by Shawn Lazar
The Beacon Dictionary of Theology is written from the perspective of the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, specifically the Church of the Nazarene. We spend an awful amount of time critiquing Calvinism from a Free Grace perspective, and many of our readers have asked we do the same for Arminianism or Wesleyanism, since they, too, are often confused about the condition of salvation.
For example, here is what the Beacon Dictionary says in its entry on Faith:
“Faith is that voluntary assent that man gives to the revelation of God and the self-committal or trust of the entire man to the control of such truth” (p. 207).
This is a predictably awful definition of faith. It is bound to leave people confused about the condition of salvation.
Free-Will and Faith
To start, I’m not sure what to make of the statement that faith is “voluntary assent.” I think they mean we freely choose to believe. I think that is problematic, because I’m not aware of having been able to choose any of my beliefs, are you?
Free Grace Theology holds to free-will. That’s not the problem. The question is, what role does the will play in our beliefs?
I think the will plays an important role leading up to faith. I freely choose to search for the truth—to investigate, to listen, to be open to evidence, to consider arguments one way or another, but I don’t think I choose to believe anything. I can’t simply will myself to believe that I’m actually a Medieval Japanese grandmother. I can’t simply choose to believe that I’m actually a housecat dreaming that I’m a man. Do you see what I mean? We don’t choose our beliefs.
But more importantly, I’m concerned with how the Beacon Dictionary defines faith as “the self-committal or trust of the entire man to the control of such truth.” This obviously redefines faith to include doing good works. Isn’t that what committing your whole man, and being controlled by the truth means?
Actually, the Dictionary goes on to clarify that faith means being “obedient, steadfast, and trustfully relying on God’s promises (p. 207).
Faith includes obedience.
This is a prime example of “back-loading” the gospel promise, i.e., instead of preaching we are saved by faith plus works, you subtly redefine faith to include works. Either way, works become part of the condition of salvation.
If this were an accurate definition of faith, how should we translate John 3:16, Rom 3:29, or Eph 2:8-9?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever [obeys and commits his entire self to be controlled by the truth] should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by [obedience and committing his entire self to be controlled by the truth] apart from the deeds of the law (Rom 3:28).
For by grace you have been saved through [obedience and committing your entire self to be controlled by the truth], and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph 2:8-9).
Someone sitting in the pew, hearing this kind of theology being taught, is likely to be confused about the condition of salvation. They are also likely to lack assurance of salvation.
They are likely to be confused about the condition of salvation because they won’t know whether they are saved by faith, or by works. They are hearing “faith” but they are also hearing that faith obeys, which means works.
They are also likely to lack assurance of salvation because how many works, how much obedience, and how much committal of the whole self does it take to “really” believe in Jesus? It’s impossible to know. So you’ll always doubt if your faith is genuine, and you’re really born-again.
Keep it Clear
Free Grace Theology holds, very clearly, that we are saved by faith, apart from works. Faith is one thing. Obedience is another. But faith is not obedience.
Obedience is important.
Committing ourselves to God’s cause is important.
Walking in the Spirit, in light of the Truth (I don’t want to use the word “controlled”) is important.
But those things are all important for discipleship, not because they are conditions of eternal salvation.
What does it mean to believe? Simply this: being persuaded that something is true.
And what does it mean to have saving faith? Simply this: being persuaded that Jesus’ promise of everlasting life is true.