Truth Aflame is a Charismatic and Evangelical systematic theology written by Larry Hart, who is professor of theology at Oral Roberts University. I have the first edition. There is a second available here.
I was skimming through what he wrote about faith.
Hart starts off well:
“It is through faith alone—faith plus nothing—that we are saved” (p. 363).
That is a very clear statement, isn’t it? What is the one condition of salvation? Faith alone. Faith plus nothing. That’s exactly right. Unfortunately, in the very next sentence, Hart rejects that we are saved by faith plus nothing:
“To be sure, this is a Spirit-enabled faith, as well as a faith conjoined with a Spirit-enabled repentance. It is also (as we shall see later) a faith that sanctifies—a ‘live’ faith inevitably accompanied by good works. But it is nevertheless faith alone that brings salvation” (p. 363).
Notice how he starts off the sentence “To be sure…” He wants to offer a qualification. He then tells us that we are not saved by faith plus nothing, but by faith plus two other things.
First, you need repentance. Faith is “conjoined” to repentance. Conjoined twins are two babies who are physically connected. Hart is saying that faith and repentance are joined together. Genuine faith is joined to repentance. If you don’t have repentance, then you don’t have saving faith. In other words, we are not saved by faith alone, faith plus nothing, but by faith plus repentance.
Second, you need a faith that is “inevitably accompanied by good works.” The word “inevitably” means “certainly” or “necessarily” or “unavoidably.” Saving faith does good works. If you don’t have good works, in Hart’s view, you don’t have saving faith. If that is correct, then we are not justified by faith plus nothing, but by faith that inevitably produces good works. Hart is clearly teaching a form of works salvation.
What, then, is the truth? Let me be absolutely clear. Faith does not require works to be saving. Faith does not require repentance to be saving. The truth is, Hart’s first statement was correct—you really are saved through faith plus nothing.
Hart goes on to articulate a common error about the difference between faith and saving faith:
“Faith as described in Scripture, Luther pointed out, is not merely giving credence to the historical facts of the gospel story. It is believing that Christ came to save us personally” (p. 363).
I agree, but that’s not how I would put it.
I would say that faith is giving credence to historical facts. But saving faith depends on which facts you believe. For example, it is a fact that Solomon was king over Israel. You should believe that, but you won’t be saved by believing that. By contrast, it is also a fact that Jesus gives eternal life to believers. You should believe that fact, and if you do, you will be saved. Saving faith is believing the saving message.
Hart goes on to reaffirm his commitment to salvation by works:
“It is trust (fiducia) in Christ. It is acting upon his promises, relying upon him to save us—just as we would have to rely upon a ship to transport us across the ocean. We do not really believe in that boat until we actually board it and join the great adventure” (p. 363).
Hart explicitly says saving faith means “acting” upon the promise. You need faith plus action. To clarify that he is talking about behavior, Hart gives the example of not just believing that a boat will transport us, but actually getting into the boat. Obviously, getting into the boat is something additional to believing. But Hart wants to say it is part of believing. He is redefining faith to include doing good works.
Of course, Hart is right about boats. If you want to travel by boat, you can’t just believe it; you have to actually get on it. But Hart is wrong to use that as an illustration for salvation. That is not how salvation works. We are not justified by faith plus taking an extra step of acting upon the promise of salvation. There is no extra step for you to take beyond believing Jesus for eternal life. You don’t need to do anything for it to happen. Jesus does the work for you. When you simply believe, Jesus “puts you into the boat.” For example, He gives you eternal life. He sends the Spirit to indwell you. He regenerates you in your human spirit. He changes your position from being outside the Body of Christ to being in the Body. It is not by faith plus your doing. It is by faith and otherwise entirely His doing.
I’m sad to say that, in his discussion on faith, Hart has missed the boat.