Saved by Faith… Plus Nothing?

The rallying cry of contemporary Christianity seems to be “saved by faith plus nothing!” As expressed by its most ardent proponents, faith plus nothing  lends itself to what some call “easy believism”. This popular belief is decried by many as a dilution of what Jesus taught and a radical distortion of His teachings. Think of all those silly martyrs! Consider all the misguided believers who wandered through life bereft of comforts and security. And what about those faithful ones who struggled mightily against principalities and powers? The Apostle Paul could have saved himself a lot of trouble had he contented himself with faith plus nothing.

Faith Without Works is Dead

Martin Luther was mightily upset with the book of James and claimed it did not even belong in the Bible!  “St.  James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw…We should throw (it) out of this school, for it doesn’t amount to much.”  The problem was that the Book of James refuted Luther’s personal views so rather than change his views he attacked scripture. Where  did James ever get the idea that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26)?  Perhaps he got this wild idea from his half brother Jesus Christ Himself. James had known Jesus for his entire life and grown up with Him in the same household so perhaps he was onto something. I only wish we had a record of Martin Luther and the Apostle James talking this over. Now that would be an interesting dialogue!

It’s Possible to Please God!

Do we believe then that we are saved by faith? Of course we do! This is the essential transaction between the believer and his God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6) but faith greatly pleases God. But does our faith give us permission to disregard and disobey the teachings of Jesus Christ? Of course not. Jesus told us His position plainly and in no uncertain terms! The essential point was: Don’t call me Lord unless you intend to do what I tell you. (Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 6:46)

Where is “Plus Nothing” ?

We are wholeheartedly committed to the message of salvation by grace through faith. What we fail to see anywhere in scripture is that little addition…plus nothing. If Sola Scriptura means anything it means we don’t get to add our own thoughts and opinions to what is written in the Bible. (even if those thoughts seem plausible and can be shouted nicely from a pulpit)

This is Better Than Nothing!

Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Galatians 3:6) and then Abraham confirmed the authenticity of his faith by obedience. Abraham acted on his faith and sealed his covenant with God.  Obedience was even required of our Savior who was made perfect through His obedience. Faith then is the beginning and ground of our walk with God but without obedience it means nothing. Our message begins with saved by grace through faith and concludes with loving God enough to obey Him. This is better than nothing… a lot better.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

PS:  Let’s not be foolishly blown about by every wind of doctrine that comes our way. Let’s be of full age and recognize that salvation is the gift of God and that mercy and justice are met in Jesus Christ! In our hearts we know that God expects more from us than just a polite nod in His direction. After all, He insists that we love Him with all of our hearts and minds and “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (I John 5:3)

Understanding Biblical Agency

“It is the glory of a king to search out a matter.” This surely applies to students of the Bible! There is definitely no shortage of “matters” to search out in scripture! We look for insights and principles to guide us whenever we can. A principle that I have recently begun to appreciate more fully is the notion of Biblical Agency. Here’s an interesting article on it offered by a fellow believer and student of scripture named Carlos Xavier. This may not answer every question about God and Christ but it is certainly a step in that direction. Here is Carlos’ recent (and slightly edited) article that was printed in the “Focus on the Kingdom” newsletter of March 2022. 

New Testament Christology (by Carlos Xavier)

“Of the greatest importance to NT Christology.” This quote is from one of the top biblical scholars of the 20th century, G.B. Caird from his book The Language and Imagery of the Bible, 1988, p. 181. “So completely is the ideal Davidic king identified with the purposes of God that he can be dignified with the titles of God himself [e.g., Ps 45:6]. This practice of treating the agent as though he were the principal is of the greatest importance for New Testament Christology.”

Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion

Regarding the word “agent” (Hebrew, Shaliach). “The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself (Ned. 72B; Kidd, 41b). Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal.” We find agency between people, ie. agents for other humans and also between divinity and humanity. Here are a few examples.

