Hodges, Dillow, and the Grace Evangelical Society

Are They Promoting a New Brand of Dispensationalism?


Within dispensationalism there is a movement of men who are teaching that the absence of good works is NOT necessarily an indication of a unregenerate condition. They teach that a true believer can be devoid of good works and can have a "dead faith" (James 2) and yet this person is still a genuine believer who possesses eternal life. Though they would say that such a condition is not desirable nor recommended, yet they argue that it is possible for a true believer to persist in a wicked life-style (even persisting in homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness, etc.) and though he will not "inherit" the kingdom, yet he will enter the kingdom and be eternally safe and saved (although they also teach that he will be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth). They go so far as to teach that a genuinely saved person can totally depart from the faith and deny Christ and Christianity and even teach against Christianity. Thus they believe that a true Christian can abandon Jesus Christ, abandon the core doctrines of the faith, become a total apostate and even be converted to the Muslim faith (or become an adherent to any other false religion or become a total atheist or infidel).

This view has been strongly promoted by 1) Zane Hodges, former professor at Dallas Theological Seminary; 2) Joseph Dillow, in a massive volume entitled The Reign of the Servant Kings; and 3) The Grace Evangelical Society which produces a newsletter, a theological journal and other literature items and tapes.

Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin are brothers in Christ.  To my knowledge they are living for Christ and walking worthy of of the gospel.  It is not our desire to cast any aspersion on these men, their character, or their ministries, but simply to examine their teachings in the light of the Word of God.  We hold no animosity towards these men.  We agree with them on most of the doctrines of the Christian faith, but we are very concerned about some of their teachings as will be described and explained below.

They are strongly opposed to the idea that good works are the necessary result of saving faith.  The are uncomfortable with the notion that faith is the root; good works are necessary fruit.  Men who embrace Reformed Theology also believe that good works are the necessary result of saving faith.

Here are some questions worth considering:

1) Did the early dispensationalists hold to the Dillow/Hodges/GES view?

2) If Reformed Theology teaches something, does this mean that it is necessarily erroneous and non-dispensational?

3) Are there areas of doctrine where dispensationalists and reformed men were in agreement?

4) Is it possible to hold the view that good works are the necessary result of saving faith and still be in opposition to Lordship Salvation?

It may be helpful to answer these questions in reverse order:

4) Charles Ryrie is an example of a man who holds the view that good works are the necessary result of saving faith, and yet he is in strong opposition to Lordship Salvation (see his book, SO GREAT SALVATION). See also our document, Saved By Grace Alone--A Clarification of the Lordship Salvation Issue.

3) There are many areas of doctrine where reformed men and dispensationalists are in agreement. In general Reformed theology has been a God-honoring movement which has preached Christ, detested sin, held a high view of Scripture, acknowledged that God rules on His sovereign throne, etc. [See the first part of the document, The Dangers of Reformed Theology, where some of these areas of agreement are delineated.]

2) If Reformed Theology and Dispensationalism both affirm a certain doctrine, then this means that such a doctrine is common to both and is not distinctive to either group. For example, it would be wrong for a Reformed man to say, "We believe in the inerrancy of Scripture so this must mean that dispensationalists do not believe in this." No, this is a precious doctrine shared by both groups. On the other hand, the "general resurrection of all men" would be a distinctive doctrine of Reformed theology, a doctrine  that is rejected by dispensationalists.

1) The following examples will demonstrate that the early dispensationalists were generally unanimous in teaching that good works are a necessary result of saving faith and that if a man claims to have faith but does not have works, then he is not a saved person:



Here is what some of the older dispensationalists taught:

"Holiness, we all agree, is so imperative that without it no one shall see the Lord; and the professing Christian who does not pursue it only deceives himself. It is false and misleading to let people fancy that they may be real saints, yet unholy. ‘Every one’ that has the grace-given hope resting on Him purifies himself as He is pure; others that have not are self-deceived. Because of iniquities the wrath of God cometh upon the sons of disobedience; but believers are essentially sons of obedience, and His love rests on them. If one sin, it is a grievous inconsistency. But grace does not fail to awaken self-judgment through our blessed Advocate with the Father, and restoration ensures. Those who do the wicked works of the flesh, and abide impenitent and indifferent have no part or lot with Christ, shall not inherit the kingdom of God, and in no way share the portion of the saints in light."  (William Kelly, The Prize of our High Calling)

