Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Sawyer / Johnson Dialogue – Part 2

Please see intro to Part 1 for an explanation of the literary license taken in formatting this dialogue.

Jodie: [The Book of] James has been wrongly used for centuries to undermine bare faith alone in Christ for eternal life. Since you challenged us to challenge you on Pulpit magazine, here it is:

Phil: I can’t wait. But before you proceed, I do want to point out that your whole position is based on a de facto denial of the perspicuity of Scripture. You’re suggesting not merely that the majority of teachers and church leaders in visible church have veered off track (what the Reformers were saying) but that practically no one in the history of the church has correctly understood James’s central message. Downplay it all you like, that is a terribly audacious claim, and it is not at all what Luther and the Reformers were suggesting about the reforms they were proposing.

Jodie: This is absolutely the opposite of what I’m saying. The Scriptures, at least on the topic of the offer of eternal life, are startlingly clear, but it simply is a smack in the face to man’s pride and a rattling of his “common sense.” On this particular topic, the Scriptures fly in that face of man’s wisdom. If it’s true that all of the history of Christian theologians have been misconstruing James, I’ll still side with the historical-grammatical method and attempt to know how it would have been understood by its original readers. The format of the diatribe comes into play here, since the format of diatribe was inflexible, the original readers wouldn’t have stumbled on the demons passage. So it provides a check on one’s big picture interpretation.

Hodges has proved that the demons comment is constantly quoted out of context by perseverance theologians, yet none of you explain why he is wrong. I’d love to hear your explanation of why there is no example of a Hellenistic source where the cutting response with a direct address doesn’t indicate the return (from the disagreeing voice) back to the voice of the main speaker, in this case James.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” 20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

This understanding of the demons remark, suggests the possibility that James’s point is this: (a) that the disagreeing voice is wrong to say faith in God always results in action, and (b) that there exists a faith in the here and now power of God that isn’t active. This non-productive faith is dead orthodoxy. It doesn’t help–in the here and now–the one who has the faith–or the one who is in desperate need for food, or the isolated widows and orphans. Verse 26 confirms that this possibility is far more probable than the passionate eisegesis that reads so much into James explicit comments.

Verse 26 contains two analogies. James draws an analogy between “the body” and “faith” (in God). He also suggests an analogy between “the spirit” and “works.” The reference to the spirit of a man seems awkward if the reference is to the state of spiritual deadness from which we become born again. Spiritual life doesn’t exist in a person before being born again, so it’s awkward to speak of “the” spirit, if it doesn’t exist. More likely, James is insisting that works are like “the spirit” which exhilarate our faith in God.

Your rejection of Hodges’ arguments, which granted have not been done justice here, seems to rest on an unwillingness to consider how his arguments fit the words in the text.
(To Be Continued - DV)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Sawyer / Johnson Dialogue – Part 1

There was an exchange between Jodie Sawyer (Free Grace proponent) and Phil Johnson (Lordship Salvation proponent) in the comments section of one of the articles a few weeks ago. I thought the exchange was interesting and worth a second look. Please be advised that literary license has been taken in editing the dialogue for readability. The dialogue has been reformatted so that it appears to be more of a point/counterpoint, real-time exchange rather than an exchange that took place over several days. If you are concerned that the participants are not being represented fairly and want to read the comments in their original, unedited format, the article and comments can be found here.

Jodie: Phil Johnson, if this is the end of this series, let me ask you to respond to two of the Free Grace (FG) arguments with regards to the book of James.

Phil: By the way, I’ve been scanning the comments here [the website], watching for anything specifically addressed to me, and finally gave up. It seemed all the people who were itching to argue about Lordship over at PyroManiacs didn’t really want to engage the subject with me here. I finally gave up looking every day, and Jodie posted this comment after that. Sorry I missed it.

Jodie: On Amazon, you invoked Don Carson in your review of the Zane Hodges’ commentary on that epistle. He has said:

“Perhaps one of the most intriguing–and disturbing–features of Zane C. Hodges’s book. . . is that to the best of my knowledge not one significant interpreter of Scripture in the entire history of the church has held to Hodges’ interpretation of the passages he treats. That does not necessarily mean Hodges is wrong; but it certainly means he is probably wrong, and it probably means he has not reflected seriously enough on the array of fallacies connected with [reading one’s own presuppositions into the biblical text].”