  • Gen. 43-44: The steward or servant of Joseph is treated by his brothers as Joseph himself.
  • Luke 7:6-10 The friends of the centurion speak as the centurion and are addressed by Jesus as the centurion himself. “The centurion sent friends to say to him saying “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him.”
  • John 3.22 says “Jesus was baptizing” but in the next chapter the same writer says “Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were” (John 4.2)!
  • Deuteronomy 29 contains an example of agency between divinity and humanity. Moses speaks as God in the first person. (but clearly Moses never claimed to be God) “Moses summoned all Israel and said to them…. I have led you forty years in the wilderness. “You have not drunk wine or strong drink, that you may know that I am the LORD your God…You are standing today, all of you, before the LORD your God.” The Pulpit Commentary on v. 5: “Moses introduces Jehovah Himself as speaking to them.”  Cambridge Bible for Schools & Colleges:  “here the speaker’s personality is merged in that of the Deity.” It is clear that Moses and other Old Testament prophets were viewed as God’s agents.

Other Examples of Biblical Agency

  • Deuteronomy 31:3, “YHWH your God is the one who will pass before you….Joshua is the one who will pass before you.” (Joshua is treated as YHWH Himself) Joshua 24.1: “Joshua assembled all the tribes [and] they presented themselves before God.”
  • Ezekiel 37:24, “My servant David will be king over them. (King David identified with YHWH) And they will all have one shepherd.” Zechariah 14:9, “YHWH shall be king over the entire earth. And on that day He will be one and His name will be one.” Hosea 3:5, “Afterwards, the Israelites will return and seek Yehovah their God and David their king.”

New Testament Christology

In the New Testament, so completely is Jesus identified with His God and Father that the writers can use a so-called YHVH text from the OT and apply it to the Son without confusion. There are many of these well known usages of language that are not referring to some mysterious plurality of persons within the one God of Israel.  For example Paul quotes Joel 2.32 in Rom. 10.13.

The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, John 5:30.  

“Jesus is thus a faithful shaliach, or agent; Jewish law taught that the man’s agent was as a man himself (backed by his full authority), to the extent that the agent faithfully represented him. Moses and the Old Testament prophets were viewed as God’s agents and often spoke for Him in the first person.” Note also that 4 of the 10 plagues performed by Aaron were said to have been performed by God.


Again, “much of the equivalence between Father and Son [in John] is phrased in language that stems from the Jewish concept that the one who is sent (shaliach) is completely the representative of the one who sends him. Because Jesus is an agent who is God’s own Son, John deepens the legal relationship of agent and sender to a relationship of likeness of nature, still not in philosophical terms, however.” And that’s according to the noted Catholic scholar Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John, p. 632.

Lastly, Peder Borgen another scholar who Brown quotes as the expert on this topic adds: The saying in John 12:44 “He who believes in me, believes not in me but in Him who sent me” is a very close parallel to the saying by the king in a quotation from the Siphre (an ancient rabbinic text) The same idea, that dealing with the agent is the same as dealing with the sender himself, is found in all four gospels. [See Matt. 10:40; Matt. 18 : 5; Mark 9 : 37; Luke 9 : 48 and John 13:20] The essential message is that, “he who receives any one whom I send receives me; he who receives me receives Him who sent me.”

Carlos Xavier

PS: Many students of scripture understand this principle on an intuitive level. This essay by Carlos Xavier helps us see clearly on an intellectual level something we knew in our hearts to be true all along.

Copyright 2021 by Carlos Xavier with an introduction by Bob Shutes

The Jesus Meal Club

We are a far cry from church life as it’s described the New Testament. But perhaps it’s still possible to return to our roots and regain something of the simplicity and power of the early church. The “modern” church is lacking in so many areas it’s hard to even know where to start. Today’s post marks something entirely new for WonderfulTheology because this is the first time I have devoted an entire post to someone else’s writing. That’s right! Yours truly is going to step aside and let you hear from someone else for a change. So without further ado, here in its entirety is a post about church life titled “The Jesus Meal Club” by Dr. Steven Nemes.

