70. What is “easy-believism”?
The term “easy-believism” is a usually derogatory label, used to characterize the faulty understanding of the nature of saving faith adhered to by much of contemporary Evangelicalism, most notably (and extremely) by such Dispensational authors as Charles Ryrie and Zane Hodges. The term was popularized in an ongoing debate between Hodges, to whose theology the label “easy-believism” was affixed, and John MacArthur, to whom the term “lordship salvation” came to be applied.
Essentially, the teaching of “easy-believism” (which proponents prefer to call “free grace,” or some similar term), asserts that the faith which saves is mere intellectual assent to the truths of the gospel, accompanied by an appeal to Christ for salvation (at the end of his life, Hodges embraced the even more extreme position that salvation requires only an appeal to Christ, even by one who does not believe the most basic truths of the gospel, such as his death, burial, and resurrection [which he clearly taught, for example, in “The Hydra's Other Head: Theological Legalism,” printed in the Grace In Focus Newsletter]). According to proponents of the “free grace” movement (i.e. “easy-believism”), it is not required of the one appealing for salvation that he be willing to submit to the Lordship of Christ. In fact, at least according to some proponents, the person appealing for salvation may at the same time be willfully refusing to obey the commands of Christ; but because he has intellectual faith, he will still be saved, in spite of his ongoing rebellion.
“Easy-believism” is usually connected with Dispensationalism, which serves as a foundational theological support for it. According to classic Dispensationalism, the gospel which Jesus proclaimed on earth was a gospel for the ethnic Jews alone, promising them earthly rewards in the Jewish millennium for their works of submitting to and following Christ; and this “gospel of the Kingdom” is categorically different from the Gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone which Paul later proclaimed. In this way, all of Jesus' teachings that, if anyone is not willing to leave father and mother and take up his cross and follow him, he cannot be his disciple, do not apply to the gospel of grace, but only to the gospel of the Kingdom. But contrary to this flawed method of interpretation, there is only one gospel in the New Testament, which Jesus proclaimed on earth, and which his apostles likewise proclaimed throughout the whole world after his ascension. And this gospel declares that all who repent (that is turn from sin and rebellion to Christ the Lord) and call upon the Name of Christ in true faith will be saved. Even in Paul's writings, moreover, it is clear that anyone who perverts the gospel of grace alone, and uses it to continue presumptuously in sin, is bringing just damnation upon himself (Romans 3:8).
In much of Evangelicalism, the flippant sort of “once saved, always saved” mentality, which denies that true grace will always prove itself in faith and works, is closely related to an “easy-believism” mindset, which suggests that intellectual belief alone, which does not go on to pursue a life of true holiness, is the kind of faith that saves (see questions 66-68 above). When the gospel is understood biblically, it becomes clear that both faith and obedience assume the prior existence of spiritual life. As J.I. Packer wisely commented, "sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart
." Understanding this as foundational biblical truth, we know that salvation not only saves us from the guilt of sin but from its power.
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