Freely by His Grace: Classical Free Grace Theology. Edited by J. B. Hixson, Rick Whitmire, and Roy B. Zuck. Duluth, MN: Grace Gospel Press, 2012. 615 pp. Hardcover, $29.95.
Fourteen authors (one of whom is the late Lewis Sperry Chafer) contributed one or more chapters to this work. Three of those authors, J. B. Hixson, Dennis Rokser, and Thomas Stegall, contributed two chapters each.
There does not appear to be any sort of flow between the chapters. Chapter 1 is “What Is Free Grace Theology?” Then there are chapters on grace, gospel, the content of evangelism, Lordship Salvation, salvation and discipleship, saving faith, repentance, regeneration, eternal security, assurance, sin, sanctification, rewards and the Judgment Seat of Christ, traditional Dispensationalism, the link between Dispensationalism and Free Grace, and grace in missions, evangelism, and disciple-making. A number of these chapters are revisions or reprints of earlier work by the authors.
There is much to like in this book. Chafer’s chapter on grace is outstanding, as is Bing’s chapter on Lordship Salvation.
The discussion of saving faith by Hixson deals almost exclusively with what it is not. Though the discussion covers 42 pages (pp. 146-87), he only devotes slightly over a page (p. 145 and the top of p. 146) to what saving faith is. In addition, he presents a complicated statement of what the object of saving faith is (p. 145). Yet this chapter has much to be commended. Hixson does say that saving faith is not a determination to obey and is not repentance.
Seymour’s discussion of repentance is a very solid explanation of the change of mind view. He rightly points out that repentance is missing from John’s Gospel and hence it cannot be an independent condition of everlasting life (p. 212). He also affirms the evangelistic purpose of the Fourth Gospel (p. 212). The only real drawback in this chapter is that Seymour does not discuss the view of Zane Hodges and others that repentance is turning from sins and that it is not a condition of everlasting life.
Anderson’s chapter on regeneration and the order of salvation is a bit pedantic at first, but when he gets to discussing regeneration in the Bible it becomes very readable and practical. He makes a great point on the difference between divine enablement that opens one’s heart so he can believe and the Calvinist doctrine that regeneration precedes faith (p. 240; see also p. 242). He also makes an excellent observation when he shows how Calvinist R. C. Sproul misuses an article on the Greek word for drawing, elko (p. 241).
There are two chapters by Dennis Rokser, the Pastor of the church that published the book. Rokser wrote on eternal security and assurance. While he begins with Paul and stresses Paul’s discussion of eternal security, he does have a nice discussion of passages in John in which the Lord preached eternal security (pp. 264-72). A small misstep was his use of 1 Pet 1:3-5 to prove that Peter held to eternal security (pp. 257-59). That passage is talking about a different type of salvation, ruling with Christ in the life to come (cf. 1 Pet 1:9).
Though Rokser does not discuss the issue of whether assurance is of the essence of saving faith, he does a good job of showing that assurance is based on the promise of everlasting life to the believer and not to works or feelings (pp. 296-99). He does, however, speak of works as being “secondary evidences” of our eternal salvation (pp. 302-303). While I know what he means (GES once spoke of works as providing secondary confirmation to our assurance in our affirmations), that is probably not part of classic Free Grace theology. Good works are not the basis for assurance in a primary or secondary sense. Our assurance is solely based on the promises in God’s Word.
Rokser’s discussion of hindrances to assurance (pp. 308-322) and of problem passages (pp. 322-39) is excellent.
Stallard shows that the Free Grace position is not soft on sin. He also quotes somewhat favorably a Grace in Focus article by me in which I said, “It is an insult to the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross to make our sins the issue in evangelism” (p. 350). He feels this is overstatement (p. 351), but he evidently agrees that by His death on the cross the Lord Jesus removed the sin barrier and made people savable.
Some JOTGES readers may find a few areas of disagreement with Tom Stegall in his chapter, “Rewards and the Judgment Seat of Christ.” For example, he argues that in Revelation 2-3 all believers are overcomers (pp. 463-68). That is not a widely held view in Free Grace circles. Yet most will be pleased with the chapter as a whole since the discussion is well ordered and reasonably thorough.
