Credo Magazine (not associated with Credo House) published a review of Back to Faith. Credo Magazine describes itself as “… self-consciously Evangelical, Reformational, and Baptistic,” so it stands to reason that they would seek to uphold the tradition found in the cliche [We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is not alone].
Honestly, I am grateful for the interaction on such an important issue as the role of faith and works in the life of the Christian.
Now I want to address some of the points:
Back to Faith: Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence. By Fred R. Lybrand.
Reviewed by Lucas Bradburn
LUCAS SAID [The purpose of Lybrand’s book is to call his readers back to an understanding of the Gospel that is free from any inconsistencies. He argues that while many evangelical Christians hold firmly to the doctrine of sola fide—believing that salvation is granted by grace alone through faith alone—they also unconsciously undermine the power of this doctrine by maintaining that good works should necessarily and inevitably flow from faith. This incongruity is concisely seen in the popular cliché, coined during the Reformation, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” Although it is trite, Lybrand argues that this cliché is not true.]
Response by Fred Lybrand
As I reflected on Lucas’s words here I want to say outright that I think he is genuinely aiming at what I am getting at, but is missing the mark by what is communicated. Clearly I see a problem with affirming a cliche that is fundamentally self-defeating. However, the following two points are not really what I believe or propose:
1. “Many evangelical Christians hold firmly to the doctrine of sola fide”
2. “…they also unconsciously undermine the power of this doctrine by maintaining that good works inevitably flow from faith”
“Many evangelical Christians hold firmly to the doctrine of sola fide
The term ‘many’ suggests that I believe ‘the greater part’ or ‘a large number’ of evangelicals affirm the doctrine. Actually I believe ‘most’ or ‘just about all’ evangelical Christian hold to sola fide. In fact, it is almost the definition of evangelical (whether Calvinist or Arminian). The way it is expressed, or the way some not-so-trained might express the sola fide gospel certainly creates a milieu of problems and confusions, but at it’s core evangelicalism is not aberrant (like works based sub-groups) or Roman Catholic. In fact, if sola fide goes away, then it seem to me that evangelical (Protestant) Christianity goes away as well. Back to Faith is actually an effort to maintain the clarity of our tradition, not an effort to deny it. Now, while I do believe most or just-about-all evangelicals hold to sola fide, I do not believe they do a very good job of consistently communicating it or aligning their theological sub-points with it.
“…they also unconsciously undermine the power of this doctrine by maintaining that good works inevitably flow from faith”
I actually don’t believe that the power of the doctrine of sola fide is undermined (though I am not sure what Lucas exactly means by this), though I do believe the clarity of the doctrine is undermined. This may seem an issue of semantics, however it is clear to me that the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone apart from works has all the power it needs fully and inherently build into it (see Romans 1:16). On the other hand, if the message is muddled or confusing to the listener then there is no power in it; yet, the loss of power comes from a mis-communicated message itself.
When theologians, evangelists, pastors, and teachers say that good works flow from faith, they have said nothing of consequence in-and-of itself. Works flowing from faith makes sense to anyone who ponders the nature of belief and action (though there is a mixing of faith as an event and faith as an ongoing experience). However, that is not actually the emphasis in Back to Faith. It is not simply that ‘works follow faith’, but rather that some Calvinists emphasize that (a) since works MUST follow from faith, then (b) works proves one has ‘true’ faith. Wait, it goes even further. Not only then does works prove faith, but a lack of works prove a lack of faith (they say). Of course, the final resting place of this ‘logic’ is that the one without works, thus without faith, never had faith or salvation (justification) at all. [yes, our Arminian friends would affirm that one can have it and lose it…more reasonable, but not supportable biblical in my view].
This kind of reasoning is a tumbling downhill. And, though it seems right, it actually works against the clear communication of the gospel. What one shares at first is “Believe in Christ alone.” What one shares to the ‘unchanged’ (according to who’s reckoning?) person who says he has believed is, “No works? No faith…now REALLY believe!” Inadvertently the hapless individual is actually re-focusing his own thoughts on his works (and faith in these same works) as a means of assurance, if not salvation. I call all of this muddled, yes miscommunication.
Sola Fide is good and powerful and held by most in evangelical world…but there is a subtle mistake some make as they follow a line of thought away from the clarity of faith alone in Christ alone apart from works. It is easy enough to note. Obviously all Reformed thinkers would admit that one can have works without having the accompanying salvation. Historically this has been known as ‘working one’s way to heaven’. So, clearly if one sees works in another it could me that (a) the person is not a believer, but is working hard to be good enough to get into heaven, or (b) that the person is a believer and his good works are related to his new life in Christ. Since either option is possible, concluding something based on works is an exercise in conjecture (if not outright judgmentalism in some cases).
Sola Fide argues that the transaction with God is by grace through faith apart from works. Works are not in the formula (so to speak). If works have nothing to do with saving faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, then what role could they possibly have in proving something one way or another about the nature of that ‘faith-apart-from-works’ event?
The simple answer we offer is that works DO have something to do with growth and a walk with God (sanctification). It would be difficult, if not truly antinomian, to ascribe walking with Christ as a sola fide proposition (the way it is meant in the context of the Reformation).
The burden of Back to Faith is clarity; a clarity that comes by respecting justification and sanctification, adoption into the family and growth as a member, as distinct aspects of what the scriptures afirm, and what most think of as, evangelical.