Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Beheading Hodges' Hydra - Part 2 of 3

In Part 1 of my review of the latest article by Hodges, I discussed the errors Hodges makes regarding his critics. Here in Part 2, I will discuss the errors he makes regarding the apostle John and the Gospel he wrote, and related matters. The reader should be aware that Hodges makes several assumptions in this area, and to address those assumptions takes quite a bit more space than it takes to simply make the assumption. As a result, this article is somewhat lengthy, however, I felt it appropriate in order to adequately address the significant errors I see in Hodges' unique theology. Part 3 of this series will be entirely devoted to explaining the errors Hodges makes in his article regarding the apostle Paul and "the gospel".

First, Hodges says that those of us who oppose him are "at war" with John's Gospel, that John's Gospel "stands in obvious contradictions" to our view, and that we are "uncomfortable" with the Gospel of John. This is ludicrous and complete well-poisoning. He never substantiates these assertions. There is no way any of us are "at war" with any part of the Bible. We are certainly not "uncomfortable" with John. We love John. That is ridiculous. I have in fact discussed the Gospel of John extensively in various places, and have actually argued that chapter 3 of that book supports the historic Free Grace position, rather than Hodges' new view. Certainly, none of us have any problem with any book of the Bible. For Hodges to make these outrageous claims, and then not even back them up, is itself outrageous.

Second, Hodges says that John never "preach[es] the conditions required for eternal life" by traditionalists. As I've stated many times in the past, John never preaches the conditions that Hodges requires either! Even Tim Nichols has acknowledged that Scripture simply does not give us a specific list of what must be believed for salvation. Indeed, we would not expect it to. John was part of what anthropologists call a "high-context" society. I have discussed this principle on this blog in the past, and it is vital to understand, especially in this debate where Hodges, et al. keep insisting that we find a neatly enumerated list of what God requires for salvation. As I indicated, Hodges has the exact same problem for his view. I have challenged several CG folks to show me even one verse or passage that specifically says what exactly a person needs to believe to be born again, and they have yet to do so. The reason they cannot and never will is because the NT is written in and to the high-context society of the Ancient Near East. The following is from a comment I made here:

Anthropologist Edward Hall popularized the terms "high context" and "low context" cultures/societies. Wikipedia isn't exactly the most scholarly/authoritative source, but their definition of "high-context" is borne out by others and is decent:

"High context culture (and the contrasting ‘low context culture’) are terms presented by the anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his book Beyond Culture. It refers to a culture’s tendency to cater towards in-groups, an in-group being a group that has similar experiences and expectations, from which inferences are drawn. In a high context culture, many things are left unsaid, letting the culture explain.

High context cultures are more common in the eastern cultures than in western, and in countries with low racial diversity. Cultures where the group is valued over the individual promote the in-groups and group reliance that favor high context cultures. Co-cultures are also conducive to high context situations, where the small group relies on their common background to explain the situation, rather than words. A low context culture explains things further, because those in a low context culture have a wide variety of background.

High context cultures have a strong sense of tradition and history, and change little over time. Many native societies (such as the Māori of New Zealand and the Native Americans.) are high context cultures. The static culture keeps the high context throughout different generations. Low context cultures change drastically from one generation to the next, like the United States."

It is certainly true, of course, that certain small groups within low-context cultures can and do have higher-context "subcultures" within the greater culture. Examples could include your family, a church/religious group, a work group, etc. But such subcultures are merely highER context than the overall culture, and do not negate the fact that the overall culture is indeed "low context".

A couple more helpful quotes...

From here, quoting a book by Malina and Rohrbaugh entitled Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels:

"The New Testament was written in what anthropologists call a 'high-context' society. People who communicate with each other in high-context societies presume a broadly shared, well-understood knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing. For example, everyone in ancient Mediterranean villages would have had a clear and concrete knowledge of what sowing entailed,largely because the skills involved were shared by most (male) members of that society. no writer would need to explain. Thus writers in such societies usually produce sketchy and impressionistic writings, leaving much to the reader's or hearer's imagination. They also encode much information in widely known symbolic or stereotypical statements. In this way, they require the reader to fill in large gaps in the unwritten portion of the writing. All readers are expected to know the context and therefore to understand the references in question."

