Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Dr. Wayne Grudem, professor of theology and Biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, is the author of an influential and best-selling book on systematic theology.1 He has written over twenty books, including books on a Biblical view of politics, Biblical manhood and womanhood,2 Christian feminism, the gender-neutral Bible translation controversy, the gift of prophecy, a commentary on 1 Peter, and many more. Now, Grudem has decided to discuss the question of Free Grace Theology (hereafter, FGT) in “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (hereafter, 5 Ways).3 I am delighted that he has done so. This book calls attention to our views and to our writings. However, Grudem has done a poor job of presenting and refuting FGT.
This article will consist of two parts. In Part 1, I will consider his first two chapters. In Part 2 (Spring 2017), I will deal with Chapters 3–5.
II. GRUDEM CLAIMS HE DOES NOT BELIEVE IN LORDSHIP SALVATION
Early in the introduction, Grudem takes pains to say that he does not like the label Lordship Salvation. He goes beyond that, however, saying, “I hope that no reviewer of this book will refer to my position as the ‘Lordship Salvation’ position, for I explicitly disavow that label as misleading and confusing” (p. 25). He prefers to call his position “the ‘historic Protestant’ position” or “the ‘non-Free Grace’ position” (p. 25).
The reason why he doesn’t like the label of Lordship Salvation seems to be two-fold. Both sides agree that Jesus is Lord over all of our lives and the Lordship Salvation side admits that “our submission to Christ’s lordship is imperfect in this life” (p. 23). And he thinks that the Lordship Salvation label implies “that it is an unusual or minority view that seeks to add the idea of lordship to the ordinary idea of salvation” (p. 23).
The fact that this book was endorsed by several of the biggest advocates of Lordship Salvation—including Drs. John MacArthur and J. I. Packer—suggests that the views he advocates in this book are indeed the views of Lordship Salvation.
Despite his protests, Lordship Salvation accurately describes Grudem’s views. Thus, rather than referring to his view as the historic Protestant position or as the non-Free Grace position, I will stick with a title that is well-known and well-understood today.
III. CHAPTER 1: FGT DIMINISHES THE GOSPEL BY BEING INCONSISTENT WITH THE VIEWS OF MOST PROTESTANTS
This chapter is off topic. As Hillary Clinton famously said, “What difference does it make?” Even if FGT is inconsistent with the view of most Protestants on what one must do be saved, that would not prove anything.
Oliver Crisp says that the “confessions of the past…are theological guides. However, they too must be subjected to the Word of God anew each generation…Sometimes they will be found wanting. So it seems that there is reason to think that the reforming task is an ongoing one.”4
In addition, what Grudem actually says is ineffective in proving that the Reformers agreed with him.
Grudem’s first point in Chapter 1 is that Protestants since the Reformation have taught that truly born-again people will persevere in faith and good works until death. He tries to support this view by quotes from people from the 16th to the 20th century, yet the quotes fail to prove his point.
He opens with two quotes from Calvin, which simply suggests that all who are born again will produce some good works. Neither quote defends perseverance.
The Formula of Concord (1576), the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (1571), the Westminster Confession (1646), and the New Hampshire Baptist Confession (1833) are cited next. Once again, the quotes do not discuss the perseverance of the saints. They merely say that born again people will produce acts of charity and hope.
His final citations from Wesley (1703-1791) and the Assembly of God Statement of Fundamental Truths (1916) again link regeneration and works, but fail to discuss the issue of perseverance.
FGT teaches that regeneration does result in some good works in all who live some length of time after the new birth. (Obviously if someone died at the very moment of the new birth there would be no time for any good works to be done.) Indeed, I would go so far as to say that there has not been a single unbeliever who ever lived who failed to produce some good works (Isa 64:6; Acts 10:35). The righteous deeds of unbelievers like Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8; cf. 11:14) have no merit with God—they are like filthy rags before God, who is perfect—but they are still good works. Why? Because even the unregenerate still have the image of God within them. It was marred by the Fall of Adam of Eve, but the image of God was not destroyed.
Grudem showed too little with his citations. He could have found many quotes, especially from modern Calvinists, who say that all who are truly born again will persevere in faith and good works until death. But he did not.
