus as the giver of eternal life, and that anyone believing in Jesus has eternal life. The careful reader will also gain some understanding of: (a) the significance and implications of the FP as it relates to man’s spiritual condition (cf., 3:18-20), and (b) the nature of the “eternal life” proffered by Christ (cf., 3:14-17; 17:4; cf., 1 John. 2:3-4; 4:7-8; 5:20).

2. (Hodgite [“free grace”] view of the Gospel)

When reading Hodgite literature (e.g., Zane Hodges, Jody Dillow, Bob Wilkin, Charlie Bing, GES Journal, GES Newsletter, Chafer Theological Seminary Journal) one gets the sense that the FP does in fact restrict the meaning of salvation in John’s Gospel. Hodgite understanding of the Gospel in the Gospel of John appears to be predicated upon three observations and one crucial inference:

(a) John records historical instances where Jesus proclaimed the FP to other people (e.g., ch. 3, 4, 9, 11).

(b) Those people obviously did not have the rest of John’s Gospel by which to interpret the FP; they were left to their own resources (possibly the OT, their cultural background, the immediate circumstances). In any event, their initial understanding of the FP seems to have been minimal at best.

(c) Yet they, as we, are supposed to respond to the FP.

(d) Therefore, the FP must be virtually self-explanatory.

Based upon this line of reasoning, Hodgites often imply that it is gratuitous, an exercise in theological pedantry, to attempt to explain the FP. Jesus, they say, did not trouble to define his terms; why should we?

Thus, the context in which the FP is expressed as a truth claim, presented as an offer of salvation, and (it would seem) developed in its theological significance, i.e., the entire Gospel of John, may be safely ignored when it comes to understanding the Gospel. Hodges, we will remember, truly but unhelpfully declared that “faith means faith” by way of responding to his opponents in the controversy over the meaning (and implications) of the word “faith” as it occurs in salvation passages. In like manner, he and his followers seem mostly to assert in defense of their own theology that “the FP means the FP.”

3. (Hodgite analysis of the FP)

When pressed, however, Hodgites will explain what they think the Gospel means. The true Gospel, it seems, manifests itself only when the FP (“Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life”) is removed from its textual habitat, as in a safety-sealed cylinder, unpacked, each term separately analyzed in a manner consistent with “free grace” presuppositions, and then the proposition repacked, resealed, and replaced in its natural surroundings (the context), now fully understood via the foregoing analysis, such understanding being the inviolable basis for interpreting the rest of the Bible. The following is representative of this approach (in its essential characteristics):

Whoever: any human being with the capacity to assent to a proposition

Believes: to believe means to assent to some proposition

Jesus: the person whom we believe; specifically, we assent to some proposition (more accurately, a proposition embedded within a proposition) such as “Jesus gives eternal life only to anyone who believes that only he is the giver of eternal life only to those who only believe”

Eternal life: this is what one has when one believes the preceding proposition. Even though I cannot choose to receive this gift (for Hodgites, faith is not a choice), if I happen to believe (in the sense explained above) I necessarily know that I have eternal life, although I may not want it or even know what it is, other than that it is “eternal” and that it is, in some extra-natural sense perhaps, “life”

Hodgites will sometimes admit that there is a qualitative aspect to “eternal life,” that it is more than just perpetual longevity. But what this quality is, whether and why it is desirable, or whether and in what sense receiving it is compatible with or opposed to the “love of darkness,” they are hesitant to say. Some will at most admit to an accidental (psychologically “normal”) congruity between the object received (eternal life) and the subject receiving it. Dillow, for example, admits that the determination to continue in sin is incompatible with believing the FP, although he does not say why.

4. (Hodgite analysis of faith)

Hodgites maintain that assent to some proposition is faith, and that assent to the FP is faith unto salvation. These assertions are informed by two key epistemological assumptions; namely, that (a) evidence alone causes assent and (b) instances of assent do not differ in kind. These assumptions lead Hodgites to teach that the will is inactive in faith, and that every instance of assent to the FP is faith.

