It's Hardly Wrapped-Up: A Response From John Lewis

I did wonder, when writing the previous post, how long it would take for some to say that I am blowing the whole thing out of proportion. Certainly, there should be nothing to fear when writing about a final salvation by works. Anyone who would question that is just insincere and cruel.

I intended to let this rest, but since Mark Jones has decided to dig in his heals about the matter, and attempt turn it back on me, I think it’s important for readers to think through whether this is so easily “wrapped up” when the sheep are now being confused about the gospel. Mr. Lewis is not the only one to express his concerns.

Unfortunately, this whole thing now has become something of a playground on Facebook to downplay the whole concern, so now I’m forced to respond.

Mark wrote a very nice post at the Calvinist International. He told everyone that he plans to meet with Mr. Lewis when he travels all the way out to Cape Town in December. He then went on to affirm some things that were very encouraging for all concerned. Great. It was pastoral. It was considerate. One of the kinder online moments I’ve ever seen from Mark Jones. He seemed to take seriously what was asked of him. So I publicly thanked him.

From there, however, things went quickly south. It was brought to my attention that on his public Facebook page Mark and his friends are saying that I have blown this whole thing way out of proportion. Suggestions were made that my entire post was uncalled for, that I was reading way too much into Mr. Lewis' letter. Jones has made it clear that we should not worry, that Gen. 50:20 has prevailed, that this was all meant for evil but God meant it for good. Intentions appear to be questioned, but whatever the case, this is not a "Gotcha" moment.  My motive is to protect the sheep from confusing doctrines about justification and salvation. The reader will remember that I rebuked myself in the piece too.

I think it’s time to hear from Mr. Lewis. He reached out to me and gave me full permission to use what he wrote. Here are the most helpful of his own words:

Dear Chris, 
I needed time to measure my response to all that I have read over the past few days, so my apology to you for only making a comment now... 
Thank you, thank you that at last I understand , and now know, that there are people out there who understand the importance of clarity, and clarity in feeding His sheep. Nothing has changed about the Gospel since our Lord and Saviour walked amongst us and proclaimed it to not only His own, who rejected it, but to also the Gentiles so that none could deny, that Jesus Christ is Lord!

As I understand it, faith is the only and most precious and vital aspect of our acceptance of a relationship with God, how could it be anything different? Surely even John Piper must understand this basic tenet, maybe one day either here on earth or in heaven I will meet him and have a really good chat about this. You, quite rightly have pointed out the importance of clarity, the importance of simplicity, especially to folks such as myself, who really is only trying His very best to understand with what may be the last few years of life on this earth that my walk with Christ, this person whom I follow daily will honour His word. 

I have to add, that since coming to faith, I’ve devoted myself to sharing the Gospel, this good news of Jesus Christ to all who may come into my sphere of influence…. I have no problem whatsoever to you adding this to your comments section of your article if you deem it worthwhile.  

Thank you Chris, thank you for being a soothing calming sound, to my pounding heart.

Warmest regards 

John Lewis. 
This brother in “what may be the last few years of his life” is trying to understand how to have a comfortable walk with his savior and understand his word. It is tragic that a brother is saying these ideas are confusing about the gospel, to which he has now devoted his life, and which he is committed to sharing with others.  Instead of Jones (who recognizes the confusion is big enough that he needs to fly to South Africa to help him), simply saying, “I’m not being clear, I wounded a sheep, I repent,” he is attempting to downplay the situation and now blame me. Why not just admit his teaching on salvation is causing confusion? I recognize how hard that would be, for it would force him to reckon with the pastoral consequences of what he is teaching. This strikes the jugular when it comes to what we do as pastors. 

Here is Jones assessment: 

“Mr. Lewis was not upset as Chris is” 
“Mr. Gordon made a huge leap that was nowhere near Mr. Lewis's mind. In fact, he made a whole post out of a comment where Mr. Lewis was decidedly not lacking assurance”
“I found it interesting that Chris assumed that "given me much to meditate upon" = "I might not be saved when I die!. Hardly seemed a natural and obvious jump.”

Dear reader, did you hear the relief in Lewis' comments above in being reassured that the gospel has not changed? Did I unfairly leap in suggesting that the consequences of this confusion may lead Mr. Lewis to reach his death bed in doubt?

Mr. Lewis once had a confidence in saying, “I was saved at 61”--here it comes--“when I came to understand the selfless act and blood sacrifice of my Lord and savior Jesus Christ.” Now he is hearing something that seems to challenge the “vital aspect of our acceptance with God." He’s concerned enough that he sees a direct connection to the very Reformation Luther began, ironically. And that concern is fair, especially when Mr. Lewis reads at Desiring God things like the following
But what about being saved by faith alone? You're not. You're justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification--both initiated and sustained by God's grace. 
Huh? Salvation not by faith alone, but through faith alone, but final salvation by justification and sanctification? What a jumbled mess. Does Jones defend that? Well, Jones has certainly taken it upon himself to defend Piper’s ambiguities and interject ideas that the Reformed world has been addressing for sometime, ideas that came out of Federal Vision theology and elsewhere. 

