The Warning of Zane Hodges in 1983
I was taking a Greek course on the exegesis of James and the Johannine epistles with Zane Hodges as my professor. I remember the day we discussed Jas 4:4, which says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Commenting on this verse, Zane warned us about the danger of seeking to become recognized in the academic world as Bible scholars. Here is what I wrote in my class notes:
“There is danger in having a deep desire to find approval by the unsaved scholars. That never really comes unless one slides in his theological position and hence becomes a liberal himself. The root problem is a desire for friendship with the world.”
I was in the doctoral program at the time and hoped to graduate within a few years. I found his warning to be much needed by me, and by all of us in the class.
The Warning of Eta Linnemann in 1990
In light of some of the writing and research I’ve been doing lately, I purchased Eta Linnemann’s Historical Criticism of the Bible: Methodology or Ideology? I came across a quote that reflected the same concerns I’d heard from Zane in 1983. But Linnemann’s warning was especially jarring because here was a woman who for years had been recognized as a leading New Testament scholar and a very dedicated liberal. Then she came to faith in Christ and her views amazingly changed.1 She soon became a proponent for a conservative view of the Scriptures.
The exegete’s task [in liberal circles] is to discover and solve “difficulties” in the text of the Bible. The better the interpreter, the more ingenious this will be. For to amount to anything a professor must “make a name”…It is necessary to strive for human recognition, even if the professor is characteristically disinterested in such accolades…They are under compulsion to make a name for themselves and to strive for human honor (Historical Criticism, pp. 87-88).
These Warnings Are for All of Us
Linnemann then applied this same warning to those studying the Scriptures: “A theology student who has not yet died to the need for the recognition of men stands under the same pressure” (Historical Criticism, p. 88).
Of course, this same warning applies to all students of the Word of God, whether they be in a Sunday School class, a discipleship group, a home Bible study, a course in a Christian college or seminary, or just a worshipper on Sunday morning. We are to take what we learn from God’s Word and share it with our children, our friends, our family, our neighbors, and anyone who will listen. But if our goal is to impress people, then we are misguided. James warned, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (Jas 3:1). While all Christians are to teach their children and others, only some are official teachers in a congregation. The ones who nurture the flock will be especially accountable at the Bema for what they said in the church.
I must confess that I like it when on those rare occasions I receive feedback that a particular article or sermon was well liked by a number of people. Most of the time I receive very little feedback. That makes it easier to see God as my true audience. But I do try hard not to write or preach so as to make a name for myself or to gain the praise of men.
However, even though the Free ,Grace position is a minority position, we must take care that we don’t even seek the praise of men within our own orbit. If we ever forget that it is God whom we want to please, we are in trouble. No matter how small our church or group, if we are seeking the praise of men, we need to stop that.
Each of us must guard our own hearts. We must seek to please God, not men. We should pray about this regularly.
I love the story of one pastor of a very large church. After each service he would shake hands. When people would say, “Great sermon, Pastor,” he’d say, “Thanks so much” or “Thanks for the encouragement.” After the final service was done and the last person had been greeted and thanked, he would go to his study for a few moments alone. He would kneel by a chair and pray something like this, “Lord, I realize that You are worthy of all praise. Thank You for giving me the opportunity to preach Your Word. Please keep me focused on pleasing You, not on pleasing the congregation. Please help me to proclaim clearly what You have said.”
Don’t we all want to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17)? Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Better to have His praise and men’s rebuke than the other way around. Of course, this is no excuse to be rude or impolite. We aren’t to seek to make people mad. But if we share our faith clearly, many will be displeased. If we share the grace message, many will mock us.
As the late Baptist evangelist Ron Dunn used to preach, “God is our audience.” May we never forget that.
1. Eta Linnemann’s testimony is far from clear. You can read it here: http://www.gracevalley.org/teaching/2001/Eta_Linnemann_Testimony.html. In her testimony she indicates, “I began to go to the meetings every month I was available, and after one year and one month, I gave my life to Christ. I heard a message and was so hungry for this life with Christ the speaker had spoken of. When he gave an altar call, I was about to jump up, but then he asked, ‘Is there anybody who wants to believe in Christ?’ I told myself, ‘Oh, that’s not for me because I already believe in Christ.’ That is the problem with theologians; they think they are believers. But then he repeated it, asking who was willing to surrender his life to Christ. Then I knew it was for me. I lifted my arm, the Lord saw my heart, and my life was changed.”