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.