For instance, does the reader think any of these discussions sound like #22 of Norman Shepherd's Thesis: 
The righteousness of Jesus Christ ever remains the exclusive ground of the believer’s justification, but the personal godliness of the believer is also necessary for his justification in the judgment of the last day (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:31-46; Heb. 12:14).
Is Mr. Lewis way off base in hearing these men add something to the “vital aspect of our acceptance with God?” And Jones wonders why I would propose a possible situation of doubt on his deathbed when these men are talking about good works as causes of salvation? Really? Seriously? Is that something blown way out of proportion that no one else sees?

Mr. Lewis' concerns are illustrative of many who are reading this post right now with keen interest. Why? Because everyone knows there is indeed a controversy. Different things are being said. It’s evident. We are not all in agreement. Now what does that imply? Well, if one cares about the truth and has not made this whole thing an MMA kind of event, defending their heroes, they will need to make a decision if the Bible teaches we are saved by our works, and what the consequences of such ideas will be in the life of the sheep who read this finely nuanced debate. Isn't that the issue? And isn't that the heart of my concern?

So I believe its really important that all of us, including me, hear Mr. Lewis' plea for clarity. If we disregard such a plea, I fear that Mr. Lewis' represents the major clean up we all will soon be faced with in the Reformed world if we continue to confuse the role and place of good works in salvation. All those studying for ministry, who haven't yet worked as a pastor in helping the sheep understand the gospel, need to think about what they are getting into and what they are defending. 

As I said before, what Mr. Lewis has done for us is take our internet debates over these things to the heart of what we do as pastors in helping real, struggling, sinful people know how they can be right with God, something pastors are supposed to care most about. 

I pray for Mark Jones in traveling across the sea, that he will hear Mr. Lewis plea for clarity, that he will not become a robber of the confidence that he has Christ. May Pastor Jones sweetly console this brother with the finished work of Jesus. We should all desire and seek for this together.


  1. Great post.

    For every Mr. Lewis who has identified himself, there are ten who haven't. Mark Jones might not be denying justification by faith alone, for which I'm very thankful, but John Piper certainly is. And that makes any defense of Piper therefore confusing. One can't sacrifice truth for the sake of charity. And more importantly, one can't rob Christ of his glory with impunity. As W. Robert Godfrey wrote recently in Tabletalk:"The spiritual problem for those who reject the biblical doctrine of justification is that they cannot give all glory to God. They must make a contribution, however small, to their own justification. They are not content with Christ alone and His grace alone."

    1. "Mark Jones might not be denying justification by faith alone ... but John Piper certainly is."

      Well said, Bill. :) You nailed it.

  2. "Because everyone knows there is indeed a controversy. Different things are being said. It’s evident. We are not all in agreement. "

    Is it not the case that pretty much every time these sorts of disagreements arise that men of character and conviction have met and debated, strenuously, the issues at hand and in so doing being clarity and unity?

    If that is the case, then why was the offer to do just that dismissed out of hand?

    What I hear is, "I don't care what the right answer is, or the better answer, or the permissible answer is. I deem this to be confusing to some so you have to say things the way I think they should be said."

    This is not sola scriptura, it's traditionalism.

    It would seem to me that in this climate of post modern individualism, we ought to be having regular discussions of the meaning of being neither legalised nor antinomian.

    But, what do I know. I'm just a sinner in a pew.

    1. Dear Adam,

      I'm always for the sinner in the pew. Good questions. I agree that there have been debates, colloquiums, forums, disputations, etc. in the past. One could argue, in this case, that we already had the debate over justification and works around 500 years ago. To have a debate again legitimizes views that have already been condemned.

      I love our Belgic 37 on the final judgment to summarize what we believe:

      the consideration of this judgment is justly terrible and dreadful to the wicked and ungodly, but most desirable and comfortable to the righteous and elect; because then their full deliverance shall be perfected, and there they shall receive the fruits of their labor and trouble which they have borne. Their innocence shall be known to all" (Article 37).

  3. Thank you Christopher Gordon! Thank you Mr John Lewis. I so much appreciate hearing from both of you.

    I am greatly concerned about John Piper's doctrine of salvation. I've been supporting R Scott Clarke, Rachel Miller, and the others who have been defending Sola Fide and exposing Piper's unorthodox idea of a two-stage salvation.

    I think Mark Jone's attempts to defend Piper or 'explain away' Piper's unorthodoxy are very dangerous. I deplore Mark Jones's haughty treatment of Rachel Miller (the lady who first blew the whistle on Piper's soteriology). Well... Rachel Miller was not the first, but she was the first in this current round of the debate.

    Christopher Gordon, you may like to read my article which relates to this Sola Fide debate. My argument is that Piper's two-stage docrtine of salvation fosters Pharisaism (so it empowers abusers in the church), and it also fosters doubt in true Christians (making them pushovers for abusers).