Even if we were to grant Grudem’s argument that all the Reformers taught the regenerate persevere in faith and good works until death, that still does not establish that justification by faith alone, apart from works, is a doctrine that diminishes the gospel.
Moreover, Grudem fails to show that a single Reformer said that one needs “heartfelt trust” in Christ to be born again. Nor does he show a single Reformer who said that one must submit to the Lordship of Christ to be born again. Nor were any quotes given about the need for a “personal encounter” with Christ.
Grudem’s second point is a non-sequitur. That is, it doesn’t follow from what he showed under his first point. His second point is: “Therefore, the Free Grace movement today is not upholding the Reformation doctrine of sola fide, or ‘justification by faith alone’” (p. 32).
The quotes he gave do not show that.
In addition, Grudem fails to cite even one Free Grace person who says anything that contradicts what he had just quoted. If he wishes to make a claim like this, then he needs to cite Free Grace writers or speakers and show how they contradict justification by faith alone.
Illustrations can help clarify what an author means. Grudem gives us a helpful illustration of a key ring with four different keys on it (p. 37). According to Grudem, the blue key opens his office door, but that the blue key is never found by itself, and is never alone from the other three keys. His point is that saving faith is likewise, never found by itself. It is always accompanied by other things like repentance and good works.
I do not think the illustration is very successful. The blue key is never alone? Surely the four keys were each cut separately and then put on his key ring. So they were alone at the start. In addition, his illustration fails since the blue key works if detached from the ring. I have many keys on my key ring and I sometimes take one off and I find it always works just as well alone as it did with the other keys nearby.
At the moment of the new birth is faith already attached to good works? If so, that would mean that good works are a necessary precursor to the new birth. If not, then at the moment one is born again faith is indeed alone, apart from works.
Maybe Grudem believes that at the exact moment of the new birth a number of good works spontaneously occur. But he does not say this or try to prove it from Scripture. Even so, these good works would still follow faith, even if only by a nanosecond.
Grudem admits that born-again people sin and that the works of believers are not always exemplary. In Grudem’s view believers might go days or weeks or months or years without having a life that is characterized by good works. But how can that be if his illustration is correct and the key is never found by itself? If a believer had even one minute where an abundance of good works were not joined with his faith, then his faith would be proven false, and he would be proven unregenerate because saving faith is never alone.
Maybe what Grudem means is that good works are joined with saving faith much of the time. Of course, that does not fit his illustration which says faith is never found by itself. But even if that is what he means, then how much time can occur without a life overflowing with evident good works before the person should conclude he is not really born again? Grudem will address this question in the third chapter, but the answer is far from reassuring.
Grudem’s final point in Chapter 1 is that justification by faith alone is an important doctrine. No argument there. He concludes the chapter by saying that the real question is what the NT teaches that saving faith is. Agreed. But, as we shall shall see in Chapter 4, his view of saving faith is not found in the NT at all.
IV. CHAPTER 2: FGT DIMINISHES THE GOSPEL BY NOT PREACHING FAITH PLUS REPENTANCE
I wrote my doctoral dissertation at Dallas Seminary (1985) on repentance and salvation.5 Thirteen years later I changed my view of repentance.6 In reading what Grudem writes, it does not appear that he has given this as much thought as he should have. His discussion of NT texts that speak of repentance reflects an inadequate attention to the contexts. In fact, in most cases he does not discuss the texts at all! He simply quotes them and moves on.
A. Repentance in Summaries of the Gospel
Grudem’s first point in Chapter 2 is that, “Repentance from sin [is] in many summaries of the gospel” (p. 41). What would you do if you wanted to prove that? You would go to passages that you think deal with what one must do to be born again—if that is what you mean by “the gospel”—which Grudem does. Then you would show the reader that the passages indeed concern the new birth, and not something else. Then you would show that repentance is mentioned as a condition of everlasting life in some or many of these “summaries of the gospel.”
Grudem did not do any of that. He did not establish that a single passage he cites is explaining what one must do to be saved. Not one.