Though Carson’s quote is wrapped in an accusation of (“probable”) eisegesis, anyone who has carefully examined Hodges' arguments knows how securely his arguments are bonded to the context as well as to straightforward observations on Greek rhetoric and grammar. In fact, Don Carson was almost certainly plagiarizing the words of Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V:

“For it is certain that a single monk must err if he stands against the opinion of all Christendom. Otherwise Christendom itself would have erred for more than a thousand years.”

Phil, in the same way that the Reformation was based a fresh view of the NT based in turn on a handful of passages in Romans and Galatians, there needs to be another reformation based on letting the Gospel of John determine our thinking on the offer of eternal life.

Phil: Well, this is precisely the difference between the attitude of the typical no-lordship wonk and that of the Reformers. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their heirs did not blow this criticism off as not worthy of consideration. They were not so arrogant as to think that after 1500 years of church history, the light of brand-new truth had finally dawned on their enlightened brows for the first time ever. They were convinced that the doctrines they were teaching had a long pedigree, and they labored to make that point. Have you ever noticed how often Luther quotes Augustine, and Jerome, Anselm, and others? If he had imagined for a moment that he was teaching a doctrine no Christian had ever seen in Scripture before, he would never have pursued the argument.

That’s why the Reformation was called a “Reformation” rather than a “Reinvention” of Christianity. (Or a New Perspective, or whatever.)

If it honestly doesn’t bother Hodges that no other serious commentator has ever thought James is saying what Hodges thinks he is saying, it ought to bother him. I stand by that. That was also Don Carson’s point.

Now, before someone tries to caricature the point I’m making: I’m not suggesting that Luther and Calvin were claiming their whole theological system was identical to that of Augustine, or that anyone else in the early church agreed with them in every detail. But the Reformers did believe (rightly so, in my estimation) that the principle Augustine defended against Pelagius and Coelestius was the same principle they were clarifying and defending against the Medieval Catholic scholastics.

Again: this is not to suggest that the church Fathers were as clear and precise and systematic as the Reformers. I do think the Reformers dealt with the principle of justification by faith and the doctrine of the atonement with an unprecedented clarity. But the clarity, and not the principle per se, was what the Reformers contributed to historical theology. The church fathers were often inconsistent, unclear, and at odds with one another about some of the issues the Reformers agreed on. But every major principle that was brought to the forefront in the Reformation can be found in some form—sometimes in embryonic form, but there nonetheless—in the writings of the church Fathers. John Gill made this point convincingly in The Cause of God and Truth.)

So when you say:

“Phil, in the same way that the Reformation was based a fresh view of the NT based in turn on a handful of passages in Romans and Galatians, there needs to be another reformation based on letting the Gospel of John determine our thinking on the offer of eternal life.”

…you have completely mischaracterized what the Reformers themselves claimed the Reformation was all about.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Can a Person Know If They Have Believed in Christ Apart From Perseverance in Good Works?

The following is an excerpt from The Gospel Under Siege by Zane Hodges, 2nd Edition, Rendencion Viva, 1992, p. 13.

This view of things [which suggests that a person cannot know whether he has truly believed in Christ at the time of conversion] involves a psychological absurdity. At the level of everyday experience, if a man is asked whether he believes a certain fact or trusts a certain person, he can always give a definite answer. Even an answer like, "I'm not sure I trust that man," reflects a definite psychological state. What it reflects is an attitude of distrust toward the individual in question.
On the other hand, when someone says, "I trust that person," he is expressing a state of mind of which he himself is thoroughly aware.
To claim that a man may trust Christ without knowing whether or not he has trusted Christ, is to articulate an absurd idea. Of course a man can know whether he believes in the offer of salvation or not!

The Bible everywhere takes this fact for granted. When the Philippian jailor enquired of Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:30), their answer clearly offered him certainty. The words, "'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household'" (16:31), invite a specific, indentifiable response of heart. Having made it, the jailor could know he was saved. That he did know this is clear from verse 34: "And he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household."

