Credo Magazine Review of BACK TO FAITH

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.

In the posts ahead I am going to address different aspects of the review, but would like to first simply post it in its entirety:


On          12.06.11           |  In          Gospel, Reformation           |  by         

Back to Faith: Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence. By Fred R. Lybrand.

Reviewed by Lucas Bradburn

Thirty or so years after the “Lordship salvation” controversy overtook the evangelical world, the debate still continues. While the issue no longer is at the center of theological conversation, the two sides in the debate—typically identified as “Lordship salvation” and “free grace theology”—continue to produce books. Representing the free grace camp, Fred R. Lybrand has recently contributed to the discussion with his book entitled Back to Faith: Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence. Right off the bat Lyband’s readers are prepared for the book’s thesis through his provocative dedication to both John MacArthur and Zane Hodges, veteran players in the lordship debate. It quickly becomes apparent which person had the greater influence upon Lybrand.

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. He explains,

Does faith guarantee works? In the final analysis the best we may be able to say with certainty is, ‘God alone knows.’ However, there is a strong case to be made for the possibility that works are not guaranteed in the life of the believer, and so may be described as ‘normal but not necessary.’ If this distinction is not kept in mind and the cliché is given too much room, then…works inevitably invade the gospel of ‘faith alone in Christ alone’ and works will undermine assurance because of the confidence rested on them (from the preface, x).

Lybrand subjects the cliché—and the theology that stands behind it—to a rigorous critique. While he does point out the logical, theological, and practical problems inherent in the cliché, his most incisive critique comes at the level of the exegetical. He writes, “The cliché, ‘it is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone, is incessantly promoted on the basis of one supreme passage: James 2:14-26” (63). Lybrand attempts to show that despite the popular approaches to this passage—especially those perpetuated by the Reformed tradition—the central message of this passage does not support the theological assumptions codified by the cliché. Lybrand explains,

James is concerned with dead faith; however this faith is a true faith that can die, rather than a false faith that never existed…James is addressing brethren and beloved brethren (James 2:5) and establishing concern for dead faith. Therefore, James 2:13 speaks of ‘judgment being without mercy’ as directed, not to the lost or unsaved which occurs at the Great White Throne of Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15), but rather at the Bema Seat judgment where believers are evaluated according to their works (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:9-10)” (101).

Thus, contrary to popular opinion, James has in mind very temporal, rather than eternal matters in this text. Viewed in this light, the cliché has very little to stand upon. Indeed, Lybrand notes, “The cliché…lives or dies by James 2” (108).

What can be made of Lybrand’s thesis? Before offering a brief response to his arguments, I want to first note a few positive aspects of his book. First, although his work stands in line with typical free grace material, it does offer a fresh and extensive exegetical section on James 2:14-26. Out of all of the free grace treatments I have read, Lybrand’s is one of the most formidable. Second, Lybrand does a good job keeping his thesis in mind throughout the book. He does not chase rabbit trails, but sticks tightly to his arguments pertaining to the cliché. Third, Lybrand evinces a definite zeal for the Gospel. Although I do not agree with his conclusions, I am so grateful for his concern and sensitivity to proclaiming a clear, biblical Gospel message. His passionate love for the doctrine of sola fide is evident all throughout the book and I am confident that readers will be challenged by the appeals he offers.

Having stated the strengths of the book, let me now turn to the weaknesses. As I see it, Lybrand’s book suffers from a number of significant problems. Space prevents me from adequately responding to his accusations that the cliché—and the theology that undergirds it—is logically, theologically, and pragmatically invalid. In my estimation, Lybrand fails to convince in all three of these areas. But, then again, these are not his most powerful objections to the theology of the cliché. It is his exegetical critiques—centered mainly on James 2:14-26—that have the most teeth. These teeth, though, are crooked and in dire need of straightening.