5. (faith and evidence)

All orthodox Christians believe that salvation must be a gift since it completely transcends our natural abilities and merits. Eternal life is not a wage earned. God is not our debtor. Hodgites concur with this view, but they add to the Gospel a specific qualification; namely, the assertion that if eternal life is a gift, then the subject receiving that gift must be completely passive.

Some Hodgites attempt to supply an epistemological basis for this understanding of “passive” conversion. According to these arguments, faith is caused by evidence. The role assigned to evidence in Hodgite thinking goes beyond what philosophers generally mean by “grounds” for a belief- i.e., those factors which render a belief rational or warranted. Hodgites assert that evidence not only grounds a belief in this sense, it actually (and solely, it seems) causes faith.

One implication of this view is that a person who fails to believe a proposition for which there is evidence of which he is aware fails to do so only because of what he believes about the “evidence”; namely, that it is does not really support the proposition in question (cf., Wilkin). Since taking something to be evidence, or not evidence, for a proposition involves belief in some proposition about the putative evidence, and since this belief by definition is not a choice, and since the reasons one believes that proposition to be evidence for a belief are (presumably) other beliefs, no belief seems to depend upon a choice.

Clearly, the beliefs which serve as causes of a belief cannot proceed backwards to infinity; this causal series must be grounded upon something in or outside of the individual’s noetic structure (considered as a complex of beliefs and their rational/ causal relations). This something must be narrower than socio-cultural factors, since individuals from the same culture, community, and even household can hold radically different beliefs. However, on the GES view, what a person affirms or denies concerning reality* bears no direct relation to choice. So it seems that, at least from its philosophical perspective, Hodgism entails that what a person believes, in any and every case, is ultimately a matter of epistemological fate.

*[Philosophical idealist and Hodgite favorite Gordon Clark denies that propositions are about anything other than themselves. The object of saving faith is a proposition (cf., Faith and Saving Faith, 18-19; 106-110). Hence, there is no sense in which a proposition corresponds to reality. A true proposition is reality (ideal). Hodges and his GES followers appeal to Clark because he denies that there are instances of assent which involve a special role for the will (as opposed to instances of assent which do not involve a volitional component). Clark maintains that the difference between assent and trust has only to do with the specific proposition which is assented to in each case (cf. esp. FSF, 27, 95-106). In other words, both Clark and Hodgites deny that there are degrees, or kinds, of assent. All propositions, by the very nature of the case (idealism), bear the same epistemic relation to the mind and are either simply assented to or not assented to.]

One way to soften this conclusion is to admit that decisions do have an indirect influence over what one believes. Wilkin wants to allow for this possibility with respect to unbelief, but traces the motivation for such acts (e.g., avoiding believers) to passively induced assent to other propositions. Hodgites are wary about the possible implications of admitting that choices can exert even indirect influence upon the intellect, thus being causally related to assent, because they fear that this possibility could compromise their theological system, to which they are ultimately committed. Therefore, Wilkin tries to maintain that the reason why people do not assent to the FP is because they do not believe other things aright. Their desires and choices are really not involved.

This assumption, i.e., evidence alone is the efficient cause of assent, although underdeveloped, seems to serve as the immediate justification for the Hodgite doctrine of “passive faith.” This doctrine is constructed along the following lines:

(a) Belief is the sole condition for receiving eternal life.

(b) To believe, in any and every instance, simply means to assent to some proposition.

(c) Every act of assent is caused only by the evidence/ putative evidence for the
proposition(s) under consideration.

(d) Therefore, receiving eternal life is not a choice.

This kind of argument is often used by Hodgites in response to those who define faith as involving something, on the part of the subject, in addition to passive assent (e.g., submission, commitment, obedience, or trust).

The Hodgite analysis of faith seems to be motivated by two factors in particular: their peculiar (idealist?) epistemology, together with the (often implicit) assumption that if the will is involved in any way in coming to Christ for eternal life, then the transaction would have to involve some kind of taskmaster/ wage-earner relationship; i.e., works (cf., Rom 4.4).