PS: I don’t agree 100% with everything the author has to say and don’t expect you to either. There are a lot of things that would have to be sorted out but the main thrust of the Jesus Meal Club seems pretty Biblical to me. I’d say it’s an idea worthy of serious consideration.  Please take a look at the article below and let me know your thoughts.


sliced of bread beside goblet
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

In my books I argue that Christian theology in the catholic tradition is excessively preoccupied with things that are not really essential to the faith itself. Churches and denominations are separated from each other and condemn each other for differences of opinion about things that do not really matter. The actually essential things that Jesus teaches are easy to appreciate and relatively few in number. They are things that Christians of all sorts already have in common, like that God is our Father, that we have the forgiveness of sins, that we can trust in his providential care, and that we must live as brothers and sisters in this life while anticipating the life of the world to come. The doctrines by which Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and various kinds of Protestants are distinguished from one another are less fundamental and important to the faith than these few and simple teachings. I think that Christians should repent of their “majoring in the minors,” so to speak, leaving their differences as unimportant matters of opinion and putting the emphasis rather on the things they have in common rather than upon the things that distinguish them.

Following this advice would mean that the corporate worship of Christians would have to look very different. One particular thing worth noting is that there would have to be considerably less emphasis put on the sermon as an act of theological education and interpretation of the Bible. This emphasis should be put somewhere else. Corporate worship would have to be less a matter of hearing one’s sophisticated theological convictions confirmed and exposited at length by the preacher and more a matter of something else. To that end, I would like to share an idea which came to me as I was working on my book Theological Authority in the Church.

I think churches should be organized as “Jesus meal clubs.” This idea can be explained as follows. The corporate worship of Christians every week would be fundamentally organized around a shared meal preceded by certain simple and achievable corporate acts of religion. These would be as follows.

  1. Gathering. A group of Christians would all meet in one place, whether someone’s house or a public park or whatever is most convenient. Each person or family must bring some one food item, specifically something that can be eaten raw or else which did not require very much prior preparation, e.g. fruits or vegetables or cheese or nuts. It is desirable that a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine be brought as well. Not too much food should be brought so that none is wasted.
  2. Song. A song of worship for God is sung. It should be a song that everyone knows and which is easily singable for a group. It is best if the singing is done without the accompaniment of an instrument.
  3. Reading. A passage from the Bible is read, preferably something simple and exhortational, carefully and clearly at length with the entire gathering attending as far as is possible to the reading. Someone may give a brief discourse about the text if they are capable, but this is not necessary. The less explanation a text needs, the better it is for the reading.
  4. Promise. Those gathered consult with each other about what good they can do in the coming week, whether as individuals or as a group. They may consider pooling money for someone in need, or visiting and spending time with a sick person, or praying for others every day, or making promises not to engage in certain destructive behaviors, etc. It should be something that is both significant and yet achievable, whether for the group or for the individual.
  5. Prayer. Those gathered should ask each other how they can pray for one another and then they should pray together as a group. They may also make a corporate confession of sin and ask for God’s forgiveness.
  6. The Meal. Those gathered should eat all the food they have brought together. A prayer of thanksgiving should be said both for the bread and for the wine before they are distributed to each, as well as after the meal is finished. The prayers should thank God for the provision of food by which he cares for us as his creatures and for the salvation that he has accomplished through Jesus his Son. The prayers can drawn from or be modeled after those found in the Didache.
  7. The Departure. Everyone goes back home. A final prayer of thanksgiving may be sad before leaving.

If it were up to me, this is what the average gathering of Christians would look like. It is true that there is something very austere and bare about organizing corporate worship in this manner, but I think that is for the better. There is no need for millions of dollars for a building; there is no need for expert musicians; there is no need for a celebrity personality to run the show or be in charge of things. It is simply a group of Christians gathering in one place to worship and give thanks to God, to hear Jesus’s teachings, to pray for one another and commit to doing good together, and to eat a meal together.

This is a way of organizing corporate worship around lived spirituality rather than around doctrine and theological opinions. There need not be a sermon, and it is not necessary to read texts which demand a sophisticated theological exposition. Opinions will naturally differ about how such things are to be understood, and to raise those matters in the context of corporate worship is to open the door for debates and schisms and breakdowns in communion over differences of opinion. People are naturally free to believe whatever they think is true about those matters, and if they care enough about these issues, they can investigate them freely on their own time.

A discussion about the text may follow the reading, but it is important that it be undertaken in low-stake conditions of freedom and openness. The purpose of the gathering is not the exposition of theological ideas but rather to enjoy a meal together in God’s presence and in gratitude to him as his children. The temptation to turn the gathering into a kind of miniature theological conference or (God forbid) censorial inquisition must be resisted, as should the pressure to force the Jesus meal club into the form and shape of existing Christian churches. People can believe whatever they want about the debatable questions of theology. The point of the Jesus meal club is to sing together, pray with and for each other, to listen to Jesus’s teachings, and to eat a meal in God’s presence out of gratitude for his goodness. The emphasis must always be placed on what is shared in common by everyone.

