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In 1900, a 29-year-old man entered the ministry as a Presbyterian pastor. From 1914 until 1924, he traveled as a popular Bible lecturer. In 1924, this man founded Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) where he served as president until his death in 1952. His eight-volume Systematic Theology was published in 1948 as the first dispensational, premillenial systematic theology. His name is Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer.
Chafer and others associated with DTS are the chief proponents of so-called easy-believism. Easy-believism teaches conversion through faith alone. It denies that repentance and surrender to Christ are components of salvation. Christian scholars associated with DTS such as John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, Merrill Unger, Howard Hendricks, Haddon Robinson, Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie, etc., have promoted this doctrine within Evangelicalism. Evangelical leaders read these men’s writings and use them in their Bible schools and churches.
Before Chafer, another man’s Systematic Theology was found on evangelical bookshelves. This man served as a Baptist pastor from 1861 until 1872, when he was installed as president of Rochester Theological Seminary. He served at this post until his death in 1921. He is Dr. Augustus Strong. His Systematic Theology,first published in 1907, represents evangelical thought prior to the rise of dispensational, premillenial theology. Strong’s soteriology stands in contrast to Chafer’s easy-believism.
This article will compare the teachings of easy-believism (Chafer) with the traditional evangelical view of salvation (Strong). The two battlefields in this soteriological war are repentance and submission to Christ.
Chafer defines repentance as “a change of mind.”1 He argues “that repentance is not to be added to belief as a separate requirement for salvation,” but that “it is included in believing and could not be separated from it.”2 He asserts “that few errors have caused so much hindrance to the salvation of the lost than the practice of demanding of them an anguish of soul before salvation in Christ can be exercised,” since “they are encouraged to look inward at themselves and not away to Christ as Saviour.”3 Chafer continues: “To demand that a self-produced affliction of mind shall precede salvation by faith [is] a form of fatalism and is responsible for having driven uncounted multitudes to despair.”4
Strong defines repentance as “that voluntary change in the mind of the sinner in which he turns from sin.”5 His three elements of repentance are: (1) The intellectual element — “I have sinned.” (2) The emotional element — “I sorrow over my sin.” (3) The volitional element — “I turn from my sin to seek pardon and cleansing through Christ.”6 He lists the “profession of Christian faith” as a fruit of repentance.7 Strong views repentance as a prerequisite for faith in Christ.
Chafer appeals to Scripture to prove that repentance, as described by Strong, plays no role in salvation.
Upwards of 115 New Testament passages condition salvation on believing, and fully 35 passages condition salvation on faith. … Each one of these texts omits any reference to repentance as a separate act.8
The book of John, “written to present Christ as the object of faith unto eternal life,” never uses the word “repentance.”9 Romans does not use the word “repentance” in connection with salvation except in 2:4, “where repentance is equivalent to salvation itself.”10 Paul and Silas’ reply to the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:31 “fails to recognize the necessity of repentance in addition to believing.”11 Based upon “this overwhelming mass of irrefutable evidence,” Chafer declares: “It is clear that the New Testament does not impose repentance upon the unsaved as a condition of salvation.”12
Strong admits that “repentance is only a negative condition, and not a positive means for salvation.” He sees repentance as “no more than the sinner’s present duty” which “can furnish no offset to the claims of the law on account of past transgression.” He continues, “Apart from the positive element of conversion, namely, faith in Christ, [repentance] would only be sorrow for guilt unremoved.”13 However, Strong still argues that repentance is necessary for conversion:
True repentance … never exists except in conjunction with faith. … It is the cross which makes us truly penitent (cf., John 12:32,33). Hence, all true preaching of repentance is implicitly a preaching of faith (Mat. 3:1-12; cf., Acts 19:4), and repentance toward God involves faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21; Luke 15:10,24; 19:8,9; cf., Gal. 3:7).14
Chafer explains away some passages which are used to make a case for the necessity of repentance in salvation.
There are … passages which employ the word repentance as a synonym of believing (cf. Acts 17:30; Rom. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:25; 2 Pet. 3:9). Also, there are passages which refer to a change of mind (Acts 8:22; 11:18; Heb. 6:1, 6; 12:17; Rev. 9:20, etc.). Yet, again, consideration must be accorded three passages related to Israel which are often misapplied (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31). There are references to John’s baptism, which was unto repentance, that are outside the Synoptics (Acts 13:24; 19:4).15
In Luke 24:47 and Acts 11:18, he claims repentance “serves as a synonym for the word believe.”16 “Repentance toward God” in Acts 20:21 is said to “prepare for that faith” but “could not itself constitute, in this case, the equivalent of ‘faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.’”17 He supposes that repentance in Acts 26:20 is “a change of mind which turns to God” and not “a sorrow for sin.”18 Chafer concludes his thoughts on repentance by stating:
Upwards of 150 texts — including all of the greatest gospel invitations — limit the human responsibility in salvation to believing or to faith. To this simple requirement nothing could be added if the glories of grace are to be preserved.19
Strong adamantly disagrees with Chafer‘s exclusion of repentance from salvation. He declares: “That must be an unreal faith where there is no repentance, just as that must be an unreal repentance where there is no faith.”20 He quotes Bishop Joseph Hall who says of II Corinthians 7:10: “Never will Christ enter into that soul where the herald of repentance has not been before him.”21
Submission to Christ
Chafer, like other easy-believism proponents, separates submission to Christ from the act of salvation.
