[We are] not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. (Romans 1:16)

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Problem with the Moderate Non-Lordship Salvation Position

by Matthew

A key difference between the Free Grace and the more common Non-Lordship Salvatio position is the issue of repentance. Non-Lordship Salvaton advocates like Ryrie define repentance as a change of mind that is invovled in saving faith. Free Grace theology holds that repentance involves a more complete turning from sin which is distinct and separate from saving faith. I would conted that Ryrie's concept of 'Repentant Faith' is a theological construction that does not do justice to the Biblical material.

However, I believe there is a far more serious problem in the Moderate camp's agreement with the Traditionalist interpretation of James chapter 2. Those who align themselves with Ryrie and other Moderates agree with the Lordship advocates that the faith that lacks works is a false faith. Gordon C Olson, in his otherwise excellent book 'Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism', wrote:

A second consideration is the differing usage of the verb 'to believe' by Paul and James. Paul is obviously referring to genuine faith or trust in Christ, whereas James is using it in the sense of a mere profession of faith. This is clear from 2:19 'You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.' Here believing means intellectual assent to the truth, rather than trust in Christ as Savior.

Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism p.260-261

He then lists a number of proof texts for the notion of a false faith, such as Simon the Sorceror and John 2:23-25. This statement could quite easily have come from my Calvinist pastor.

The notion of a false, intellectual faith is very unhelpful. How exactly can one be sure that one does not have such a faith? More importantly, the Scriptures never differentiates between a true faith and a false intellectual faith. Our Lord defined for us the nature of saving faith in His conversation with Martha:

John 11:25-27
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life: He that beleiveth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?
She saith unto him, Yea Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

Here saving faith is shown to be the simple affirmation of the proposition that Jesus is the resurrection and the life (the one who provides eternal life). Our Lord does not in any way qualify the manner in which it is to believed. To truthfully answer yes to the Lord's question is to believe on Him for eternal life.

The result of Olson's interpretation of James is that faith is not enougth. If a believer's faith must include works to be genuine, the believer must inevitably look for his assurance in works. Olson might argue that the perserverance is not certain tand that fruit may be minimal. However, if any amount of works are essential to salvation, then faith is not enougth on its own.

Moderate Non-Lordship people maintain that all believers wil show some fruit. Certainly, the vast majority of believers will show some fruit. However, I believe it is necessary to maintain the possiblity that a believe may display no fruit at all. I think this would only occurr in exceptional circumstances, however if this possiblity is denied then faith we have the dilemma of the works necessity. If Olson insists that a believer must do some works, how can Olson resist the conclusion of Lordship Salvation that lots of works are necessary? Olson makes a big concession to the Lordship Salvation position:

It is true that the New Testament does challenge us with tests of eternal life (as in 1 John), by which we can examine our own lives to see those lifestyle problems which seriously raise questions about our salvation. But I am concerned about the way that legalistic Christians write off problem believers and that the way that some legalistic Christians fall back into extreme introspection which seriously undermines their own assurance.

Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism, p.264

Olson unfortuantely wants to have his cake and eat it. On the one hand he wants to avoid introspection undermining assurance, but then he agrees with the Calvinist that one should examine one's life to test one's posession of eternal life. I find it difficult to see how Olson can satisfactorily resolve this tension.

Olson would seem to be familiar with Zane Hodges and other Free Grace authors, as he includes them in his bibliography. Nevertheless it is deeply disappointing that he has not made any attempt to engage with Hodges' alternative interpretations of the epistles of James and 1 John. 'Beyond Calvinism and Armininianism' is by far the best work I have read on the subject of Calvinism. Olson's treatment of election, depravity and the extent of the atonement is superb. However, it isunfortuante that his rejection of Lordship Salvation lacks the systematic consistency of Zane Hodges and Bob Wilkin.

Another otherwise excellent author who runs into trouble on this issue is Robert Lightner. Like Olson, Lightner aligns himself against Lordship Salvation and seems familiar with the work of Zane Hodges. Yet for whatever reason, Lightner falls short of embracing the consistency of the Free Grace position.

Lightner states on page 212 of the 'Handbook of Evangelical Theology' that he rejects Lordship Salvation. However, he goes on to make a seriously big concession:

On the other hand, Scripture clearly states that no one can become a child of God unless he fully intends to serve and obey Christ.

I find it very disapointing that Lightner takes this view. This is a quite unscriptural definition of saving faith. He clearly has in view the fiction of a Repentant Faith. As is clearly seen in Jesus' discourse to Martha in John chapter 11, saving faith is simply affirmign the proposition that Jesus is the sole provider of eternal life. If a person believes that she posesses eternal life through Jesus Christ she has it because it is a free gift. There is no added condition that she must also intend to serve and obey Christ.


  • Matthew;

    For some reason I find myself in an awkward position.

    While I agree with what I think you attempting to say - that the lordship definition of faith is the backdoor to Calvinism - I find myself disagreeing with the way that you've represented some of Gordon Olson's views. Several details in your presentation have led me to wonder if you've inadvertently missed something.

    First is the fact that Gordon has released an abridged and revised version of "Beyond..." The title is "Getting the Gospel Right: A Balanced View of Salvation Truth." It was released in November 2005 and was distributed at last year's GES meetings in Dallas. You will find numerous refinements, several of which address the point you raise in your post.

    For example, on page 99 he writes,

    "Paul is obviously referring to genuine faith or trust in Christ, whereas James may be using in it the sense of a mere profession of faith."

    The subjunctive flavor of this sentence differs subtly yet significantly from the quote you alluded to. On page 260 of the earlier work he wrote,

    "Paul is obviously referring to genuine faith or trust in Christ, whereas James is using in it the sense of a mere profession of faith."

