David W. Cloud is a Fundamental Baptist missionary, writer, and publisher. His Way of Life Literature is well-known in Fundamentalist circles and defends many conservative positions with which readers of JOTGES would agree. Cloud has even explicitly written against Lordship Salvation. But how consistent is he in rejecting it?
II. FREE GRACE FRIENDLY POSITIONS
Cloud takes several positions that would naturally align him with Free Grace Theology. In this section, I list six such positions.
A. Cloud Is a Dispensationalist
In an article entitled, “Study the Bible Dispensationally,”1 Cloud affirms that a “consistent application of the literal method of interpretation will result in a dispensational theology.”2 He warns against Covenant Theology, Progressive Dispensationalism, and Hyper Dispensationalism. Cloud seems to favor Dispensationalism as taught by Scofield and Charles Ryrie without requiring complete adherence to any one system.3
B. Cloud Affirms Faith Alone
Cloud affirms that we are saved by faith alone, not by works. For example, in the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity, Cloud writes: “Salvation is through faith ALONE and grace ALONE, not by any mixture of grace and law, faith and works (Ro. 4:13-16; 11:6).”4 It is difficult to miss the emphasis on “alone.” Cloud then writes a paragraph with which many JOTGES readers would agree:
Faith alone is the door into God’s wonderful salvation. Having been forgiven and blessed with eternal blessings in Christ, we serve God with a thankful heart—not in order to be saved or in order to perfect our salvation, but because we have been saved. We are not saved by works; we are saved unto works (Ep. 2:8-10; Titus 3:4-8).5
Again, we see the emphasis on “faith alone.” And Cloud is intent on clarifying that we do good works because we have been saved by faith alone, not to be saved. This is strongly in keeping with Free Grace Theology. However, as we will see in later sections, Cloud contradicts himself on this point.
C. Cloud Defends Easy Believism in Principle
Cloud offers qualified support for “easy believism.” Many people reject the term outright. Not Cloud. He defends—at least in principle—the idea that salvation is both easy and by believing:
There is an evangelistic methodology in Christian circles today which is a plague to sound gospel preaching. Some call this “easy believism,” but I don’t like that term. Belief is exactly what God requires for salvation. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). Salvation is received by believing. Further, God has made it easy to do. A child can trust Christ and be saved; a weak-minded person can trust Christ and be saved. Salvation is not difficult, except in the sense that the sinner has to humble himself and repent (emphasis his).6
The real problem, Cloud believes, is not easy believism per se, but what he calls “quick prayerism.” This is the method of evangelism that claims someone has been saved after saying a sinner’s prayer.7
D. Cloud Affirms Eternal Security
Cloud believes in eternal security. For example, in his Believer’s Bible Dictionary, he defends the eternality of salvation, using arguments that will be familiar to Free Grace advocates:
How can we be sure that the believer is eternally secure? (1) Because of the terms used to describe salvation: “eternal life” (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn 5:11); “full assurance” (Heb. 6:11; Col. 2:2); “strong consolation” (Heb. 6:18); “hope…sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19).8
How do we know these blessings cannot be lost? (1) The blessings of salvation cannot be lost because of the nature of salvation: Salvation is eternal (Jn. 3:16, 36); salvation is a present possession (Ro. 5:1; 1 Pe. 2:24-25); salvation is by imputation and substitution (Ep. 1:3 “in Christ”; Ro. 6:7; Col. 2:10; 3:1-4, 12); salvation is not of human merit; it is a free gift of grace which cannot be mixed with works…9
Cloud believes that eternal security is part of the very meaning of life being “eternal.” Note especially the last sentence in which Cloud affirms that salvation is a free gift “which cannot be mixed with works.” This is consistent with his insistence that salvation is by faith “alone,” that is, that it excludes works.