His first passage is Heb 6:1. However, this verse is written to bornagain people (Heb 6:4-5). The mention of “repentance from dead works” concerns the works of the Mosaic Law. The believing Jewish readers were being challenged by false teachers to return to animal sacrifices for their salvation from eternal condemnation. The works of the Law are dead works. The readers had to turn from those works as part of the foundation of their Christian experience. Now, it appears, they need to be reminded of that.
The issue is Heb 6:1 has nothing to do with what one must do to be born again.7
Grudem’s second proof text is Luke 24:47, the Great Commission passage in Luke. As in the Great Commission in Matt 28:18-20, where baptizing and discipleship are said to be the work of the disciples, the Lucan passage concerns more than evangelism. Grudem says, “This is Jesus’s summary, after his resurrection, of the gospel message that his disciples would proclaim throughout the world” (p. 43). But that is an imposition on the text. Where is the call to believe? Does Grudem think that faith in Christ does not need to be in the Lord’s summary of the gospel? Where is the promise of everlasting life? Again, it is not in the Lord’s summary according to the author.
Grudem makes a claim that is not supported by the text. Simply claiming that this is an evangelistic text is a far cry from showing that it is.
Charles R. Erdman’s comment on Luke 24:44-49 is helpful:
The Scriptures [vv 44-45: the Law, the prophets, the Psalms] contain authoritative messages concerning Christ; these messages can be understood only by those who believe in Christ and are guided by him; the essential truths concerning Christ center in the facts of his death and resurrection [v 46]; in virtue of the salvation thus secured, repentance and forgiveness of sins can be preached…(emphasis added).8
The Church of Christ’s favorite verse is Acts 2:38. They use it to support their idea that there are five conditions of everlasting life: believe; obey; confess; repent; and be baptized. In their view, Acts 2:38 teaches no one can be born again apart from baptism and that lifelong ongoing repentance (as well as confession, belief, and obedience) is needed to retain everlasting life, since in their view it can be lost. This verse supposedly has the last two of those five conditions.
It amazes me that Grudem would use Acts 2:38 as his third proof text. He gives no discussion of the text other than to note that “faith is not even named in this verse,” which is a major problem for his view. However, there is no explanation given.
It is clear that the listeners believed before they asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).9 Note that earlier in Acts 2:37 Luke says, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart…” What they had just heard is that when they crucified Jesus they crucified “both Lord and Christ [Messiah].” They believed in Jesus at that point, but they wanted to know what they should do since they now realized that they had taken part in killing the Messiah. Peter told them that in order to receive the Holy Spirit and receive the [fellowship] forgiveness of sins, they had to repent and be baptized. The issue here is discipleship, not justification.
Lanny Thomas Tanton, a former Church of Christ minister, later went to Dallas Theological Seminary and wrote his master’s thesis on Acts 2:38. He shows that in Acts the reception of the Spirit and the forgiveness of sins often occurred after the new birth.10
Grudem focuses on the word repent, but ignores the conjoined command to be baptized. That is more than an exegetical lapse. It is reading his theology into the text and ignoring anything that contradicts his position.
Are we to understand from Grudem that baptism is a condition of everlasting life? If not, why not?
Next up are Acts 3:19 and 5:31, corporate re-offers of the kingdom to national Israel, not calls for individuals to be born again. Amazingly, Grudem gives no explanation at all.
Then the author cites Acts 11:18 and gives a half-hearted effort at explanation. Grudem says that “repentance that leads to life” means “repentance that leads to everlasting life.” But even if Peter’s companions meant that “repentance leads to everlasting life” as Grudem suggests, that does not make it a condition. Prayer, church attendance, and Bible study lead to everlasting life too, but they are not conditions of the new birth.
Most likely, Peter’s companions meant that repentance leads to extended physical life. Repentance is routinely linked to physical life (Luke 13:3, 5; 2 Pet 3:9). This comment by Hodges is on the mark:
Secondly, if we thought that the reference in Acts 11:18 was a reference to eternal life, then we are left with a surprising and implausible idea in this context. We must infer in that case that the Jerusalem Christians just now realized that Gentiles could be eternally saved! But this is so unlikely as to be almost fantastic (emphases his).11
Grudem fails to mention that when Peter summarizes what happened when he evangelized Cornelius and his household, he says nothing about repentance. He only mentions believing in Acts 15:7-11 at the Jerusalem Council. And if Grudem were to look at what Peter said in Acts 10:43, he spoke of believing in Jesus, not repentance.
