A few months back I encountered a fellow on Facebook that claimed to be of a grace position but he advocated a view of the gospel that is content to leave out certain key facts including the atonement and resurrection of Christ. It was apparent to me that this person followed after the teaching of the late Zane Hodges. Bob Wilkin is also a known supporter of this view. I would like to draw attention to this because, though a small faction advocates this, there are those out there pretending to be grace oriented and solid doctrinally that are still deceiving people from the truth.
To illustrate this issue here, I would like to draw your attention to some excerpts from an article written by the late Zane Hodges titled How to Lead a Person to Christ Part 1 The Content of our Message.
Hodges starts off with a scenario so read this and think about the answer to his question:
“Let me begin with a strange scenario. Try to imagine an unsaved person marooned on a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He has never heard about Christianity in his life. One day a wave washes a fragment of paper up onto the beach. It is wet but still partly readable.
On that paper are the words of John 6:43-47. But the only readable portions are: “Jesus therefore answered and said to them” (v 43) and “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (v 47).
Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future, since He promises everlasting life. In other words, he believes Jesus’ words in John 6:47. Is he saved?”
This was Hodges scenario and question so what do you think? I say no for a few reasons. Based on this alone he wouldn’t know Jesus from anyone else named Jesus or who He actually is. He wouldn’t necessarily know that everlasting life means anything different than living physically forever.
Please allow me to give some more of Hodges’ quotes and my reaction.
“If we believe that Jesus is the One who guarantees our eternal destiny, we have believed all we absolutely have to believe in order to be saved”
(This is the “cross-less” or “promise only” gospel view in a nutshell and don’t be fooled by it. So by this logic all I would have to do is print up a flyer or put up a billboard with this message and people would be saved by believing someone named Jesus guarantees their eternal destiny… Think about that for a second.)
“That’s why the man on the deserted island can get saved with only the barest minimum of information. When he believes John 6:47 he is believing in Jesus as the Christ.”
“However, some people today would say, “But it’s different now that the cross is behind us. Now we have to believe in that as well.” Do we? Where does this idea come from? Certainly not from the Gospel of John.”
(I would be one of the first people to point this out. Of course it is not from John. John however does allude to the cross and mentions that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Anyone familiar with the OT sacrificial system knew what was required to cover sin. Yes, John was pre-cross but Paul preached Christ and Christ crucified.)
“If by the time of the writing of John’s Gospel, it was actually necessary to believe this (the substitutionary atonement), then it would have been not only simple, but essential, to say so.”
(There are a couple things to note here. First, John gave an account of things from His perspective as they happened. It would be like if I took notes on everything that took place around me for a year then later released a book about it. Second, this still doesn’t explain why Paul says the cross and resurrection are so important. The Bible is not in contradiction of itself. It is simply that in John’s time they needed to specifically understand who their Messiah was. Christ even Himself gave Nicodemus a hint that He would be lifted up just as the serpent in the wilderness. This is reference to the idea of the cross. John the Baptist referred to him as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. A lamb that has to be spotless and slain. So already in John itself there was more than just the idea that Jesus guarantees eternal life.)
“The simple fact is that the whole Fourth Gospel is designed to show that its readers can get saved in the same way as the people who got saved in John’s narrative. To say anything other than this is to accept a fallacy. It is to mistakenly suppose that the Fourth Gospel presents the terms of salvation incompletely and inadequately. I sincerely hope no grace person would want to be stuck with a position like that.”
(Salvation is always obtained through faith. I’ve already shown how in John itself there is more that what these cross-less advocates claim. Also, due to progressive revelation the content can become clarified. All grace people other than the cross-less gospel fringe have this view. The simple fact remains is that you go by the latest revelation that you have which in this case is the completed picture. It is now an established fact that Jesus Christ the Son of God came in human flesh being fully God and lived a sinless life, died shedding His blood as an atonement for our sin, and not only that but was buried and rose again according to the scriptures that had foretold of it. We celebrate Christ’s birth and that fulfillment of prophecy so why not celebrate His completion of what He came to do? Why stop at a time pre-cross that only points to something Christ would yet do? Why do that just to try to find a minimalistic boiled down point of the least amount of content one needs to believe?? That is the wrong type of premise to begin with.)
Hodges says he wanted people to understand the cross but that this is more important: “Very simply it is this: We want people to believe that Jesus guarantees their eternal destiny. Of course, we would like them to believe a lot more than this, but this at least must be believed. Our failure to clearly define our goal in evangelism can have a negative or impeding effect on our efforts to lead people to simple faith in Christ.”
