Tag Archives: zane hodges

The Credo Review: MacArthur or Hodges?

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:


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

LUCAS SAID [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.]

While I know Lucas means to say that Zane Hodges influenced me more on this topic than MacArthur did, it isn’t really a clear understanding of the influence these men have had on me.  MacArthur’s influence was pre-1983 when I entered Dallas Theological Seminary.  Oddly enough, this corresponds with the noted change in MacArthur’s theology surrounding the ‘lordship’ issue. One clearly does not hear much ‘lordship teaching’ in JMc’s pre-1984 sermons.  And, as I describe in Back to Faith, he especially was used to give me a heart for honoring the Bible as the Word of God.  MacArthur also deepened in me a desire to stay faithful to the text and its context.

Hodges certainly influenced me in an understanding of grace, but Ryrie, Chafer, Spurgeon, Stanford, Radmacher, Elliot Johnson and many others can’t be dismissed from the conversation.  And too, I’ve read my my Bible as well 🙂  What I feel Lucas also fails to realize is that I took a major stand against Zane’s aberrant discussion of the gospel (in association with the Grace Evangelical Society – GES – Bob Wilkin).  The article I wrote is available here:  GES GOSPEL OPEN LETTER (Lybrand) .  Frankly, I lost a number of dear friends over the stand I took.  Nonetheless, to date no one has challenged my analysis in any printed form…and…the issue involved (the errant idea that the cross is unnecessary to know/believe in order to receive eternal life by faith).  In fact, God seems to have used the “Open Letter” (along with other’s like Tom Stegall’s The Gospel of Christ) to essentially end the issue.

What I am committed to is the meaning in the text itself.  There are times when we are tempted to run ahead of the Bible and force-fit passages to our theology.  Honestly, I think both John MacArthur and Zane Hodges have done such from time to time.  I hardly believe I’m immune either.  Nonetheless, both men are dear to me in individual ways…and oddly, I don’t see them as enemies of the gospel—just imperfect men who overstated their case from time to time.

In Back to Faith, I basically argue that Zane flirted too much with Easy Believism (bordering on Universalism at times), while John flirted too much with Works-as-Proof (bordering on sounding like works are necessary for eternal life).  Sola Fide is only maintained when these ditch-like extremes are carefully avoided in the safe part of the road that honors the profound distinction between Justification and Sanctification (birth and growth).

God bless,

Fred Lybrand

 Back to Faith is on Kindle Now

The False Branch Theory and John 15


So I’m in the shower (weird how we think there) and I’m going over John MacArthur’s view of John 15 about abiding (in my mind).  I listened to MacArthur at a pace of 6 tapes a week for two years in my early days after coming to faith.

He described the branches that were ‘thrown in the fire’ as false branches (Judas Branches).  Lest you think I’m making this up, I tracked it down:

There were the true branches and there were the false branches in the analogy. The true branches are represented by the eleven and the false branches are represented by Judas Iscariot. That whole thing flows out of the context of Judas’ betrayal. And at that point, the “In Me” simply means “identification.” I don’t think you can push too much theology into that “in Me” and say that it means absolute conversion. It’s attachment at that point, that’s all. And I think you have a Judas branch, and I think what it’s saying is that there will be people who will attach themselves superficially to Christ but in evidence bearing no fruit at all, will ultimately be cut off and cast into the fire because they show they have no life, because if they are had any life at all, they would have fruit. So I think it’s a graphic illustration of the whole context of what the disciples have just been through with them as compared to Judas.

(from: http://www.biblebb.com/files/macqa/1301-N-8.htm )

So, I did a little more digging and found that my old pastor and teacher Ken Gangel said something similar in the Holman NT Commentary on John 15:

15:6. Verse 6 narrows other possible interpretations of verse 2. We struggle a bit with the words, “he cuts off.” But thrown away and withers takes it further than we want to go in any reference to people who may have been true believers at one time. Certainly the words thrown into the fire and burned could never refer to those who were at one time true believers.
Blum treats this carefully and wisely:

These words have been interpreted in at least three ways: (1) the “burned” branches are Christians who have lost their salvation. (But this contradicts many passages, e.g., 3:16, 36; 5:24; 10:28–29; Rom. 8:1.) (2) the ‘burned’ branches represent Christians who will lose rewards but not salvation at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:15). (But Jesus spoke here of dead branches; such a branch “is thrown away and withers.”) (3) the “burned” branches refer to professing Christians who, like Judas, are not genuinely saved and therefore are judged. Like a dead branch, a person without Christ is spiritually dead and therefore will be punished in eternal fire (cf. Matt. 25:46) (Blum, p. 325).
Kenneth O. Gangel, vol. 4, John, Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference, 283-84 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000).

