This is a continuation of the series by Ron Shea (Th. M.; J.D.). If this is your first view of the series I invite you to read Part 1 of the series and then return to the second and final installment.
From my seminary days I can still recall Hodges’ vivid illustration in his class on Hebrews . . . “How shall we escape if we neglect . . . if we . . . DRIFT AWAY!” Zane’s imagery was stark. Passing a buoy on the ocean, there is no perception of movement, as on a river. The ocean is a uniform body with no apparent relative motion. But ignore the buoy for 20 minutes, and look back for it, and you find that you have drifted far of your marker. The message was that it can happen to any of us. I was so overwhelmed by his imagery; I have always prayed that after running the race, I would not be disqualified.
Little was I to imagine it was my beloved instructor who was drifting, and who, for his own reasons, never looked back over his shoulder to see where the buoy was. And when he was finally told that the buoy was three miles northwest, he no longer saw it as a marker near a parcel of solid ground. It was only a milestone of progress, as Zane advanced in his wobbly way toward some strange new doctrine. It was the Christ of Jackson Pollack and Salvador Dali. The “upper story” Christ described by Francis Schaffer. It was a Jesus that could be filled with emotions or doctrine, or any other baggage one sought to bring to it. An inflatable rubber man. Stuff him with what you will. Make his ears big, or is feet long. Stuff him with hay, or fill him with air. As long as the nametag says “Jesus,” it’s all the same. Were this the only error, it would be a tragedy. But suddenly, not only the cross of Christ is miles behind us in the rear view window, so is grace.
To appreciate how this came about, it is important to reconstruct Hodges on the concept of Repentance.
Grace, my friend, is not the SUGGESTION that eternal life be offered freely and received freely. It is the demand. If it is not received freely, it is not grace. The promise is made void. And throughout Scripture, in many different forms, the word "Repent" demands of those who believe in salvation by works . . . who believe in salvation by self righteousness . . . that they must change their mind. They must come to regard their works as incapable of earning, or even contributing to their eternal life. Grace is not the preferred route to justification and eternal life, it is the only way. “For if it is by grace, than is it no more of works.”
Man is not the co-savior of his eternal soul. If Christ, and Christ alone, is not one’s Savior, one has no Savior. Although faith makes an affirmative statement of man’s response, it is repentance that proclaims that faith in Christ, may not be sullied with the prideful addition of man’s works. Salvation is not an amalgamation of Christ plus works. It is through Christ alone. Repentance teaches us that the message of grace is not a suggestion. It is a demand.
And now we come to the great circular logic of Zane Hodges, former heir apparent of the Free Grace mantel . . . “John doesn’t teach repentance to be saved, and John is sufficient for salvation, therefore, repentance is not needed for salvation.” Hmmmmm? Does that depend, perhaps . . . on your definition of “repent?”
Hodges has come to believe, against the full body of Greek literature, that repentance is turning from one’s sins. There are nuances where honest theologians can disagree. This is not one of them. The belief that repentance somehow takes sin as its automatic object is indefensible from Greek. It is bluntly contradicted by a mass of secular literature as well as Scriptural usage.
Because Hodges has retained his commitment against Lordship Salvation, the only way he is able to teach a Reformed definition of repentance (a turning from sin) while preserving grace is to claim that “repentance” is never presented as a requirement for salvation in the New Testament.
However, an impartial estimate would identify 36 separate occasions in which repentance is presented as a requirement, or cause of eternal salvation. Matthew 3:2; Matthew 3:8; 3:11; 9:13, 11:20; 11:21; 21:19; 21:32; Mark 1:4, 1:15; 2:17; 6:12; Luke 3:3; 3:8; 5:32; 10:13; 11:32; 13:3, 5; 15:7; 16:30; 24:7; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21; 26:20 (2x); Romans 2:4; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Peter 3:9. These passages are identified with no theological agenda other than the most likely meaning suggested (or demanded) by the context.
For Hodges position to be sustainable, he must be able to demonstrate by the preponderance of the evidence that NONE of these passages are directed to the question of eternal salvation. Five verses would require exegetical gymnastics. Thirty six requires an exegetical contortionist. And it clearly requires an agenda . . . reaching the conclusion, and then hammering the Scriptures to fit that conclusion.
The argument that John never speaks of “repentance” is akin to the argument that the rapture is not a biblical doctrine because the word “rapture” is not in the Bible. That is indeed true. But the question is more accurately “is the doctrine of the rapture taught in the Bible?” I have found, in my experience with the one-verse Willies of this world, that this question does not cut any ice. So now, I simply ask, “well how would you translate ‘deharpadzo’?” (“deharpadzo” in 1 Thess. 4:17 is translated “caught up” but could equally be translated “rapture.” They mean the same thing.)
The word “Jesus” has been lofted into the existentialists’ upper story where it has been reduced to whatever meaningless appellation the subjective observer would ascribe to it. In quite the opposite fashion, the word repentance has been hammered into a preconceived mold and nailed in place. It is no longer the concepts that matter, but hollow words devoid of content.