And from here, this is Jonathan Sarfati (popular creationist), from his book Refuting Compromise, in which he utilized Malina and Rohrbaugh's Social-Science on the Gospel of John:

"That is, its members ‘presume a broadly shared, well-understood, or “high” knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing’. The authors wrote to intended readers with a certain background and expected them to be able to ‘fill in the gap’. There was no need to explain things in depth if they all had a shared, background knowledge. Conversely, we in the modern West are a ‘low-context’ society, and expect the context to be spelt out to us: ‘The obvious problem this creates for reading the biblical writings today is that low-context readers in the United States frequently mistake the biblical writings for low-context documents. They erroneously assume that the author has provided all of the contextual information needed to understand it."

So Hodges' complaint in his article that John never gave us the conditions that the historic FG position holds as necessary, is nullified, as a proper understanding of the culture of John shows that we would never expect such a thing.

Third, and closely related to the second error above, Hodges holds that John's Gospel was intended as a stand-alone message to bring unbelievers to salvation. He doesn't say that explicitly in this article, but he does imply it, and he has certainly stated so elsewhere, as have all other CG people I have read. Hodges does say that "John's Gospel was written long after [the requirements of the historic FG position] should have been standard fare", and that since such requirements are not listed out specifically in John's Gospel, then "[t]he conclusion is irresistible that such 'provisos' never existed. John the apostle obviously believed that the message Jesus gave to the lost was sufficient for the present age in which we live." The problems with this are at least three-fold. First, the point above regarding the "high-context society" in which John lived and wrote mitigates against such a list of requirements. Second, it is almost universally recognized that John's Gospel is the last of the 4 canonical Gospels, indeed it was one of the last books to be written in the entire Bible. It was most definitely written after Paul's letters. CG people like to try to use this fact in their favor, as Hodges did in the article, by claiming that if John didn't say it explicitly, then it must not be necessary. However, given the high-context John wrote in, if we recognize that Paul's letters, as well as the other 3 canonical Gospels, had been circulating for several years prior to John writing his Gospel, then we come to the obvious understanding that John did not NEED to spell out the details - they were already there and known by his readers. So when John quotes Jesus as saying, "Believe in me", he doesn't NEED to explain every last detail because that had already been done by Paul and others, and he would have assumed (correctly) that his readers already knew that. John could write something like "believe in [Jesus]" that seems vague to us, but was pregnant with meaning to his readers, and they all knew exactly what he meant. However, we are 20 centuries and a lot of culture removed from John's writings, so we have to do more study than his readers would have done to know what he meant.

So, rather than supporting the CG view, the fact that John's Gospel was written late actually refutes their view. Again, since John never actually tells us what he means specifically when he says "believe in" Jesus, the fact that his Gospel was written AFTER most of the NT indicates that he would have expected his audience to already know what that meant - which would have included Paul's constant refrain of Jesus' death and rez. And if Paul had already made the content of the gospel so abundantly clear, why would John spend any time reiterating the same points again? In addition, John was clearly trying to present unique points about Jesus' life and teaching (more on that below), and didn't have time or space (paper wasn't abundant like today) to just write about everything someone somewhere might consider important. Especially, again, if it had already been made clear by Paul and the other Gospels. Seeing this from the perspective of a high-context society that was already familiar with what John was talking about, we simply wouldn't expect John to enumerate neatly for us the exact requirements for salvation.

The third problem we see with Hodges' view that John's Gospel was intended as a stand-alone message to the lost is that I believe that John's primary purpose was NOT as a stand-alone evangelistic tool, but rather to present Jesus to second-generation, non-eye-witness believers, in order to encourage them in their faith. Naturally such a presentation would also be useful for evangelizing the lost, so that is a secondary purpose.

