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  • Author Randy Rector
  • Published September 7, 2020
  • Word count 4,538


An Informal Book Review Helping to Clarify the Essence of the Gospel

by Randy Rector

Copyright 2018 by Randle Ray Rector of the United States of America. Omissions, additions, or changes to the text are prohibited, but the copyright holder grants to everyone in the world the freedom and encouragement to translate, copy and distribute this review as much as he or she may wish.

A very strange informal book review is this that you are about to read. Strange because it is customary to give the title and the author as well as the publication information at the beginning of the review, and I don’t intend to do this. Those who have read the book will probably recognize it; those who have not will get its most crucial elements here. I admit that this is a very unscholarly approach, but I have a reason. The subject is the Good News of our Lord and Rescuer, Yeshua of Natzeret, the Messiah, and I am concerned for those who are unfamiliar with the issues involved. I don’t want them to look for the book and then become more confused than most people already are. Throughout the review I have provided references to the Bible. They are not exhaustive, but should be sufficient for you to check to see if I have spoken the truth.

I’m discussing a book that has many good points, such as showing that the goal of the Gospel is to hail Yeshua as the ascended King of the universe, co-reigning with His Father from His Father’s heavenly throne. (I would include that at His Second Coming King Jesus will express this shared cosmic throne through additionally reigning in tandem on the earthly throne of David--Luke 1:32-33; Acts 15:16; Revelation 3:21.) In spite of the good points of the book, however, it seriously distorts the way the Gospel is received. By exhibiting how it does this, I have no desire to discredit any man or woman, only our wrong ideas; so I will simply refer to “the author.”

On pages 92-93 under “Dimensions of Allegiance” the author states that “what follows in the rest of this section is particularly vital to the whole book.” It is, he says, “a deliberate alternative to classic definitions of ‘faith.’ ” He then discusses the analysis of faith developed by a colleague and best friend of Martin Luther, the Reformer Philipp Melanchthon (1497-1560).

In Greek, faith is “pistis,” and in Latin “fides.” Out of a general silence a few scholars, including the author, assume that Melanchthon made a threefold analysis of “pistis” or “fides” in one of the four main editions of his well-known compendium “Loci Communes Theologici [Commonplaces (that is, Common Topics) Theological]” of 1521, 1535, 1543, and 1559. I read the 1521 edition translated into English by Christian Preus (copyright 2014, ISBN 978-0-7586-4445-9), the edition that was mentioned in the author’s footnote and bibliography. Since Martin Luther himself enthusiastically endorsed this book, I highly recommend it to study early Lutheran views. In it Melanchthon excellently discussed faith, but I couldn’t find his threefold analysis. This has been said by others about the later editions, too.

After searching, I ran across the place in Melanchthon’s “Enarratio epistolae prioris ad Timotheum [Commentary on the First Letter to Timothy],” 1550 to 1551, where Melanchthon gave Latin names to three simultaneous ingredients of faith. It can be found in the editor Karl Gottlieb Bretschneider’s “Corpus reformatorum,” Volume 15 (Halle, Germany: C.A. Schwetschke and Son, 1848), page column 1312 [available on Google Play]. Here is the exact quote with my own single quotation marks for emphasis: “Certissimum est fide in hac doctrina non tantum significari noticiam, quam et diaboli tenent, sed significari simul ‘noticiam’ historiae, et ‘assensionem,’ qua promissionem tibi applicas, et ‘fiduciam’ acquiescentem in mediatore et in Deo, iuxta promissionem...”

