What Happened to the Word BELIEVE? By Donald H. Bunge. Self-published, 1999. 54 pp. (Paper), $1.50.
The “Gospel (good news) is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Then what is our part? To give? To surrender? To do? To pray? To ask? – – or just to believe?” so writes author Donald Bunge in his book addressing the one proper condition for salvation, namely faith in Christ. Bunge originally wrote this book in 1985 to correct the many popular but unbiblical expressions used in evangelism. After 16 years, the message of this book is needed just as urgently.
The book consists of seven short chapters. Aside from a brief introduction and conclusion, there are chapters correcting the many false additions to faith, as well as a chapter clarifying hindrances people have to “just believing.” In chapter 2, entitled “Cliches That Confuse,” Bunge addresses phrases such as: “Give your heart to Christ,” “Surrender to Christ or Surrender all,” “Make a commitment to Christ,” and “He found Christ or You need to find Christ.” Chapter 3 addresses typical “prayers” for salvation, such as the following: “Confess your sins,” “Ask God to forgive you,” “I asked God to save me,” “God be merciful to me and save me for Jesus’ sake,” “Ask Jesus to come into your heart,” and “Call on the name of the Lord for salvation.”
One of the most helpful chapters in the book deals with hindrances people have to accepting salvation simply by believing in Christ. Heading the list is the misunderstanding of James 2:14-24. Here Bunge follows Zane Hodges’ interpretation rather than the traditional reformed and Lordship view, which says, “faith alone saves but saving faith is never alone.” Especially helpful in this chapter are the sections on “easy-believism” and the supposed distinction between “head faith” and “heart faith.” Another hindrance to believing listed by Bunge is the confusion surrounding repentance. He interprets repentance to be a requirement for salvation, as long as it is not understood to be a turning “from sin,” but instead as a change of mind which is simultaneous with believing in Christ. He concludes that the views which state repentance to be either not necessary for salvation, or to be a turning from sin for salvation, are both “dead wrong.” Finally, readers of GES will appreciate the fact that Bunge has included Lordship Salvation in this chapter as a contributing factor toward the confusion surrounding salvation by simple faith.
One aspect of this booklet that I personally appreciated was a section dealing with incentives for righteous living. This provides balance to the book so that the reader doesn’t conclude that good works are irrelevant in the Christian life. Bunge lists five incentives for righteous living for one who has already believed. They include a heartfelt gratitude for what Christ has done for us, the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer, the presence of a new nature in the believer, a recognition of sin’s awful price and the reality of divine discipline, and finally the certain prospect of the Judgment Seat of Christ for every child of God.
Though my response to this book is generally favorable, there are a few objections. The first is regarding a doctrinal issue. Bunge states that faith itself is a gift from God given to sinners for salvation. He writes in his conclusion, “Even the faith that a sinner needs for forgiveness for salvation is a gift of God . . . (Ephesians 2:8) . . . God offers this faith to the sinner and he then, under conviction of the Holy Spirit, must place his faith in the Person and work of the Son of God for him personally” (pp.52-53). Grammatically, I believe it can be shown that faith is not the gift described in Ephesians 2:8, nor does the New Testament elsewhere state that faith is a gift from God for our salvation. Besides this doctrinal objection, there are a few sections where his point is not clearly written or conveyed. Also, the booklet has several errors of grammar and spelling.
Despite these few objections, I recommend this booklet to the readers of GES because it consistently represents the true, biblical position on salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. Secondly, its digestible size and simple, non-technical writing-style make it suitable for popular distribution. Thirdly, this booklet fills a definite void, since there are so few materials available on the Christian market dealing with this particular subject. And finally, this booklet addresses the major issues surrounding “faith alone” in a very practical manner, so that it can be used profitably by all, especially someone who is confused on the one biblical response for salvation.
This book can be purchased for $1.50 (which includes shipping) directly from the author:
Donald H. Bunge
12406 Westwood Lane
Omaha, NE 68144
Pastor Tom Stegall
Word of Grace Bible Church