The seriousness of this issue must not be passed over. An insistence on the necessity or inevitability of perseverance in good works undermines assurance and postpones it, logically, until death. But this denial of assurance clashes directly with the clear intent of the Gospel proclamation. It flies in the face of the offer of eternal life made by the Son of God Himself.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Do You Mean That if I Believe in Jesus for Eternal Life, I Can Go Out and Do Anything I Want and Still Go to Heaven?

The following is an excerpt from Part 2 of Professor Zane Hodges’ speech, How to Lead People to Christ:

Begin Excerpt

[E]xperience [in sharing the gospel] suggests that I will often get a question like this: "Do you mean that if I believe in Jesus for eternal life, that I can go out and do anything I want and still go to heaven?"

I am always pleased to hear this question, because it signals to me that the person is getting the idea that this is a gift and that it is not withdrawn if we behave badly.

My usual way of responding to the question is that being born again is like being born into a family. After that, we are always members of that family, even if we are scoundrels. But if we have good parents, they are not going to let us run wild. They will discipline and correct us and do their best to get us on the right path. Then I point out that, after we get eternal life, God is our heavenly Father and He is the best Parent we could imagine. He will not let us run wild. He will spank us, if need be, and may even take our physical lives away. But Jesus will never cast us out of God’s family.

So far as my own experience goes, I have never had anybody not find this an adequate answer. It seems to clear things up for people, while still maintaining the truth of a passage like John 6:35-40.

End Excerpt

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

● What Does it Mean to Believe that Jesus is the Christ?

[Note: editorial license has been taken to clarify this question from the audience.]
This is the final installment of the questions and answers that followed Professor Zane Hodges' Grace Evangelical Society speech in 2000. The speech is found in written form in two journal articles here and here.
Question from the Audience: I know that you’re right that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. You quoted a verse in First John, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” [1 John 5:1]. Is everlasting life a result of believing that Jesus is the Christ?

Answer from Professor Hodges: Yes.

Question from the Audience (continuing): Okay. What if a person believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is the Only Begotten, that He is the Christ, but they still have trouble with assurance? What if they believe that Jesus is the Christ, but they still have trouble with assurance? How do you explain that?

Answer from Professor Hodges: My answer to that has always been that when [the Apostle] John says that, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ,” we must believe that He is the Christ in the sense in which John means that.

So then we must ask the question: What does John mean by the term Christ? And the easiest place to go for the answer to that is John 11:25-26. Jesus saying to Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live: Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” And then He says, “Do you believe this?” And her answer is a Johannine confession: “Yes, Lord: I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”

That’s John’s way of telling us that to believe that He is the Christ means to believe that He is the One who guarantees resurrection and eternal life to everyone who believes in Him.

Now if I walk out on the street and say, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?” almost everybody is going to tell me, “Yes” because that [the term Christ] has become a personal name.

And so the key here is to understand the term Christ in the Johannine sense of the word. To believe that He is the Christ is to believe that He is the One who guarantees salvation. And, therefore, to believe that He is the Christ brings assurance.

What if a Person Believes in Christ for Justification Instead of Eternal Life?

Question from the Audience: Some verses in Scripture that talk about salvation by faith center on the result of eternal life and others focus more on the result of justification. What if someone on a deserted island only had Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”? It doesn’t say “eternal life” in that verse, but, of course, that’s the result of justification. Let’s say they understood that justification was God declaring them righteous, and they believed in Christ for that. Could they be saved in that way also?

Answer from Professor Hodges: Yes.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Comments on the Passive Nature of Faith

Continuing with questions following the second half of Zane Hodges’ 2000 speech at the Grace Evangelical Society conference, here is another question and answer:

Question from the Audience: Zane, I’d like for you to address a little further the issue of the concept of the passive nature of faith and the concept that it is not decisional. One of the things that we teach at Chafer Seminary is with regard to Acts 28:24—the response to the last sermon that Paul delivered in Acts being a practical definition, or synonyms for faith are being given there. The response was, “And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.” And so, we have, on one hand, some people being “persuaded”—a passive concept. The alternative is expressed as, “some others disbelieved.” And we use that in order to illustrate that faith is passive; it is not something that we decide to do.

