Dear Guests of IDOTG:
We continue with the second installment of Brother Bob Nyberg’s series, The Free Grace Fracture. See- Part 1 of the series.
In 2000, Zane Hodges wrote an article entitled, “How to Lead a Person to Christ, Part 1: The Content of our Message.”6 The article appeared in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society. In this article Zane presents a “Deserted Island Scenario.” He wrote:
Let me begin with a strange scenario. Try to imagine an unsaved person marooned on a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He has never heard about Christianity in his life. One day a wave washes a fragment of paper up onto the beach. It is wet but still partly readable.Is it necessary to believe in Christ’s work on the cross in order to be saved? Zane says, “no!” He continues:
On that paper are the words of John 6:43-47. But the only readable portions are: “Jesus therefore answered and said to them” (v 43) and “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (v 47).
Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future, since He promises everlasting life. In other words, he believes Jesus’ words in John 6:47. Is he saved?
I suspect that there are some grace people who would say that this man is not saved because he doesn’t know enough. For example, he doesn’t know that Jesus died for his sins on the cross and rose again the third day. Needless to say, there is a lot more he doesn’t know either, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal Sonship of Jesus or the doctrine of the virgin birth.
But why is he not saved if he believes the promise of Jesus’ words? It is precisely the ability of Jesus to guarantee eternal life that makes Him the Christ in the Johannine sense of that term.
The Gospel of John is the only book in our New Testament canon that explicitly declares its purpose to be evangelistic. Of course, I am thinking of the famous theme statement found in John 20:30-31, where we read: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”According to Zane, the core issue is not the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross for sin. The core issue is that mankind lacks eternal life and they need to believe that Jesus guarantees their eternal destiny.
This statement does not affirm the necessity of believing in our Lord’s substitutionary atonement. If by the time of the writing of John’s Gospel, it was actually necessary to believe this, then it would have been not only simple, but essential, to say so….
Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the Gospel of John teach that a person must understand the cross to be saved. It just does not teach this. If we say that it does, we are reading something into the text and not reading something out of it!
What is my point? That we should not preach the cross of Christ to men? Not at all.… Instead, I am arguing that we need to focus on the core issue in bringing men and women to faith and eternal life. What is that core issue?
Very simply it is this: We want people to believe that Jesus guarantees their eternal destiny. Of course, we would like them to believe a lot more than this, but this at least must be believed. Our failure to clearly define our goal in evangelism can have a negative or impeding effect on our efforts to lead people to simple faith in Christ.
Remember that repentance is not a requirement for salvation in Hodges view. But Ryrie and Lightner insist that the lost sinner needs to change their mind about sin, and their own ability to deal with the sin problem. The issue is the fact that I cannot save myself and therefore I need to have a Savior. I need to place my trust in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. But according to Hodges, sin is not the issue and repentance is not required. The core issue, to Hodges, is not lack of a right standing before a holy God. Instead the core issue is that lost mankind needs eternal life.
Hodges goes on to explain:
In the final analysis, therefore, salvation is the result of believing in Jesus to provide it. Salvation is not the result of assenting to a detailed creed. Salvation does not even require an understanding of how it was provided for or made possible. All it requires is that the sinner understand the sufficiency of the name of Jesus to guarantee the eternal well-being of every believer.Does that mean that we should not preach the message of the cross? Absolutely not! Hodges maintains that we should indeed preach the cross of Christ. He explains:
In the light of what we have just said, should we preach the cross of Christ? The answer to that is emphatically yes. And the most obvious reason for doing so is that this is what Paul and the other Apostles did.Why preach the cross? Because it helps to bring men to faith. According to Hodges, preaching the cross demonstrates that Christ is trustworthy. However, (according to Hodges & GES) it is not faith in Christ’s work on the cross that saves. It’s only faith in the Christ who promised eternal life that saves.
Why should men trust Christ for eternal life? The gospel gives us the wonderful answer. They should do so because Jesus has bought their salvation at the cost of His own precious blood….
The preaching of the cross greatly facilitates the process of bringing men to faith in God’s Son.
In Hodge’s view, preaching the cross is helpful, but it is not absolutely essential since a person can be saved without believing in Christ’s substitutionary death.
When you buy a car, some equipment is optional like a sun roof. Some equipment comes standard like the engine. In my opinion, the minimalist view of the gospel treats the cross as optional equipment. It’s helpful, but not absolutely necessary. In the traditional view of free grace theology, the cross is standard equipment. The package just won’t work without the centrality of the cross as being the heart of the gospel message. The cross is the engine that gives power to the message. Or as Paul wrote, the gospel of Christ (which includes the message of the cross) is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. Paul also wrote:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified…’” (1 Cor. 1:17-23).Hodges began with the idea that repentance is not necessary for salvation. If sin is not an issue, or barrier to being saved, then what is? It’s the fact that mortal man does not possess eternal life. Zane simply followed his own reasoning to a so-called “logical end.”
As you explore the differences between free grace theologians, many more contrasts begin to stand out. It’s not simply an issue of whether or not repentance is a requirement for salvation.
Please continue to Part 3 of this series. You will find there a chart that compares and contrasts the Ryrie/Lighter Free Grace theology over against the Hodges, Wilkin, GES “ReDefined” reductionist interpretation of the content of saving faith.