The Problem with the Moderate Non-Lordship Salvation Position
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:
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.