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)