6. (faith and volition)

If believing in Christ involves an act of the will, then belief would seem to be, in some sense, a good act (i.e., “the obedience of faith;”cf., Rom 1.5; 16.26). But Hodgites will say that a good act is a kind of “work,” and the Bible says that salvation is by faith, not by works (Eph 2.8-9). Thus the necessity of separating faith and volition.

There are two responses which can be given to this objection to active faith, relative to two ways in which the will is related to the good: (1) by apprehension, and (2) by intention.

(1) Any goodness in an act of apprehension,* such as eating healthy food, is an ontological good which is obviously derived from the object received. Because saving faith apprehends Christ, and in him eternal life, there is invariably, in the act of believing, a good effect in the subject. Reason being that the subject, in the act of apprehending an object, partakes of the nature of that object, but according to the mode of the subject (as in the act of eating sweetness is both in the apple and in the mouth, but in different modes). So faith is, in this sense, a good act by virtue of the goodness received.

*[I recognize that certain kinds of, or aspects of, apprehension may be passive. I am not yet trying to prove that faith is active. I am simply trying to show that the notion of active faith does not imply anything contrary to the biblical proscriptions concerning works.]

(2) Now consider the good of intention. If faith does not “just happen,” then it would seem to involve an “intention” on the part of the one who believes. The intention to do a good act renders the act morally good. Thus intentionally doing the work of God (cf., John 6.29) is morally good. In this case, however, we clearly have a kind of moral goodness that is not contrary to faith; rather, here we find that faith itself is the moral good (obedience).*

*[I would draw the inference, then, that the negative references to “works” in Scripture (found mostly in Paul’s writings) need not refer to morally good acts in general, but to some distinct kind(s) of deeds which, though not inherently bad, are incompatible with justification by faith. But that argument is for another time. I am here mostly concerned with John, and he does not discuss justification.]

Work merits a wage which, according to justice, is rendered in proportion to value of the work. This is manifestly not the case in saving faith, which gains its value from what is received, and which, as an act of obedience, lays no demand for recompense upon God, but appeals to his mercy. The moral goodness of faith in Christ does not merit salvation, nor does it precede salvation; rather, it is a concomitant of salvation. That is to say, the moral change implied by the exercise of saving faith does not occur before nor after one receives eternal life; it occurs as an integral part of the act of receiving eternal life.

Thus the implication which Hodgites perceive in active faith, i.e., that it is a good act, does not require that it places the believer in the position of a “wage-earner” before God. Therefore, this objection is not sufficient grounds for denying that faith unto salvation involves the will.

[On the basis of John’s Gospel, we might conclude that the intention to believe in Christ, which forms an essential part of the act of faith, proceeds from the work of God in drawing the sinner to himself. We could say that God is the one who disposes the sinner to believe in Christ, so that faith is, in some sense, caused by God; cf., 1:12-13; 5:21; 6:35-45; 8:41-47; 10:2-4, 14-16, 25-29; 12:32, 37-41; 15:16; 17:6-26;18:37. I also believe that this “effectual calling” occurs without any violation of free will; but that, again, is a matter for another day.]

7. (degrees of assent)

Active faith is not opposed to anything the Bible proscribes concerning works in relation to salvation. But is there really such a thing as active faith? Does not “believe,” as per St. Augustine, simply mean “to think with assent?” It certainly does mean that. The question now becomes, is every instance of assent the same, so that there is no need to distinguish further than assent and unbelief in order to have a full definition of faith?

According to Hodgites, there are no such things as degrees of assent. Faith means assent, and one either assents to (accepts as true) a proposition or else does not. There is no middle ground.
But this seems to be false on at least two counts:

(a) the Scriptures speak of being “fully convinced” (Romans 4:21), and of asking “in faith in no way doubting” (James 1:6; cf., Matthew 21:21; Romans 14:23). These verses are not, of course, epistemologically decisive, but they do seem to indicate that there may be some state of mind which is not outright unbelief, but not faith either.
(b) In what I take to be an accurate appraisal of man’s intellectual experience, Thomas Aquinas distinguished four possible relations which the intellect can bear to a true proposition:

(1) Error: being fully convinced of the falsity of the proposition.

