Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Sawyer / Johnson Dialogue - Part 3

Please see the introductory paragraph to Part 1 of this series for an explanation of the literary license taken in formatting this dialogue. The view of James 2 being discussed is found in Zane Hodges' commentary on the Epistle of James. For those who are unfamiliar with Professor Hodges' view of James 2:14-26, Dr. Thomas Constable, Department Chairman and Senior Professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, espouses a similar view in his notes on James 2, which can be found online here.

Phil (beginning his critique of Hodges’ view of James 2): 1. Hodges hasn’t “proved” anything. He’s making a far-fetched argument driven by his own incorrigible theological conclusions. In other words, Hodges’ interpretation of James 2 is impelled by the need to explain away one of the key passages that refutes his whole soteriological system.

2. James is expressly arguing that dead faith is non-saving faith. He opens the section (v. 14) by asking the question “Can that faith [without works] save”? and his answer is that faith devoid of works is by definition powerless, useless, and ineffectual—“dead.” Of course, that’s the very thing Hodges denies, so he has to redefine the key elements of James’s argument (embodied in the words save and dead.) Note: Hodges’ re-interpretation of James makes no sense whatsoever without his deliberate equivocation on the meaning of the word “save.”

Jodie: You seem to come at this from two different angles. Hodges in fact very much insists that James is teaching “that faith devoid of works is by definition powerless, useless, and ineffectual—“dead” to use your own language.

Phil: Yeah, right. Except for the fact that Hodges’ whole point is that he thinks such “faith” is a sufficient instrument for justification.

Jodie: Phil, this absolutely sums up your inability to get beyond your own paradigm. Hodges does not argue that James is teaching this. Justifying faith is simply not the topic James is on. Justifying faith is not what James is discussing! The faith he is speaking of is here and now faith.

1:5-6 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

2:16-17 “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

5:7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.

5:15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.

5:17-18 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.

Here and now faith! But obviously this may be an area we’ll continue to disagree on!

And yes, his argument on James, and the entire controversy over the gospel, does focus on the fact that the NT writers didn’t use the word “save” and “salvation” as the terms of art that Christian theologians and modern evangelicals do. When we see the words deliver and deliverance we don’t immediately assume the topic is eternal deliverance, and yet with the words save and salvation we tend to do just that. This has been a big mistake. The NT writers, steeped in the OT Scriptures, were quick to think of salvation as being from various threats: eternal condemnation, temporal sin, God’s temporal wrath, and yes, the physical threat of death, as is seen throughout Proverbs and Psalms.
(To Be Continued - DV)