Yes, of course it is strange that fire means literal hell in an analogy…and…yes, of course, it is strange that ‘in Me’ doesn’t mean ‘in Me’ (within their own view) consistently throughout the passage.

But what really struck me under the 98 degree stream of water was the whole idea of a FALSE BRANCH.

The reason this struck me (all these years later) is that there is NO SUCH THING in reality as a FALSE BRANCH.  There are parasites (mistletoe) that look like they belong to the tree, yet Christ clearly (and easily could have said that) said the were vine branches.  Back then there were no such things as ARTIFICIAL BRANCHES either.  Artificial came along with wax and plastics and science (‘contrived by art’ around 1300AD).  Christ is using a real, live thing as an illustration.

When the Lord uses sheep, He says some of the sheep are “not His.”  He does not say that they are false sheep (you know…look like the real thing…but really aren’t sheep).  False prophets are still real people and false teeth are still used for teeth….and, we know where these things come from.

But, where would a false branch come from?  In nature (certainly in the NT era) no one had a notion or word for ‘false’ branch (any more than they would have for a false rock, stream, or fish).  The branches are real, and they are In Christ.  Obviously you must understand Him to be speaking of losing salvation or losing reward (see 1 Cor 3).

From Whence Cometh this Interpretation?

Necessity…and…it turns out to be a wonderful example of eisegesis, or imposing meaning on a text.  Since Blum/Gangel exclude any alternate meanings of the word ‘dead’ in the context, they miss the obvious nature of the warning for believers.  Therefore, with that as impossible and losing one’s justification as impossible (I agree)—all that is left for MacArthur, et al, is to make up the notion that there could exist in Christ’s mind (and on the earth) the idea that some branches (in Him) are actually fake or artificial branches.

I love these guys and I have no bones to pick, but all of us must learn to be very, very careful when we handle the Word of God.  Saying, “It must mean A because B is false elsewhere, can easily tempt us not to read the actual words of the text.”

My practice is to try to settle on a meaning from the immediate passage BEFORE I compare it to other places in the Word.  The comparison is valuable, but it is a dangerous way to interpret a passage by imposing meaning from elsewhere right off the bat!  The Analogy of Scripture is great, but you must inductively begin with the parts rather than than the whole.

So, what do you think?

Fred Lybrand




This is an article I wrote this week for the Free Grace Alliance.  I’d love your thoughts!

Fred Lybrand


Have you ever noticed how busy everyone is with getting words just right?  It turns out to be more than political correctness, it is really an issue of communication.  You may not have thought about it this way, but language is actually the most ‘democratic’ thing on the planet.  The use of words actually determines their meanings; and, of course, the use of words in a particular context determines THAT meaning.  If I tell you I love my wife, my dog, and my Kindle, then surely you can make out the different nuances.

More to our common faith, it has become a recent trend to refer to oneself as a “Christ-Follower” rather than a Christian.  The reason for this shift is that the word ‘Christian’ has fallen on hard time and doesn’t communicate the right meaning internationally or practically.  ‘Fundamentalist’ (in the faith) has fallen under the same spell of disrepute because it has been associated with certain militaristic ‘Christian’ sub-strata, as well as ‘Islamic Fundamentalism’.  So do we change words or keep working on the proper use of the terms?  Democrats and Republicans have been two groups whose names have fallen on hard times in the back-and-forth nature of popularity.  They just keep working at redefining their name.

The Context

I’ll leave it to you to solve such matters.  My concern here is with the Gospel of Grace.  The debate between Lordship Salvation and Free Grace has been muddling along for the better part of 100 years in noticeable ways.  Here’s an example that predates John MacArthur’s entrance into the foray with The Gospel According to Jesus in 1986.  A.W. Tozer in The Root of the Righteous (Wingspread Publishers, © 1955, 1986), says

There can be no spiritual regeneration till there has been moral reformation.  That this statement requires defense only proves how far from the truth we have strayed.  In our current popular theology pardon depends on faith alone.

Unfortunately, Tozer is saying exactly what he sounds like he’s saying.  For Tozer, salvation is conditioned on a commitment to reform and not faith alone.  All of this is tied up in confusing the relationship between faith and works (see Back to Faith by Fred R. Lybrand for a  thorough discussion of this matter), so Tozer can also, at times, affirm the doctrine of ‘faith alone’ as well.  Kevin Butcher pointed out the real issue back in 1989 when he asserted that the Lordship Salvation side doesn’t represent the Free Grace side’s view of the gospel accurately.  He said,