(2) Doubt: being in a state of uncertainty as to the proposition’s truth or falsity.

(3) Opinion: inclining to think that the proposition is true (without being sure).

(4) Knowledge (in the case of things apprehended by the light of reason) and Faith (in the case of things apprehended by the light of revelation): being fully convinced that the proposition is true.

Categories (3) and (4) are kinds of assent, (1) and (2) indicate lack of assent. Because Hodgites believe that there are not different degrees of assent, they must deny that opinion is a species of assent, or else claim that there is no real difference in degree between opinion and belief (or knowledge). In other words, if there is such a mental state as “having an opinion,” then what we commonly take as our “opinions” are in reality our beliefs; and, by the nature of the case (no degrees of assent), “opinions” are as firmly held as beliefs.

Again, the Hodgite position seems to be false. A simple bit of reflection clearly reveals that I assent to different kinds of propositions in different degrees.

I fully assent to each of the following propositions:

I exist.
Justice is a virtue.
The earth is round.
There is such a country as the United States.

I also assent to these propositions, but not without some reservation:

Dark matter exists.
Democracy is the best political system for promoting justice.
The earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.
There was such a city as Atlantis.

Now, I am not just setting out some theory. I am giving a first hand report of certain mental states. This report indicates that there are different degrees of assent. I “believe” all eight propositions, but “belief” is not exactly the same thing in each case. Of the first set, I am convinced. Of the second, I am “of the opinion.” We might find other, perhaps more accurate, words to use to denote the difference, but the difference is a fact.

If faith is “being fully convinced” (not merely “having an opinion”) of the truth of a proposition, then it seems unlikely that evidence alone is sufficient to cause this degree of assent with respect to the Gospel. The evidence for the authenticity of the biblical accounts concerning Christ and salvation may be good (i.e., given the evidence, there may be a greater probability that the Gospel is true than not). It is not, however, as good as the evidence for the first set of propositions. I take it that the evidence for the Gospel is good, but that it is closer, at the level of sheer probability, to the second set of propositions than to the first.

The point is, different propositions admit of different kinds and different amounts of evidence. The assent “caused” by one type/ amount of evidence (e.g., self-evidence, evident to the senses, overwhelming testimony) may not be as strong as the assent “caused” by other kinds of evidence (e.g., hearsay, conjecture, forensic evidence). I cannot help but believe that I can type words in English. I am doing so right now. I am inclined to think that the Rape of Lucretia was an actual event, it does not seem improbable given the evidence. The kind of assent produced in me through a bit of reflection on the evidence is different in each case. I am fully convinced that I can type in English, I am of the opinion that the Rape of Lucretia occurred in or around 509 BC.

The testimony of the Church is that the Gospel of John, where the FP is propounded, is the word of God. If I form the opinion that this is true, I ought then to conclude that opinion is not sufficient.* Even if I were to demure on the plenary inspiration of scripture (I do not), if I am convinced by the historical case that Jesus is God, and that the New Testament is a reliable record of his teachings, then I would still be privy to the word of God.

*[Note, however, that forming an opinion on the basis of a rational evaluation of the evidence for the Gospel is not inconsistent with faith, as long as one does not stop with mere opinion. Faith is primarily an intellectual act which judges that a given proposition is true on the basis of authority; however, a responsible person will first have some grounds for thinking a given “authority” to be reliable before he trusts what that authority says.]

Why is opinion an insufficient response to the Gospel? Because God, who is Truth, is a unique case. One does not assent to what God says only in proportion to one’s own evaluation of the evidence for the divine propositions. God is to be believed implicitly because his very nature has the immutable character of truth and absolute authority. Hence, I believe the Gospel implicitly, even though the evidence itself may be more or less comparable to the evidence for extra-biblical propositions which I assent to only in a manner proportionate to such evidence.

[For further analysis of the kinds of assent and the causes of the different kinds of assent, see Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2a2ae. 2.]