Answer from Professor Hodges: I think that is an important consideration. Basically, as I was using Bob Wilkin as an illustration, I cannot believe that he is the biggest crook in Dallas until I’m persuaded that he is. And if nobody is capable of persuading me, then I’ll never be able to believe that he’s the biggest crook in Dallas.

But let’s suppose that the FBI and the DEA and all of these people come to me on the side, and they present all sorts of proof. And I may be very reluctant to accept their proof, but I have no way of challenging it. And so, at that point, I’m persuaded that what they are alleging is true. Now that’s not an act of the will because a persuasion is different than an act of the will.

And we have, I think, muddied the gospel waters considerably by telling people that they can decide to believe. Nobody can decide to believe. They can be persuaded.

And, therefore, that leaves a very significant area in which the Holy Spirit must operate. God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. God, in the final analysis, must persuade the heart. And, therefore, until a person has the divine illumination that amounts to persuasion, they will remain an unbeliever. And they can’t decide differently.

Now that’s not the same as saying man doesn’t have the capacity to believe—he does. But he does not have the capacity to believe the gospel without the assistance and ministry of the Holy Spirit. And I think that we need to keep that balance. Otherwise, we will think if I have led this person through the proper routine, or the proper prayer, or whatever technique I use, then that does it. If he has decided to do what I told him to do, then that does it. No, a man is not saved until he is persuaded that the gospel message is true.

Is Faith a Volitional Act?

Continuing with the questions posed to Professor Zane Hodges at the 2000 Grace Evangelical Society conference, the following question was asked after part two of his speech How to Lead People to Christ. A written, abridged version of the speech is available online in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society.
Question from the audience: Wouldn’t you also say that when a person believes, that it is not a volitional act? It’s not that they can decide to believe something. If a person is 99% sure of something, they have not believed it. They can’t make a decision to believe. When we use that nomenclature, we kind of confuse the issue as if … you know … I believe the chair will hold me, but I’m not certain. Therefore they don’t really believe. But it’s not a volitional act that they decide to believe something of which they don’t really hold to.
Answer from Professor Hodges: I agree with that 100%. I cannot decide to believe something that I’m not sure is true. And I’ve often used the illustration: If someone told me that Bob Wilkin is the biggest crook in Dallas, I can’t decide to believe that because I don’t believe that is true. There are bigger crooks. [Laughter from the audience].

Friday, August 11, 2006

Since the Gospel of John Includes the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Aren't They Necessary to be Understood for Saving Faith?

Here is another question and answer that followed Professor Zane Hodges' speech on How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1 at the Grace Evangelical Society’s 2000 conference.

Question from the audience: Zane, whatever problems lordship people had with you have just quadrupled after this presentation. I’m not sure that they won’t call a church council to discuss this.

It would seem that one of the retorts that you would get to your thesis today is that since the Gospel of John includes the entire life of Christ and since that life also included His death and resurrection (even alluded to earlier, “God gave His only begotten Son”), that even in John’s thinking, the concept of the cross was not something that was just contributory so that it became support for this minimum level of faith, but that John may have viewed it as necessary to be understood. That’s why those events were included in his Gospel. Therefore, if those events, the death and resurrection, are not included in the presentation, then the message that is to believed has not been fully communicated either. How would you respond to that?

Answer from Professor Hodges: Well I think I would say, first of all, that yes, John obviously presents a lot of material that is supportive of his call to faith in Christ. But, also, against this is the fact that he makes it clear that people did believe in Him without understanding these realities.

What I have said today is basically that the full gospel message is an effective and by far the best tool to bring people to faith in Christ. But if we are asking the theological question, “What is the bare minimum that a person could believe and still be born again?” then I think the Gospel of John would support the idea that the person who believes in Jesus Christ for eternal life is the person who is saved.

I admit the lordship people might have some problems with me, but all I can say is I’ve got a few with them. [Tape 1 ends at this point].

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Should We Focus on What a Person Trusts Jesus For—Eternal Life?

