Zane Hodges departed this life in November of 2008. In the dozen years since then, many people have suggested that he changed his view of the saving message. Many pointed to a 2006 message in which he argued that a person is not born again until he is sure that he is eternally secure by faith in Christ. That position is called assurance is of the essence of saving faith. People have suggested that this was a view Hodges had never advocated before 2006.
However, as early as 1990 there are articles Hodges published in the GES Journal and newsletter which show he held to assurance being of the essence of saving faith. So, others have suggested that Hodges changed his view in 1989 or 1990.
Zane Hodges wrote three books between 1972 and 1985. In all three books, he defended assurance as being of the essence of saving faith. Those three books are The Hungry Inherit (THI, 1972, 1980), The Gospel Under Siege (TGUS, 1981), and Grace in Eclipse (GIE, 1985). I have copies of the 1980 edition of THI, the 1981 edition of TGUS, and the 1985 edition of GIE.
In the 1980 edition of THI, Hodges clearly expresses his view both of eternal security and of assurance being of the essence of saving faith. He wrote, “The one who drank it [the living water Jesus gives] was secure from thirst, not merely for time but for eternity as well” (THI, p. 16). He was talking about “security” for “eternity,” that is, eternal security.
One page later, Hodges shows that a person has to believe the promise of eternal security in order to be born again: “His offer dealt with her spiritual and eternal need. And until she could think with Him in those terms, she could not make her request aright” (THI, p. 17, emphasis added). The “request” he was talking about refers back to the Lord’s words as found in John 4:10, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The asking for the living water precedes the giving of it.
His point is clear: she could not have been born again until she believed the message that Jesus guarantees secure everlasting life to all who believe in Him for it (John 4:14). That message is “living water.” (See also THI, pp. 142-43, for more evidence that Hodges was teaching that assurance is of the essence of saving faith.)
The same teaching is found in the 1985 edition of Grace in Eclipse: “The Christian is not in danger of losing his eternal salvation. Every believer in Christ not only has eternal life but will still belong to Christ when he is raised up at the last day (John 6:37-40). No one who has ever drunk of the water of life will ever be thirsty for that water again (John 4:13-14)” (GIE, p. 51).
The 1981 edition of The Gospel Under Siege also presented assurance as of the essence of saving faith, though not using that precise phrase. Hodges wrote, “It follows, then, that when the Gospel [sic] is so presented that the necessity of good works is stressed, it becomes a gospel [sic] that no longer can honestly offer true assurance of eternal life. The individual who professes faith in Christ [under such a message] cannot possess, at the moment of faith, a certainty about his eternal destiny. Under some forms of contemporary theology, he cannot even be sure he has really believed! But this result is nothing less than a denial of a fundamental facet of the Biblical Gospel [sic] that was presented by our Lord Himself” (TGUS, p. 10, emphasis added; p. 28 in the 2017 edition).
Shortly before he died, Hodges denied that he had changed his view. Steve Elkins wrote: “I used to have lunch with Zane Hodges about once a month. One time, right before his death, I was there [Zane’s office] a little early. He had just hung up from a call. Out of the blue he said, ‘They’re saying I changed my view on the gospel. I never changed my view.’” (“Did Zane Change His View?” Grace in Focus Magazine, November-December 2012, p. 10).
On the one hand, it does not matter whether Hodges changed his view on what one must believe to be born again. As Hillary Clinton said, “What difference, at this point, does it make?” What matters is what the Scriptures teach. If the Bible teaches that assurance is of the essence of saving faith, then that is the truth, and it does not matter how long Hodges held that view.
But, on the other hand, it does matter in an historical sense. The fact is Zane Hodges taught that assurance was of the essence during his entire twenty-seven years on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary (1959-1986).
Hodges affirmed before he died that he never changed his view on what one must believe to be born again. His writings give no indication of a time when he did not hold that assurance is of the essence of saving faith.