E. Cloud Distinguishes Between Relationship and Fellowship
Cloud distinguishes between a believer’s eternal relationship with God and his conditional fellowship with God. For example, in commenting on 1 John, he explains,
Here the Lord makes a plain distinction between relationship and fellowship. The theme of 1 John is found in 1:3. The theme is fellowship, not relationship. It is written to those who have established a relationship with God as children through faith in Christ.10
Your relationship with God is established through faith. But fellowship is established on other conditions. Cloud sees this distinction also taught in John’s Gospel:
In John 1-12 the focus is on the unsaved and the main message is “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:7, 12; 3:15-16, 18; 4:39; 5:24; 6:35, 47; 7:38; 8:24; 9:35; 10:38; 11:26). When the unsaved asked about doing the works of God, Christ replied, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Jn. 6:29). Faith in Christ is the only work God will accept from the unsaved.11
Notice that Cloud takes John 6:29 as Jesus teaching that faith, not works, is necessary for salvation. That is the only requirement from the unsaved. Free Grace advocates would heartily agree.
Cloud goes on to notice a change in the theme of John’s Gospel when Jesus begins to teach in the Upper Room:
This change in theme of John’s Gospel illustrates the difference between relationship and fellowship. Faith is the requirement for eternal relationship; obedience is the requirement for daily fellowship. Faith is the way to become a child of God; obedience is the way to walk in fellowship with the Father.12
While the relationship is by faith alone, the fellowship is by obedience. Once again, Free Grace advocates would strongly agree with this theological distinction. Knowing the difference between our position and our condition is key to avoiding the danger of Lordship Salvation and to putting works in their proper doctrinal “place.”
F. Cloud Rejects Both Calvinism and Arminianism
Cloud rejects both Calvinism and Arminianism. He explains why he rejects Calvinism in his book The Calvinism Debate.13 To summarize: “If isolated and interpreted through Calvinistic lenses, there are verses that seem to teach Calvinism, but when Scripture is taken as a whole it crumbles.”14 He does not see it established by Scripture.
However, that does not mean Cloud identifies as an Arminian. In fact, he explicitly rejects both Calvinism and Arminianism:
James White, author of “The Truth about the King James Bible Controversy” and “The Potter’s Freedom” and several other books, wrote to me in about the year 1999 and challenged me to a public debate. He urged me to “defend Arminianism.” That is a strange notion, I don’t follow Arminianism and I don’t care anything about Arminianism. I have studied the theology of James Arminius some and I find errors in it just as I have found errors in John Calvin’s theology. Though I do believe that Arminius was closer to the truth than Calvin, this does not mean that I have any intention to “defend Arminianism.” White has the idea that is so typical among Calvinists that if a man is not a Calvinist, he is surely an Arminian.15
Hence, without giving a name for his theology, Cloud does not consider himself either a Calvinist or an Arminian.
All of these positions would seem to put Cloud close to the Free Grace camp. His Dispensationalism, emphasis on faith alone, the conditional nature of spiritual maturity, the possibility of carnality, and the doctrine of eternal security and rejection of both Calvinism and Arminianism would make it seem he is very Free Grace-friendly. That impression is made all the stronger by Cloud’s explicit rejection of Lordship Salvation.
III. CLOUD REJECTS LORDSHIP SALVATION
David Cloud rejects Lordship Salvation by name in two articles, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation,”16 and “Repentance and Lordship Salvation Revisited.”17 Those articles show he is aware that Lordship Salvation amounts to a gospel of works salvation.
A. Lordship Salvation Is Salvation by Works
We saw that Cloud affirms that salvation is by faith “alone.” It comes as little surprise, then, that Cloud understands that the evangelistic demand to make Christ Lord of your life is a covert form of salvation by works:
We do not support any idea of “Lordship Salvation” that teaches that an individual must make Jesus Christ Lord of every area of his life before he can be saved. Salvation does not produce perfect obedience nor does it require perfect understanding of theology. A genuinely born again Christian can be carnal. The Bible plainly teaches this (1 Corinthians 3).