8. (the role of the will)

Now, if the evidence alone does not compel my assent to the FP, what makes up the difference? I have been assuming, and will shortly argue, that the will prompts the intellect to believe implicitly (i.e., fully, with no reservations). Of course, it could be that God simply creates faith in my mind, apart from either evidence or human volition. I do think that God in some sense causes faith, but not apart from some evidence and my own will. God uses means to achieve his ends, and the means are appropriate to the ends. God’s work, though beyond our imagining, is neither arbitrary nor unintelligible. So even if faith ultimately comes from God, we are not thereby exempted from the theological and philosophical task of analyzing its proximate causes. And it is just here that Hodgism falls short.

If we are required for salvation to believe the FP implicitly (i.e., to trust in Christ), and if the evidence alone (for the FP) is insufficient to cause this kind of assent, then faith unto salvation is not passive assent caused by evidence. There must be some other cause(s).

Based upon certain statements in the Johannine corpus, I am convinced that the efficient cause of faith is a free action of the will, which prompts the intellect to believe in Christ for eternal life. The motivation for this act is supplied by the desire for eternal life. This desire itself seems to arise as a result of the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8) and the Father’s effectual calling (6:37-44).

The reasons from John’s Gospel for supposing faith to be active are:

(a) Some of the synonyms and metaphors which John uses for “believe” clearly imply action (e.g., coming to Christ, obedience, eating and drinking); in fact, Jesus tells the Jews that “you are not willing to come to me that you may have life” (5:40). The clear implication here, as stated in Rev. 22:17 (the same word is used in both instances), is that the reception of eternal life involves the will.

(b) The woman at the well is told that, if she but knew the gift and the Giver, eternal life would be hers for the asking. Passive assent to the FP notwithstanding, one must ask Christ for eternal life, and this is an act.

(c) Persons in John’s Gospel who are privy to the same evidence (the words and works of Jesus) respond differently- some follow Jesus and some try to kill him. The difference is not adequately accounted for by Wilken’s suggestion that people respond differently because they interpret the evidence differently. One must ask, “Why do they interpret the evidence differently?” Is it not because some are unwilling to believe?

(d) Finally, to take a non-Johannine example, when the Philippian jailer asks Paul what he must do to be saved, Paul explicitly tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31). The imperative mood suggests that “faith” is here considered an act of the will.

In willing to believe, a man does not “try really hard” to be fully convinced; rather, he believes implicitly because of the honor and authority of God, and because he desires eternal life. This desire arises due to God’s inscrutable work in bringing men to faith. Evidence of some sort certainly plays a role in the event; sometimes less (John 1:50), sometimes more (John 20:29). However, someone who chooses to believe merely on the evidence of a simple testimony is no less convinced of the truth of the Gospel than one who is brought to faith through a sophisticated presentation of the evidences for Christianity.

The point here is that opinion is not faith. Regardless of the amount of evidence presented, everyone is required, by the very nature of the case, to believe implicitly. This is possible for everyone who hears the Gospel because faith unto salvation is fundamentally an act. Anyone who is willing to believe can believe, if they so choose.

Of course, one must understand and assent to some true proposition(s) about Christ (e.g., John 6.47). But Jesus, as the object of our faith, is not reducible to any one proposition or set of propositions. The fact that we cannot see him does not entail that he is a mere idea. The fact that conversion is not an empirical event does not entail that it is a merely intellectual event. Salvation is more than an intellect coming into right relation with a proposition. Passive assent to the proposition “I can safely trust in Jesus to deliver on his promise of eternal life,” is not the same thing as safely trusting in Jesus to deliver on his promise eternal life, any more than accepting the proposition “I can safely depend upon Jones to lift me out of this pit” is the same thing as grasping Jones’ willing and able hand. The contention (by Hodgites) that this empirical example bears no analogy to faith unto salvation seems to me to betray a bias against the reality of conversion. In other words, for Hodgites, conversion is a mere abstraction. There is no real change of condition in the subject.