It should be noted that the Jesus meal club does have a statement of faith. It is a simple one: We believe that God our Father will save us because of his Son Jesus. Everything that one does in the course of the gathering is premised upon this fundamental conviction regarding the promise of salvation from God through his Son Jesus. The whole gathering is undertaken as a grateful expression of the expectation of salvation, whether it be the singing, or the praying, or the reading, or the consulting with one another about how to do good, or the eating. The precise interpretation of this statement of faith in light of any particular theological scheme is unimportant. Christians may disagree with one another with respect to the question how God will save us and in what sense this will be because of his Son. The “how” is not as important as the “that.” The finer details are all debatable, as anyone who studies theology knows well, and they are relatively unimportant. If a person can agree to the basic statement of faith, then they are welcome to join.

I think that there has been a two-thousand-year experiment run in the Christian religion. Christians have emphasized certain things around which their identity as Christians is constructed: very well-defined doctrinal systems, certain institutional arrangements and justifications of presumed legitimacy, certain complex liturgical schemes, and so on. All of this in my opinion has only led to division and trouble. Christians disagree with one another about fine points of theology and in the worst case scenario send each other to hell over their differences. The preservation of institutional arrangements take precedent over the spiritual fellowship that exists among Christians of different churches. Complex liturgical schemes become so important that the church becomes dependent on the presence of experts in order for its corporate worship to be tolerable or even possible. I have argued at length in my books Theology of the Manifest and Theological Authority in the Church that all these things are inessential at best, colossal wastes of time at worst.

The Jesus meal club is for me an experimental idea. It is a proposal for an alternative experiment to the one that has been run in the Christian religion for two-thousand years now. It is a proposal for how corporate worship among Christians might be done once the preoccupations of dogma, institution, and liturgy are set to the side as relatively unimportant. Because all these things are set to the side and the focus is put elsewhere, Christians of even differing backgrounds and convictions can nevertheless gather together in the manner I’ve described above. The Jesus meal club might therefore contribute to Christian unity insofar as it puts the emphasis on those things that Christians have in common rather than on things that distinguish them amongst themselves. I haven’t put it to the test yet, but I would certainly be interested to hear what it is like if someone else tries it out.

Subscribe to Christianity Otherwise

By Steven Nemes  ·  Launched 3 months ago

PS: A few comments are in order from your host and the author of this Wonderful Theology website. While it may appear at first reading that this proposal ignores doctrine altogether I don’t think this is actually the case. I would propose that every group has a de facto leader who assumes some measure of responsibility for the spiritual life of the group. It would be the duty of this person to help keep the group centered and avoid both chaos and rigid authoritarianism. This kind of leadership is not ego driven but genuinely wants to act as a servant to the gathered believers. Clearly this person would not be a novice but rather someone who is spiritually mature and held in high regard. Along with Dr. Nemes’ prescribed statement of faith I would remind participants of one other simple proviso. We are trying to organize our meetings and lives around the simple but powerful notion of Sola Sriptura. This could help guide us into a truly Biblical expression of church life. I hope someone tries this soon and reports back to the rest of us. God’s blessings to all. Your friend and brother in Jesus Christ, Bob Shutes

We See Through a Glass Darkly

Well here we are. Standing on the edge of eternity and peering into the pages of scripture looking for light and understanding. Our eyes strain to see God. We’re thankful that God has given us some understanding of the mystery of the Father and the Son, of God and His Christ. “We speak that we do know…” (John 3:11) Still, we confess that there is much we cannot see and much we do not understand. It’s not for lack of desire and it’s not for lack of study. It’s just that God has ordained that the time for seeing Him clearly, face to face, is not yet. It’s true that “we see through a glass darkly” but someday, some blessed day, that will change and we will finally see Him face to face! (I Corinthians 13:12)

No Flesh Shall See My Face and Live

Moses had some incredible experiences on his walk with God.  He saw the waters of the Red Sea parted and Israel walk through the sea on dry land. He watched in the desert as God gave His people water flowing from a rock. Moses spoke with God “face to face as a man speaks with his friend” and then one day Moses pleaded with God saying, “Please, show me your glory!” (Exodus 33:18) God answered him by saying “no flesh shall see my face and live.” That wasn’t an angry threat, it was just a simple statement of fact. God put Moses in the cleft of a rock and then shielded him with His hand before passing by and showing Moses just a retreating glimpse of His glory. After seeing God’s glory Moses’ face shone so brightly he had to cover it with a veil!