Following is another question and answer that followed Professor Zane Hodges' speech on How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1 at the Grace Evangelical Society’s 2000 conference.
Question from the Audience: In our society the name Jesus means all kinds of things. In your clarifying talk with the person brought up in a previous question (see Question and Answer – Pt. 3) who was confused about the identity of Jesus, wouldn’t you focus not so much on Who is this Jesus, but, rather, that He is the only means of salvation, and that it is a matter of placing my trust in Him alone and not in Him and my followings of this, that, or the other thing, or my walk on the Buddha life, or whatever? So wouldn’t you focus on what it is that we’re trusting Him for, and we’re trusting Him for eternal life solely?

Answer from Professor Hodges: Yes. I would agree with what you said. I would take the Gospel of John and try to introduce him to the real Jesus from the Gospel of John. We have to remember that what I was talking about (and this is not really an answer to your question but to a question that may be floating around here) … we have to remember that what we were talking about just now is the bare minimum which it is absolutely necessary to believe. But very few people get saved by believing a bare minimum. Most people have more information than the bare minimum suggests.

And certainly the Gospel of John gives us more information than the bare minimum, although we can conclude from the Gospel of John what the bare minimum actually is. But the whole Gospel of John is designed to present a Person who is not only worthy of our trust but has every right to demand it. So if I find obscurity in people, and they’re having trouble trusting Jesus, then I want to give them everything I can give them from the Bible to invite their trust in Him. That’s why the Gospel serves. That’s why the truth of the Person of Christ serves.

But we’re not talking about the salvation of loads and loads of people on bare minimal theology. But if we don’t get our focus clear (that was my point today) … if we don’t get our focus clear, and we don’t focus on what the core of what we’re driving for is, we will make confused presentations, and we’ll introduce auxiliary conditions and all the rest of it. Thanks for a good question.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

How Much of a Sense of Sinfulness Does a Person Need?

Question from the audience: This may be a unique problem to me, but I doubt it. Where I live and minister, the people do not have a very strong sense of their sinfulness. And in your presentation, I was looking for that, and I’m not disappointed that I didn’t hear it, but how much of a sense of man’s sinfulness does one need? Now you mentioned the terms salvation and savior. Are we to assume that people are going to naturally know that they are sinners, that there is a rift between them and God? How do you handle this when you’re presenting the gospel?

Answer from Professor Hodges: That’s an excellent question. And the way I would want to answer that is this: In saying that you trust Jesus as the One who guarantees your eternal life, that implies that you need someone to guarantee it. If you came to Jesus and thought, “I don’t really need anybody, not even Jesus, to guarantee my eternal future,” then obviously you couldn’t trust Him to guarantee your eternal future.

So this gets us off what I think is a terrible and misleading dilemma that sometimes occurs in the evangelical movement – how sinful must we think we are before we can believe in Christ? Well if I know that somehow or other I need somebody besides myself to guarantee my eternal well-being, then I have the grounds for believing in Christ.

But in America, as we know, this is not a very major problem. You don’t need to talk to most Americans very long before they will acknowledge that they are sinners. And most people have, because of the near-Christian culture that we have in our society, something of a fear of the future precisely because they know that they are not everything that they ought to be. But when you get, let’s say, to the experience of a little child, how deep must a child’s conscience be of sin before he can trust Christ? If the child is able to say, “I’m going to believe in Jesus to take me to heaven,” that’s enough, regardless of the degree of the child’s sense of sin.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Does a Person Believe in a Person apart from Propositions about that Person?

Here's another question from the audience for Professor Hodges following the conference speech:

Question from the audience: I thought I previously heard you say that you can’t believe in a person apart from a proposition about that person, as in Gordon Clark’s writings. But now, was I hearing you say a person can believe in a person without believing in a proposition about that person?

Answer from Professor Hodges: No, you did not hear me say that. You’re very alert to have raised that question because, if you will notice, what I was saying all the way through here is that the person is believing that Jesus guarantees their eternal salvation. So, that’s the proposition they believe, but they’re focusing on the Person who guarantees that and not the auxiliary truths which support it. So, at least in my own mind, I’m free from contradiction there.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Is there a Minimum that People Must Understand about His Person?

