Recently GES Board Chairman Brad Doskocil alerted me to two articles on repentance, by two people who self-identify as Free Grace.i They suggest that Church History shows that repentance has been widely understood as a change of mind or a change of heartii.
I argued in my doctoral dissertation that in forty-four verses, repentance in the NT is a change of mind concerning our sins.iii In those contexts, I suggested that repentance was a reasonable translation.
In eleven NT passages, I thought that repentance is a change of mind concerning Christ. In other words, it is a synonym for faith in Christ in those eleven texts. What made me believe that those passages had a different object of the change of mind was because I thought the contexts were dealing with what one must do to escape eternal condemnation or to enter Jesus’ kingdom.
That view was called the change of mind view. It was held by Lewis Sperry Chafer, J. Vernon McGee, and Charles Ryrie.
In the articles Brad mentioned, the authors give a series of quotes from fifty-one church fathers, theologians, and lexicons which say that repentance is a change of mind (or a change of mind and heart). Unfortunately, the authors do not point out that half of those quotations concern a change of mind concerning one’s sins.
In their first article, they provide quotes from twenty-four people. Of those twenty-four, eight are ambiguous about what type of change of mind is meant.iv Sixteen of the twenty-four clearly reflect a change of mind about one’s sinful behavior.
Their second article looks at citations from twenty-seven more people. This time only nine indicate a change of mind about one’s sinful behavior. Most of the remaining eighteen authorsv make vague statements like this one from Dr. Charles Ryrie, “The word repent means, of course, to change one’s mind about something.”vi If the authors had given more of the context of these quotes, we’d have a better idea of what was meant.
To suggest that one must change his mind concerning his sins in order to be born again is to contradict the faith-alone message. Changing our minds about our sins is not a synonym for faith in Christ.
A dozen years after my dissertation, I repented of my change-of-mind-concerning-Christ view of repentance. I came to see that there are no passages that suggest that repentance is a change of mind about Christ or a condition of everlasting life. See my recent book: Turn and Live: The Power of Repentance. Or see my 1998 journal article.
The change-of-mind view, the view I once held, was not the view that repentance is a change of mind concerning sins. It was the view that in some contexts, repentance is a change of mind concerning Christ. The fact that these two articles do not distinguish between those two views is quite misleading.
The church fathers were not clear on the grace of God. They believed in and taught works salvation. So did about half of the fifty-one people cited (with most of the other half being unclear what one must change his mind about in order to saved).
In part 2 we will consider five of the fifty-one quotes these men cited. Those quotes do not reflect the Free Grace position. Instead, they reflect a works salvation or Lordship Salvation view of the saving message. And those five quotes are representative of half of the fifty-one.
ii In their first article, they mention a change of heart four times, once each in the introduction and conclusion by Bing, and twice in quotes by Tyndale and Fisher. In their second article, they mention a change of heart six times, once each by Bing in the introduction and conclusion, and four times in a quote by Weymouth. Therefore, only three of their fifty-one quotes suggest that repentance is a change of heart. If their quotes are any indication, very few pastors or scholars have called repentance a change of heart.
iii A dozen years later I came to believe that all fifty-five refer to a change of mind about one’s sins, that is, to turning from one’s sins, and that repentance never is found in an evangelistic context.
iv Those eight include Tertullian, Erasmus, Luther, Edwards, Clarke, Edersheim, JFB, and Bonar. The reason those quotes are ambiguous is because the authors did not provide enough context. For example, they quoted Bonar as writing, “The word repentance signifies in the Greek, ‘change of mind…’”
v The eighteen include Westcott, Moody, Carroll, Morgan, Newell, Pettingill, Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, McGee, Cocoris, Kendall, Keathley, Moyer, Zuck, TWB, Rhodes, and Stanley.
vi A few of the authors (i.e., Charles Stanley, J. Vernon McGee) are quoted as indicating that repentance is a change of mind about Christ.