One way we can see this primary purpose is from the fact that John's gospel is so different from the synoptics. This article states, "The Gospel of John differs significantly from the synoptics in content. It is so different that one may justifiably suspect that John wrote to supplement the synoptic portrayal of Jesus, including material omitted by them, in order to round out the picture of Jesus presented." The point is that John is writing to readers who are already familiar with the story of Jesus from the synoptic Gospels. Thus we cannot make any kind of "argument from silence" from John's gospel because he would have been assuming his readers to know certain main points very well.

We can see this from other aspects as well, such as in John 11 when John relates the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. John tells us that Lazarus was the brother of Mary, and in 11:2 John identifies which Mary by saying, "It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick." However, John does not tell us the story of Mary wiping Jesus' feet with her hair until AFTER this comment, in John 12. Thus it is clear that John assumed his readers to be familiar with at least this story, most likely from the synoptics, and thus very likely they would have been familiar with other main aspects of the life and story of Jesus.

W. Hall Harris said, "It is a bit surprising that John here identifies Mary as 'the one who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair,' since this event is not mentioned until later in 12:3. Many see this 'proleptic' reference as indication that John expected his readers to be familiar with the story already, and go on to assume that in general the Evangelist in writing the Fourth Gospel assumed his readers were familiar with the other three. Whether the Evangelist assumed actual familiarity with the synoptic gospels or not, it is probable that he did assume some familiarity with Mary’s anointing activity."

There are other reasons to think that John assumed that his readers were familiar with the general story of Jesus in the synoptics - the later date of John compared to the synoptics, as well as the view (held by many early church fathers as well as modern scholars) that John wrote his gospel to supplement the synoptics, possibly even at the urging of his own followers.

Additionally, the word translated "believe" in John's purpose statement in John 20 can either mean to come to believe OR to continue believing. Daniel B. Wallace says, "The twofold i{na-clause neatly delineates the purpose: that the audience embrace Christ and that they receive life because of this. One question remains, however: the main verb, “believe” has a textual glitch. It is either pisteuvshte (aorist) or pisteuvhte (present). If the former, it might be construed (though by no means necessarily) to mean “come to saving faith.” If present, the idea probably would be “continue to believe.” At issue is whether the audience is principally believers or non-believers, whether this gospel is principally evangelistic or confirmatory. ... [My own view is that] the purpose of the book is to confirm or strengthen Gentile believers in their faith."

So Hodges is shown to be in error when he claims that John's Gospel was written primarily to tell everyone today how exactly it is that the lost can be saved. His attempt to use the timing of the writing of John's Gospel has been turned on its head and actually stands in opposition to Hodges' view.

Finally, Hodges makes a peculiar claim about the "changes" in what the lost must believe to be saved. He apparently thinks that the saving message has NOT changed since the cross. This causes one to wonder what exactly Hodges believes about changes and the saving message then. He currently thinks that people must believe that a person named Jesus can give them eternal life. But what about OT saints then? When exactly does he think the apostles were saved? Most of the apostles were good Jews - were they on their way to hell until they believed Jesus could give them eternal life? Hodges either believes that even OT saints believed "in Jesus" specifically (contrary to dispensational theology, and I would say contrary to Scripture), or he believes that the saving message HAS changed at some point, specifically when Jesus arrived on the scene. If the latter, then his attempt to use "changes" to the saving message for shock value is hypocritical. But even so, these "changes" that Hodges sounds the alarm about are simply not as radical as he presents them to be. OT saints were not required to believe in the actual events of the death and resurrection because they were not yet actual events. Once those events were actualized, they naturally became part of the gospel, just as Jesus being the one sent from God naturally became part of the gospel once he was actually sent. This is not some sort of radical change invented after the cross. It's simply a normal development in the progression of revelation.