To require that a sinner make Jesus Christ Lord of every area of his life is an impossibility and would be the greatest form of works salvation ever devised. This false doctrine is taught by some independent Baptists, but we do not support it. It is a very dangerous doctrine that causes people to look inside themselves and to examine their experience rather than to look solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and to trust solely upon His shed blood.18
Cloud makes several excellent statements in these two paragraphs. For example, JOTGES readers will appreciate how Cloud recognizes that some believers can be “carnal.” That ties in with Cloud’s teaching that fellowship with God is conditional. If you can be out of fellowship with God, you can be carnal.
Cloud is also correct to criticize turning inward, presumably to our works, for assurance of salvation, instead of looking “solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ.” Indeed, the only object of saving faith and assurance is Jesus’ promise of eternal life.
However, notice that Cloud hedges his criticism of Lordship Salvation. He does not say that demanding any level of obedience to Christ for salvation is wrong. Although he denies supporting “any idea” of Lordship Salvation, he only rejects the claim that you must make Jesus Lord “of every area” of life, or that you must have “perfect obedience” to be saved. Does that mean you must make Jesus Lord of some areas of your life, or that you must have some level of obedience to Christ to be saved?
B. Lordship Salvation Confuses Justification and Sanctification
Cloud correctly recognizes the possibility that a born-again person can be carnal. He also draws a distinction between justification and sanctification, or between our standing and our state. As Cloud explains, confusing the two can lead to salvation by works:
To preach a “lordship salvation” that requires that sinners make Jesus Christ absolute Lord of every area of their lives in order to be saved is to confuse position and practice, justification and sanctification. This is similar to the error made by many Pentecostals and Charismatics who believe the child of God can lose his salvation. An excellent testimony about the danger of this false teaching is in the book “Holiness: The False and the True” by the late Harry A. Ironside (Loizeaux).19
Although it is heartening to read Cloud reject Lordship Salvation, again, note Cloud’s choice of language. He rejects the call to make Jesus “absolute” Lord of “every area” of life. Why add those qualifications? What about more modest Lordship claims? Would Cloud agree that Jesus must be the Lord of “some” areas of your life to be saved? Does that not also involve teaching salvation by works?
IV. CLOUD’S INCONSISTENT POSITION ON REPENTANCE
Unfortunately, Cloud’s doctrine of salvation is inconsistent. Ultimately, despite denying Lordship Salvation, Cloud makes works a condition of salvation. For example, that is shown in his doctrine of repentance.
Earlier, we quoted Cloud explicitly saying that faith alone is the sole condition of salvation. Is Cloud consistent in that affirmation? It turns out he is not. He contradicts himself by heavily emphasizing that repentance is a condition for salvation.
A. What Repentance Is Not
In his article on “Biblical Repentance” and elsewhere, Cloud has explained what repentance is not. For example, it is not a synonym for faith: “Bible preachers proclaimed repentance, and if faith is the same as repentance as some claim, this would make no sense.”20
Nor is it a mere change of mind. In his comments condemning what he calls “quick prayerism,” Cloud thinks it is wrong to redefine repentance in that way. He says: “Quick Prayerism is an evangelistic methodology that is quick to get people to pray a sinner’s prayer after a shallow gospel presentation and usually without any hint of the necessity of repentance (or redefining repentance to be the same as faith or to be a mere ‘change of mind’).”21
Cloud lists a number of other things that are not equivalent to repentance: it is more than remorse, confession, acknowledgment of sin, or changing from unbelief to belief.22
So what is repentance, according to Cloud?