Here is another question from the audience following Professor Hodges' speech on How to Lead People to Christ, Pt. 1:
Question from the audience: I just wanted some clarification on … I’m still a little bit unclear on what a person needs to know about Jesus, especially in light of new age religions today and confusion. Say someone believed or thought that Jesus was equated with Buddha, but yet named the name of Jesus but did not understand Who He was in light of Biblical truth. Is there a minimum that people must understand as far as His Person is concerned?

Answer from Professor Hodges: That’s a very good question, and I’m very thankful that I don’t have to make all the refined decisions that are related here. Quite obviously there are concepts of Jesus that move away from any kind of Biblical presentation of Him. I am aware of a movement that finds in Jesus just simply another manifestation of the same phenomenon that we found in Buddha and all the great mystics, that sort of thing. And so my first question is, Is somebody who believes that way, is he going to really believe in the exclusive claims of Jesus? But suppose he does. Then I’m going to leave it to God to decide whether he had his focus on Jesus, or if he was believing in Jesus/Buddha (somebody else). That is something I, frankly, would not even venture to try to decide because really God knows the heart of each individual who believes. The bottom line is, if the Jesus whom we are focusing our faith on is the Jesus of the Bible, that’s the Person we’re talking about, we’re trusting Him for the provision the Bible says He makes for the believer, that’s the person who’s saved. But I am going to admit there are cloudy areas here that God alone will be able to penetrate.

Question from the audience: So talking to an individual who had some beliefs such as this, would you try to clarify or give them assurance of salvation?

Answer from Professor Hodges: I would definitely try to clarify. Absolutely.

Friday, June 30, 2006

What If They Deny the Deity of Christ?

Here is another question and answer that followed the speech given by Zane Hodges.

Question from the audience: Professor Hodges, what about a person like a Jehovah’s Witness who comes by and willfully and aggressively denies the Deity of Christ? Would that person be saved in light of the purpose statement of the Gospel of John—“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”? It seems as though they’ve recreated Christ in an image that they want to present Him, and they’re believing in something that John did not present. How would you handle that?

Answer from Professor Hodges: I don’t think that there are very many Jehovah’s Witnesses who have believed that Jesus is the Guarantor of eternal life to every believer. I don’t think that that is a part of their theology.

Question from the audience: Well what about anyone who would aggressively deny the Deity of Christ, not misunderstand, but deny it? Would that person be believing in the Jesus of John 6?

Answer from Professor Hodges: My only question about a person like this, Was there ever a time when, in the simplicity of faith, they trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life? If the answer to that is, Yes, there was such a time, then they are still saved even though they may have veered widely off the track. I still would say, however, and this is a guess, but I doubt if there are very many Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on our doors who were at one time saved, but there may be some of them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What Must a Person Know About Who Jesus Is?

The Deserted Island Scenario post below was actually part of a speech given by Professor Zane Hodges in 2000 at a Grace Evangelical Society conference. Following the speech there was a question and answer session with the audience. Below is a question that was raised. As time permits, other questions and answers will be posted. The questions and answers are transcribed from a tape of the speech. Contact the Grace Evangelical Society if you are interested in a copy of the 2 tape series--"How to Lead People to Christ."

Question from the audience: Zane, I think it has been very helpful for you to provoke us to think through how we present the gospel and the content of it. And maybe this is just a point of clarification coming from your opening example (the guy on the beach). Wouldn’t someone need to know something about Jesus, Who He is and His identity, apart from just that five letter name? And isn’t that, in fact, what John does with his gospel? He didn’t write just John 6:43-47. He wrote all 21 chapters, and that’s what he’s trying to communicate—Who Jesus is.

Answer from Professor Hodges: There’s no question that John is giving us a lot of information about Who Jesus is. But the issue that I’m raising is basically the issue of the core minimum which is necessary for salvation. The first question is, Is the Jesus mentioned in John chapter 6 the Jesus who really offers eternal life? The answer to that question is, Yes. And, therefore, if the person believes that this Jesus will indeed do what He has promised to do, he has believed the promise of the Word.