The repentance of Zane Hodges is essentially the same meaning as used in Reformed circles . . . repentance is a turning from sin. Hodges escapes from any taint of Lordship Salvation by claiming that the word “repent” is never used as a requirement for salvation, a dubious claim at best.
But more to the point, grace is not a suggestion that man may accept eternal life as a gift. Grace is the only way that man can be saved.
In the 20th century, Free Grace theologians have systematically identified doctrines incompatible with the doctrine of Grace, salvation by water baptism, salvation by morality, salvation by religion, etc. The motivation of these many works was one thing and one thing only: To preserve the doctrine of grace from the pollution of man's self righteousness.
But what would Hodges now say to one who trusted in Christ plus baptism? Who trusted that, together with Jesus, the fact that they had been a virgin until their wedding night was the basis on which they had gained God’s acceptance. The person who believes their sins are washes away in sacerdotal acts of penance, nine first-Fridays, etc. What answer does Hodges have for such men? They are no longer required to repent of these works, because that is not the meaning of repentance in Hodges new system.
And so we ask again: If someone believes in Jesus, but also believes other things are necessary for eternal salvation, what must he do? In historic Free Grace circles, the “promise is made void,” (Romans 4:14, “grace is no more grace” (Romans 11:6-7), and “Christ is become of none effect unto you who would be justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace.” (Gal. 5:1-4)
If Hodges makes an affirmative demand that such person renounce faith in their works, Hodges is teaching repentance whether or not he uses the word.
However, if Hodges no affirmative demand on such a person other than “to believe on Jesus” (a fact which the example has already stipulated), than grace is no longer the only way, but the preferred way of salvation.
And the man who would have been the elder statesman of the free-grace movement no longer sees the defense of Grace as critical, but only preferable. He is become a post-modernist deconstructionist movements of the 20th century. An heir to the linguistic absurdities of Witgenstein, who wrote many books and used many words to prove that words are too ambiguous to mean anything.
In my Gospel Booklet I have listed four elements as essentials to a saving profession of faith in Christ. They are:
1) The Deity of Christ,
2) The atoning work of Christ,
3) The Resurrection of Christ, and
4) The offer of salvation EXCLUSIVELY through grace
None are left standing in the gospel of Zane Hodges. It is as if, after a life time of defending these doctrines, he forgot why he had mounted his steed for battle. After many years, he jousted with windmills with great skill and aplomb, but when called to defend his King, he was last seen on his mount 100 miles North West of the castle, riding after some imaginary grail.
“Professor Hodges, If someone is trusting in Christ plus works do they need to repent of their works?”
Hodges: “It is not by Faith plus repentance, it is faith alone.”“Well, Professor Hodges, what is repentance?”
Hodges: “Why it’s turning from your wicked ways!”Do you start to see you are arguing in a circle? And you will never make a whit of progress. But do you also see that if a man need no longer repent of his dead works to be saved, then the head of the Free Grace movement is no longer teaching grace! With Hodges you can come as you are! Ten Commandments, circumcision, nine consecutive first Fridays, etc. As long as you have Jesus, the rest is OK. Is this a defense of grace? Is this a defense of faith alone? It is universalism. It is existentialism. It is deconstructionism. Jesus is whatever you want Him to be. And faith can be in Jesus and anything else you chose to believe in. Just make sure that none of you, FOR EVEN ONE SECOND, EVER CONCEDE EVEN FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT THAT THE MEN 9 IN THE GES) WHO FOLLOW AFTER THE TEACHING OF HODGES ARE ANOTHER MOVEMENT WTIHIN THE FREE GRACE CAMP.
THEY ARE HERETICS, NOT COUSINS. AND THE DAY WE CEDE THE BATTLE, AND ACKNOWLEDGE THEM AS A VALID BRANCH OF THE FREE GRACE MOVEMENT, WE HAVE CAST OUR LOT IN WITH THE HERETICS, AND PLACE OURSELVES UNDER PAUL’S CURSE IN GALATIANS.
Their view is not another flavor. Their view is not an alternative interpretation. Hodges and the GES are not in mild error between the division of labors of elders and deacons. They have abandoned the faith by clever arguments. And they are heretics. Stand Firm my friends!
As the Japanese train began to cross the bridge, a moment of clarity came across Guinness. He realize in trying to demonstrate the character and integrity of the British Soldier, he had lost sight of the greater goal, to prevail in war over our enemies. In an act of redemption, Guinness falls on the detonating charger, blowing up the bridge as he is shot to death by the Japanese prison guards who trusted him.
Each of us has the capacity to lose sight of the big picture and, incrementally get turned around in the fog of battle until we are in fact serving the enemy. This is why Paul commanded is to “walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
Let us pray for the restoration of our brothers. Let us pray that self righteousness never becomes part of the controversy. This would erect a barrier that would abase their personal dignity and prevent their return. And let us pray that we are never caught in the deception of the wicked one, turned about in the confusion of battle until we find our labors advancing the cause of the enemy.