By Bob Wilkin
A 2019 doctoral paper by Nicholas James Claxton (available online)1 is entitled “Faith Without Works: The Gospel According to Zane Hodges.” Claxton’s paper is irenic in tone. In his conclusion, he raises seven objections to the views and exegetical method of Hodges. I’ll briefly answer those objections in this article.
His seven objections are:
- “It is surely misguided to elevate the Gospel of John…” (p. 27).
- “Why would Jesus and His disciples devote so much attention to repentance when their real need was saving faith? Would it not have been more profitable, from Hodges’ viewpoint, to call people to accept the ‘absolutely free’ gift of salvation?” (pp. 27-28).
- “Hodges’ view of saving faith seems anemic in light of the New Testament testimony…Faith results in transformed works… The true believer hears God’s words (John 8:47) and follows Christ (John 10:27)” (p. 28).
- “To limit the content of faith to Christ’s guarantee of eternal life seems far too restrictive” (p. 28).
- “Hodges’ view of perseverance is inconsistent. If God graciously brings a sinner to salvation and ensures His eternal security, why would He not also progressively conform the believer to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-30)?” (p. 28).
- “There is simply no exegetical evidence that saved people are divided into inheritors of the kingdom and mere citizens” (p. 28).
- “When confronted with evidence that seems to contradict his position, Hodges simply redefines the terms” (p. 29).
First, it isn’t misguided to elevate John’s Gospel concerning the saving message because that is the stated purpose of the book (John 20:31). No other book in the Bible has that purpose.
Isn’t the Song of Songs the only Biblical book on marital love? Aren’t the Pastoral Epistles the place to go for instruction on church leadership? Aren’t 1-2 Thessalonians essential books dealing with the Church’s Rapture? Don’t certain books have themes that set them apart?
Second, why preach repentance if it isn’t a condition for everlasting life? Claxton does not realize that he affirms Hodges’ view of John’s Gospel. Hodges said that is precisely why John never mentions repentance in his Gospel. John discusses repentance a dozen times in Revelation. Why not in John?
Jesus and His apostles were concerned about more than leading people to faith. We know from the Synoptic Gospels that they also called the Nation of Israel to repent so that the kingdom might come in that generation. Faith alone would not bring in the kingdom.
In addition, repentance is the way in which those out of fellowship with God return to the Father to regain His blessings and live productively again (Luke 15:11-32).
Third, Hodges’ view of saving faith is “anemic” only if one has predetermined that saving faith is some special kind of faith. When Claxton says that transformation and obedience are the guaranteed results of saving faith, he implies that faith is commitment, surrender, repentance, and obedience.
He believes that perseverance in good works until death is required to avoid eternal condemnation. Saying that perseverance is guaranteed eliminates assurance prior to death. In Claxton’s view, if a professing believer falls away and dies in that state, then he proves he never believed in Christ. Since no believer can be sure he will persevere (e.g., 1 Cor 9:27), assurance would be impossible until it was too late.
Fourth, Claxton agrees that everlasting life is guaranteed to all who believe in Jesus. However, he thinks that believing in Jesus requires more than believing in Him for everlasting life. He suggests that one must also believe “in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection” and “in Jesus as ‘the Son of God’” (p. 28).
This objection is a straw man. Hodges said that he always preached the death and resurrection of Jesus to explain how He could guarantee everlasting life to the believer. And Hodges taught that to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” is to believe in Him for everlasting life (cf. John 11:25-27; 20:31). Claxton’s problem with Hodges’ view of faith is that Hodges does not believe that faith is commitment, obedience, and perseverance (points 3 and 5).
Fifth, Claxton’s question reveals a lot about his theology. He does not believe that God guarantees instant sinlessness. He’s right. But wouldn’t a better question be: If God graciously brings a sinner to salvation and ensures His eternal security, why would He not instantly conform the believer to the image of His Son? Why is the supposedly guaranteed conformation progressive? Wouldn’t it glorify God more if it were instantaneous? And isn’t that what we all want? Wouldn’t we love to have glorified bodies immediately?
Claxton’s view makes assurance impossible. If our progress is stalled or even goes backward, we would rightly doubt our salvation if gradual, steady progress were guaranteed.
God does not guarantee success in this life because He wants to select those who prove faithful to rule with Christ in the future (1 Cor 4:1-5; 9:24-27; 2 Tim 2:12; 4:6-8; Rev 2:26). This life is a test that will determine our role in Jesus’ kingdom.
Sixth, a fiat is not only a type of car. A fiat is a declaration. Anyone can declare anything. The truth is in the evidence. Claxton simply declares that there is no evidence that some believers will rule with Christ and others will not. He does not attempt to prove that declaration.
The most straightforward way to disprove Hodges on this point would be to select three or more passages Hodges uses to demonstrate that only some believers will rule with Christ. Claxton could have chosen Luke 19:11-27; 2 Tim 2:11-13; and Rev 2:26. Those are texts Hodges often cites in this regard. But he did not select those or any other passages.2 He declared that Hodges was wrong and assumed the readers would take his word for it.
Seventh, Claxton suggests that Hodges redefined the meaning of expressions like save, inherit the kingdom, and the outer darkness in order to evade the obvious meanings of passages. But anyone who has read Hodges knows that is not true. He did careful word studies and interpreted the meaning of words in a given context based on that context. That is what lexicographers do. Claxton gives the impression that the word save always refers to regeneration, that the expression inherit the kingdom always refers to getting into it, and that the expression the outer darkness always refers to the lake of fire. Words have fields of meaning. Hodges did not evade the meaning of various texts.
Dr. Dave Lowery recently retired from the NT department at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was a student under Hodges and later became his colleague. He famously said that if he were on trial for his life, he’d want Zane Hodges as his lawyer because Hodges left no stone unturned. That was my experience with Zane as well.
Hodges’ view of the gospel was not misguided, anemic, inconsistent, or evasive if the Bible is the standard by which we determine what the saving message is.
However, Hodges’ view of the gospel is all those things if the standard is Reformed soteriology.3
What guides your understanding of the saving message, Scripture, or tradition?
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He and Sharon live in Highland Village, TX. He has racewalked ten marathons.
1 See https://www.academia.edu/38883577/Faith_Without_Works_The_Gospel_According_to_Zane_Hodges.
2 Earlier in the paper, Claxton did discuss Hodges’ view of eternal rewards (pp. 24-26). However, he did not explain why his views were wrong, and he did not exegete any of the key texts Hodges cites.
3 Claxton’s suggested books to read include many Reformed Lordship Salvation books, including John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus, Wayne Grudem, Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel, J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, and D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies. See here for his list: https://alexamenosfidelis1.blogspot.com/p/books.html.