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What Are The Clearest Gospel Passages?

by Bob Wilkin

Last month I spoke at a pastor's conference in Kansas City, Missouri on the subject: "Lordship Salvation and the Analogy of Faith." In this article I will share the gist of my remarks.

The analogy of faith is a hermeneutical principle--a principle of Bible interpretation--which says that unclear passages should be understood in light of clear ones and not the other way around.

Lordship Salvation violates this principle in two ways: 1) It bases its understanding of the Gospel on unclear passages of Scripture; and 2) It overthrows the correct interpretation of clear passages by understanding them in light of faulty interpretations of the unclear passages.

To prove this we must first have some way of identifying clear passages. I would suggest the following objecfive criteria: 1 ) Clear passages have relatively simple and unambiguous vocabulary, grammar, and contexts; and 2) Clear passages are ones which have been recognized throughout church history and the history of commentaries to be relatively easy to understand. Clear passages generally do not receive lengthy treatments in commentaries. Only one or two possible interpretations are put forth. On the other hand, unclear passages receive much longer discussions and many possible interpretations are suggested.

For example, the following are widely recognized as being unclear passages: Heb 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 1 John 3:9; Jesus' Encounter with the Rich Young Ruler; The Olivet Discourse; James 2:14-26; 1 Tim 2:15; and 1 Pet 3:21 to name but a few.

I have noted with interest what passages teachers from the Lordship Salvation perspective cite as being the ones upon which they base their views. Walter Chantry's book, Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic, essentially is a running commentary on just one passage. Which one passage is selected to prove what the authentic Gospel is? Jesus' encounter with the Rich Young Ruler!

Dr. John MacArthur spoke on the subject of saving faith at the 1989 Annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Diego, California. What text did he choose? He selected the Book of James and especially James 2:14-26 to defend his understanding of saving faith!

Dr. James Montgomery Boice wrote a book called Christ's Call to Discipleship in which he argues that the Lord's calls to discipleship were in fact calls to eternal salvation. I must adinit that many of the texts he selects are not problem passages at all. Rather, they are clear passages in which the Lord is calling believers to follow Him in discipleship. He errs in such passages by badly misunderstanding clear texts. However, in at least two chapters Dr. Boice supports his Lordship view of the Gospel with texts on discipleship which are notoriously unclear. He has one chapter called "But Is He With Us?" on Luke 9:49-50 and another entifled, "No Tuming Back" on Luke 9:62.

Obviously such texts are not those on which to build a clear understanding of the Gospel. Consider instead texts like John 3:16; 4:10ff.; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27; 20:30-31; Acts 16:30-31; Rom 4:5; Gal 3:6-14; and the like. Check the commentaries. Those verses are widely agreed to be clear and simple. Their meanings are relatively undisputed. Their vocabulary, grammar, and contexts are unambiguous. Would it not make sense to base one's view of the Gospel on passages like that? The analogy of faith suggests that it would.

Lordship Salvation does touch on clear Gospel passages like those just mentioned. However, it subverts their clear meaning in order to read in the view of the Gospel they expect to find. The treatment, for example, of John 3 and 4 in The Gospel According to Jesus is sad indeed. Great pains are taken to find turning from sins and commitment of life in passages where they just can't be found. Lordship Salvation's misunderstanding of problem texts demands that they treat the clear texts in that way. If a person from the Lordship camp were to approach the clear Gospel texts with an open mind they would be forced to change their position and join our ranks (something, by the way, which I find that not a few are doing today).

Free Grace Salvation builds its case upon the clear passages while Lordship Salvation builds its case on the unclear.

We often treat problem texts in The GES News. We do so to help you, our readers, in your personal study and teaching. You will note, however, that we always allow clear passages of Scripture to influence our understanding of the unclear. We regularly utilize the analogy of faith.

In 2 Pet 3:16 Peter tells us that some of Paul's writings are hard to understand. So are some of Peter's and some of the rest of the NT! It makes sense to build our doctrinal understanding on the passages which are not hard to understand. That is the point of the analogy of faith--a valid canon for sound biblical interpretation. Fire that cannon and fire it often! It, like the Word of God it helps us understand, is powerful!

Bob Wilkin is the Founder and Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society.

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