In summary, Hodges errs regarding John's Gospel in that he plays up the supposed tension between the Gospel of John and the historic FG position, yet he provides no basis whatsoever for such claims. He also fails to recognize the high-context society in which John lived and wrote, and how that affects the specifics that John wrote as part of his Gospel. Additionally, Hodges' claim that whatever we needed to know about salvation was included explicitly in John is shown to be completely unfounded. The kinds of things we find in the Gospel of John, as well as the fact that John was written AFTER all of Paul's letters as well as the other 3 canonical Gospels, indicate that John was not intended as a stand-alone evangelistic tool to be ripped out of its context, but rather it was written to people who were already familiar with the basics of Jesus' story as well as the "fleshed-out" theology of Paul's letters. His attempt to create some sort of problem with the idea that there have been changes to the content of the gospel is clearly not any kind of problem whatsoever. Hodges' misuse of the Gospel of John, combined with his misuse of the apostle Paul (which I will discuss in Part 3 of this series, coming on Monday), continues to have grave ramifications.


  1. Rachel:

    More later, but I want to comment on this from you, Hodges says that those of us who oppose him are "at war" with John's Gospel.

    IMO, the article signals that it is Hodges (and Wilkin by extension) who has gone to "war" against all those in the Free Grace community who will not accept and/or openly reject his reductionist assault on the necessary content of saving faith.

    This article must certainly remove any doubt in the minds of even the most sympathetic in the FG community that there must be a complete and total withdrawal from Hodges, Wilkin and GES.

    Hodges has lead the GES to become a tiny cell of reductionist theological extremists who have checked out on the Scriptures.


  2. Rachel, your article points out that there is a 'textual glitch' in John 20:31 such as we can't be sure if it meant 'come to believe' or 'continue to believe'. Frankly, as I see it, Redefined Free Grace is hosed either way. If it's 'continue to believe' then their fundamental hyper-elevation of John's evangelistic purpose is undermined. If it's 'come to believe' then the hina statements of John 20:31 reveal a series of dependant clauses that are devestating to their removal of the work of the Christ from the content of saving faith -- Either way they lose.

    Also, you mention John 11:2 as a pre-reference to Mary anointing the Lord in John 12. There are some however who would say there is reason to believe 11:2 is referencing an entirely different and actually earlier event than that which is to come in John 12. In the context of this discussion however that objection, even if true, misses the point; whether 11:2 looks forward or back, it clearly demonstrates that John did not write to someone in a "Deserted Island Scenario". The problem for Redefined Free Grace is WORSENED if they take the position that 11:2 isn't looking ahead to 12 because it means they have to admit 11:2 is referencing something outside of John entirely! Whichever view you take it's clear John wrote assuming some pre-existing familiarity -- they lose either way.

  3. You mentioned earlier that Redefined FG can't meet it's own standard of a single verse that explicitly states what they claim is the content of saving faith. I've pointed that out to Redefined FG advocates as well and have been given several attempts to meet their own standard. To be clear, the standard they must meet is a single verse/passage that states explicitly that "Jesus gives everlasting life to all who simply believe in him for it."

    1 Tim 1:16: It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

    First, it's outside of John. This isn't a problem for 'us' but it violates RFG's self-imposed restriction that there is no expression of the saving message outside of John.
    Second, even if they concede this point, their interpretation violates the immediate context which reveals that the call to believe is based on Jesus' patient demonstration of mercy to Paul to save him, a sinner. Such a demonstration would be meaningless to those not aware that a) they are a sinner and b) that sin is what separates them from having everlasting life in the first place.

    1 Tim 1:16 is a fine verse, but it doesn't satisfy RFG's claim to a reduced content of saving faith.

    John 6:47 is another verse RFG proffers to support their reduction and I'll expose it a little later.

  4. Hi Lou,

    Yes, the "war" comment can only apply to Hodges. No one is "at war" with any part of the Bible, except perhaps for Hodges and his followers, who must twist obvious passages and outright ignore other passages and facts in order to justify their strange new theology.

  5. Regarding the issue of CG people trying to find a verse/passage that explicitly states the content of saving faith, usually the verses they do offer have Jesus saying something like, "believe in me and you will receive eternal life". CG advocates then make the leap that the promised gift is being listed as the necessary content of saving faith. But of course, this isn't necessarily so. Jesus is simply saying that the lost should believe "in him" (which isn't specifically explained), and one result of such belief will be the granting of eternal life to the one who believes. But the question still remains, what is it we are to believe in order to accurately say we "believe in Jesus"? Now, please note, I am not saying that I don't know. I've clearly stated in various places that I think we CAN and DO know what it is we need to believe. My point is simply that the verses the CG people point to as telling us the content of saving faith do NOT do so.