In response to Lybrand’s exegetical objections, I offer the following brief defense of James 2:14-26. If what Lybrand said about the cliché is true—that it “lives or dies by James 2”—then by defending the Reformed interpretation of James 2 I will both vindicate the theology of the cliché and undermine Lybrand’s thesis with one fell swoop. To that end,  I offer the ensuing four exegetical arguments

First, a bird’s eye view of James 2:14-26 suggests that it concerns something other than temporal salvation. The collective terms used by James throughout this passage such as “faith,” “save,” “works,” and “justify” are found in other NT texts that clearly deal with salvific issues. For instance, Romans 4:1-5:11 is a section of Scripture in which similar terms are found—“works” (4:1), “justified” (4:1; 5:1), “faith” (5:1), and “saved” (5:9-10). On top of this, both sections use Abraham as an example of faith and reference the same OT text for support (Gen. 15:6). These parallels suggest that James 2:14-23 has similar concerns in mind—issues relating to eternal salvation.

Second, both the immediate and wider contexts of James 2:14-26 lead to this conclusion as well. The passage is sandwiched between two statements concerning the judgment (2:13; 3:1). While it is possible that these may refer to the bema seat judgment in which Christians will be rewarded, it seems better to take these as a reference to the judgment unbelievers will undergo. James suggests that his readers can avoid this judgment if they have the right kind of faith: “can that faith save him?” (2:14). Save him from what? Since this follows on the heels of 2:13, it seems that true faith delivers a person from some kind of judgment. Because Paul declares that all believers must appear before the judgment (bema) seat (2 Cor. 5:10), there is no way that James can have this particular judgment in mind since he clearly indicates that those who have faith will be delivered from this tribunal.

Third, the word “save” (sozo) is used five times by James (1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:15; 5:20). Although Lybrand claims “each reference deals with temporal deliverance and not salvation from hell to heaven” (79), a closer reading of the data yields a different statistic. At least four out of five times James uses the term “save” in reference to eternal salvation. In James 1:21 he says, “…in humility receive the implanted word which is able to save your souls.” When this verse is viewed next to 1:18, it becomes clear that the same word that brings about a believer’s regeneration also results in his salvation. In 4:12, the word “save” has even clearer connotations: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.” It is hard to see this in reference to anything other than eternal salvation. James also seems to use the word “save” in a similar way in 5:20 when he writes, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” These references demonstrate, at the very least, that Lybrand’s claim is not as cut and dry as it appears to be. Of course, even if James used the word “save” in a temporal sense in every text outside of 2:14, he still could have used the term in its technical salvific sense in 2:14. But a brief survey of his work does seem to yield the conclusion that the majority of the uses of “save” in James refer to eternal salvation. Before moving on from this point, it is worth mentioning that Douglas Moo notes that out “of the 30 occurrences of ‘save’ outside of James in the NT epistles, 29 clearly refer to eschatological deliverance, the possible exception being Heb. 5:7” (The Letter of James, 124).

Fourth, there seem to be direct parallels between Jesus’ teaching and James’ writing. Of particular importance are the similarities between the parable of the sheep and the goats recorded in Matt. 25:31-46 and James 2:14-26. In both accounts, the illustration is used of a person who is lacking in sufficient clothing (Matt. 25:36, 43; Js. 2:15-16). In the parable, those who did not help the person in need wind up in “eternal punishment” (v. 46), and in James’ account those who fail to meet the practical needs of the destitute are said to have a “dead” faith (v. 17). It is hard not to see the connection between these two passages. What Jesus recognized in the “goats” is the same thing James recognized in those with “dead faith.” Surely the judgment the goats were in danger of is the same judgment those with dead faith were in danger of.

There is no doubt that Lybrand and his free grace counterparts will fail to be impressed by these arguments. It is telling, though, that the vast majority of Christian commentators—from the patristic era to the present—have been persuaded by the evidence presented above, as a perusal of the literature on James will amply demonstrate. Indeed, as far as I can tell, no one outside of the free grace camp understands James 2:14-26 the way Lybrand does.

One can certainly appreciate Lybrand’s concern for the gospel of grace and his zeal to defend the doctrine of sola fide. In the end, though, it seems to me that his understanding of this doctrine is diminished. Lybrand’s thesis notwithstanding, the historical and biblical doctrine of sola fide is accurately represented in the cliché, “It is therefore faith alone which justifies, but the faith that justifies in never alone.”

