We continue with Greg Schliesmann’s second installment from his series critiquing Zane Hodges’s The Hydra’s Other Head: Theological Legalism.
Lack of Exegetical Evidence to Date
In the Spring of 2007, the Grace Family Journal published an article by Tom Stegall titled The Tragedy of the “Crossless” Gospel that sounded the alarm against Hodges’s new message of salvation. The article introduced the issue that Hodges teaches a message of salvation that does not deem the cross or Deity of Christ as essential. The article demonstrated the novelty of Hodges teaching in light of the historical Free Grace position. Supporters of Hodges responded with indignation that a criticism was leveled prior to extensive exegesis.
The only exegetical attempt Hodges has made to support his “Crossless gospel” view was published by the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society in his articles How to Lead a Person to Christ, parts 1 and 2.
Hodges argued that a person could indeed receive eternal life through faith in Jesus without believing that Jesus is “the Son of God.” His foundational exegetical argument was based on the conversion of the Samaritans in John 4. His argument was exposed as negligent in my articles The Christ Under Siege, parts 1 and 2.
Ironically, Hodges and his followers who vehemently protested the label “Crossless gospel” given to their position before, they claimed, sufficient exegesis was provided by opponents of their position. It is hard not to notice Hodges’s hypocrisy.
More importantly, Hodges's article is full of incredible, sweeping claims about Scripture with absolutely no exegesis or serious biblical support or consideration of any kind. We will examine some of these claims later in this article.
How Do You Know the Content of Saving Faith?
Hodges raises the epistemological question, “how do you know?” in regards to what constitutes the content of saving faith. Hodges argues, “who determines which theological doctrines are necessary for eternal salvation? The Bible, we are told. Who then determines what the definitive list contains? The answer, of course, boils down to this: the theological legalist himself!”
Interestingly, Hodges uses the exact same epistemological argument often made by Roman Catholics against Protestants who uphold the sufficiency and ultimate authority of Scripture. Catholics apologists use the argument in regards to knowing the canon of Scripture, interpretation of passages, and doctrines. And just like the Roman Catholics, Hodges raises a question he really cannot solve himself. In fact, as we will see, Hodges unwittingly exalts himself as a sort of authority apart from whom the Church would have never discovered the saving message!
The very premise that “all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine” warrants the consideration of “all Scripture” when examining any spiritual question. Paul wrote to Timothy:
“...that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” 2Timothy 3:15-17
Whatever view we hold should be harmonious with the sum of Scripture. If it does not, we must be willing to allow Scripture to correct our view.
In fact, few Biblical doctrines could be substantiated or entirely defined if we were confined to defining them based solely upon a “single space” in Scripture. Does that mean all such doctrines run into the same epistemological problem? Does Hodges also believe we cannot “know” the doctrine of the Trinity because it is not defined in a single space? I am not claiming the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for salvation; but why would there be an epistemological difference in defining a Biblical doctrine that is not necessary for salvation from one that is?
Furthermore, where does the Bible state that the contents of saving faith must be specifically enumerated in a single space? If it does not state that, how do we know such a standard exists? For that matter, where do we find Hodges’s view enumerated in a single space? We are told John 6:47 or 11:25-27, for example. However, both of these verses describe the result of believing in Christ, but neither of them in themselves describe the necessary content of believing in Christ. In fact, John 6:47 does not even mention the name “Jesus,” which Crossless gospel advocates actually insist is a necessary component. Nor does John 6:47 by itself prove “everlasting life” defines the content of belief in Christ rather than simply the result. The Crossless gospel advocate then resorts to the very procedure he condemns: combining verses, or worse yet, giving further explanation to a verse.
Hodges’s contention that the contents of saving faith must be fully defined in a single space imposes an extra-Biblical standard. That’s actually legalism. At the very least, Hodges is condemned by the same standard he imposes on others. The Bible does not tell us the contents of saving faith must be detailed in a single space nor does it tell us what space that is. So how does Hodges know what space that is? The answer boils down to this: Hodges himself! As a matter of fact, Hodges may very well be the very first person in Church history to conclude: 1) the content of saving faith is completely detailed in a single verse; or 2) that verse is John 6:47. If the legitimacy of Hodges’s epistemological approach is so self-evident, then why is Hodges the first person in 1900 years of Church history to reach this conclusion?
When Hodges claims to have found the saving message detailed in a single space, he actually ignores multitudes of verses both inside and outside the Gospel of John.
For example, Paul claims he was commissioned to preach “the gospel” (1Cor. 1:17), which is “the message of the cross” (1Cor. 1:18), which is the same message the lost must believe in order to be saved (1Cor. 1:18, 21).
It is difficult to see how this single passage, as one example, does not contradict everything Hodges has argued. It should raise a red flag that perhaps his underlying assumptions are wrong.
We do not solve the epistemological question by casting off dozens of verses that clearly state the lost must believe “the Gospel” to be saved (see my article on The Technical Meaning of the term, “THE GOSPEL.”)
When one notices descriptions of “the Gospel” (e.g. 1Cor. 1:17-23; 15:1-4; 2Cor. 4:3-4; Gal. 1:6-9; 2:16, 21; Rom. 1:1-4, 16; 10:16); statements that identify the true object of faith (1John 4:3; 5:5-6) as opposed to a false Jesus Christ (cf. 2Cor. 11:6;) and statements about what the lost must believe to be saved (e.g. John 6:53; 8:24; Acts 13:40; 1Corinthians 1:17-23; Rom. 4:4-5; 24-25; 10:9; 2Thes. 1:8), he will notice the consistency on the fact that the message of salvation centers on the Person of Jesus Christ--namely His identity as the “Son of God” incarnate--and the accomplishment of Jesus Christ on the cross--namely that He died for our sins and rose again so that salvation is guaranteed through faith in Him alone.
Many Scriptural points could be added that confirm this same message. The fact of the Bible’s consistency on this matter and the way in which these verses harmonize with each other happens to reflect itself in the general unity throughout history among the normal Free Grace position and historical grace-oriented position about what constitutes the Gospel.
Believers can take heart. The Bible is not an endless maze. It is a fixed revelation, which God limited to the exact truth He wanted us to know (Deuteronomy 29:29). To suggest a truth cannot be known unless it is limited to a “single space” within Scripture is truly a faithless position.
 For an example of the same epistemological argument used by a Catholic apologist, see “The Practical Problems of Sola Scriptura”
 Hodges, “How to Lead a Person to Christ, Part 1: The Content of our Message,” JOTGES (Autumn 2000):
 John 6:47 states “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” “Everlasting life” is the result of believing in Jesus, but it cannot be logically proven that this verse makes it part of the content of saving faith. The same logical reasoning, which confuses the result with the condition, would then require “rivers of living water” (i.e. “The Holy Spirit”) to be essential to the content of saving faith in John 7:37-39 and not abiding in darkness essential to the content of saving faith in John 12:46. If everlasting life is part of the essential content of saving faith, it must be shown in combination with other verses.
Greg Schliesmann’s critique of Hodges’s polarizing Hydra’s Head article continues in Part 3 of his series.