Monthly Archives: August 2009

Dispensationalism and Gnosticism

A while back I wrote a piece identifying Gnostic tendencies in the writings of Arlen L. Chitwood, a noted exclusionist and dispensationalist (see here). This blogger questions whether there are Gnostic tendencies in dispensationalism itself. Chitwood, it may be said, represents an extreme form of dispensationalism, so it is interesting to question whether this extremism stems from a widely accepted theological position.

Chitwood’s latest pamphlet is something of an enigma

In the latest of his pamphlets, Arlen L. Chitwood sets out to explain the enigma of James 2:14-26, yet inexplicably creates others. “James is dealing with the salvation of the soul,” he writes (p. 1). Unfortunately, he does not explain what the “salvation of the soul” is, except to refer the reader to another of his writings, Salvation of the Soul. So, from the onset, the new tract, “Faith and Works,” contains no real explanation of James’ teaching. If you read Salvation of the Soul, you learn that unlike the salvation of the spirit (he believes people are saved three times), the salvation of the soul is conditional. “The salvation of the soul is dependent on the life one lives after his spirit has been saved” (Salvation of the Soul, p. 13). Yet in “Faith and Works,” Chitwood argues that “… in the realm of faith and works, acting by faith is not acting in the realm where one seeks to go out and do a work for the Lord. Rather, acting by faith is completely stepping aside from one’s own self and allow the Lord to do a work through the one exercising faith” (p. 10). This is not consistent with James’ examples in chapter 2, verses 14-26, wherein James explicitly states Christians are actually to do certain things.

Throughout “Faith and Works,” Chitwood dives into the Old Testament, discussing Sodom and Gomorrah and other texts, but spends little time discussing the letter of James itself. Consequently, he draws conclusions that quite confounds James’ explicit teaching that Christians are actually to do certain things. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” asks James (vs. 16). Here, the believer must actually give the things needed for the body. Chitwood argues the Christian must step aside.

Now, certainly Chitwood is not saying that Christians should step aside, answering, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” but what is he saying? Is the Christian actually doing anything? Chitwood writes,

Romans 4:1-4 clearly reveals that works emanating from the flesh, from man (vv. 1, 2) cannot enter into the realm of either “faith” (v. 3) or “grace” (v. 4). The works must be God’s works being performed through an individual excercising “faith,” as in James 2:21-24 and Heb. 11:17. And since they are God’s works, grace can enter into the matter; and since they are works being done through man, “judgment” on the basis of works can occur.

The whole of the matter surrounding faith and works is that simple to understand. — p. 12

This is frankly one of the more bizarre statements to issue from Chitwood’s pen. First, it is the absence of works James rebukes, not the type of work. Second, Chitwood says God must do the work (the Christian stepping aside), doing them through the Christian. Only, these works of faith are “being done through man,” so a person can be judged on the basis of them. Is Chitwood saying that God will judge his own works, punishing the Christian for the lack of them? Certain statements in Salvation of the Soul may help to clarify matters. At one point, he writes, “[the salvation of the soul is] allowing the Spirit of God to impart spiritual truth into and control his life through his own spirit” (p. 13, ibid.). This is all fine, except that he emphatically states that the salvation of the soul is conditional, based on what one does. One cannot make sense of these contradictory statements; they simply are nonsensical.

Unfortunately, Chitwood does not comment on vs. 22 of James’ letter, which reads, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.” This is the qualification that James adds to his statement that Abraham was justified by works. Abraham was working all along — he actually brought his son to the alter and raised the knife; he actually embarked from Ur to the promised land — but he was working in the belief that “God was able even to raise him from the dead.” Faith was indeed active with his works (things he actually did), for otherwise he would not have done them.

Certainly, applying a particular logic, one might argue that the Christian indeed yields himself to the Holy Spirit and therefore whatever the Christian does of merit is really God working in him. But it’s not the sort of logic James applies in his letter. Rather, he views God’s work as testing the Christian through trials (1:3). The Christian’s work is to resist temptation (1:12-15), to take care of the afflicted (1:27), to avoid partiality (2:1-7), to speak and act as ones under the law of liberty (2:12), etc.

I don’t necessarily object to the idea that the Christian is one yielding himself to the Holy Spirit, but we find, scripturally, that the Christian is to actually act. He is to walk in the works God created beforehand for him. In the 12 pages of his latest pamphlet, Chitwood provides extraneous answers and draws faulty conclusions.