MacArthur’s first error involves a problem of perception—he doesn’t clearly understand the other view. He does well when he states his own position, describing “Lordship Salvation” as a gospel that requires a faith that commits all (cf. pp. 169ff), a repentance that gives up sin (cf. pp. 159ff) and a submission to the “mastership of Christ” (cf. pp. 203ff) before eternal life is apprehended. The Lordship gospel, according to MacArthur, speaks of a “salvation that is a gift, yet costs everything” (cf. p. 140). But the “other” view which might be referred to as the “Free Grace” Gospel is misrepresented on several counts. (Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring1989 —Volume 2:1)

The issue is rather simple:

The Lordship Salvation View: One (or many) things are required of the one desiring eternal salvation.  These things largely have to do with a commitment on the part of the seeker to pursue life-change through an abandonment of all desires, possessions, lifestyle, and choice to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The Free Grace Salvation View:  There are no requirements for the one desiring eternal salvation.  The ‘requirement’ is that which attends the acceptance of any gift; a willingness to accept it.  In the Free Grace View this willingness to accept is found in the phrase ‘faith alone in Christ alone’.  While the content of what is to be believed is occasionally debated,  the essential idea is that one is saved eternally by believing in Christ’s promise of eternal life for those who believe in Him.  I understand this ‘believe in Him’ have to do with the basics of His person and work, especially his dying and being raised again on our behalf.

What is missed in the debate is that Lordship Salvation proponents affirm they believe in ‘faith alone in Christ alone’ and Free Grace proponents affirm they believe in the Lordship of Christ.  I sit in the curious spot of honestly believing that the Lordship Salvation proponents really do believe in ‘faith alone in Christ alone’, and often share the message properly.  Of course, I also believe they often muddle their communication and make the gospel sound as though much more is required than faith in Christ.  I have concluded that their ‘muddling’ of the issue comes from a fundamental incongruence in their theology and thinking.  While affirming a distinction between justification (being eternally saved) and sanctification (growing spiritually to match the image and character of Christ), they also deny the distinction by affirming that believer = disciple [see Back to Faith, Xulon Press, 2009].

The topic especially becomes an issue when it gets down to sharing the gospel.  The Lordship Salvation proponents accuse the Free Grace proponents of not emphasizing the ‘lordship’ of Christ in our presentation, hence misleading people from what God requires for their eternal destiny.  The Free Grace proponents accuse the Lordship Salvation proponents of ‘adding’ to faith in such a way that the individual is not trusting in Christ, but rather in oneself (or other things) for his eternal destiny.

The Appeal

I really want to appeal to those on the Lordship Salvation side to clarify the issue we Free Grace advocates wrestle with concerning presenting a gospel with various conditions attached to faith alone in Christ alone.  However, for our part, I want to propose a fresh way to explain our view.  It uses words to force a re-thinking of what Free Grace advocates are saying.  Here’s the term,


I believe in Lordship Sanctification, and in my 24 years of ministry I have advocated individuals abandoning themselves to the Lord.  I have begged believers to completely bring their will, desires, and possessions under Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as the Lord of their lives.  I personally and deeply believe Lordship is crucial for the one who has faith in Christ.  In no sense would I ever be against Christ as Lord.  However, I do believe that this call is directed at those who have believed (see Romans 12:1-2) already.

If this understanding of Christ’s Lordship makes sense for our growth in the Lord, then the term Lordship Sanctification turns out to be a very clarifying phrase.  I believe in acknowledging Christ’s Lordship as a necessary part of the sanctification process.  I believe that in order to continue growing in the Lord, one must, in the course of time, yield utterly to the divine oversight of Jesus Christ regarding his life and conformity to the Image of Christ (see Romans 8:28-29).

There is also one great advantage in the debate over the gospel with the use of the term Lordship Sanctification; Free Grace proponents can never again be accused by the Lordship Salvation proponents of not preaching the gospel.  Frankly, if you preach Lordship as an important aspect of ones spiritual growth in Christ, then you can only be accused of being ‘slow’, never of being wrong!  They at least must admit that ‘finally’ we get around to sharing a saving message (in their estimation).

I believe in Free Grace Salvation and Lordship Sanctification.  My appeal to everyone who acknowledges himself as promoters of grace— please begin to refer to Lordship Sanctification often in your preaching, teaching, and mentoring.  If we could infuse this term into the discussion, I am confident that a new age of conversation and clarification can arise.  I believe in Lordship Sanctification as I hope you do as well, and I always get around to explaining it.  However, with one seeking forgiveness, hope, and eternity— I always begin with the good news that Christ died for you and if you will believe in Him you’ll have everlasting life, just as He promised.  In the gospel, the word is FAITH.  In spiritual growth, the word is LORDSHIP.  Let’s grow united in our clarity and in our communication.  Eternal salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, while progress in sanctification inevitably leads to abandoning oneself to the Lord of Glory.

Grace and peace,
Fred R. Lybrand


To print a copy of this article click on this link: http://www.freegracealliance.com/pdf/LordshipSanctification.pdf