Based on her knowledge of medieval Latin and this field of study, Dr. Mirela Avdagic of Serbia has graciously provided me with an English translation of this sentence as follows: “It is certain that in this doctrine faith does not only mean knowledge, as devils deem, but it also means knowledge of history, and ascension, as promised to you, and growing trust in God and Mediator, according to promise…”

In classical Latin, Melanchthon’s second term “assensionem” indicated “approval, approbation, or applause.” A variant meaning arose in medieval times signifying “ascension.” Consequently, Melanchthon may have meant that faith comes from hearing the proclamation through the Gospel of the salvific historical events--the life, death, and immortal life of Jesus, which includes our ascension and session (that is, seating) in Christ Jesus at the right hand of God (Ephesians 2:4-7). Those saving events made certain a promise to us of future ascension (“going to heaven”). Both the history and the promise are activated and applied to an individual by a living confidence in the word of God, Who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead as the Mediator between God and humanity (Romans 4:22-25; I Timothy 2:3-6).

Other scholars see a classical Latin nuance in the Renaissance humanist Melanchthon’s analysis of faith. As described by the author, its three simultaneous ingredients are “(1) ‘notitia’--the content [of the Gospel] to be intellectually apprehended; (2) ‘assensus’--intellectual agreement that the content is true; and (3) ‘fiducia’—trust or a disposition of reliance (rooted in the will/affections as variously defined).”

The author wants to replace these with (1) “ ‘intellectual agreement’ that the eight stages of the good news correspond to reality”; (2) “ ‘confession of loyalty’ to Jesus in recognition of his universal reign, and” (3) “an ‘embodied fidelity’ as a citizen of his realm [good works, also known as good deeds].” He rejects Melanchthon’s analysis because, he says, “it imposes faulty dimensions of ‘interiority’ (speculations about psychological states interior to the individual) on ‘pistis’ with respect to the ancient evidence.”

The Assyrian Church of the East, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox churches, and the Roman Catholic Church have all canonized a book written by a Hellenistic Jew sometime between 220 B.C. and A.D. 50 called the book of “Wisdom,” also known as “The Wisdom of Solomon.” Protestants, Anabaptists, and Jews do not spiritually discern it to be God-breathed and authoritative in the same sense as the books of the Bible, but many of them do regard it as a good philosophical treatise to read for edification, like a sermon or a book of devotionals. It is also useful for research. As an example I shall quote Wisdom 14:5 from the usually now separately-published section called The Apocrypha in the Anglican Authorised Version (AV) of 1611, also known as the King James Version (KJV). Wisdom 14:5 reads, “Nevertheless thou wouldest not that the works of thy wisdom should be idle, and therefore do men commit their lives to a small piece of wood, and passing the rough sea in a weak vessel are saved.”

The “small piece of wood” refers to a thin plank of an ancient ship whose hull was only four fingers thick. The Greek word here translated “commit” is “pisteuousin,” a “pistis” verb that is also used in the New Testament for “belief” in Jesus. The “men” who are sailors “believe” in the plank in the sense that they trust it and get on board the ship; and just as a sailor commits his life to a ship’s flimsiest plank, so a Christian commits himself or herself into the sure hands of Jesus. This kind of commitment is not “promising to be loyal”; it is “handing over for safekeeping.” It is trust combined with acting on that trust. The name for active trust is reliance. Relying results in rest.

Because most scholars agree that the book of Wisdom was written by a Hellenistic Jew between 220 B.C.E. and 50 C.E., Wisdom 14:5 provides evidence for Melanchthon’s analysis of faith even more ancient or at least as ancient as what scholars have studied about “pistis” in the Roman Empire.

“Pisteuousin” is also used in James 2:19 for the faith of the demons, but they only fearfully rely on God as their Judge, and not as “God our Savior.” For humans, God is both Judge and Savior.

A certain scholar has said that the Gospel is best described as “The Story of How God Became King.” Our author says this is another reason he rejects Melanchthon’s analysis: by many Christians “the climax of the gospel has been misidentified within “notitia” as forgiveness rather than as acknowledgment of kingship that leads to forgiveness.”