    1 Tim 1:16 isn't really any different. It shows that people believe in Jesus in order to receive eternal life. That doesn't mean that's the ONLY thing they need to believe. Plus, the entire NT (indeed, the entire BIBLE) makes it clear that our SIN is what separates us from reconciliation with God and that eternal life. Therefore a person must clearly acknowledge that they are sinners and accept the method of payment for their sin (Jesus' death and resurrection) in order to receive the eternal life that they do not have.

    This reveals a major fundamental difference between CG advocates and the rest of the FG community (and really, the rest of the Christian community - I have found CG to be very unique in this view). They teach that sin is actually NO LONGER a barrier between the lost and God! They hold that our only problem is that we lack eternal life. Thus it makes sense logically in their system that the lost would not be required to believe in Jesus' death and resurrection, since it's merely a fact that ALLOWS them to have eternal life, but is not connected to anything that will ever change.

    In contrast, I hold (as well as the majority of Christianity) that people's sin still separates them from God. I do not see any neutrality in Scripture, where people don't have sin but still don't have eternal life. I see that people either have sin and are condemned, or have no sin (Christ's righteousness) and are given eternal life.

    I have discussed this issue rather extensively at my group blog here, and I have provided a detailed explanation of my reasons for rejecting that view here. Rather than copy and paste all or major portions of those articles and comments, I recommend interested readers to check them out and bring any comments/questions here.

    But please realize, this is a troublesome teaching coming from CG advocates, which the vast majority of FG churches (to say nothing of other orthodox Christian churches) would reject in a heartbeat. I dare say that if most FG churches who currently accept Wilkin and Hodges were aware of this teaching of theirs regarding sin, the number of requests for speaking engagements would seriously decline, even more so than it may already have done. It is concerning how much parsing of words and cover-ups come from the CG side of this debate.

  6. Rachel:

    I appreciate this review on several levels. And the thread comments from you and Stephen are very helpful from you and Stephen.

    You wrote, But please realize, this is a troublesome teaching coming from CG advocates, which the vast majority of FG churches (to say nothing of other orthodox Christian churches) would reject in a heartbeat. I dare say that if most FG churches who currently accept Wilkin and Hodges were aware of this teaching of theirs regarding sin, the number of requests for speaking engagements would seriously decline, even more so than it may already have done. It is concerning how much parsing of words and cover-ups come from the CG side of this debate.

    IMO, most of the churches who accept Hodges and Wilkin do so without really understanding or having had fully disclosed to them the clear unvarnished truth of the GES reductionist heresy.

    I remember your experience when Wilkin came to your church and it was not until you engaged him in e-mails that the full and disturbing truth of his teaching unfolded.

    Many people we interact with are unaware of the Crossless gospel coming from Hodges and Wilkin. They can hardly believe when we lay out in simple terms what it is Hodges is teaching. They think, “it can't possibly be true that Hodges and Wilkin teach this!” Then they inevitably find out it is true and are repulsed by it.

    Dave at the FG Believer blog just had that rude awakening. When Rose showed up at his blog, I warned him about her Crossless friends (and their unethical behavior) in the GES to make sure he was not lead to them by Rose without warning. He though I was possibly overstating the problem. Well, he found out for himself, like they all do eventually, who have not already been deceived and their conscience seared.

    The “no sin barrier” teaching is not widely know, but it will be.

    In any event, GES has lost significant numbers in membership and financial support. Venues that once hosted GES events will no longer open the door to Hodges and Wilkin. I am grateful for the stand against the heresy coming from GES. Many more might have been deceived if the teaching of Hodges had not been fully exposed by men like Pastors Stegall and Rokser.


