A Defense of Free Grace Theology: With Respect to Saving Faith, Perseverance, and Assurance. Edited by Fred Chay. The Woodlands, TX: Grace Theology Press, 2017. 628 pp. Paper, $23.99.
This book, edited by Fred Chay, is, for the most part, an apologetic against Reformed soteriology and Wayne Grudem’s “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel. It has 628 pages, a Scripture index, but no subject index.
Chay wrote four chapters; Ken Wilson, one; Paul Tanner, one; David Anderson, five; and Joseph Dillow, thirteen (which makes up more than half the book).
Chay is so gracious toward Grudem in the first chapter that he seems to be suggesting that Grudem’s Lordship Salvation evangelistic message may be sufficient to save. Several times he asks whether Grudem believes that the Free Grace message is a saving one (pp. 12, 16). Not once does he ask whether Grudem’s message is a saving message. Why not? Does he believe it is? In the last paragraph in Chap. 1, Chay writes, “The authors of this book agree with Dr. Grudem that regarding this topic, as viewed from both sides, a ‘family intervention’ is needed” (p. 30, emphasis added). Is Grudem part of the family of believers? Has he ever believed in Christ alone, or has his belief always been the addition of works or obedience as per Lordship dogma? Chay suggests that all the authors of A Defense of Free Grace Theology agree that he is a brother. But why? Is there any indication that Grudem ever believed the promise of life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47)? Nowhere in the book do any of the authors provide any such evidence. Evidently the authors think that Grudem’s Lordship Salvation message is inaccurate but clear enough to be salvific. That, it seems to me, is a denial of the Free Grace message, since that message is the only saving message.
Chay does a great job in showing that Grudem is way off base when he says that the Free Grace movement started with Zane Hodges (pp. 21-29). In his discussion of Rom 2:1-13 (Chap. 17), he considers four different views, even though Grudem never discusses that passage.
Chay’s discussion of three Free Grace views of 2 Cor 13:5 (“examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith”) is helpful, though a bit hard to follow at times. However, Chay concludes the chapter, saying “The Reformed view of this passage is certainly an option” (p. 547). While he does not believe it is the best option, it is troubling that he thinks it is a viable interpretation.
In Chap. 20 Chay again discusses a verse that Grudem does not (i.e., Gal 5:6). Chay in this chapter seems to be responding to John Piper, not Wayne Grudem (see pp. 551-64). The first line of the conclusion, “Faith is only known before men by deeds and actions” (p. 564) seems an abdication to Lordship Salvation. Do we not know who is a believer and who is not by what he professes he believes (see John 11:26b-27)? Can we really see who is born again by deeds and actions?
The second chapter presents Wilson’s finding concerning how Augustine’s teaching developed at a time when infant baptism was thought necessary to remove original sin. This, combined with Augustine’s exposure to three highly deterministic pagan systems (Manichaean Gnosticism, Stoicism, and Neoplatonism) affected his theology and led Calvin (a staunch disciple of Augustine) and his followers into the determinism expressed by five-point Calvinism. It was surprising to see this sentence lead the last paragraph of the chapter, “I appeal to my Calvinist brethren to research their Augustinian heritage with an open mind” (p. 65). Are Calvinists who hold to Lordship Salvation, like Wayne Grudem, to be considered brothers in Christ? If they are, they have certainly departed from the principles of the gospel of grace.
Many JOTGES readers will likely be bothered by Chap. 3, “The Faith That Saves” (pp. 69-87). Instead of refuting Grudem’s view of saving faith, Anderson repeatedly indicates his agreement with Grudem’s understanding (pp. 67, 69, 81, 85), though he does give a few areas of disagreement (e.g., he says faith is not a commitment to obey, and denies that repentance from sin is a component of saving faith). Anderson wrongly says that Bob Wilkin is the only Free Grace person who believes that saving faith is being convinced that the promise of everlasting life to the believer is true. He also selectively and sparingly quotes Zane Hodges in a misguided effort to show that Hodges believed that faith is more than being persuaded, which he most certainly did not believe or teach.
In Chap. 4, Anderson considers three Free Grace views of repentance and opts for repentance being “[a] resolve to turn from sin,” rather than “remorse [and regret] for sin” or a “change of mind.” He says that repentance is not necessary for the reception of eternal life (a relation to God received through faith alone), but for the enjoyment of that eternal life (fellowship obtained by a resolution to comply with God’s standards). This discussion is excellent. Anderson, however, does not believe that Dillow’s remorse-for-sin view is inconsistent with Free Grace Theology.
Anderson in Chap. 18 explains Romans 7-8, saying that the “Law of the Spirit of life” releases us from slavery to the old sin nature and liberates the believer. This chapter is a positive statement on the spiritual life without any particular apologetic against Grudem.
In Chap. 21, Anderson demonstrates that being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1) prior to salvation does not mean that people are initially spiritual corpses with no ability to believe. It speaks of the unbelievers’ spiritual state of existence as separated from God, thus “dead” to Him. This destroys the Calvinistic idea that one must be regenerated by the Spirit (born again) so as to make it possible to believe.
