Central Seminary, MacDonald Lectures 2019
Pastor Bill Lee (Trego, WI) told me about a conference being held at Central Seminary (officially Central Baptist Theological Seminary) in Minneapolis, MN. They were having a conference on “Issues in Sanctification.” One of the messages was entitled, “The Free Grace Movement and Sanctification.”
The speaker, Dr. Jon Pratt, Professor of New Testament and Academic Dean at Central Seminary, provided a hard copy of his paper. Bill attended the conference and sent me a copy of the message.
I found the paper to be well-intentioned but misinformed on a number of points. Pratt’s main sources for his critique of Free Grace Theology are Wayne Grudem (Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel), John MacArthur (The Gospel According to Jesus), and D. A. Carson (“Reflections on Christian Assurance”). Since all of the works Pratt relies on are tied to tradition and not to a careful exegesis of Scripture, all of Pratt’s conclusions are based on tenuous evidence.
Pratt agrees with Grudem, MacArthur, and Carson that there is no such thing as justification without victory in progressive sanctification. All truly born again people persevere in faith and good works until death (pp. 27-31). Pratt does not discuss Solomon, Demas, Hymenaeus, or the carnal believers in Corinth. In fact, Pratt does not exegete a single text in this entire article. He “proves” his points by quoting his favorite theologians (who in turn do not exegete any texts).
GES sources are rarely cited. Pratt does not seem too familiar with our journal, magazine, blog, and books.
Five objections to the Free Grace view on assurance are suggested by Pratt. First, assurance cannot be found by faith alone. One must also see the effects of turning from sins in his life. A life characterized by good works is necessary for assurance (p. 28).
While he lists some verses which supposedly support his position, he explains none. Nor does he explain how Martha could be sure that she believes in Jesus, apart from works, in John 11:25-27. Or how the seventy could be sure their names were recorded in heaven, apart from works (Luke 10:20). Or how in over a hundred texts, the condition of everlasting life is simply believing in Jesus, not believing, repenting, and producing a life characterized by good works.
Second, Free Grace wrongly believes that true believers can apostatize and that true believers can be carnal (p. 28). He fails to discuss 1 Cor 2:14–3:3 and what “babes in Christ” means. He fails to discuss Hymenaeus in 1 Tim 1:19-20 and 2 Tim 2:17-18. Earlier in the article he does mention the five warning passages in Hebrews, but he fails to explain how those could refer to false professors and not genuine believers (see esp. Heb 6:4-6).
Third, he says that the Scriptures are clear that good works (Jas 2:14-16) and good feelings (Rom 8:16) are essential for assurance (p. 29). How imperfect works and fickle feelings could ever produce assurance of everlasting life is not explained. Nor are any texts.
Fourth, Free Grace people have too high a view of “the importance of assurance” (p. 29). Why? Because, and here he quotes Carson, that is an odd place to place importance. We should instead place importance “with God, with Christ, with redemption, with revelation.” But if we emphasize the truthfulness of God and His Word and His redemption, do we not end up with assurance of everlasting life? We certainly should, unless our theology is against assurance.
Besides, why should assurance be of lesser importance. It seems quite important to the Lord Jesus in John 11:25-27 and Luke 10:20. If it was important to Him, should it not be important to us?
Fifth, Free Grace Theology fails to embrace the mystery of compatibilism in sanctification (pp. 29-30). Warnings against apostasy are seen as warnings that one is not born again. Demands for perseverance produce “zeal, gratitude, and appreciation of God’s fidelity” since the reader recognizes that if he perseveres, then God has enabled him to do so, and if he does not, then it shows that he was never born again in the first place. I don’t see how there could be gratitude prior to death since under Pratt’s way of thinking, certainty of one’s eternal destiny is impossible until one dies in faith and good works.
I will end by summarizing Pratt’s view of what leads believers to sanctification and perseverance: 1) constant fear of hell, 2) a desire to spend eternity with the Lord in His kingdom, and 3) a hope in God’s goodness and kindness (hopefully He will give me the strength I need to persevere in the works I need to do). I don’t think that such teaching reflects the Biblical teaching on sanctification. Nor do I think that type of thinking produces genuine sanctification. Legalistic strivings are likely to be produced.