The Unspeakable Light

There is something about the radiant outpouring of light from God’s glorious Being that flesh and blood cannot survive. Every solar eclipse brings a warning not to view it directly or risk permanent blindness. None of us could even hope to survive the intensity of light from a military laser or an atomic bomb. How much less could our mortal bodies endure the unspeakable light that shines from an infinitely powerful God? “Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen nor can see…” (I Timothy 6:16)

We See Jesus

On the mount of transfiguration Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17) On the road to Damascus the Apostle Paul saw a bright light from heaven and was blinded by the scales that formed on his eyes. (Acts (9:3-9) We aren’t in spiritual darkness any longer and “We see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9) but our vision is still restricted by our mortality. Some glorious day, “We shall see Him as He is because we shall be like Him!” (I John 3:2) This mortal is going to put on immortality and these feeble eyes are going to see God at long last!  And that, dear friend, is something to look forward to indeed.

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes

Is the Trinity Treason?

It’s interesting to learn that the words tradition and treason both come from the same Latin word. “Traddutore” is the root word from which we get words like treason, traitor and betrayal. How fitting! This understanding helps bring into focus how easily human traditions can betray of the intent and will of God. “Traduttore” in the words of one writer “refers to the idea that translation is always a betrayal of the true meaning of the original.” This simply refers to the difficulty of accurately translating thoughts and ideas from one language to another. It seems especially apt when you consider how man’s traditions are so often a betrayal of the true intent of God. History shows that translating God’s will into religious traditions often distorts and betrays God’s true intention. Is it possible this applies to the tradition of the trinity?

Man’s Misguided Love of Tradition

There aren’t many things Jesus condemned more fiercely than the traditions of men. He looked Israel’s leaders in the eye and declared “it is written” before going on to condemn their traditions. Jesus knew full well that man’s misguided love of religious traditions would ultimately lead to His own torture and crucifixion. The rulers of Israel hated Him for pointing out that their love of traditions was actually treason against God! Could it be that devotion to the trinity is an example of people loving tradition to the point of treason? The sad truth is that it’s all too easy to put more faith in tradition than in scripture.

People Kill to Protect Their Traditions

People kill to protect their traditions and then claim they are doing it for God. Jesus said the traditions of Israel violated God’s will and  portrayed  her leaders as a band of traitors! Calling them vipers, ravening wolves and hypocrites was hardly the way to make friends. History shows that challenging religious traditions can get you killed…. and that is exactly what happened to Jesus.

The Long Sad History of Christianity

The long sad history of Christianity reveals that anyone who dares to challenge well-established church traditions (ie. the trinity, infant baptism, meaning of communion, etc.) stands a very good chance of getting killed. Over the centuries, multiplied thousands of Christians have been tortured and slaughtered by those who claimed to kill them for God’s sake. Simply disagreeing about things like the trinity or baptism (or even owning the wrong books) has gotten more than a few believers burned at the stake. Unbelievers see these things all too clearly. Is it any wonder so many of them want nothing to do with Christianity? Jesus meant it when said “By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

Is the Trinity Theological Treason?

There is nothing more entrenched or fiercely defended in Christianity than the doctrine of of the trinity.  It actually took threats of death, torture and banishment to establish the trinity as orthodoxy. On the other hand, God can take care of the truth Himself. He doesn’t ask His people to resort to violence on His behalf. Jesus never killed anyone and neither did His Apostles! The tradition of the trinity, on the other hand, would never have been established or dominated Christendom without violence. We suggest that the tradition of the trinity is much less a divine truth than an unfortunate mis-translation of God’s revelation. That’s why we wonder… Is the trinity theological treason?

Copyright 2023 by Bob Shutes