"‘Will a believer be saved, no matter into what course of sin he may fall, and die in?’ A true believer will, infallibly, be saved; but we consider that salvation includes, not only full deliverance from the future consequences of sin, but from the present power and practice thereof. And, hence, if we find a person living in sin, and yet talking about his assurance of salvation, we look upon him as an antinomian, and not a saved person at all….The believer may fall, but he will be lifted up; he may be overtaken, but he will be restored; he may wander, but he will be brought back, because Christ is able to save to the uttermost, and not one of His little ones shall perish….To talk of having the Spirit and yet ‘indulge’ in evil and unholy thoughts is, in our judgment, the ancient Nicolaitanism (Rev. 2:6,15), or modern antinomianism….we believe that the man who draws a plea from the freedom, sovereignty, and eternal stability of the grace of God to continue in sin, knows nothing of Christianity at all, has neither part nor lot in the matter, but is in a truly awful and dangerous condition….The Christian has to struggle with sin; but struggling with it and wallowing in it are two totally different ideas….We must have life before we can do anything; and we get life, not by ‘saying’ we have faith, but by really having it; and when we have it, we shall manifest the precious fruits thereof, to the glory of God." —C.H.Mackintosh, The Mackintosh Treasury, "Final Perseverance—What Is It?" (page 644 and following in the one volume edition).

"While we are justified in the sight of God by faith alone, a real faith must be evidenced by works…. There must be LIFE-WORKS, or else there is no life….When people are saved, ought they not to live as such? Ought not the new life to come out in fruits? It must come out if it be in; and if it does not come out, it is not there….It is very interesting and instructive to compare the teaching of Paul and James—two divinely inspired apostles—on the subject of ‘works.’ Paul utterly repudiates law-works. James jealously insists upon life-works. If this fact be seized, all difficulty vanishes; and the divine harmony is clearly seen." —C.H.Mackintosh, The Mackintosh Treasury, "Life-Works" (pp. 660-662 in the one volume edition).

These quotes by CHM also reflect the general teaching of Darby, Kelly and the early Plymouth Brethren (the pioneer dispensationalists).

"Grace is that which breaks the dominion of sin, sets the soul right to go on with God, and if this be not the result of it, grace has not been learned at all, nor can it be pleaded as availing in behalf of those who, whatever they may profess, show themselves uninfluenced by it" (F.W.Grant, The Numerical Bible, Acts to II Corinthians, p. 479).

"Empty profession is of no profit. He who speaks of faith in Christ is responsible to manifest it by his renewed life. In James 2 we are taught that we are justified before men by works, works that are the fruit of a living faith, which is manifest to all….If we believe God we will yield obedience to His Word, and so our faith will be manifested." —H.A.IRONSIDE, The Continual Burnt Offering, see under December 7.

"Shallow preaching that does not grapple with the terrible fact of man’s sinfulness and guilt, calling on ‘all men everywhere to repent,’ results in shallow conversions; and so we have myriads of glib-tongued professors today who give no evidence of regeneration whatever. Prating of salvation by grace, they manifest no grace in their lives. Loudly declaring they are justified by faith alone, they fail to remember that ‘faith without works is dead’; and that justification by works before men is not to be ignored as though it were in contradiction to justification by faith before God."—H.A.IRONSIDE, Except Ye Repent, p. 11.

"Salvation and a holy walk are inseparably connected… Where there is true salvation and eternal life, it is proved by a godly walk…But he [the apostle Paul] knew, as every Christian should know, that the grace which had saved him, which taught him to live soberly, righteously and godly, would also keep him and enable him to persevere through all hindrances." —ARNO C. GAEBELEIN, Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 938.

