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.