B. Cloud’s Definition of Repentance
According to Cloud, repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of life:
Biblical repentance as preached by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the apostles, is a change of mind toward God and sin that results in a change of life. It is a Spirit-wrought change of mind that leads to a change of life. It is not a change of life. That would be works salvation. It is a radical, Spirit-wrought change of mind toward sin and God, such a dramatic change that it changes one’s actions.23
Cloud emphasizes that genuine repentance results in a changed life:
It is not a change of life; it is a change of mind so radical that it results in a change of life. It means to turn around and go in a different direction. It means to lay down your arms and to surrender to God, to stop being at enmity against Him. I believe this is exactly what the Bible teaches about repentance, and I have shown this in the original article on Repentance, but nowhere have I said that repentance means to repent of all your sin or to turn away from all of your sin. That would be a works salvation, which is a false gospel.24
Here again, Cloud says that repentance is a change of mind that results in a radical change of life. And he again emphasizes the words “results in.” Why? He adds “results in” because if repentance were itself a changed life involving works, and if repentance were a condition of salvation, “That would be works salvation.”
You can also sense Cloud’s hesitancy with his definition when he clarifies that the change is not so radical that it means you repent or turn away from “all your sin.” He admits that, too, would be a “false gospel.” Elsewhere he repeats: “Repentance is not turning from all sin in the sense of some sort of sinless perfection; it is a change of mind toward sin so that the sinner no longer intends to walk in rebellion against God.”25
This definition creates a tension (or outright contradiction) in his theology. Cloud thinks he can avoid teaching works salvation if he qualifies his definition of repentance with the words “results in.” If it only results in doing good works, but is not itself good works, then making repentance a condition of salvation may not be a form of salvation by works.
Elsewhere Cloud says: “The fact that God requires that we turn from sin does not mean that salvation is by works. We know that the works are the fruit of genuine salvation, not the cause of it.”26 If Cloud consistently distinguished between repentance and the works that follow repentance, he could avoid the charge of works salvation. But, as he himself says, God requires that we turn from sin. If turning from sin is required, then it is a condition of salvation.
C. Repentance Means Doing Works
In the Believer’s Bible Dictionary, Cloud gives several illustrations of what it means to repent. Notice his language. Cloud does not say that repentance results in works. He will say “Repentance is…” and then names a work:
1. Repentance is the Prodigal Son coming to right thinking, confessing his sin against God and his father, and returning home (Lk. 15:17-20).
2. Repentance is the Thessalonians turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Th. 1:9).
3. Repentance is Zacchaeus turning from corruption to uprightness (Lk. 19:8-9).
4. Repentance is Nebuchadnezzar humbling himself before God (Da. 4:37).
5. Repentance is the Philippian jailer turning to Jesus Christ and becoming a kind of helper of Christians (Acts 16:33-34).
6. Repentance is the Christ-rejecting Jews at Pentecost turning to Christ and continuing in obedience (Acts 2:38-42).27
In this list, Cloud explicitly identifies repentance with doing works. This contradicts those places where he tries to distinguish the two, such as: “To say that repentance results in works is not the same as saying that repentance is works.”28 So why, in the list above, does Cloud explicitly say that repentance “is” this or that work? His doctrine of repentance is inconsistent at this point. For Cloud, repentance is both a work and results in works.
D. Repentance Is Necessary for Salvation
Cloud believes that repentance is necessary for salvation. This directly contradicts his claims that salvation is by faith alone. Salvation cannot be by faith alone if it is also by repentance. So what does Cloud believe—is salvation by faith alone, or by faith plus repentance that results in a changed life? You can cite passages for both ideas. We already quoted Cloud defending faith alone. But here he criticizes evangelism that does not mention the co-condition of repentance: “The typical soul-winning plan doesn’t even hint at repentance, that there is going to be a change of direction, a submission to God.”29
Why would that be a problem? Because according to Cloud, without repentance, there is no salvation:
Salvation demands repentance (Lk 13:3-5; Ac. 2:38-42; 17:30-31). Repentance means a change of mind resulting in a change of life (2 Cor. 7:8-11). The person who has never changed his mind about God, sin, Christ, the Bible, etc., and who has never shown evidence of this in his life, has never repented and is not saved.30
Clearly, there is a contradiction in this theology.