Space doesn’t permit discussion of his final four proof texts: Acts 17:30-31; 20:21; 26:19-20; and 2 Pet 3:9. However, none of those texts mentions everlasting life, salvation, or justification. Indeed 2 Pet 3:9 refers to premature physical death (compare 2 Pet 3:6) as the consequence for not repenting.12
Grudem does not exegete a single passage. He just assumes his position and quotes some proof texts. That does not lead the reader to have confidence in his findings.
B. Repentance in Narrative Examples
Here, Grudem looks at examples from Jesus’ ministry, presumably where Jesus called people to turn from their sins. Yet he gives only three examples, spends only one page discussing them, and in none of the examples is repentance even mentioned!
Grudem seems to hold to works salvation based on the way he discusses all three examples. The rich young ruler’s problem, according to Grudem, is that he failed to sell all that he had (p. 47). If he had, then he would have been born again according to Grudem. Wouldn’t that be buying your salvation? Grudem does not discuss that. He just quotes Luke 18:22 with zero explanation. And he fails to notice that repentance isn’t even mentioned there!13
Then he quotes, again without explanation, John 4:16-18 and Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well. He thinks Jesus was telling her she had to clean up her life to be born again. Yet there is no command to repent. Indeed, repentance is not mentioned! The reason Jesus revealed that she’d been married five times and was currently living in sin was because this would convince her that He is the Messiah. That is precisely what she later said in John 4:25-26, 29. The issue in John 4 is believing, not repenting.
Finally he cites Zacchaeus in Luke 19:8-9, again with no discussion! He fails to recognize that repentance is not mentioned there either. And the reason Zacchaeus became a child of Abraham that day is he believed in Messiah, as Abraham did (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-5).
Charles Erdman says, “By his faith the publican of Jericho showed himself to be a true son of Abraham, the ‘father of the faithful.’ His trust in Christ secured for him that salvation which is offered to all, even to the lowest and most hopeless and despised.”14 Similarly, Marvin Pate says, “Zacchaeus’s confession of sin [was] prompted by his faith in Jesus” and that as a result of his faith that led to his confession “the Lord declared that salvation had come to the toll collector’s house that day.”15 He goes so far as to suggest that “his seeking Jesus (v. 3) turned out to be the result of Jesus first seeking him (v. 10).”16
C. Repentance from Sin in Protestant Confessions
The author only cites the Westminster Confession and the Baptist Faith and Message. But whether he cites two or two hundred Protestant confessions, this proves nothing. Indeed, shouldn’t this discussion be in Chapter 1, where he discusses Protestant theology?
JOTGES readers are well aware that turning from sins is considered a condition of everlasting life by the majority of Protestants. But we also know that consensus theology is often wrong.17 As Oliver Crisp has noted,
The fact that the majority position on a given topic is one thing rather than another does not in and of itself make the majority right. Truth is not established by democracy; it is independent of the number of votes we give it. Indeed, the truth is sometimes held only be a tiny minority…18
D. Why Is Repentance Not Mentioned in John’s Gospel?
I commend Grudem for admitting that repentance is not found in John’s Gospel. Clearly this is a major problem for his view since John’s Gospel is the only evangelistic book in the Bible (cf. John 20:30-31).19
Grudem has six explanations on how repentance can be a condition for the new birth and yet not be mentioned in John’s Gospel. None of them is convincing.
First, he says that you can’t base doctrine on only one book of Scripture. That is not true. Of course you can. All Scripture is God-breathed. That means every book is correct and we can learn doctrine from any book.20 Surely Grudem is not saying that John’s Gospel is contradicted by other books. Thus, this first point is patently false. Besides, repentance is not found in Galatians either. And Galatians is Paul’s defense of his gospel. But Grudem fails to mention or discuss that. Indeed, James D. G. Dunn said that repentance “is a category strikingly absent from Paul.”21
Second, Grudem says that repentance is shown to be a condition of salvation in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. To prove this he quotes four passages —again without any explanation—one in Mark and three in Luke. None of them speaks of everlasting life, salvation, or justification. None of them prove his point. Why no passages from Matthew? How can he prove that Matthew teaches this without at least citing passages from Matthew? This is not careful study. Besides, how does the fact that repentance is found in Jesus’ teachings in the Synoptics prove that it is in the Fourth Gospel, when in fact it is not there?
