Dead Faith: What Is It?—A Study on James 2:14–26. By Zane C. Hodges. Dallas: Redención Viva, 1987. 32 pp. Booklet, $1.95.
The Church has never been fully satisfied with traditional understandings of James 2:14–26. Foreboding practical questions have loomed large. How could we honestly share a Gospel of pure grace and full assurance when in the background lurked James’s still unexplained assertions concerning the necessary and inevitable partnership between good works and justifying faith?
However, even in the midst of frustration and confusion over James 2, the Church has failed to state the obvious. That is, until recently. Finally someone has openly approached the difficulties in the history of the interpretation of James 2 and suggested a bold new option for its understanding. That someone is Zane Hodges. In his booklet Dead Faith: What Is It?, he offers the Church an interpretation of this difficult text that is both contextually sound and theologically congruent with the rest of the canon.
Several bold propositions characterize the uniqueness and power of Hodges’s study. First, he dares to take us back to the text as our final authority. Submitting the history of interpretation to the authority of a thorough exegetical study opens the way for a new synthetic understanding of James 2.
Second, according to Hodges, the key to understanding James’s argument is the body/spirit analogy of 2:26. He suggests that the point of the metaphor is not that faith must animate works to prove it is alive, but that works must animate faith to keep it alive! Believers who do not persevere in good works do not thereby prove they have never had or do not presently have genuine faith; they simply stand dangerously close to killing their faith and substituting dead orthodoxy as their companion in the Christian life.
Third, Hodges believes that in the theology of James, the object of “salvation” is the physical life, not the eternal soul (Jas 1:21; 5:19–20). Thus when James asks the question in 2:14 “Can faith alone save?” he is not referring to salvation from hell, but deliverance from the temporal, death-dealing consequences of sin in the life of the believer. James’s purpose is to warn believers who already possess eternal salvation (1:18) that faith alone will not be enough to save them from the full-grown fruit of sin–physical death (1:15).
Fourth, the justification of 2:21–25 is not analagous to judicial justification before God, which Paul said comes by faith alone (Rom 4:5) and results in salvation from hell. Rather, the justification of James is a vindication before men that results in friendship with God (v 23) and the prolonging of the physical life (v 25).
A concluding section of endnotes lends a great deal of clarity and credibility to this already instructive book. Not only do the notes amplify key points, but it is comforting to the reader who is new to this understanding of James 2 to see the names Frank E. Gaebelein, A. T. Robertson, Calvin, and others, supporting certain aspects of Hodges’s view which may seem novel upon first reading.
For the believer who is tired of living with the apparent theological and practical tensions between James and Paul, for the believer who is weary of practicing exegetical gymnastics in order to adhere to the “party line” on James 2, Hodges’s booklet will provide relief.
Grace Evangelical Society