Likewise, recall that when Cloud defended easy believism, he qualified his statement with these words: “Salvation is not difficult, except in the sense that the sinner has to humble himself and repent.”31 Repentance is here made part of the condition of salvation (does that make humbling yourself a third co-condition for salvation or one of the works of repentance?). And Cloud implies it is difficult, in the sense you must be humbled and repent.
Indeed, Cloud says that salvation itself is described as coming to repentance:
Salvation is referred to as coming to repentance with no mention of faith in Matthew 9:13; 11:20-21; 21:32; Mark 1:4; 2:17; 6:12; Luke 15:7; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 26:20; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 2 Timothy 2:25; and 2 Peter 3:9.32
E. Why This Ends in Denying Faith Alone
Does Cloud evade the charge of denying salvation by faith alone? No, he does not.
First, if salvation is by faith plus repentance, and repentance is not a synonym for faith, then salvation is not by faith alone. It is by faith plus repentance. Cloud contradicts himself.
Second, if you are only saved by repentance that results in works, and not by one without works, then your salvation depends upon works. Cloud is aware of that implication and seeks to avoid the charge of teaching salvation by works by saying, “nowhere have I said that repentance means to repent of all your sin or to turn away from all of your sin. That would be a works salvation, which is a false gospel.”33 He seems to think that so long as you do not require repentance from all sins, you avoid works salvation. But according to the Apostle Paul, adding any amount of works to the saving message turns it into another gospel (Gal 1:6-9). In other words, requiring people to repent of any amount of sin as a condition of salvation would be works salvation. Even though Cloud does not require repentance from all sin, he does require repentance from some.34 Hence, he teaches salvation by works.
V. THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FALSE FAITH AND GENUINE FAITH
Cloud’s view of the relationship between salvation, faith, and repentance is involved in another contradiction. On the one hand, as we have seen, he strongly distinguishes between faith and repentance. However, there are other places where he explicitly redefines faith to include repentance within it. That is seen in his distinction between false faith and saving faith.
A. True Faith Includes Repentance
Cloud is evidently aware of Free Grace claims that it is significant that the only self-identified evangelistic book in the Bible, the Gospel of John, omits the word repentance: “Some men say that it is not necessary to preach repentance since we don’t see it in John 3:16 and Acts 16:31…”35 However, Cloud is not persuaded. Why not? Because he believes repentance is implied in the very concept of saving faith itself:
The reason why verses such as John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 don’t mention repentance is that proper saving faith includes repentance and proper repentance includes faith…By comparing Scripture with Scripture (rather than isolating Scripture, which is the method used by false teachers), I conclude that saving faith includes repentance. 36
Repentance is implied in the concept of faith, but Cloud earlier denied that it is a synonym for faith. Redefining faith to include repentance that results in a changed life compromises the doctrine of justification at the root. It smuggles works into the definition of faith itself. But if repentance is not a synonym for faith, why does Cloud think it is implied by the concept of faith? This is another contradiction.
B. Saving Faith Produces Good Works
Cloud says that saving faith produces good works. If it does not, it is not saving: “(4) Saving faith always produces good works (Ep 2:8-10; He 11:4, 7, 8; Ja 2:14-26). If a person claims to have faith in Christ, but his life does not reflect the works of Christ, that person does not have saving faith.”37
Here is more evidence that Cloud teaches salvation by works. If you are only saved by a faith that produces good works, and not saved by faith that does not produce good works, then works are part of the condition of salvation. This is another form of salvation by works. It denies that we are saved by faith alone. That is a contradiction in Cloud’s theology.
There is much to admire in David Cloud’s theology. This writer has benefited from his books and articles. Cloud takes several very strong positions for salvation by faith alone and against Lordship Salvation. Sadly, he then contradicts those positions with his doctrines of repentance and faith, both of which make salvation depend upon changing your behavior and doing good works. Cloud’s soteriology is inconsistent. He ought to resolve the inconsistency by affirming faith alone—period. He should go back to his distinction between relationship and fellowship and see that repentance is a fellowship issue, not a relationship one.38 In sum, Cloud should repent of his view of repentance.