(The problem is that Hodges omits the “why and how”. It is rather that a shying away from crucial aspects of the good news for today leads to what Hodges is stating that he wants to avoid. His man on the desert island would not know much at all.)
Hodges talks about adding to the gospel: “But in our own circles, there is a tendency to add theological information to our message of faith. Some people even regard belief in the virgin birth as essential to salvation, and in the absence of such belief they would not admit that a person is saved. They do this despite the fact that the Gospel of John makes no effort to present this doctrine.”
(Put it this way. If you don’t believe that Jesus was virgin born then you do not believe He is sinless and you have no Savior. A person may not think about this before being saved but they can’t hold denial of the view because it essentially denies Christ as God. It would be like saying a Bhuddist can believe Jesus was just a man but yet still be saved by believing Jesus provides him eternal life. Really? Think about that.)
Hodges makes this most ignorant and illogical claim: “All forms of the gospel that require greater content to faith in Christ than the Gospel of John requires, are flawed.”
(Really? So then Paul’s message was flawed? Let us consider what message Paul taught concerning his gospel of Christ.
1Co 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, (So this is the content) which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand (they received and stood in this truth meaning it was important);
1Co 15:2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. (Paul explains this later in the chapter)
1Co 15:3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
1Co 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:(This in essence was the good news: that it is finished. Christ had paid it all and lives as a risen Savior ready to forgive all who will receive that salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. This is all based on what He has accomplished.)
“Evangelism based on such premises will also be flawed, because we will be tempted to test professions of faith in terms of the doctrines we think must be believed. Instead we should be focusing on whether an individual believes that Jesus has given him eternal life.”
(Well Paul’s gospel message was the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believed. I don’t see flaws in that. Sure a person needs to know that God has given him eternal life meaning he must believe that he has actually received it. But that refutes a promise only model.)
“Evangelism, therefore, is intended to bring men and women to the place where they believe that Jesus guarantees their eternal destiny. If a person does this and we insist on more than that, we will be guilty of seeking to invalidate the simple exercise of faith that really does bring salvation.”
(Sadly Hodges fails to realize that there is content involved. Try witnessing to a Catholic without telling them that Christ paid it all. They already have that sort of teaching. They need to specifically know how Christ has paid everything and that there is nothing left for them to do.)
“The name of Jesus therefore is a mighty and exalted name, compared to which all other names in our age or in any other age are inferior and weak. No one has ever trusted in that name for his or her eternal well-being who has not been saved by doing so. And this is true no matter how little they might have known about the One whom that name represents.”
(It is not just the written or spoken name itself that has power. It is the person referred to by the name. Also as others have pointed out. To be consistent you would have to go with the Jewish pronunciation and written name which is not “Jesus” as we have it in English.)
“But the flip side of the coin is this: Everyone who believes in that name for eternal salvation is saved, regardless of the blank spots or the flaws in their theology in other respects. Another way of saying the same thing is this: No one has ever trusted that name and been disappointed.”
(This is categorically not true as I illustrated earlier. Everyone that believes in that name as meaning Christ the son of God is saved based on the good news of what HE has done. But doctrinal error concerning who He is and what He has done can nullify the reception of the free gift. So can adding in elements of human merit or works. Say my theology was flawed in that I thought that Jesus died and went to hell and was tormented there as a sinner. Am I still believing in Christ for salvation? No, not the Christ of the Bible who became sin (a sin offering) for us yet was sinless. Doctrine can matter if is surrounds who Christ is, what He did to atone for us, or what we must do to receive eternal salvation. By this logic displayed by Hodges you could get real ecumenical real fast.)
“In other words, God does not say to people, “You trusted my Son’s name, but you didn’t believe in His virgin birth, or His substitutionary atonement, or His bodily resurrection, so your faith is not valid.” We say that, but God’s Word does not.”
(This is not correct. See I Cor 15. Paul explained there the exact problem of believing that Christ did not rise or of believing in general that there is no resurrection for anyone! If there isn’t then your faith is vain and you have no Savior! If Christ is not God then you have no Savior. If Christ is not the perfect and accepted sacrifice then you have no Savior.)