Third, he speculates that John was written late in the first century, long after the Synoptic Gospels. Grudem takes the position that John expected his readers to read the other Gospels along with his.
John was surely written before AD 70 (see John 5:2)22 and it could have been the first Gospel written. In addition, unlike the Synoptics which were written to believers, John said specifically that he wrote to unbelievers to lead them to faith in Christ and everlasting life (John 20:30-31). That is a point that Grudem fails to discuss. Anyone who has read John and the Synoptics recognizes that John’s Gospel is far different and has a far different purpose. To suggest that John expected his unbelieving readers to find copies of other books that would supplement his book is a hard position to defend. There is no evidence in John’s Gospel for the need of companion books to help understand it.
Fourth, Grudem argues that Acts proves that repentance is a condition for everlasting life in John. Not only does Grudem not give any proof for this claim, he doesn’t even quote one proof text. No discussion and no proof texts equal a failure to defend one’s view from Scripture.
How does he understand Paul’s answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” in Acts 16:30? Why did Paul say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved…” (Acts 16:31), if Paul taught salvation as requiring repentance? Grudem does not discuss that verse here or in the whole book. That is a serious oversight. Acts 16:30-31 contradicts his position.
Fifth, he argues that in John’s Gospel “we find several indications that he assumed repentance would be an essential part of what it means to believe in Jesus” (p. 52). That would mean that Jesus talked about repentance when he asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” That is reading into the text what Grudem thinks should be there, but is not.
So does John 3:16 really mean, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever turns from his sins shall not perish, but have everlasting life?”
The examples Grudem provides show that he expands on what Biblical repentance is. Biblical repentance is turning from one’s sin (Matt 12:39-41; compare Jonah 3:10). Yet Grudem cites the following in John as equaling repentance: the Holy Spirit convicting people of sin (John 16:8); the Lord Jesus telling the woman at the well to call her husband (John 4:16); people having personal interaction with Jesus; the Lord Jesus calling people to believe in Him; and the Lord’s calls to follow Him. Yet not one of those things is repentance.23
Sixth, Grudem suggests that the fact that certain words like repent and repentance are not found in John’s Gospel proves nothing. Well, if John is writing an evangelistic book, and he is, then for him to leave out repentance proves that repentance is not a condition for everlasting life.
For example, say that George Will wrote a book entitled, The Greatest Generals of World War 2 and that he never once mentioned General George Patton. Would it not be obvious that he does not consider Patton one of the greatest generals of WW2? In the same way, John preaches repentance in Revelation, but no mention of it in John. That is an argument about silence, not merely an argument from silence.24
E. Two Different Free Grace Views of Repentance
Another major problem with Chapter 2 is that Grudem muddies the waters on what FGT says regarding repentance and everlasting life.
He says that there are two FGT views on repentance and salvation: 1) repentance is required, but it is merely a change of mind; and 2) repentance is an optional resolve to turn from sin.25
However, there are actually three or four views of repentance and salvation within FGT. In addition to the change of mind and the view that repentance is turning from sins but is not required to be born again, there are the views of Drs. Charlie Bing and Jody Dillow. Grudem puts Bing under the change of mind view. However, that is not quite correct. Bing makes it clear that in his view repentance is a change of heart that involves “a person’s inner change of … moral direction”:
But there may be a better [definition of Biblical repentance]. When we examine what is meant biblically by mind (nous) we find that it is sometimes used for the inner orientation and moral attitude. (cf. Rom. 1:28; 7:23, 25; Eph. 4:17, 23; Col. 2:18). Thus the mind, biblically speaking, is not always the pure intellect. So the best translation of metanoia would be a change of heart. It refers to a person’s inner change of attitude and moral direction. The Bible does not psychologically dissect the inner person, but leaves it at that (emphases his).26
That is not the same as the change of mind view that I advocated in my dissertation, or that was advocated by Lewis Sperry Chafer or Charles Ryrie.