It is true that the climax of the Gospel is to confess that Jesus became the cosmic Lord of all that exists (Matthew 28:18; Romans 10:9). This is one of the author’s good points, and it is supported by the list of resurrection appearances in I Corinthians 15:1-11. That list reaches an objective climax described in The Acts of the Apostles when Jesus appeared from the heavens to the man who would become Apostle Paul. Paul’s subjective response was to confess Jesus’ kingship by calling Him cosmic “Lord,” and “Son of God.” Nevertheless, the grace of God involved is usually garbled in the minds of most people.

We see this as the author goes on to put a works-oriented spin on the Gospel by saying that “fiducia” “does not foreground the lived reality of ‘embodied fidelity’ sufficiently.” On the contrary, reliance IS “embodied fidelity” and is also the source of works of “embodied fidelity.” This means that first of all, because Jesus is “both Lord and Christ [the Messiah, the Anointed One]” (Acts 2:36), humans acclaim Him King apart from works by relying on His wonderful love and the free gift of salvation which He alone has provided. The thief on the cross did this, so he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Lord, when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). On the cross he could do no good works, nor could he be baptized by the disciples of Jesus, as in John 3:22-4:3. He simply rendered “obedience of faith” (the literal Greek of Romans 1:5, 16:26).

“Belief” and obedience may be also parallel in John 3:36 as translated in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) of 1995: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The Greek word rendered “does not obey” is “apeithohn,” which can also mean “does not believe.” Considering it only a possibility that “does not obey” is more exact, it is in opposite parallelism with “believes”; so it is not saying that good works of obedience are required to receive or maintain eternal life, or that they are an inevitable result and evidence of having received it. It is saying that reliance alone is ITSELF obedience. This is the true faithfulness and the true allegiance.

I John 3:23 proclaims, “This is His (God the Father's) commandment: that we should rely on the name of His Son Jesus Christ [for eternal life], and [for discipleship, which is to] love one another as He (Jesus) gave us commandment [John 13: 34-35].”

I call the author's analysis of faith “The Case of the Missing ‘Fiducia.’ ” I do this because his (1) “intellectual agreement” contains both “notitia” and “assensus,” but his (2) “confession of loyalty” and (3) “embodied fidelity” shift the saving focus away from Christ to ourselves. This resembles the self-confidence of the Israelites at the inauguration of the Law of Moses.

From the days of Enosh son of Seth son of Adam, God had been worshiped as “Yahweh” (Genesis 4:26). In Hebrew “Yahweh” is third person singular, and means “HE IS.” Insight into this meaning is given in Revelation 1:8: “I am the A and the Z, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord God, “Who Is and Who Was and Who Is To Come, the Almighty.”

After the global Flood the human race forgot the Living God by paganizing His memory, and this came to a head at the Tower of the city of Bahbel. Its tower may have been what is called a “ziggurat,” which is thought to have been considered a man-made mountain whose top intersected the realm of the gods and the realm of humans. In addition, one scholar has said: “The ziggurat was a structure that was built to support the stairway (‘simmiltu’), which was believed to be used by the gods to travel from one realm to the other. It was solely for the convenience of the gods and was maintained in order to provide the deity with the amenities that would refresh him along the way (food, a place to lie and rest, etc.). The stairway led at the top to the gate of the gods, the entrance to the divine abode.”

The meaning of the Semitic name “Bahbel” is given in Genesis 11:9 from the Hebrew word “balal,” “confuse,” “because there Yahweh confused the language of the whole Earth.” It was a center for confusion of religion which resulted in the confusion of languages. “From there Yahweh scattered them abroad over the whole face of the Earth.” The city was unfinished and abandoned, paving the way for other completed cities to be remembered in pagan civilization as the first city. (To read a very interesting article on this subject, visit the Answers in Genesis website and search for "Where in the World is the Tower of Babel?".)

