the Lordship Controversy(1)
If, ten years ago, you had told
me that I would live to see literate evangelicals, some with doctorates
and a seminary teaching record, arguing for the reality of an eternal
salvation, divinely guaranteed, that may have in it no repentance, no
discipleship, no behavioral change, no practical acknowledgment of
Christ as Lord of one's life, and no perseverance in faith, I would
have told you that you were out of your mind. Stark, staring bonkers,
is the British phrase I would probably have used. But now the thing has
The Gospel Under Siege (1981) and Absolutely
Zane Hodges(2), for one, maintains all these positions as
essential to the
Christian message arguing that without them the Gospel gets lost in
Nor is this all. Hodges lashes the historic reformational account of
the Gospel, which he labels "Lordship salvation," as a form of
works-righteousness, because it affirms that repentance - turning from
sin to serve Jesus as one's Lord - is as necessary for salvation as
faith - turning from self-reliance to trust Jesus as one's Savior. Such
repentance, says Hodges, is a work, and justification is through faith
apart from works. To preach and teach in reformational terms is to
compromise the grace of the Gospel. It is vital, says Hodges, to see
that there is no necessary connection between saving faith and good
works at any stage.
Hodges comes out of that branch of the dispensationalist stable which
has consistently assured everyone that by biblical standards Reformed
theology is systematically off center and misshapen. Hodges'
argumentation had already in essence appeared in the Scofield Bible and
the writings of Lewis Sperry Chafer and Charles Ryrie. He might not
have attracted much notice had not a distinguished
fellow-dispensationalist with a Reformed soteriology, John MacArthur,
Jr., attacked his view in The
Gospel According to Jesus (1988), a
strongly worded book with forewords by Boice and Packer. Absolutely
Free! was Hodges' reply to MacArthur.
It is an odd situation. Both sides proclaim that God's grace is
absolutely free, that justification is absolutely central, that faith
is absolutely necessary for salvation - and that the other side's
of what it means to be a Christian is absolutely wrong. Hodges calls
MacArthur's position "a radical rewriting of the Gospel," "Satanic at
its core," which has "turned the meaning of faith upside down,"
destroying the ground of assurance and producing doctrine that the New
Testament writers would find unrecognizable. MacArthur calls Hodges'
position a "tragic error" that "destroys the Gospel," "promises a false
peace," "produces a false evangelism," and "offers a false hope." What,
we ask, is the point of cleavage that so drastically divides men who
seemed to agree on so much? The question is not hard to answer. It has
to do with the nature of faith.
Hodges defines faith in exclusively intellectual terms, as mental
assent(3) to what God tells us in the Gospel. This
the Roman Catholic conception of faith as believing what the church
teaches. It corresponds exactly to that of the eighteenth-century
Scottish eccentric Robert Sandeman, who affirmed that "everyone who is
persuaded that the event (Christ's atoning death) actually happened as
testified by the apostles is justified." It corresponds also to the
view of Karl Barth, for whom faith is simply believing that because of
Christ's death and resurrection one is already justified and an heir of
eternal life, as is everybody else.
By contrast, faith according to reformational teaching is a
whole-souled reality with an affectional and volitional aspect as well
as an intellectual one. It is, as the seventeenth-century analysts put
it, notitia (factual knowledge), assensus (glad acceptance), and
fiducia (personal trust in a personal Savior, as well as in His
promises). It is a principle of new activity, as the Westminster
Confession brings out:
By faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in
the Word .yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the
threatenings, and embracing the promises of God But the principal acts
of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone
for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the
covenant of grace (XIV 2).
Clearly, if the intellectualism of Hodges, Sandeman, and Barth is
right, Westminster confuses, misplacing the emphasis. Equally clear, if
Westminster is right, what Hodges, Sandeman, and Barth define is less
than faith, and will not of itself bring salvation.
As is apparent, I think Hodges is wrong, and ruinously so. I find his
doctrine of faith involving four major errors.
The first is an error about Christ.
Is Christ divided, or divisible? Has not God joined the three roles of
prophet (teacher), priest (atoner), and king (Lord and Master) in the
mediatorial office of His Son? Does He not in Scripture require mankind
to relate positively to each? Does not Christ's own Gospel teaching,
well set out by MacArthur, show that He Himself does not accept the
separating of salvation from discipleship, whereby He is acknowledged
and taken as Savior but rejected as Lord? My answer is not Hodges'
answer, and his teaching does not seem to me to honor my Savior.
The second is an error about works.
Hodges equates faith as a psychological act ("closing with Christ," as
the Puritans put it) with faith as a meritorious work, and so argues
that to call for active commitment to discipleship as part of a saving
response to the Gospel is to teach works-righteousness. But this is a
confusion. Every act of faith, psychologically regarded, is a matter of
doing something (knowing is as much a mental act as are trusting,
receiving, and resolving to obey); yet no act of faith ever presents
itself to its doer as anything but a means of receiving undeserved
mercy in some form. Hodges' inability to distinguish faith as an act
from faith as a work makes him increase, rather than dispel, the
confusion about the terms of the Gospel that he rightly sees as
bedeviling us today.
The third is an error about repentance.
In Scripture, repentance and faith go inseparably together; repentance
means turning from sin, faith means turning to Jesus.
Dispensationalists do not always observe this connection. Some,
fastening onto the etymology of repentance in Greek (metanoia), explain
it as merely a change of mind about who Jesus is; Hodges, seeing that
repentance means in Scripture a change of life, detaches it from the
way of salvation (thus contradicting the Westminster Confession, which
on the basis of Luke 13:3, 5, says that "none may expect pardon without
it") and depicts it as a voluntary adjustment to God that may come
before salvation or after salvation or never at all. To say the least,
he fails to convince.
The fourth is an error about regeneration.
When Scripture speaks of regeneration, which it represents as a new
birth, a quickening of the dead, what is in view is an inner
transformation of one's being, or "heart," which makes it impossible
for one to go on living under sin's sway as one lived before. The
effect of regeneration is that now one wants, from the bottom of one's
heart, to know, love, serve, trust, obey, and honor the Father and the
Son, so that obedient devotion and discipleship spontaneously spring up
where there was only resentful hostility to God before. Hodges' account
of Christian discipleship as a prudent and fulfilling, though not a
necessary option, shows that he does not understand this at all. In
particular, he does not see that the faith that justifies only appears
as an expression of a regenerate heart.
The pastoral effect of this teaching can only be to produce what the
Puritans called "Gospel hypocrites" - persons who have been told that
they are Christians, eternally secure, because they believe that Christ
died for them, when their hearts are unchanged and they have no
personal commitment to Christ at all. I know this, for I was just such
a Gospel hypocrite for two years before God mercifully made me aware of
my unconverted state. If I seem harsh in my critique of Hodges'
redefinition of faith as barren intellectual formalism, you must
remember that once I almost lost my soul through assuming what Hodges
teaches, and a burned child always thereafter dreads the fire.
(1) From: Tabletalk,
published by Ligonier Ministries, Inc., Orlando, FL
(2) Zane Hodges taught New Testament Greek and exegesis at Dallas
Theological Seminary for 27 years until 1987. Zane also served as the
Chairman of the New Testament Department.
(3) This definition is also promoted many dispensationalists, ie. Bob
Thieme, popular teacher and pastor of Berachah Church in Houston,