Dillow goes a bit further. In his book Final Destiny, he suggests that, “repentance is a necessary precursor to saving faith.”27 He says that one must admit his sinfulness and guilt28 and “must have a desire for moral change.”29 “There must be an acknowledgement of sin and a desire to be different.”30 “A nonbeliever must admit his sin to God, acknowledge he is wrong, and be willing to seek a new way of life.”31
Grudem does discuss Bing’s view of repentance and salvation, but only quoting selectively from his dissertation. He misses Bing’s discussion of repentance as a change of heart that includes an inner change of moral direction.
Though he quotes from Dillow’s Final Destiny in subsequent chapters, Grudem does not discuss Dillow’s view of repentance, which is odd since Dillow’s view is a different view and is closer to Grudem’s view of repentance than any other view within FGT.32
Grudem clearly does not discuss all of the FGT views on repentance.
He tries to say that all who hold to FGT reject the idea that one must regret his sins and must desire to live a new life in order to be born again. Yet as we saw above, Dillow says just that in his book Final Destiny. And Bing says something quite close to that in his dissertation and other writings.
FGT holds multiple views on what repentance is and whether repentance is a condition for everlasting life. Chapter two of 5 Ways fails to clearly delineate the views.
F. Saving Faith Does Not Include Obedience
Why is Grudem discussing saving faith and obedience in a chapter about repentance? Probably he does so because he says that faith includes repentance and yet many people consider repentance to be a work.
Scripture calls repentance a work. For example, Jonah 3:10 says: “Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it” (emphasis added).
For some reason, Grudem is comfortable saying that saving faith necessarily results in a life characterized by good works (e.g., pp. 70-74), but he is not comfortable saying that saving faith includes obedience. According to the dictionary, the word include means “to contain.” If saving faith is never without good works, then saving faith includes or contains obedience. Lack of obedience would prove lack of saving faith.
It should be noted that what Grudem denies toward the end of Chapter 2 (pp. 70-74)—that saving faith includes obedience—he inadvertently admits in Chapter 1.
Compare these two statements by Grudem in Chapter 1:
The faith that justifies…is always accompanied by—or includes—repentance from sin and is always followed by other actions such as doing good works and continuing to believe (p. 38, emphasis added).
…genuine faith must be accompanied by good works…(p. 33, emphasis his).
Grudem says that the words “accompanied by” mean “includes” (p. 38). Thus, when he says that “genuine faith must be accompanied by good works” he clearly means “genuine faith must include good works.”
In this section, and later in the book when he discusses Jas 2:14-26, Grudem makes it clear that he believes that saving faith includes obedience. According to him, faith without works is not saving faith.
Grudem graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary and was influenced by the teachings of Dr. John Frame. Grudem actually endorses Frame’s Systematic Theology. In that book, Frame says, “The second element of trust is subjection to Christ as Lord, a willingness to obey. As Jas 2:14-26 says, faith must be living faith, obedient faith, faith that works, or else it is dead” (emphasis added).33 In 5 Ways, Grudem says the same things. He says that heartfelt trust is an element of saving faith (Chapter 4), and that heartfelt trust is subjection to Christ as Lord (see esp. pp. 106, 110). In fact, what Grudem says regarding Jas 2:14 is very similar to what Frame says, “James begins this entire paragraph by saying that faith without works cannot save someone” (p. 135). Like Frame, Grudem says that, “faith without works cannot save anyone.” In other words, Frame and Grudem are saying that it is faith plus works which saves eternally.
In this section, Grudem criticizes me for poor scholarship. Citing my book The Ten Most Misunderstood Words in the Bible he says:
Robert Wilkin…says that those who disagree with Free Grace teachings say that “faith includes works,” and that these people define faith as “including” obedience. But rather than documenting this claim by quoting from recognized theology texts and historic Protestant statements of faith (which never say that faith includes obedience), Wilkin simply attributes this view to unnamed “preachers and theologians” or to “radio and TV preachers, pastors, theologians, popular authors, and missionaries,” or even to “most people within Christianity” (pp. 73-74).
Grudem makes a number of major errors here. Indeed, the errors are so great that I wonder if he did more than skim a few pages in my book.