Bahbel was a turning point for the human race. It was the birth of what the Scriptures call “the World system.” There God was rejected, so He disinherited the nations. This is revealed in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 as translated in The Jerusalem Bible (JB) of 1966: “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided the sons of men, he fixed their bounds according to the number of the sons of God [this is the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) reading, which the ancient Greek translation known as the Septuagint (LXX) paraphrased as the angels of God. It means the 70 fallen angels who took over the original 70 nations]; but Yahweh’s portion was his people, Jacob his share of inheritance.” “See, a people dwelling apart, not reckoned among the nations” (Numbers 23:9).

God provided to raise up and Himself govern the nation of Israel, with the Angel of Yahweh (Yahweh Himself manifested on Earth) and also Michael an archangel standing guard over them (Exodus 14:19; Judges 2:1-5; Daniel 10:12-13, 21 with 12:1). This was in order that through Israel “the whole earth, from end to end, will remember and come back to Yahweh” (Psalm 22:27). Israel was to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6), a witness to His Name.

That Name also has two short forms: “Yah” (as J = Y in “halleluJah [All of you praise Yah]”), and “Yahu” (as in “Benjamin NetanYahu [Yahu has given]”, English spelling Nethaniah). The pronunciation “Yaho” was used by the Jews of the Diaspora temple on Elephantine Island in the Nile River near Aswan, Egypt (which may have been a stopping place for the Ark of the Covenant on its way to Ethiopia. Visit the BASE Institute website to order the book or DVD or digital video download of “Search for the Ark of the Covenant” by Robert Cornuke.)

Today the long form of God’s Name “Yahweh” is often mispronounced “Jehovah.” All three forms are obscured in the well-meaning but man-made Jewish tradition of guarding reverence for God’s Name by substituting “Adonai” [my Lord] when reading the Hebrew Scriptures aloud. That tradition is followed in most English translations by rendering “Yahweh” as “the LORD” or “GOD” with all capital letters, or a capital first letter with lowercase letters. Because Yahweh IS, this certainly includes the concept that He is Lord, but the meaning of His Name is broader than simply that. (All of these substitutions produce confusion because “The Lord” is used in the Scriptures as a separate title for God as well.)

It was to this Greatest One (hallelu Yah) that the people of Israel “confessed their loyalty” at Mt. Horeb in the Sinai Desert of northwest Saudi Arabia (Exodus 3:1, 19:1-8, 24:1-8, 33:6; Galatians 4:25). It was there that “all the people answered together, and said, ‘All that Yahweh has spoken we will do!’ ” (Exodus 19:8, 24:3,7). Then over the centuries the Law of Moses exposed their lack of “embodied fidelity” and their need of a Savior (Matthew 1:21). This was a purpose of the Law (Romans 5:20; Galatians 3:24).

At last the prophet John the Baptist revealed that a major function of “the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 1:34, 11:27, 20:31) was to be “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Look to Him! To believe that “Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah, the Anointed One]” is to rely on Him apart from works as “the Savior of the world,” Who guarantees the free gift of unending and unforfeitable life in the present, with future bodily resurrection (John 4:42, 11:25-27). Both the Jewish verse John 1:29 and the Samaritan verse John 4:42 intend that you should substitute your own personal name where it says “the world.”

The Gospel: As According to John was written to persuade people to rely on Jesus as the Christ in order to receive everlasting life (John 20:31), and to enter into an abundant experience of that life (John 10:10). The Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) were written to edify those who continue as disciples. The Synoptics show us that during the earthly ministry of Jesus His commandments and teachings which were prior to the Cross included expositions of the Law designed to smash self-righteousness and prepare people for His coming great salvation. Those expositions serve the same function today, only pointing us back to the Cross and the indwelling holy Spirit.

On pages 10-13 the author rejects this interpretation of Christ's subtle technique. For example, in the passage where the Rich Young Ruler asked what he must do to inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27; Luke 18:18-27), the author says Jesus told him he was keeping the Ten Commandments and only needed to add selling everything, giving to the poor, and following Him. Rather, Jesus was showing him that he was breaking the Ten Commandments by having an idol in his heart (James 2:10). When this dawned on him, he could receive the salvation revealed in the Gospel. “A person is not declared righteous by doing works prescribed by law, but by relying on Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16).