    A minor point, perhaps, but it is a key concession in Olson's argument.

    Second, and more important, you might have missed Olson's larger point about James' teaching on justification, made in the previous paragraph on page 260 of "Beyond."

    "James, however, is concerned about how people view the professing believer, and the necessity of showing our faith to others so that they will declare us righteous.... In that case people are the subject of the verb 'to declare righteous.' "

    On page 99 of "Getting" he revises this slightly.

    "James, however, is concerned about how other people view a professing believer, and the necessity of showing faith to others so that they will declare the believer righteous.... [O]thers are the subject of the verb 'to declare righteous.' "

    From my understanding of Olson's position, he is serving up standard FG fare here: that Paul and James are discussing two different kinds of justification. Paul has justification before God in view whereas James has justificaiton before men in view.

    These two views harmonize quite nicely as demonstrated by the fact that both appeal to Abraham's justification before God and before men. Before God we are justified by faith alone; before men our claim to be Christ followers is justified by how we live.

    Perhaps a minor point, I guess you'll have to be the judge of that. But I do feel that Olson's views on James 2 aren't quite as represented in your post.

    I do agree with the main thesis of your post, and with your evaluation of Olson's false distinction between "intellectual assent to the truth" and "trust in Christ as Savior."

    Warm Regards.

    P.S. Shameless plug. Charlie Bing has an excellent post on James 2 over at the free grace network.

    By Anonymous Bud Brown, at Friday, August 04, 2006 9:17:00 AM  

  • Bud, thanks for your comments, particularly as regards his more recent writing.

    I ma not sure that I have misrepresented him. I would be interested to get Antonio's assesment of those statements.

    It is true that Olson does not state that a believer must do some works. But he does not exactly negate this Lordship premise.

    Yes, his comments on justification are in line with Free Grace theology. However, the fact that he views the faith without works as false faith would seem to support the conclusion that he views dead faith in a somewhat different light from Zane Hodges.

    I think the comment that I quoted on 1 John and self examination seems to suggest the same.

    Every Blessing in Christ


    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Friday, August 04, 2006 9:46:00 AM  

  • Matthew,

    I must say, ol' chap, that you did a bang-up job of pointing out the inconsistencies of Olson and Lightner.

    For the most part, a good portion, probably a majority of Free Grace people, understand repentance to be a simple change of mind and part of faith.

    The whole of your point of James and "spurious" faith is exactly on the money. It is a disappointment that he did not consider Zane's treatment of James.

    I find Olson's new wording more up-in-the-air, and lacking any back-bone whatsoever. He has left the door wide open for complete chaos. Granted he has moved in the right direction, but the concession is virtually meaningless, as his confidence and certainty on the passage is nil.

    His prooftexting of Simon the Sorcerer and John 2 is terrible.

    His insistence on a false faith, spurious faith, leaves him open to the same charge he is trying to combat, namely, if there is such a thing as a false faith the only way that it can be known if you have one or not is to look at your works.

    If you concede this, you have given up the works! (or rather added them!)

    This is some great thinking that you have done here, Matthew.

    I need to note, Matthew, that a person that says that there will be some manifestation of regeneration of one sort or another does not necessarily leave himself open to the charge works-salvation or a spurious faith.

    As long as one understands that faith = certainty, conviction, persuasion, being convinced, then they can know whether or not they have beleived in Christ's saving promise or not. If someone is convinced that He has eternal life through his faith in Christ, he is not susceptible to this spurious faith thing, nor to the charge that without the seen works of perseverance, he is going to hell.

    The manifestation of regeneration may only be perceivable by God.

    Again, what a disappointment, at least in this area, of Olson!



    By Blogger Antonio, at Friday, August 04, 2006 2:44:00 PM  

  • Antonio, I am very glad that you also feel disappointed in Olson.

    Again, I would point out that Olson's treatment of other issues in the Calvinism debate is excellent.

    A major strength of the book is its comprehensiveness. It does not just give a refutation of each point of Calvinism, but rather it advocates an alternative system of soteriology.

    Every Blessing in Christ


    By Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist, at Saturday, August 05, 2006 12:08:00 AM  

  • Your Personal Opinion May Have No Bearing Whatsoever On Doctrinal Truth...

    Let us first look at some basic definitions using the Greek roots of words from which they came.

    1. Philosophy: 'Philo' from the Greek root, 'Philos' means "the love of".

    'Sophy' from the Greek means 'wisdom'.

    So philosophy simply means the love of wisdom.

    'Ortho' from the Greek 'orthos' means straight, or correct.

    'Doxa' means 'opinion'. So orthodoxy means a 'straight opinion', or in a simpler analogy, the truth.

    3. Now if we combine the word 'philo' with the Greek root word 'doxa' we get the word 'philodoxy'.

    So as the great Greek philosopher Plato, proclaimed, the word 'philodoxy' was the opposite or antonym of the word philosophy.

    4. To add to what we have learned from this simple lesson is that a philosopher is a lover of wisdom, whereas a philodoxer is a lover of opinion.

    "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." Mark 12:14 (NAB)

    They sent their disciples to him, with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status." (Matthew 22:16)

    They posed this question to him, "Teacher, we know that what you say and teach is correct, and you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." (Luke 20:21)

    Jesus did not accept the opinions of men, as shown in Matthew 16:13-17:

    When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

    They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

    He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

    Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

    Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father."

    See? His disciples mostly expressed personal opinions, which meant little to Jesus.

    The one exception was Simon Peter, the only one who answered with doctrinal truth.

    By Blogger Michael Gormley, at Sunday, September 26, 2010 6:38:00 AM  

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