"‘Doeth’ in 1 John 2:29 and 3:7 should be ‘practiceth.’ The trend of the life is in view. The new man, God’s seed, cannot sin. Therefore, although we still ‘have…sin’ (1:8), the life should be righteousness. If it is not, we must not expect others to believe our profession. This is James’s point of view. Neither should we believe the profession of one whose habitual life is unrighteous" —C.I. SCOFIELD in his Correspondence Course (comments under 1 John), p. 928. "[James] insists that only by a godly life can true faith be manifested [emphasis his]…He [James] tests profession by practice." —C.I. SCOFIELD in his Correspondence Course (comments under James), p. 896.

Note: The teaching of C.I.Scofield is in sharp contrast to the teaching of Hodges/Dillow. This is seen by his chapter on "Believers and Professors" in his booklet Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth. Scofield gives many examples of those who are mere professors but not true possessors, that is, those who claim to be saved but who are not truly saved. Most of the examples given by Scofield of mere professors are claimed to be true Christians by Hodges/Dillow. For example: Scofield says Simon was a professor (pretender); Hodges and Dillow teach that he was saved. Scofield says that 1 John 2:19 ("they went out from us") describes pretenders; Hodges says these people were saved. Scofield says the other virgins in Matthew 25:11-12 were pretenders; Hodges and Dillow teach that they were saved. Scofield says the man not having a wedding garment in Matthew 22:11-13 was a pretender (unsaved); Hodges and Dillow teach that he was saved. Scofield says that the man described in James 2:14 (the man claiming to have faith but having no works) was a pretender; Hodges and Dillow say that he was saved. Scofield says that the apostate described in Hebrews 10:38 was a mere professor; Hodges and Dillow teach that he was saved.

"Several of these Scriptures [Scriptures which seem to indicate that a person can lose his salvation] bear on the important fact that Christian profession is justified by its fruits. Salvation which is of God will, under normal conditions, prove itself to be such by its own fruits (1 John 3:10; John 8:31; 15:6; 2 Pet. 1:10; James 2:14-26; 1 Cor. 15:1-2; Heb. 3:6,14)." —LEWIS SPERRY CHAFER, Major Bible Themes, p.188 (his chapter on "Security").

"Unbelievers are warned that they will not have part in that kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5)" —J. DWIGHT PENTECOST (Things To Come, p. 471). Hodges and Dillow insist that these three passages are not referring to unbelievers, but rather to wicked believers who will lose their inheritance in the millennial kingdom and will not reign with Christ, but who will still be saved.

"‘To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.’ The promise here mentioned for overcomers is not a message to a special group of Christians distinguished by their spirituality and power in contrast to genuine Christians who lack these qualities; it is rather a general description of that which is normal, to be expected among those who are true followers of the Lord. The Apostle John in his first epistle asks, ‘Who is he that overcometh the world?’ (1 John 5:5). He answers the question, ‘He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God’" —JOHN F. WALVOORD (Revelation, p. 59 under his discussion of Rev. 2:7). In contrast to this statement is the teaching of Hodges/Dillow who say that the overcomers are a special group of believers.

"James teaches that ‘Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone’; it is always attended by good works….A man may hear the truth and even say that he believes, but unless the fruits of living faith are evident in his life, he is not saved at all….Now if I say I have faith, but my life does not correspond to that which I profess, can the faith that I say I have save me? The answer is an emphatic ‘No.’ For a faith that produces no works cannot save anyone. There is no profit in a man claiming to possess something which he actually does not have….True faith necessarily results in fruit after its kind….The work of faith in a true believer will be indicated and proved by good works" —LEHMAN STRAUSS (Dispensational Conference Speaker), James, Your Brother—Studies in the Epistle of James, pages 103,104,105,110.

"James insists that a living faith will authenticate itself in the production of works. There is no antagonism between faith and works. They are not two totally distinct concepts, but rather two inseparable elements in salvation….James demands that the man who already claims to stand in right relationship with God through faith must by a life of good works demonstrate that he has become a new creature in Christ….In this passage [James 2] James insists that a genuine faith must prove itself by its production of works….A saving faith manifests itself in the production of works….Christian faith must manifest its existence in active obedience to God’s Word"—D. EDMOND HIEBERT [noted dispensational commentator], The Epistle of James—Tests of a Living Faith, see Chapter 5.