The Arminian notion that through the reception of so-called common grace anyone is competent to accept Christ as Savior if he will, is a mild assumption compared with the idea that the unregenerate person, with no common or uncommon grace proffered, is able to dedicate his life to God.22
He bases this statement upon “the utter inability and spiritual death of the nsaved.”23 His Calvinistic, Presbyterian roots are showing! Chafer then declares:
To impose a need to surrender the life to God as an added condition of salvation is most unreasonable. God’s call to the unsaved is never said to be unto the Lordship of Christ; it is unto His saving grace.24
He says one who compels the unsaved to accept the Lordship of Christ “is demanding of them what they have no ability to produce.”25
Strong disagrees with Chafer’s absolute separation of saving faith from submission to Christ.
[Saving] faith necessarily leads to good works, since it embraces the whole truth of God so far as made known, and appropriates Christ, not only as an eternal Savior, but as an internal sanctifying power (Heb. 7:15,16; Gal. 5:6).26
In other words, a person asking to be justified by Christ is willing to be sanctified by Him. He continues,
The faith which does not lead men to act upon the commands and promises of Christ, or, in other words, does not lead to obedience, is called in Scripture a “dead,” that is, an unreal faith. Such faith is not saving, since it lacks the voluntary element — actual appropriation of Christ (James 2:14-26).27
According to Chafer, dedication to Christ is not a given for one who is saved. In fact, dedication “is the Christian’s greatest problem.”28 Why should one expect spiritually dead people to do something that is a struggle for believers? Chafer reminds the reader that
the unregenerate person, because of his condition in spiritual death, has no ability to desire the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), or to anticipate what his outlook on life will be after he is saved. It is therefore an error of the first magnitude to divert that feeble ability of the unsaved to exercise a God-given faith for salvation into the unknown and complex spheres of self-dedication.29
Strong, on the other hand, believes faith in Christ “is evidenced by my acting upon His commands and promises.”30 To him, the Christ who saves is the Christ whom every believer desires to follow.
Those who claim that repentance is not a part of salvation must, like Chafer, explain away clear calls for sinners to repent in the Bible. Historically, revival — which sees the church refreshed and sinners saved — has followed repentance. Perhaps true revival has not come recently because we no longer preach Jesus’ message: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”31 Perhaps it has not come because the Law has not been preached as the standard which has been broken by all humanity. Galatians 3:24 says, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.” The realization that one has offended a holy God brings “godly sorrow [which] worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of.”32 True, and lasting, salvation is the fruit of Biblical repentance.
Submission to Christ as a sure result of salvation is seen in passages such as First John 1:6,7, where Christians are described as “walking in the light,” and First John 3:8-10 which says, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” Second Corinthians 5:17 declares, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” The lost man’s lord is the god of this world. The saved man’s Lord is Jesus. This is evidenced, not by sinless perfection, but by a pattern of living which submits to and honors the Lord Jesus Christ. Submission to Christ is a fruit of Biblical conversion.
A plain reading of the Bible points to the necessity of repentance before salvation and submission to Christ after salvation. May we as Fundamentalists boldly proclaim both of these tenets and reject the teachings of so-called easy-believism.
Discuss this article.
1 Chafer, Lewis Sperry, Systematic Theology, Volume Three (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1953), 372.
2 Ibid., 373.
3 Ibid., 373.
4 Ibid., 374.
5 Strong,Augustus, Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1912), 832.
6 Ibid., 832-833.
7 Ibid., 835.
9 Ibid., 376.
12 Ibid., 376.
14 Ibid., 835-836.
16 Ibid., 377.
17 Ibid., 378.
18 Ibid., 378.
19 Ibid, 378.
20 Strong, 836.
21 Ibid., 836.
23 Ibid., 385.
24 Ibid., 385.
25 Ibid., 385.
26 Strong, 846.
27 Ibid., 846.
28 Chafer, 386.
29 Ibid., 386.
30 Strong, 846.
31 Mark 1:15.
32 II Corinthians 7:10.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology, Volume Three. Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press. 1953.
Strong, Augustus. Systematic Theology. Philadelphia: The Judson Press. 1912.