Buddy, who asked me a question recently that led to a blog post, asked a follow-up question:
I have another question that is a bit different. I have noticed a disturbing trend, that is, a number of Evangelicals are rejecting the penal substitution view of Christ’s atonement. I have even run across “free grace” people online who criticize penal substitution and other crucial doctrines such as eternal punishment for unbelievers in the lake of fire. Do you have any thoughts on these trends? Is it just me noticing these things or is such a trend real?
Essentially what he is asking is whether someone can be Free Grace (FG) and yet reject one or more fundamental doctrines.
I recently wrote a blog article discussing four levels of Free Grace Theology (FGT). I suggested that one could not reject any level-one doctrine and still hold to FGT. See here for that blog.
I wrote: “First-level, that is, essential Free Grace doctrines include saving faith as persuasion, assurance as of the essence of saving faith, eternal security, justification by faith alone, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, unlimited atonement, Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day, and Jesus’ soon return.”
I had an endnote after that sentence that qualified my statement: “I’m not suggesting that a person cannot be born again without believing all these doctrines. The sole condition of the new birth is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the gift of God, everlasting life (John 3:16; 4:10, 14; 5:24; 6:25-27). But if someone does not believe all these doctrines, then he is not Free Grace.”
Notice that I included substitutionary atonement as one of the doctrines I consider to be an essential FG doctrine. So, I’d say that “people online who criticize penal substitution” are not FG. Penal substitution is another name for substitutionary atonement.
I listed eternal conscious torment (ECT) of unbelievers as a level-three FG topic. I realize that some consider it a level-one topic. I’m open, but at this point I think someone could be consistently FG and yet not believe in ECT.
Are these real trends within FG circles? I think it depends on what we mean by FG. As Buddy suggested when he put Free Grace in quotes, some people who identify as FG are not really FG.
I see articles from time to time that reject various level-one FG doctrines, yet the authors identify as FG. Some in FG circles feel it is important to correct what they consider to be erroneous FG teaching by Zane Hodges, me, Shawn Lazar, Ken Yates, and other GES writers and speakers.
We are all to be Bereans (Acts 17:11). That means we are to search the Scriptures to see if what someone is saying is true. Except for the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, it has never been the case that we could take the teaching of any man as being unquestionably true in every detail. That certainly was not the case with Zane Hodges. He never claimed to be an infallible teacher of God’s Word. That also is true of me or Shawn or Ken or anyone else—we are not infallible. Of course, it would be nice if all who claimed the FG label agreed on fundamental doctrines with the result that our differences would only be over secondary issues. But I agree with Buddy. Today there are disagreements on what Buddy calls “crucial doctrines” among those who claim to be FG.