"James 2:24 ["Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only"] is the reply to the question of James 2:14. Unproductive faith cannot save, because it is not genuine faith. Faith and works are like a two-coupon ticket to heaven. The coupon of works is not good for passage, and the coupon of faith is not valid if detached from works" (CHARLES RYRIE, Ryrie Study Bible, comment under James 2:24).

"Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Otherwise that person is not a believer. Every born-again individual will be fruitful. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, without faith, and therefore without salvation….Every Christian will bear fruit; otherwise he or she is not a true believer" (CHARLES RYRIE, So Great Salvation, pages 45-46).

Certain changes do accompany salvation, and when I see some of those changes, then I can be assured that I have received the new life. Some of those changes are keeping His commandments (1 John 2:3); loving other believers (1 John 2:9-11; 3:14); and doing right things (1 John 2:29; 3:9). It goes without saying that I will never keep all His commandments, nor will I love all other believers, nor will I always do right things. But the fact that these experiences have come into my life, whereas they were absent before, gives assurance that the new life is present (2 Cor. 5:17)" [CHARLES RYRIE, So Great Salvation, p. 143].





"When James said, ‘Faith without works is dead’ and ‘A man is justified by works, and not by faith alone’ (James 2:24), he no doubt was completely unaware of the volumes which would be written in the history of the church which would attempt to harmonize his words with those of the apostle Paul. He would also, I think, be surprised to learn that many would misconstrue his words to mean that those who have true saving faith will necessarily evidence this by a life of works and that, if they lack works, this proves their faith is dead, i.e., not saving faith" (JOSEPH DILLOW, The Reign of the Servant Kings, p. 187). "Works are [not] the necessary and inevitable result of justification" (DILLOW, p. 194).

In his book The Gospel Under Siege ZANE HODGES: 1) denies the necessity of good works in the life of a true Christian (p.8); 2) denies that good works are an essential fruit of salvation (p.9); 3) says that good works are not a necessary outcome of saving faith (p.11); 4) denies that good works are an inevitable outcome of genuine saving faith (p.79); 5) says that the Bible does not teach that a true Christian will persevere in good works (p.11).

"Because of centuries of misguided interpretation of James 2, some deploy this passage to support the notion that genuine faith inevitably produces good works. If good works are not present, they say, faith is dead. It is not a faith that saves. James says nothing of the kind....good works [are not] an inevitable and necessary result of faith....If anyone teaches that works are a necessary and inevitable result of faith, that is not grace. It is an erroneous notion" [GEORGE MEISINGER, in an article called, Salvation by Faith Alone, published in The Fundamentals for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Mal Couch. Meisinger is president of Chafer Theological Seminary].

For a Biblical refutation of this view, see the documents listed at the end of the document.

Actually there is nothing new under the sun.  What men such as Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin are promoting is not new doctrine at all.  They are merely reviving the old "overcomer" movement, which was led primarily by Robert Govett (1813-1901), and also by David Panton (1870-1955), George Henry Lang (1874-1958), George Pember (1837-1910), Watchman Nee (1903-1972), etc.  These men all divide true Christians into two distinct groups and they all teach some form of kingdom exclusion.  Some of these men believed in a partial rapture.  Hodges, Dillow and Wilkin do not go to the extremes of some of these men (especially when it comes to millennial punishment), but they do share a common theological framework with them.  

It's interesting that Schoettle Publishing  Company (NC) published Joseph Dillow's book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, the very same publisher that has published books by Govett, Lang, Panton, Pember, and more recently even the abominable book by J.D. Faust (The Rod--Will God Spare It?) which teaches that multitudes of saved people will taste of the second death and then be tortured in Hades for a thousand years!   Dillow avoids the dangerous extremes of Faust, and yet he shares the same basic theological framework of Faust and these other men.

             --George Zeller

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We have other documents which evaluate the teachings of these men in light of the Bible.  Please consider the following:


The Theology of Zane Hodges, Joseph Dillow, Robert Wilkin (the Grace Evangelical Society) and the more extreme view of J.D.Faust


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