I finished D.A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies: Second Edition. In this post, I’ll talk about what Carson says about Zane Hodges. Zane Hodges was an evangelical who opposed Lordship Salvation.
What is Lordship Salvation? I’ll try to define it as I understand it, and hopefully my characterization is correct. Essentially, Lordship Salvation is saying that just believing a set of intellectual propositions about Jesus is not sufficient for salvation, but that a person must also live the Christian life—-surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord, obey God, produce the fruit of the Spirit, do good works, etc. Adherents to Lordship Salvation do not believe that they are teaching that people are saved by their good works, or by a combination of faith and good works; rather, they maintain that true saving faith produces good works, and that good works are a sign that a person has truly been saved. Critics of this view, however, think that it’s legalistic, and that the only act that is required for salvation is receiving God’s free gift of grace, which was made possible through the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Zane Hodges tries to defend this position against Lordship Salvation. One way that he does so is by distinguishing Christian discipleship from salvation. When Jesus says in Luke 14 that people must forsake all—-family, life itself, etc.—-for Jesus, Hodges thinks that concerns discipleship, not salvation (even though, as John MacArthur points out, Matthew 16:26, after saying that the disciples must deny themselves, states that what is at stake is their souls, and whether or not they shall lose them). Similarly, non-Lordship advocates have argued that, when James says that faith alone is not sufficient to save but that good works are necessary as well, James is speaking of temporal salvation (in the fashion of wisdom literature), not eternal salvation. When it comes to eternal salvation, however, Hodges thinks that Revelation 22:22 is a passage that reveals the path to that: “And whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely”.
Carson disagrees with Hodges position, and I will present three reasons why.
First, on page 92, Carson states that Hodges “never wrestles with the possibility (in my view, the dead certainty) that in spiritual matters grace and demand are not necessarily mutually incompatible: everything depends on their relations, purposes, functions.”
Second, on pages 84-85, Carson quotes Hebrews 3:14: “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first” (NIV). Carson interprets this to mean that our perseverance is evidence that we have been saved, or have come to share in Christ. Carson does not mention Hodges, but this point is relevant to the Lordship salvation debate.
Third, on page 129, Carson notes that “not one significant interpreter of Scripture in the entire history of the church has held to Hodges’s interpretation of the passages he treats.” While Carson acknowledges that some interpreters have distinguished between accepting Christ as Savior and accepting him as Lord (as non-Lordship adherents do), he thinks that Hodges’ exegeses are novel and unusual, when placed against the backdrop of the history of church interpretation. In a sense, Carson is making an argument from authority, which he decries elsewhere in this book. But I doubt that he would rest his critique of Hodges’ exegesis entirely on its novelty. Rather, he’d probably say that its novelty should clue us in that something is wrong, but that we should refute Hodges’ exegesis on solid exegetical grounds (i.e., look at language, context, etc.).
I can sympathize with Hodges’ view because I myself feel that there is tension between grace and works. While the New Testament at times presents salvation as a free gift from God, it also seems to aver that we will not be saved if we are doing certain sins, or refraining from good works. Hodges tries to explain that away, and I’d like to read his case some more at some point. I read Absolutely Free a while back, and, while I enjoyed his barbs against Lordship Salvation, I ultimately was not convinced by his arguments. Perhaps I can benefit from other things he has written. I do not think that the New Testament authors believed that they were contradicting themselves. Perhaps they believed that one entered the covenant by grace but stayed in the covenant by repentance or good works, or that good works were a sign of God’s grace. Practically speaking, however, these approaches amount to legalism—–being unsure of one’s salvation and trying to prove it by becoming good enough.