In the beginning was “the Logos,” the Word, the Wisdom of God, Who was with God and was Himself God (John 1:1; Isaiah 41:4; Revelation 1:8, 17-18, 2:8, 22:13). He created symbolic Lady Wisdom of the book of Proverbs to represent Him as His agent, a real inherent principle throughout the universe (Proverbs 3:16-19, 8:18-31). “In her right hand is length of days, and in her left hand are riches and honor.” Millennia later, the Wisdom of God Himself became Jesus. Jesus did not become God; Yahweh the Creator became Man the creature while yet remaining the Creator (John 1:14; Isaiah 44:6; Revelation 1:8, 17-18, 2:8, 22:13). In Jesus’ right hand is the free gift of everlasting life; in His left hand are riches and honor in the future manifestation of His Kingdom.

On pages 108-109 the author mocks those who believe in a distinction between the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne of the Last Judgment. The Judgment Seat of Christ occurs before the beginning of the Millennium, the 1000-year prelude to the New Heavens and the New Earth (Isaiah 65:17-25, especially verse 20; Revelation 20:1-6). This judgment is to evaluate only the works resulting in either loss or great rewards bringing riches and honor to joyfully serve Jesus the King of kings (Matthew 5:12; Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 2:2 with 3:10-15, 6:2-3, 9:24-27; II Corinthians 5:9-11; II Timothy 1:16-18; James 2:12-13, 3:1; Revelation 3:11, 20:4-5, 22:12-13). The Great White Throne after the Millennium is to reveal the eternal destiny of the lost (Revelation 20:11-15).

In his argument against this distinction the author appeals to Romans 2:5-8. Like many translators, he doesn't recognize that there is an “inclusio” (a passage bracketed or bookended by related words and themes) beginning in Romans 1:18 and ending with a period or a question mark after Romans 2:5. The subject of the inclusio is the revelation through the Cross of God's present wrath against all sin. Romans 2:6-7 then does say that works will be brought up at the Final Judgment, but that passage is only describing the “operating principles” of God's way of judging. If at the Great White Throne anyone can be found who always without fail sought for “glory and honor and incorruptibility,” they will be given eternal life. But no one will be found.

In John 5:24 Jesus says that those who hear His word and rely on God the Father as the One Who sent Him do not come into judgment, but already have crossed over out of death into eternal life; so they will not be judged at the Great White Throne. There the books will be opened and the works of the lost will be entered into evidence to prove that their works could not save them. Every mouth will be shut by each one being shown to have been guilty before God. Yet, because Jesus is the objective Propitiation (appeasing satisfaction-of-justice sacrifice) He has redeemed (paid for and set free) every one of us. He took away the past, present and future sins of every individual of all history of the entire world! (John 1:29; I Corinthians 1:30; II Corinthians 5:19; I John 2:2).

Ezekiel chapters 2 and 3 tell us how God informed Ezekiel up front that even though He was sending him to prophesy to the Israelites, they would not listen; yet Ezekiel would not be a failure, for “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ezekiel 2:5). In the same way at the Last Judgment, the lost shall know that there has been a universal Redeemer among them. They will have tragically ignored Him, but He did not fail in His great work. His death on the cross insured that the lost will not perish because of the guilt of their sins.

Instead, the Book of Life will be opened, which contains the names of all those who, through faith, have been born again from above with the resurrection life of Jesus (John 3:3,7; II Corinthians 5:20; I Peter 1:3). By God’s foreknowledge their names were written in the Book of Life from the founding of the world (Revelation 13:8 word-ordered with Revelation 17:8).

Those who have remained in a condition of being spiritually dead will reap the specific thing they have sown. They will not perish because of the guilt of their sins, but sin killed them by cutting them off from God’s kind of life, and they neglected to receive that life from the One Who freely gives it (Ephesians 4:18; Revelation 22:17). Consequently, they cannot dwell with God among the living. There is only one place to go; they will share the fate of the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Whoever will not be found written in the Book of Life will burn forever in the ultimate horror, the Second Death, the Lake of Fire (Matthew 25:46; Revelation 14:11, 20:14-15).