In Chap. 24, Anderson illuminates the passages in 1 John which give Reformed people problems (1 John 2:3-4; 3:6, 9). They think that obedience or law-keeping is a necessary result of “true” faith, but Anderson demonstrates that in each of these passages a closeness to, or fellowship with, the Lord is in view. First John was written to promote godly fellowship, not to create doubt of one’s salvation. He also deals with 5:1, showing grammatically that the passage does not teach that regeneration precedes faith as per most Reformed teaching.
Chapter 9 is outstanding. Paul Tanner considers Hebrews 6:4-6 regarding the believer’s perseverance and the possibility of falling away so as to exclude himself from the community of messianic believers. He reasons well that if a Christian rebels, he exposes himself to both temporal judgment and loss of eternal rewards at the Bema. The audience would know about “cursings and blessings” in their covenant history and the first generation’s failure at Kadesh-Barnea.
Chapters 5-8 are by Dillow and are all excellent. In Chap. 5, he argues that the role of works in justification is not a cause for positional righteousness, but rather a means of obtaining holiness when joined with one’s faith in Christ. In Chap. 6, Dillow posits that James 2:14 means that a Christian who does not walk by faith is not “saved” from an unserviceable life or from other negative temporal consequences. Chapter 7 covers the meaning of “dead faith” in contrast to the Reformed view that dead faith equals nonexistent faith. Dillow explains that one’s work-less “walk of faith” is what is dead, not his actual faith in Christ. Chapter 8 opposes the Reformed idea that believers need a “healthy tension” or “wholesome fear” regarding assurance of salvation and adequately supports assurance for believers based on the immutable promises of God.
Chapters 10-16 are by Dillow. In Chap. 10—an excellent chapter—he identifies seven OT believers and six NT believers that turned from God, some permanently. Thus the Biblical warnings to Christians against apostasy and failure are real, not hypothetical. In Chap. 11, he defends the doctrine of eternal rewards, which is “a critical omission in Dr. Grudem’s recent book” (p. 311), and convincingly explains the Parable of the Vineyard Laborers (Matt 20:1-16), though he is interacting with Blomberg, not Grudem, here. The multifaceted nature of eternal rewards (for faithful, non-legalistic service) functions as a motivating factor for grace-living contra the dreadful Reformed position which threatens believers who lack adequate performance with hell. Dillow then discusses the doctrine of “Degrees of Glory” for the believer (Chap. 12).
Chapters 13-14 represent Dillow’s new thinking on kingdom entrance. Using Luke 18:18-30 and parallel passages, Dillow argues that the rich young ruler was probably already regenerate when he asked Jesus about inheriting eternal life (Chap. 13). He suggests that this account teaches that a believer who is first in the world would be last in the future kingdom unless he actually follows Jesus in discipleship. He thinks ranking and status are in view here, not the reception of everlasting life.
In Chap. 14, Dillow suggests that Matt 7:21-23 is actually about believers who are false prophets who would be excluded from closeness to the teacher and barred from the Lord’s celebratory marriage banquet prior to His second coming (Rev 19:7-9; cf. Matt 22:1-14).
In Chaps. 15 and 16, Dillow demonstrates that the branches in John 15:1-2 are indeed lifted up by the Vinedresser, not taken away or cast out, so as to produce fruit. The branches in John 15:6 may represent the carnal Christian who is disciplined in life (and possibly by physical death), but not condemned to hell as a nonbeliever, per Grudem’s Reformed dogma.
Dillow returns in Chaps 22 and 23, dealing first with the interpretation of Col 1:22-23 as it promotes faithfulness in believers. He shows that this passage does not condition one’s assurance of salvation on works or deeds, but rather refers to the future presentation of believers to Christ, having a practical, relative holiness, which presentation is both desired and possible, in accord with the degree of one’s growth and maturity into full-grown discipleship. In Chap. 23, he concisely overturns the Reformed view of 2 Peter 1:10-11 by showing that believers may attain a rich, welcome entrance into the future messianic kingdom by applying the virtues which Peter lists in vv 5-7. These chapters are excellent.
Some Free Grace proponents will rightly object to the caricature of Bob Wilkin and Grace Evangelical Society on pp. 69 and 81-82. Regarding the question of eternal security, a footnote states that Wilkin and/or GES teach that “if you do not believe in eternal security at the moment of faith, you are not justified” (p. 82, note 43, italics added). To clarify, when a person believes in Jesus for everlasting life, inherent in that faith is a simple understanding that it will last forever. To believe that you have everlasting life and to think it might not last forever is a logical contradiction. You may never have heard the expression eternal security. You need not have gone through the consideration of the pros and cons of the doctrine of eternal security to have absolute assurance that you’ll “go to heaven when you die.” But belief that you’ll do so is to be sure of it.
A Defense of Free Grace Theology is, for the most part, an apologetic against those who would add the necessity of practical holiness, works, and obedience as conditions for regeneration and assurance of salvation. There is much to think about and consider in these pages, although the discussion of saving faith is off the mark and the repeated impression that Grudem’s Lordship Salvation is a legitimate saving message is quite troubling.
Anthony B. Badger