I think that, although potentially misleading, “being fully convinced of the truth of the Gospel” is adequate as a minimal definition of saving faith (considered as an intellectual act). The main point of what I am saying is that becoming fully convinced of the FP, given the meaning of the FP and the concrete circumstances in which it is presented, requires an act of the will by which one grasps onto, places his trust in, Jesus Christ. This act is motivated by the desire for eternal life, and this desire is implanted in the soul by God. Evidence alone (for the FP) can produce only opinion, which, unlike faith, leaves the will unaffected and thus can co-exist with the hatred of spiritual things, the love of wickedness, and rebellion against God.

One Hodgite explicitly tells his readers that to ask a person to “trust” in Jesus (which implies an act of the will) is a completely unnecessary and potentially confusing addition to the Gospel. Hodges himself is no better as he reduces the meaning of the word “trust” to “passive assent." Dillow also reduces the act of trust (e.g., grasping a helping hand) to passive assent (being convinced that the offered hand is a helping one). Not only is this kind of assent likely to be transient (opinions change), the doctrine that such assent is faith may actually serve to hinder a person from ever being fully convinced of the truth of the Gospel.

Those who present the Gospel on the basis of devout adherence to Hodgism tell people that in order to receive eternal life they must be “convinced of the truth of the FP.” Not distinguishing kinds of assent (among other things), they leave it open for a person to form only an opinion about the FP, never actually coming to Christ.

Hodgism is preoccupied with an abstract kind of assurance about the after-life, featuring a self-centered peace of mind. This they consider to be the essence of salvation. Contrarily, I believe that John conceives of salvation as participating, through faith in Christ, in the divine life here and now. Because God's life can never die, the one who abides in that life can never die. Thus eternal life is not simply a grand promise about a future happiness. It is a present reality in which the believer enjoys God. This seems to be a secondary consideration (at best) in Hodgism.

9. (repentance)

It seems to me that the specific act of the will prompting the intellect to believe in Christ is identical in kind to that which the Bible elsewhere calls “repentance.” Hodgites reject this notion.* Their case is usually made by appealing to the primary lexical definitions of the terms involved, thus ruling out any intrinsic relation between faith and repentance with respect to conversion.

*[One clear indication, among many, of the sway Hodges holds over GES members is the fact that his novel view of repentance has influenced many to change their position on the relationship of repentance to salvation. The majority view used to be that repentance meant only “to change one’s mind” and is thereby equivalent to passive assent and rightly understood, in this sense, to be a condition for salvation. Hodges’ view is that repentance is the inward decision to turn from sin, and cannot be a condition for salvation.]

Intrinsic relation by way of definition is, of course, one mode of perseity (a per se relationship being one in which two things are inseparable). However, Hodgite analysis of the FP tends not to recognize another mode of perseity, that of cause and effect. In this mode, even when one thing is not included in the definition of something else, it may still bear an intrinsic relationship to another thing by way of being causally related to that thing so that they are inseparable in reality.

Hodgites rule out repentance as being of the essence of the Gospel because the term is not used by John, nor related to faith by way of definition. Hodges and his followers are perplexed and angered by those who suggest that repentance is an essential aspect of receiving the gift of eternal life. John doesn't mention it, so neither should we.

However, I contend that if we consider the per se relation of cause and effect, we can easily understand how John could take repentance as a given when he speaks of faith unto salvation. For example: everyone understands the legitimacy of, for example, taking death as a given when speaking of decapitation. Whether the term “death” is expressed or unexpressed, it is certainly understood to be, by way of the intrinsic (per se) relationship of cause and effect, to be implied by mentioning the decapitation of a living being. The same could very well be the case with faith and repentance. Just as “death” forms no part of the definition of “decapitation” (and vice versa), yet is inseparable from it in reality, so “repentance” while forming no part of the definition of “faith” is held to be inseparable from it in conversion.

[For further explanation of the various modes of perseity see Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, Book I, Chapter 4.]