4 Emphasis his. David W. Cloud, Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity, 6th ed. (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life Literature, 2016), 573.
6 David W. Cloud, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation Revisited.” See https://www.wayoflife.org/database/repentancerevisited.html. Accessed Oct. 29, 2018.
7 Ibid.; cf. David Cloud, The Hyles Effect: A Spreading Blight (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life, 2014), 75.
8 David W. Cloud, Believer’s Bible Dictionary (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life, 2015), 93.
9 Ibid., 94
10 Cloud, Encyclopedia, 574.
13 David W. Cloud, The Calvinism Debate (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life Literature, 2006, 2013).
14 Ibid., 15.
15 Ibid., 12.
16 David Cloud, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation.” See https://www.wayoflife.org/database/repentance_lordship_salvation.html. Accessed Nov. 16, 2018.
17 David Cloud, “Repentance Revisited.” See https://www.wayoflife.org/database/repentancerevisited.html. Accessed Nov. 16, 2018.
18 Cloud, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation.”
19 Cloud, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation.”
20 Cloud, Bible Dictionary, 273.
21 Cloud, Hyles, 75.
22 David Cloud, “Biblical Repentance.” See https://www.wayoflife.org/database/biblical_repentance.html. Accessed Nov. 16, 2018.
24 Cloud, “Repentance Revisited,” emphasis added.
25 Cloud, “Biblical Repentance,” emphasis added.
26 Ibid., emphasis added.
27 Cloud, Believer’s Bible Dictionary, 275.
28 Cloud, “Biblical Repentance.”
29 Cloud, Calvinism, 52. By contrast, the Gospel of John, the only self-described evangelistic book in the Bible, does not mention repentance. Neither do the Books of Romans or Galatians.
30 Cloud, Dictionary, 94. But I disagree that his proof-texts show that repentance is necessary to be born again. Luke 13:3-5 and Acts 2:38-42 are about being saved from the temporal judgment of AD 70, not about being born again. If you want to avoid the natural and divine consequences of sin in this life, you must repent of them. If you want to avoid dying of a drug overdose, you should repent of taking drugs. If you want to avoid divorce, repent of adultery. If you want to avoid being shot to death, repent of robbing stores. Temporal salvation does depend on repentance. But that does not prove you must repent in order to be born again. If eternal salvation demands repentance, how much repentance must you do and for how long before you are born again? Making behavior change a condition of salvation obscures the truth that salvation happens in a moment, through a single act of faith in Christ for eternal life, totally apart from works. Careful readers should consider whether Cloud’s proof-texts address eternal salvation, or some other type of deliverance.
31 Cloud, “Repentance and Lordship Salvation Revisited,” emphasis added.
32 David W. Cloud, “Why Doesn’t John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 Mention Repentance?” See https://www.wayoflife.org/database/john316repentance.html. Accessed Oct. 29, 2018. Readers ought to look up each of those passages and ask what kind of salvation is discussed in each passage (e.g., is it earthly or eternal?). While it is true that repentance featured prominently in Jesus’ preaching and in NT teaching, that is not enough to show it is a co-condition for being born again. What is repentance for? Is it for Israel to receive the kingdom? Is it preparatory to faith? Is it for restoration of fellowship with God? Is it to avoid temporal discipline and destruction? Simply quoting verses that have the word repentance does not show that it is a synonym for faith, part of faith, or a condition for being born again.
33 Cloud, “Repentance Revisited.”
34 Of course, this also makes assurance of salvation impossible. How could anyone possibly know if he had turned from enough sins to be born again? He cannot.
35 Cloud, “Why Doesn’t John 3:16 and Acts 16:31 Mention Repentance?”
37 Cloud, Bible Dictionary, 94-95.
38 See Zane C. Hodges, Harmony with God: A Fresh Look at Repentance (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 2001).