Escalation and Rhetoric
On Antonio’s Free Grace Theology blog, Danny said:
I now believe a person must believe the Promise in light of the Death and Resurrection to be saved. Yet at the same time, I do NOT consider you or Zane to be heretics. I still see you guys as friends. We're all Free Grace advocates, and this issue over a hypothetical is not enough to separate me from you guys. If you guys actually rejected the Finished Work, then of course I would withdraw from you. But you don't. Plus you guys don't believe the hypothetical is that likely. We disagree on whether Jesus' Death and Resurrection is an object of faith, but you guys still preach it, so we're good.
To me, that is a voice of reason out of the discussion regarding the content of saving faith. It seems Danny sees this disagreement the same way I do, as a difference of opinion that is acceptable.
Unfortunately, I don't believe Zane Hodges does. Yesterday, I read his current article, The Hydra's Other Head, in the GES newsletter. I was quite disappointed.
Q. Why was I disappointed?
A. Because of what He said.
He is now calling those who view the cross and resurrection to be a part of the content of saving faith "theological legalists." I wish he wouldn't have coined or employed this phrase.
Theology is just another word for our beliefs and teachings about God and Christ. So to employ the word ‘legalism’ which has to do with what you do or how you look and dress and where you go and then attach it to what is taught about the content of faith is like saying that the color green smells bad. It doesn't jibe for me. I grew up with what Zane refers to in the first part of his article (which part I thought was very good, BTW) as "ecclesiastical legalism." The church: its rules and sacraments were the way to heaven. The language of "legalism" doesn't belong in the debate that Zane is currently has swirling around him IMO. But here he describes Theological Legalism:
It is not enough to simply believe that Jesus Christ gives us eternal life when we believe in Him for that. We must also believe certain orthodox doctrines that go along with such belief. But these doctrines are not in themselves identical with believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life. Instead these beliefs form a kind of checklist that measures the validity of one’s faith. I call this form of legalism theological legalism. Basically it is salvation for the orthodox!Faith is something that follows facts. One must have information to engage in faith. Not all who have the correct doctrine are saved, but certainly, the church is in the business of teaching about Christ, sharing the facts, as we evangelize... to make faith possible. So this statement seems unnecessary. Zane says :
"Instead these beliefs form a kind of checklist that measures the validity of one’s faith."I must ask: when does this ever happen? Bob Wilkin said in a very fine article in the very same newsletter : "I've never met a single person who was born again who didn't also believe that they were a sinner, that Jesus is God, and that Jesus died on the cross for his sins and rose bodily from the dead." What Bob Wilkin says essentially expels the probability of such a "mesurement" or "validity of faith test" even being an issue.
So salvation is for the orthodox… in all practical terms.
Theological legalism seeks to co-opt Free Grace theology. Indeed, it masquerades as this kind of theology. But this claim is false. Grace is not given freely to the sinner who believes in Jesus for eternal life... Instead, grace is denied to that sinner unless he subscribes to the relevant theological propositions.I wish he wouldn't have said that. For me personally, I do not see this issue of the content of saving faith the way Hodges does... and yet I consider myself a Free-Gracer. I finally took the label of Free-Gracer and declared, “I am a Free-Gracer” about a year ago ...and now Zane Hodges wants to take it away from me. :~) This tact is not good for Hodges to take - he is alienating more people... people with whom he has much in common. He is escalating the controversy.
On a more positive note, I do think he makes a good point about 1 Cor 15:1-8:
Paul is obviously not giving a list of “core essentials” that must be believed in order to be eternally saved. Many of us, however, have been conditioned to think that the term “gospel” defines what a person must believe to have eternal life. But 1 Cor 15:1-8 shows this is false. Clearly, for Paul, the term “gospel” is broader than the essential content of saving faith. In 1 Cor 15:1-8 Paul is giving the informational content of his gospel. On the basis of this vitally important content, he would have expected the Corinthians to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. But since they had already done this, he does not mention it here specifically.Paul doesn't mention eternal life, or justification, in that passage, so I do get his point. If that passage were the be-all-end-all to what "must be believed by the lost" then you would expect to find something about eternal life and trusting Jesus for this all-important provision of everlasting life. Actually, if that list in 1 Cor 15 is the be-all-end all, then I have Catholic relatives who are saved, even though they don't believe they possess eternal life without keeping the sacraments. Then again, I suppose it could be argued that the true meaning of “died for our sins” cancels out the Catholic “understanding.”
Hodges says that his opponents' view is "at war with the Gospel of John." I think this is wrong to say. To view the gospel of John as a whole explanation of who Christ is and why He can be trusted for eternal life... is not being at war with it. The Gospel of John contains the facts of the gospel that Paul mentions.
Hodges says of the things mentioned in In 1 Cor 15:1-8:
"Beyond question, all of these truths are of infinite importance."Amen and Amen! He goes on:
"Believing all these truths is not the same as believing in Jesus for eternal life."Also agreed. But these are part of who Jesus has revealed Himself to be. We needn’t disengage these things about Christ with His Promise; we shant. Thankfully, brothers, no FGers are suggesting that we do. (This is important to remember in this debate)
Believing in Him for eternal life has an emphasis on HIM. Who is this Person? Certainly we shouldn't even need to have this discussion.
The marvelous truth of free grace is this: A guilty sinner with far from adequate knowledge about the Person and work of our Lord can come to Him and believe that Jesus will give him eternal life.When I read that paragraph I asked "far from adequate" for what?
And the moment he does believe, he will have that life. This is true, in fact, even if a few moments later he encounters some theological legalists who inform him he doesn’t know enough to be saved!When would this ever happen? This is an unnecessary scenario which seems to be only for the purpose of "piling it on" to his detractors. I can't imagine any evangelistically-minded person coming to a new convert and telling them, "You don't know enough to be saved." It reminds me of some of the scenarios that Hodges' opponents in this debate have brought up – e.g. someone denying the deity of Christ or denying the cross and resurrection and yet becoming saved they say: 'according to Zane Hodges.' I think he would have served his cause better by avoiding that kind of rhetoric. This is the most unfortunate portion of the article, IMHO.
This article The Hydra's Other Head starts on an informative note, but ends in what seems to me to be more of a reaction to his detractors. I don't think it was well-balanced at all and I didn't appreciate it. I have plenty thoughts on the psychology behind this, but will have to save them for another time.
Everyone in Free-Grace needs to tone down the rhetoric, please.
You can find The Hydra's Other Head here. (You could yesterday)