Now, I think what you’re really thinking is, Is it likely that a person with that minimal type of information about Jesus would exercise faith in Him on the basis of that fragmentary verse? I will admit to you, that’s not very likely. And that’s why we try to present the Person of Christ, the work of Christ. What we’re really doing is painting a portrait of Jesus that invites men increasingly to believe in Him.

So in my illustration about Sam, Sam comes up to me and he offers to meet my financial need. And maybe I don’t know a single thing about Sam, but Sam sounds honest to me, and for some reason or another I trust him. But that’s probably not going to happen too often. Maybe I’m even a little gullible there. But if I find out that Sam has enormous resources, that would certainly enhance the offer that he makes to me. But I think the basic issue is, Is the Jesus being referred to in John 6:43 the Jesus who does indeed fulfill His promises? And the answer to that question is, Yes.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Deserted Island Scenario

The following has been excerpted from the article, How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1. The article in its entirety is located at the following url:
The article is written by Zane Hodges.

[Begin Excerpt]
Let me begin with a strange scenario. Try to imagine an unsaved person marooned on a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He has never heard about Christianity in his life. One day a wave washes a fragment of paper up onto the beach. It is wet but still partly readable.
On that paper are the words of John 6:43-47. But the only readable portions are: “Jesus therefore answered and said to them” (v 43) and “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (v 47).
Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future, since He promises everlasting life. In other words, he believes Jesus’ words in John 6:47. Is he saved?
I suspect that there are some grace people who would say that this man is not saved because he doesn’t know enough. For example, he doesn’t know that Jesus died for his sins on the cross and rose again the third day. Needless to say, there is a lot more he doesn’t know either, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal Sonship of Jesus or the doctrine of the virgin birth.
But why is he not saved if he believes the promise of Jesus’ words? It is precisely the ability of Jesus to guarantee eternal life that makes Him the Christ in the Johannine sense of that term. Our Lord’s exchange with Martha in John 11:25-27 demonstrates this clearly.
You remember it, don’t you? “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26). Her reply is a declaration that she believes Him to be the Christ. Martha said, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (11:27).
Notice here that to believe that Jesus is the Christ means to believe that He guarantees resurrection and eternal life to every believer. But now let us look at John 4. In that famous passage we have the Samaritans saying to the woman who had encountered Jesus, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
Observe that the common denominator to both passages is the term “Christ.” On Martha’s lips He is “the Christ, the Son of God,” and on the lips of the Samaritans He is “the Christ, the Savior of the world.” This is not an accidental or insignificant difference.
In Jewish prophecy and theology the promised Christ was also the Son of God—that is, He was to be a divine person. Recall the words of Isaiah: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6-7). But in Samaritan theology, the Messiah was thought of as a prophet and the woman at the well is led to faith through our Lord’s prophetic ability to know her life. Her words, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (4:19) are a first step in the direction of recognizing Him as the Christ. There is no evidence that she or the other Samaritans understood the deity of our Lord.
But they did believe that he was the Christ. And John tells us in his first epistle that “whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (5:1)! A full theology of His person is not necessary to salvation. If we believe that Jesus is the One who guarantees our eternal destiny, we have believed all we absolutely have to believe in order to be saved.
Years ago, as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I washed dishes in the dining hall to pay for my meals. Often after I had finished this chore I hung around and talked theology with another student who swept up the kitchen every night. One night this student made a statement to me that I have never forgotten. He said something like this, “I know that I trusted Christ for salvation before I realized that Jesus was the Son of God.” I was surprised because I had never heard anyone say this before.
But I did not quarrel with that statement then, nor would I quarrel with it now. It is the name of Jesus that brings salvation whenever anyone believes in that name as his or her sure hope of eternal well-being. We are not saved by believing a series of theological propositions, however true and important they may be. We are saved by believing in Jesus.
That’s why the man on the deserted island can get saved with only the barest minimum of information. When he believes John 6:47 he is believing in Jesus as the Christ.
[End Excerpt]
Question for discussion: Can a person who has never heard about Christianity in his or her life come to a saving faith in Christ simply by reading and believing the following section of John 6:43-47? Why or why not?

Jesus therefore answered and said to them,... "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life."