Yesterday I received an email from a Free Grace Pastor who likes our writings. He indicated that he was concerned about some things he read in the book A Defense of Free Grace Theology, edited by Dr. Fred Chay, with contributions by Ken Wilson, Paul Tanner, Dave Anderson, Jody Dillow, and Chay.
Here is what he wrote:
I am very distressed when I see good people putting vague things into what it means to receive eternal life such as “saving trust” or “reliance,” even adding words like “full reliance” or “one puts the full weight and consequences of his sins on the cross of Christ to open the gates of heaven,” without any clear definition as to what these words mean. My only conclusion is that it is some emotional, or commitment thing, although that is, I am sure, denied. But what else do these words mean? I just cannot help but think that what is happening with some Free Grace people is not a good thing at all.
I struggled so many years with wondering if I was “really saved” because of just such vague terms. How I often I prayed and said something like, “I really, really mean it this time!” hoping to stir up enough of something inside of me, a something that can only be described as an emotion, in order to really “get saved.” I sincerely thank you for the Biblical clarity you and other clear-teaching FG people have brought to me. It has made all the difference in my life and the lives of those to whom I serve at this church.
Before I respond, let me say that I am friends with all the authors of the book. All of them have been speakers at our annual conference and most of them have written extensively for us.
Like the reader cited above, I too have become concerned about the way in which some of my Free Grace friends define and explain what faith is.
In A Defense of Free Grace Theology saving faith is not defined as being persuaded that the Lord Jesus’ promise of everlasting life to the believer is true. In fact, in Chapter 3, “The Faith That Saves,” Anderson says that I am the only person he knows who believes that. He writes, “He [Grudem] goes on page after page telling us that ‘some’ Free Grace theologians view faith as a kind of intellectual agreement with some facts. I only know of one man who holds that view” (p. 69). There is a footnote there which reads, “Bob Wilkin of the Grace Evangelical Society, discussed later in this chapter.”
Now I disagree with Grudem’s ambiguous reference to us agreeing that “some facts” are true. We specify that we are convinced of a specific proposition: that all who believe in Jesus Christ have everlasting life which cannot be lost. That is, we accept (= believe) “the testimony that God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10). To be born again is to believe God’s testimony concerning Jesus in 1 John 5:9-13 as well as John 5:31-47 (the fourfold witness that all who come to [= believe in] Jesus have eternal life). But I certainly agree with Grudem’s basic point about me and other Free Grace people: we believe that all who simply believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for everlasting life have that life (cf. John 11:25-27).
As an aside, we have published or commented on some excellent articles that show faith is simple persuasion. See this journal article (pp. 35-48) about Gordon Clark’s view of faith and assurance, this article by John Robbins, “What Is Faith?” and this article by Robbins “The Biblical View of Truth,” this blog by me, this blog and this blog by Shawn Lazar, and see Chapter 2 in Absolutely Free: A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation by Zane Hodges, “Faith Means Just That—Faith.” I am far from alone in my view that all faith is propositional, including saving faith.
However, if it were true that I was the only person on earth who held this view of faith, I would continue to hold it and teach it unless and until someone could show me from Scripture that it is incorrect.
I was surprised to read Anderson saying that “faith is more than intellectual assent” (p. 69). I did not know he believed that saving faith includes a mental aspect, “comprehending the claims of Christ,” an emotional aspect, “[having] confidence in the claims of Christ,” and a willful aspect, “committing to the claims of Christ” (p. 71).
But how does one have confidence in the claims of Christ, if that is not simply believing His claims? How does one commit to the claims of Christ? What does this commitment look like?
When Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b), He was not asking about her emotions or her will. He was simply asking if she was convinced that what He just said was true. To believe God’s testimony is not a matter of engaging our emotions or our volition.
Also surprising to me is the fact that Anderson is for the most part not trying to refute Wayne Grudem’s view of saving faith. He is instead attempting to show that Free Grace Theology essentially agrees with Grudem’s view of saving faith:
In some respects, Grudem’s understanding of faith is closer to Free Grace theology than historic Reformed theology. Grudem claims that genuine, saving faith will produce fruit; so do we. When asked how much fruit would be evidence of genuine faith, Dr. Grudem says, “Some.” So do we (p. 67, italics added).
Two pages later we read, “Appreciated also is Dr. Grudem’s definition of faith, which goes beyond intellectual assent. That is exactly the position of almost all Free Grace theologians” (p. 69, italics added).
How can a Free Grace teacher say almost all Free Grace theologians agree with the definition of faith given by Lordship Salvation?
Anderson suggests that in some sense saving faith is a decision: “I am not convinced that the word ‘decision’ is wrong…I would suggest that a decision for Christ means that someone decided (chose) to trust Christ as Savior” (p. 69).
What does it mean to “trust Christ as Savior” and how does one decide to do that?
He says that “trust, confidence, reliance, and appropriation” are the ways in which “free grace adherents…define faith” (p. 70). Anderson, contra Gordon Clark and many others, accepts as correct Berkhof’s three elements of notitia (understanding), assensus (acceptance), and fiducia (personal trust, reliance appropriation) (pp. 71-72).
At one point he quotes from an email that Dillow sent to Grudem in which Dillow said, “I agree with you that faith is assent plus trust in the person and work of Christ for salvation” (p. 81, italics added). Again, Anderson is attempting to show agreement with Grudem.
Anderson says, “It saddens me that Grudem wants to pick a fight over these things when we agree” (p. 85, italic added).
He repeatedly says that Free Grace adherents agree with and appreciate Grudem’s understanding of saving faith. Yet Grudem is promoting Lordship Salvation.
It should be noted that Anderson does point out one or two areas of disagreement with Grudem and Lordship Salvation about saving faith:
- The willful component is not a commitment to obey Christ’s commands (but is a commitment to His claims) (pp. 73, 85).
- Repentance from sin is not a component of saving faith (p. 85), though see Chapter 4 where Anderson cites Dillow’s view that remorse and regret over our sins is a condition of everlasting life (pp. 94-95). Anderson says, “Grudem is attacking a straw man” (p. 95). That suggests that Grudem’s view of repentance is essentially the same as that held by Free Grace advocates.
As Bill Fiess and I wrote in an article, the word trust is not a synonym for faith. It is misleading. So is reliance, having confidence in the claims of Christ, and committing to the claims of Christ. I agree with the reader who thinks that this view of saving faith is not a good thing. How does anyone know if he has the right emotional and willful components of faith? If believing the promise of John 3:16 is insufficient, then what must be added to that? How do I decide to trust Christ? How do I emotionally have confidence in the claims of Christ? How do I volitionally commit to the claims of Christ?
An incorrect view of saving faith is not good. Unfortunately, in my opinion some Free Grace leaders have adopted a view of saving faith that is inconsistent with the Free Grace message.