Arguments from, or about, silence (regarding the absence of the term “repentance” in John’s Gospel) are simply not conclusive. Nor are such arguments, in my opinion, particularly convincing. If the will is active in causing the intellect to assent to the FP, and if eternal life is understood as involving a qualitative aspect which is antithetical to wickedness, then it seems highly plausible, perhaps even psychologically and spiritually necessary, that the one believing in Jesus for eternal life, by virtue of that very act, is turning from the darkness of sin (John 3:18-20).

10. (evaluation)

As a reader of John’s Gospel, I have found Hodgite analysis of the FP to be strange and superficial. Hodgites might demure at certain points in my presentation of their soteriological system. However, it is my opinion that at least two of the elements in the foregoing analysis are crucial to GES theology; namely, (a) the passivity of faith and (b) downplaying or ignoring the qualitative aspect of eternal life.

I believe that Hodgite theology would have to be significantly altered if the FP can be shown, by way of exegetically and theologically discovered implications, to have some intrinsic connection to the moral order of good and evil. Specifically, Hodgism is compromised if faith in Christ unto salvation involves an act of the will in choosing to receive the gift of eternal life, and if eternal life is defined qualitatively as “God’s kind of life” (inimical to sin).

Implicit in a case in which a sinner chooses to believe in Christ due to the desire for God’s kind of life is that the saving transaction necessarily includes a subjective turning from sin to righteousness. This implication is abhorrent to Hodgites; but if it is true, their system is flawed.

In Scripture, the FP is proclaimed in light of the promissory, prophetic and historical advent of the sinless Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, “who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Those who believe in him are united with the Father in the righteousness of Jesus, indwelt by the Spirit, given a new heart inscribed with the “law of liberty,” set free from the dominion of sin. Those who refuse to believe are enslaved to sin and at enmity with God.

Hodgites know all this, but hesitate to say whether or not the historical Gospel must be believed in conjunction with the FP. The question seems to be whether assent to the FP is meaningful and/ or efficacious to salvation apart from further information.

It is telling in this regard to note that they often try to formulate their Gospel message on the basis of a hypothetical “message in a bottle” scenario: a man ignorant of scripture and stranded on a desert island receives a bottle containing the FP alone; what would he understand and if he believed what he understood would he be saved? This is an interesting question, but it reflects a bad methodology. We come to understand the essence of the Gospel on the basis of what we know from scripture, not on a hypothetical person’s ignorance of scripture. Hodgites seem to do theology, and to evangelize, by holding back certain facts- suppressing the truth in order to bolster their system.

(11. the johannine gospel)

John describes man’s response in the saving transaction in various ways: We look to/ see Jesus, receive him, ask him for the gift of eternal life, believe in his name, believe that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God, we hear his words, we come to him, we believe in him, we come to the light (out of the darkness), we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we follow him, we obey him.

These responses are analytically distinguishable, but they are textually interchangeable (e.g., 1:12; 3:36; 5:24, 29, 38-40; 6:35, 40, 47-69; 7:37-38; 9:35-41; 10:25-28; 12:37-41; 13:19-20; 17:8). The phrases complement, and sometimes parallel, one another. They shed light upon each other, giving the reader a fuller understanding of the FP (“Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life”). That is, one comes to understand the Gospel in context.

Theologically, we must also look at the broader context of the FP; i.e., the work of God in the theological/ historical plan of redemption as this is applied to a human being. We should understand and proclaim the Gospel accordingly.

This does not mean that we require people to become theologians in order to be saved. It does mean that as theologians we must (and inevitably do) bring our theological understanding to bear on our Gospel presentation. The FP does mean the FP, but this only calls forth the question: “what does the FP mean?”

Who is Jesus? I am pretty sure that he speaks the truth, but do I need to be fully convinced? What is eternal life? How does it differ from the life I lead now? I want to continue in my sins. I will only receive Jesus if he guarantees to preserve me from hell without ever making any other difference in my life. I do not want to, for example, be born again, follow him, or obey his commands. Will he give me unending life on these terms?

The ability and willingness to address such questions intellectually and in one’s personal witness does not complicate the Gospel; it ultimately helps us to clearly and accurately proclaim the Gospel to all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds with one common problem (enslaved to sin) and one common need (eternal life in Jesus Christ).