Lucas Bradburn is an M.Div. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He is married to Allison and they have one daughter, Anna. Lucas blogs at Guarding the Truth.


I’d love your comments and thoughts below,

Fred Lybrand

Free: Chapter 2 of Back to Faith on James 2:14 ff

Hi All,

As you know, James 2 is one of the most highly debated sections in the Bible. 

I want to give you a link to the entire chapter on James 2 from my book, Back to Faith, absolutely free.  Just promote the truth if you get convinced!

This chapter is an indepth look at the three common views:

  • The Roman Catholic View
  • The Reformed View
  • The Free Grace View

I look forward to your thoughts…please tell your friends.

James 2:14ff Link from Back to Faith



Fred Lybrand

Just a name and email address will have the chapter on James 2 on its way —————————>

Even More Proof that Election / Eternal Security = the “P” in TULIP

Here is another example of how Election is tied to the “P” in TULIP and is essentially understood to be about Eternal Security.

This doctrine [Perseverance] does not stand alone but is a necessary part on the Calvinistic system of theology. The doctrines of Election and Efficacious grace logically imply the certain salvation of those who receive these blessings. If God has chosen men absolutely and unconditionally to eternal life, and if His Spirit effectively applies to them the benefits of redemption, the inescapable conclusion is that these persons shall be saved.

Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 8th ed. (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans 1958), p. 182)

More Proof that Election / Eternal Security = the “P” in TULIP

Perseverance is tied to Election in the mind of the Calvinist, and is essentially about Eternal Life.

Here is an excerpt from Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (Vol. III, 983-987). Erickson clearly understands the essence of the matter:

The Calvinist position is both clear and forthright on this matter: “They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the and, and be eternally saved.” [Westminster Confession] This point is consistent with the remainder of the Calvinist theological system. Since God has elected certain individuals out of the mass of fallen humanity to receive eternal life, and those so chosen will necessarily come to receive eternal life, it follows that there must be a permanence to their salvation. If the elect could at some point lose their salvation, God’s election of them to eternal life would not be truly effectual.

Even if I Challenge that Works are Guaranteed…Is TULIP 100% Wrong?

So let’s biblically discuss TULIP. Why is it true or false from scripture?

I believe the real sources of ‘Calvinism” are from the historical documents. There are lots of variations (in every view of everything). But the basics are in Dort and the Westminster Confession

I’d like to begin where I can win because you all already believe it: P

Perseverance (snippets)

From the Synod of Dort

Article 8: The Certainty of This Preservation

So it is not by their own merits or strength but by God’s undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen. God’s plan cannot be changed; God’s promise cannot fail; the calling according to God’s purpose cannot be revoked; the merit of Christ as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified; and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated nor wiped out.

From Westminster

Of The Perseverance of the Saints.

I. They, whom God has accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.

II. This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father; upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them, and the nature of the covenant of grace: from all which arises also the certainty and infallibility thereof.

III. Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins; and, for a time, continue therein: whereby they incur God’s displeasure, and grieve His Holy Spirit, come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts, have their hearts hardened, and their consciences wounded; hurt and scandalize others, and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.



Those whom God has justified, he has in effect glorified: for as a man’s worthiness was not the cause of God’s giving him Christ’s righteousness; so neither shall his unworthiness be a cause of his taking it away; God’s gifts and callings are without repentance: and I cannot think they are clear in the notion of Christ’s righteousness, who deny the final perseverance of the saints; George Whitefield, Selected Sermons of George Whitefield (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1999).


So, I say that Perseverance is clearly and fundamentally about the fact that the Elect can’t get Un-elected, that they are Eternally Security and cannot ever go from saved to unsaved, justified to unjustified.

The debate of can believers sin, must works / faith continue, etc., is connected to the ‘assurance’ part of the discussion. However, I believe the Bible teaches that all who are saved by faith alone in Christ alone are FOREVER SAVED….which is the essence of the doctrine of Perseverance. With Whitefield, I love Romans 11:29 on this, but John 5:24 is pretty cool too. Of all the verses, Hebrews 10 may be my favorite (I’ll share it soon). OF course, Romans 8:28ff is perfectly irrefutable.



The Faith that Saves is not Alone?