Tommy Ice’s chapter on Dispensationalism is excellent and so is Tom Stegall’s chapter on Dispensationalism and Free Grace Theology. But why two chapters on this subject? Why didn’t the editors simply ask Ice (or Stegall) to write one chapter covering Dispensationalism and its importance to Free Grace theology?
There are a few areas of concern in this book.
One concern is the repeated reference by several of the authors to the so-called “crossless gospel.” Such a designation is inaccurate. Zane Hodges clearly proclaimed the cross of Christ when he evangelized and he told others to do so as well. To suggest that he or GES proclaims a crossless or contentless or promise-only evangelistic message is misleading.
In the opening chapter, for example, there is a long note by Mike Halsey that covers nearly two pages in tiny print (pp. 12-13). He makes this crossless gospel charge. Then, without providing any reference, he says that GES calls our view “the refined view” (p. 12 n 23). Yet I have never called my view “the refined view.” Nor has GES. Nor did Zane Hodges or anyone else I know. Hopefully if this book is reprinted Halsey will give a citation showing someone who calls his view “the refined view.”
Hixson in his chapter, “What Is the Gospel?” has an endnote that runs over two full pages (pp. 59-61 endnote 1) in which he discusses “some theologians [who] have departed from the biblical view of the gospel…” Like Halsey he refers to this as “the crossless gospel.” He also calls it “the promise-only gospel,” “the contentless gospel,” “the minimalist gospel,” and “the refined gospel.” He too makes the spurious claim, without any documentation, that “the refined gospel” is the label that Hodges, GES, and others have adopted for their view.
In his chapter on evangelism, Meisinger too takes up the crossless gospel charge, though he calls it “a groundless gospel” (p. 71). However, in a surprising twist, Meisinger argues that concerning Jesus’ death one must merely believe that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3c). He specifically indicates that one need not believe that Christ died on the cross, or even that He shed His blood for us (p. 76). It is puzzling
why the editors allowed this into the book. They strongly argue elsewhere that one must believe in the cross to be born again. Almost everyone who argues that one must believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose bodily from the dead also argues that one must know how He died. If He had died by poisoning, hanging, suffocation, or any method other than dying on a cross by the shedding of blood, there could be no redemption and no removal of the sin barrier.
Meisinger sometimes uses specialized vocabulary from the late R. B. Thieme with no explanation, referring to “Phase 1 and Phase 2 truth” (p. 68 n. 12) and to “‘saved’ in a proper Phase 2 sense” (p. 71, note 18). For those not familiar with the shorthand of R. B. Thieme, these notes would be difficult if not impossible to understand.
Concerning the eternality of the promise of life, Meisinger indicates that I misrepresented him when I wrote that he held that “the person who believes in Jesus Christ and the five essentials for the gift of salvation…has it even if he does not believe that what he has received is eternal” (p. 65 n 2). Then after eight pages in which he says one must believe those essentials to be born again, he says, “Eternal life is the result of faith, not part of the object of faith. Nowhere does Scripture claim that one must believe in eternal life to get eternal life, or in the eternality of the gift before the Lord gives the gift” (pp. 73-74, italics added). It seems that Meisinger either misunderstands what I was claiming or he contradicts himself.
A second concern is the book’s reliance on tradition. The subtitle bears this out with its reference to “Classical Free Grace Theology.” Several of the contributors appeal to what is and is not part of classic Free Grace theology (e.g., the first concern mentioned above).
The Free Grace position is not bound to some tradition. If believers today discover new insights, the Free Grace position will change somewhat, at least for those believers. To suggest that there is some tradition that we all agree upon, that is fixed, and that we all cling to is not only incorrect, it is dangerous. We must all be Bereans (Acts 17:11).
Despite these two concerns, I recommend this book. It is a good resource for well-grounded people. Because of the objections just mentioned, I would not recommend this book for people who are not yet Free Grace, or for new believers.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society