Salvation is not by human genius nor human ingenuity; nor is it by enforced ignorance. For readers of John’s Gospel, the FP is bursting at the seams with meaning and significance:

The “whoever” are unconverted sinners, those for whom the Son was lifted up to die, because of God’s great love for them. “Jesus” is the light of the world, the Son of God, the eternal Word made flesh, the Way the Truth and the Life. He is the One who knows and shows the Father, the knowledge of whom is the gift of “eternal life.” “Believing” in Jesus means that we are fully convinced, out of a desire to know him, that he is who he claims to be. We can affirm, without reservation, that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This happens only as we turn from the darkness and receive his light, when we choose to come to him and follow him (10:27-28).

This is the basic meaning of the FP, as I understand it on the basis of John’s Gospel:

If you will trust in Jesus, he will save you from your sins and give you a new life, the essence of which is to know and obey God. This is the kind of life that never dies, because it is the life of God, which he wants you to share with him.


Although I cannot address them here, there are certainly other troubling aspects of the GES system, including:

(1) They appear to substitute the theory of “justification by faith alone” for Jesus Christ himself as the object of faith. They seem to mean that, in order to be saved, one must have faith in justification by faith alone. This is unbiblical- justification is not the object of faith, the Lord Jesus Christ is.

(2) They seem to believe that assurance of eternal security is the main point of the Gospel. In fact, assurance of eternal security is claimed to be of the essence of the Gospel. The whole idea is not to know God as the end in himself, but to use God as a means to an end; namely, peace of mind via the assurance of not going to hell. The GES message is subjectively oriented, man-centered and potentially idolatrous.

(3) By their own polemical statements, GES members have cast themselves in fundamental opposition (i.e., dogmatic opposition in a matter claimed to be essential for salvation) to the historic church and to virtually all other contemporary church groups. This seems to be an implicit denial of the Spirit’s ongoing activity in the church since Pentecost. Their only answer, it seems, is the cult-like invocation of either (a) a secret, historically undocumented church consisting of individuals believing, but not proclaiming, GES theology throughout the ages; or else, (b) those who hold the GES position constitute the restoration of the true church, which had been dormant since New Testament times.

(4) By implication, GES disciples must believe that everyone who disagrees with them is either “uninformed,” “confused” or “prideful.” That is, GES claims that the Bible obviously teaches what they say it teaches about salvation. So, disagreement cannot, by definition, be rational and honest. Opponents are either ignorant of the GES position, blinded by their theological tradition or else pridefully trying to earn their own salvation. GES and related groups emphasize clarity and simplicity. This is commendable. Unfortunately, GES proponents use these terms in a rhetorical manner that has the effect of exempting them from critical self-examination. Too often they do not pursue clarity as a goal, they simply conflate their own system with clarity. Everything else is, by definition, unclear.

(5) Circular reasoning has been built into GES hermeneutics and theology. Scripture must be interpreted in a way that comports with the system. Why? Because the system is held to be self-evidently correct.

One of the effects of GES theology upon its adherents is to force them into a position of isolation and suspicion with respect to virtually all other Christians throughout time and space. “We four, no more.” This does not logically entail that they are wrong. Their position must be judged on its merits, which I have tried to do. However, I think that we naturally do and must have an a priori reservation about any group which claims that a novel interpretation of Scripture is something essential for salvation.

Tyler1 said...
Bravo, I couldn't have said it better myself. I have a hard copy of this, and it has helped me in reference to Free Grace issues. Here are some passages right off hand that help refute the idea that one can have faith in Christ, and not become a sanctified disciple of Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Ephesians 2:8-10 (don't stop at verse 9), Galatians 5:19-26, Matthew 7:21-23 Matthew 12:33-37,Matthew 13:24-30, 2 Corinthians 13:5, Matthew 24:45-51, Mark 10:18-22, John 14:15. The Holy Scriptures do not know of a faith that is without obedience and repentance. It is also key to remember that in Christ's great commission that he said go and make disciples, not decision makers. Thank you again for the insightful observations.



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