  7. You are correct Lou. GES and it's advocates redefine terms to sound much more orthodox than they are, in much the same way cults do to sound more orthodox and in line with mainstream Christianity. Once we made it clear to our church leadership that we weren't on a witch hunt, but that our claims were documented and accurate, our pastor issued a statement to distance ourselves from Wilkin/GES. We are thankful for our pastor affirming that our church will not waiver on the content of the Gospel!

    Zane Hodges' The Hydra's Other Head article confirms what we concluded then... that our view of the Gospel and GES' are mutually exclusive. ZH has now also confirmed the logical conclusion of their view -- that churches like mine are "theological legalists" in the view of GES and Redefined Free Grace. ZH's article confirms that we were right to distance ourselves from GES, Wilkin, and those who share their reduced view of the content of saving faith.

    It's been over a year since Wilkin was at our church but other churches and individuals must be warned and informed as well. Your site provided vital resources at that time to confirm that our concerns over GES were, and still are, well founded.

    It's been quite a year. God is good and His grace is free!

  8. Hi Rachel. I saw your reply to my comment on the Context Group at Lou's blog. I wasn't sure if you'd visit that thread again, so I'm replying here. I definitely agree with you that the Context Group has made great contributions to understanding the Bible. I didn't mean to suggest that we should throw out all of their observations just because they are wrong on the Gospel and OSAS. I was just afraid for anyone who would look into their work and come away thinking they have to be loyal to God to be saved. I'm glad you've pointed out before that we should read everything they say with a careful eye. I'm also thankful that you realize they take the Client-Patron relationship too far when they apply it to saving faith. I think it's fine that you see everyday faith in terms of a client-patron relationship, since you don't take it to the extreme the Context Group does.

    I also like JP Holding's Tektonics site. I just wish he would affirm OSAS. But yes, he does a great job debunking Skeptics.

    My observation about 1 Thessalonians 5:10 was to debunk the normal Context Group idea that loyalty is necessary for final entrance into the Kingdom. The words "wake" and "sleep" are the same Greek words (gregoreo and katheudo) used in verses 6 and 7. Whether believers are morally watching/sober or morally sleeping/drunk, they will live together with Lord, because He died for us. Obviously loyalty or lack of loyalty has nothing to do with entering the Kingdom. 1 Thessalonians 5:10 states what should be obvious, proving that Jesus' Death (and by high-context implication, His Resurrection) is more than sufficient to make us eternally secure.

  9. Rachel,

    I plan to return and read the article again, but I had a few thoughts that are related to your points about the historical context. One is the context in which the GoJ would have been distributed. I think Pastor Tom Stegall made a footnote about this in one of his articles. At that time, to copy a manuscript from the GoJ (21 chapters) would have taken an immense amount of time and resources. It would have been costly to copy and distribute. There would have been a limited number of scrolls. You couldn't hand out the GoJ like a gospel tract like we can do today. Instead, you would've sent it to churches where it would be preached or with missionaries who would use it to preach.

    Another thing is the picturesque nature of Hebraic communication fits the content of faith being illustrated or depicted in verses like John 3:14-15 and 6:51-58 rather than enumerated in the analytical style Hodges seems to demand.

  10. Hi Danny,

    I see what you were saying about the Context Group. I think we are on the same page, just coming to it from different perspectives. Thanks for explaining!

  11. Hi Greg,

    Thanks for reading, and for your comment. You are right about the Gospel of John - John certainly did not plan to hand out copies of his Gospel on the street corner! Not that we shouldn't do that, of course, but authorial intent is essential to consider when studying the Scriptures (anything, actually, but especially the Word).

    And I agree that Hodges' desire to find an enumerated list is quite unnatural to ancient communication, especially the Hebrews, as you pointed out. I discussed John 3 at length in a previous article, and I agree that the way of redemption was very much pictured and described, rather than listed point-by-point as Hodges apparently requires.

    Thanks for visiting, and I'll be sure to read your review at Lou's blog when he posts it later this week.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. My previous comment was in response to someone who actually commented under a different article. Sorry about that.