Only the blood of the Messiah is sufficient for the kind of justification (status of righteousness pronounced by God) which leads to life (Romans 4:2, 5:8-9, 5:18). This first kind of justification is by faith alone. In I Corinthians 1:30 it is bodily crucified, bodily resurrected and bodily exalted Christ Jesus Who gave Himself to us as our only righteousness. As a result, He also gave Himself to us as eternal life (Colossians 3:4; I John 1:1-2, 5:20). Therefore, it is only faith that lays hold of the Christ. Simple faith has Christ Himself within it, so that He is our righteousness and faith is credited to us as righteousness (Romans 4:22-25).

The author's book is one more effort to make justification before God the result of faith PLUS good works. This is “Galatianism”—“another gospel” and “accursed”! So says the Lord through Paul, Galatians 1:6-9.

James 2:14-26 uses the ancient philosophy-classroom format called the diatribe (James speaks, verses 14-17; an Objector objects, verses 18-19; James replies, verses 20-26). Teaching Yahweh’s inbreathing of Wisdom in the manner of a practical moralist philosopher similar to the Stoic Epictetus, James says that even though his students have been born again from above (James 1:17-18), faith without works is “dead” in the sense that by itself it cannot “save” them from losing the experience of their daily lives for God.

An imaginary student objects: “The day you can show me faith “without” works will be the day I can show you faith “from” works. Both are equally impossible, since there is no real connection between faith and works. Why, even the demons rely on God as their Judge, but they only do evil works!” James’ response is traditional diatribe rhetorical hardball: “You empty man! I will show you that the good works of Abraham did not take away his sins before God, but on a specific occasion they co-operated with his faith. Students, all of you see then that this is the second kind of justification, the kind by works [James 2:24]. It means that by faith expressed in good works not only the honored patriarch Abraham but even the Canaanite prostitute Rahab was justified (that is, declared righteous) in front of PEOPLE.”

In the same way good works are essential for discipleship, the Christian lifestyle, as Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, the One Who is in the heavens” (Matthew 5:16).

Throughout my life I’ve felt hidden heartbreak that my light is often obscured by my dark side. If you have felt or now feel the same way, please allow me to recommend a little book that’s been a big help: “Six Secrets of the Christian Life,” by Zane C. Hodges. It’s published by the Grace Evangelical Society (GES), P.O. Box 1308, Denton, Texas 76202 USA. Their phone number is 1-940-270-8827. You can also order “Six Secrets of the Christian Life” on their website, or from other sellers online, where you may get either the first or the second edition. The content is the same, but the second edition has study questions. It’s copyrighted 2016, ISBN 978-1943399130. I’ve found it best to read it repeatedly, so I can meditate on its secrets and anchor them in my consciousness.

We become disciples by continuing in Jesus’ word (John 8:31-32). Our baptismal washing in water is a public sign and seal that our physical bodies belong to Jesus (Hebrews 10:22; Romans 4:11). Apostle Peter says faith expressed in baptism “saves” us “from this twisted generation” (Acts 2:40), since baptism is an “answer” (a pledge of allegiance) of a discipleship “conscience toward God” (I Peter 3:21). We are then strengthened by the communion of the Bread and the Cup (I Corinthians 10:16), and are known as disciples by love received from the holy Spirit (John 13:35; Galatians 5:6, 22-23). In each of these things--by faith--something genuinely supernatural happens to increase our bodily experience of union with Christ.

Still, that unbreakable union itself is turned on in the first moment of receiving everlasting-for-me, endless and nonforfeitable life by God’s unearned love and kindness through ONE ACT OF HANDING MYSELF OVER--to God’s promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus ALONE.

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