Hodges uses the example: “Suppose I am in some deep financial trouble and a stranger named Sam, let us say, tells me he will get me out of my trouble if I will just trust him to do it. Perhaps Sam strikes me as a reliable and honest type person and I am convinced that he can and will do what he says. So I leave the matter in his hands and sure enough, he comes through and saves me from my financial problem with a generous infusion of cash. Did I believe in him? Sure.
But suppose after trusting him, I find out that he is a corporate CEO and a multi-millionaire. Would he later come back to me and say, well you didn’t know enough about me when you trusted me, so I’m afraid I can’t help you? Our deal is cancelled.”
(This still doesn’t deal with the reality that Christ’s atonement and resurrection is past tense and complete. That is the point. That is the good news that we share like Paul did.)
Hodges ends this section with this heretical statement: “In the final analysis, therefore, salvation is the result of believing in Jesus to provide it. Salvation is not the result of assenting to a detailed creed. Salvation does not even require an understanding of how it was provided for or made possible. All it requires is that the sinner understand the sufficiency of the name of Jesus to guarantee the eternal well-being of every believer”
(So basically the gospel to Hodges is indeed cross-less. No need to ever mention the cross and finished atoning work of Christ. The apostle Paul and Peter and others preaching post cross were then in error. Let’s think about the following words of Peter in Acts:
Act 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:
Act 2:23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
Act 2:24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
And these words from Paul:
1Co 1:17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.
1Co 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. )
In the fourth section Hodges talks about the cross.
“In the light of what we have just said, should we preach the cross of Christ? The answer to that is emphatically yes. And the most obvious reason for doing so is that this is what Paul and the other Apostles did.
According to Paul’s own statement, when he came to Corinth to preach, he was “determined not to know anything among [them] except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). Later in the epistle, Paul describes his gospel as one that declared “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (15:3).”
(Hmm, imagine that. Yet Hodges seems to not understand the importance. What? So Paul’s good news (gospel) has slightly more content than John mentioned being that this is now post-cross? )
“Are you ready for this? John never uses either word in his gospel. Why? Because, as I have already suggested, John makes the Person of Jesus, not a set of doctrines, the object of the faith that brings eternal life. Fundamentally he is trying to get people to believe in Jesus for their eternal salvation.”
(Paul didn’t make anything other than Jesus Christ the object of our faith. We trust Him for it based on the good news of who He is and what therefor He accomplished for us who could not save ourselves. For us this is the good news. The good news that IT is fininshed. )
Notice more of Hodges’ flip flop:
“But this is precisely where preaching the cross becomes so important. Why should men trust Christ for eternal life? The gospel gives us the wonderful answer. They should do so because Jesus has bought their salvation at the cost of His own precious blood. And God has placed His seal on the work of the cross by raising Jesus from the dead. As Paul states: He “was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom 4:25).
(Exactly my point. …)
“The preaching of the cross greatly facilitates the process of bringing men to faith in God’s Son.”
(This sums up the point of basically all grace believers that oppose Hodges and his error. Why should men trust Christ? To not give people this reason is unconscionable. If Hodges had this as his only paragraph then his article would be Biblical. This is exactly the gospel we share with people now in this age of grace post cross.)
In the final section Hodges says: “To be sure, trust in Christ can occur without a knowledge of the cross, but more often than not it doesn’t. The message of the cross clarifies God’s way of salvation.”
(He makes my point pretty well for me. The question is trust Christ for what? The answer is related to what He did for us on the cross.)
Hodges further makes my point and nullifies his own position. “On a very practical level, when I am dealing with an unsaved person, I find that if I simply tell him he only needs to believe in Christ, this usually doesn’t make sense to him. Why should it be so easy? Why are not works required? To the unregenerate American mind, it doesn’t sound reasonable.”
(Exactly. This is why Paul preached the gospel the way he did. To the Greeks foolishness and the Jews a stumbling block. This means it goes against our sin nature to understand it. We must receive it by faith. The god of this world has blinded the minds of them that don’t believe. 2 Cor 4. This is why we need the good news of Christ’s death burial and resurrection. Not just some unspecific guarantee from a person named Jesus.)
“I say to people, “Jesus paid it all” and there is nothing left for you to do or to pay. All you have to do is believe in Him for the free gift of everlasting life.”
(Amen, this is closer to what you need to be telling people. Go with this starting point and forget that other mindless drivel about desert islands.)
I pray that any reading this consider prayerfully the truth of the important of the cross in our gospel presentations. Also warn others using scripture against this cross-less error in love.