Salvation and Discipleship Continuum in Johannine Literature: Toward an Evaluation of the Faith Alone Doctrine. By Sujaya T. James. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2014. 283 pp. Paper, $179.95.
I met the author in the late 90s while he was working on his doctorate at Dallas Theological Seminary on this very subject. I found him to be a very kind and respectful person. Over the years I’ve spoken with him on the phone several times and have always enjoyed our interactions.
James dedicates this book “to faith alone teachers and preachers with much respect.” In his preface he says, “I hold Faith Alone teachers and preachers with deep respect. I am touched by their love for the Lord reflected in their writings and ministries” (p. vii). The tone of this book is very gracious.
One of the major strengths of this book is also one of its major weaknesses. James extensively cites Free Grace proponents, especially Zane C. Hodges (on 72 pages). He also regularly cites Dave Anderson (9 pages), Charlie Bing (6 pages), Jody Dillow (27 pages), John Niemelä (on 5 pages), and me (on 42 pages). He regularly cites Grace in Focus magazine, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, and books published by GES. This is very helpful for the reader.
However, James typically cites only the conclusions of an author and not his argument for that conclusion. Worse, he moves from one author’s conclusion to a similar statement from another author and then another similar statement from many other Free Grace authors. This piling of quote upon quote becomes confusing because little or no argumentation is given. Then James concludes why the Free Grace view is wrong by citing the conclusions of several scholars who agree with him.
As an example, consider how James handles John 2:23–25. In v 23 John says that “many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.” The author then cites Zane Hodges, Jody Dillow, Dave Anderson, me, Debbie Hunn, Dennis Rokser, and Mike Halsey. We all say that the expression many believed in His name clearly refers to saving faith in light of John 1:12–13 which says that anyone who believes in His name is born of God.
Then James says, “Carson rightly underscores, ‘Whether or not the faith in any passage is genuine or spurious can be determined only by the context’” (p. 65). That is a bit like saying that the only way we know what an author means is by reading what he wrote. That comment is essentially worthless. Does inspired Scripture ever tell the reader that someone believed in Jesus when in fact the person did not believe in Jesus? Wouldn’t that be the Bible deceiving the reader?
This then leads to a new round of quotes from Hunn, Dillow, Hodges, Anderson, Hixson, Bing, me, and then more quotes from Dillow, Anderson, Hunn, Hodges, me, Hodges, me, and Hodges (pp. 60-70). Then to prove we are wrong James cites a group of scholars who agree with him.
What is lacking in this book is 1) a clear explanation of the arguments made by Free Grace proponents and 2) a careful consideration of the key Scriptures by James himself. Instead, what we get is a lot of quotes. A lot of quotes.
James seems to take the view that regeneration occurs over one’s lifetime and not at a point in time. I say seems because he is not clear on this. But notice these statements by James, especially the last one: “Faith Alone teachers such as D. Anderson and Wilkin [wrongly] teach that it is possible for believers to live in darkness” (p. 39); “[John] insisted that the life the believers possessed manifested itself in such qualities as obeying Christ and loving fellow believers” (p. 131); “The chief problem with Faith Alone proponents’ handling of Johannine menō [abide] is that for the most part they treat it [abiding in Christ] as expressing a non-permanent concept [i.e., believers might not continue to abide]” (p. 230); “Those who claimed to have fellowship with God and yet walked in darkness were unbelievers” (p. 233); “John does not view a believer’s life in a punctiliar [point in time] sense, but in a linear [over the lifetime] concept” (p. 234).
The price of this book, $179, will prove prohibitive for many readers. In spite of the price, I recommend this book for well-grounded believers who have an interest in Lordship Salvation and Free Grace theology. However, let the buyer beware that because of all the quotes in the book it is not always easy to follow the author’s train of thought. Nor is it easy to see from Scripture why he thinks Free Grace theology is wrong.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society