First, he errs by saying that I was talking about people who say that faith includes works and obedience. That is not what I was writing about. I was discussing people who say that “saving faith is different than regular faith,” that “saving faith is not intellectual assent,” that “saving faith is heart faith,” that “saving faith is more than believing facts,” that “saving faith is an ongoing commitment to obey,” and that “saving faith always perseveres.”34 Those are the headings.35 Why does Grudem say I am talking specifically about those who say that faith includes works? None of the headings in the chapter specifically address that issue.
Second, he errs by not quoting me. He just pulls out a few words or a phrase. The result is that he misleads the reader about what I was saying. And on one occasion he doesn’t even get the phrase quite right. I wrote, “Most people from within Christianity…”36 and he left out the word from indicating I said, “most people within Christianity.” Worse than that minor mistake, he says I was talking there about people who say that faith includes works, when I was actually talking about people who “have rejected justification by faith alone apart from works.”37
Third, he errs by criticizing me for not documenting others even though I do. I mention by name and with full quotes—not just a word or phrase—Donald Dunkerly, John MacArthur, Gregory Koukl, James Danaher, Curtis Crenshaw, Alan Day, James Montgomery Boice, and Darrell Bock.38 I don’t see how he could miss seven pages of quotes. That is a serious error.
G. Conclusion: A Weakened Gospel
“My conclusion,” says Grudem, “in this chapter is that the Free Grace movement preaches a weakened gospel because it avoids any call to people to repent of their sins” (p. 74).39 Yet Grudem goes on to say that FGT is not a false gospel!
How can the message of FGT be the true gospel if it leaves out two elements that are central to what saving faith is, turning from sins and heartfelt trust that includes submission to the Lordship of Christ?40
Grudem cites the FGA covenant, which does not mention repentance, trust, or submission, and then says, “That statement is a wonderful summary of the New Testament gospel message, and it is inconceivable to me that anyone could read that statement and say that people who believe and advocate those truths are preaching a false gospel” (p. 75).
But Grudem can’t have it both ways. If the summary of the NT gospel routinely includes the need to turn from one’s sins and to submit to the Lordship of Christ, then leaving those things out must not be “a wonderful summary of the New Testament gospel message.”41
If the FGA covenant is a fine statement, then Grudem just threw away his insistence that repentance must be preached in order to proclaim the NT gospel.
Wayne Grudem fails to show that FGT diminishes the gospel in either of his first two chapters.
I appreciate Grudem’s irenic tone. However, a book should include more than gracious interaction with others. Grudem has moved outside his comfort zone in this book. 5 Ways does not evidence the careful scholarship found in most of his other works.
1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994).
2 He is the cofounder and past president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
3 Wayne Grudem, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).
4 Oliver D. Crisp, Saving Calvinism: Expanding the Reformed Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016), 44.
5 Robert N. Wilkin, Repentance as a Condition for Salvation in the New Testament, Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1985. Six articles in Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society summarize my findings and can be found at faithalone.org/journal.
6 Robert N. Wilkin, “Does Your Mind Need Changing? Repentance Reconsidered,” JOTGES (Spring 1998): 35-46.
7 See J. Paul Tanner, “Hebrews,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary (Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1051-56; Zane C. Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition (NP: Victor Books, 1983), 792-97.
8 Charles R. Erdman, The Gospel of Luke (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1966), 256.
9 See Zane C. Hodges, Harmony with God: A Fresh Look at Repentance (Dallas, TX: Redencion Viva, 2001), 102.
10 For a journal article in which he laid out his view of Acts 2:38, see Lanny Thomas Tanton, “The Gospel and Water Baptism: A Study of Acts 2:38,” JOTGES (Spring 1990): 27-52. It is available online at https://faithalone.org/journal/1990i/Acts2-38.html.
11 Hodges, Harmony with God, 117. His entire discussion (pp. 117-19) is worth examining.
12 For more information on 2 Pet 3:9 see, Zane C. Hodges, “Repentance and the Day of the Lord,” Grace in Focus, September-October 1999: 1, 3-4 (available at https://faithalone.org/magazine/y1999/99E1.html). See also Bob Wilkin, “Rethinking the New Testament Concept of Perishing,” JOTGES (Autumn 2010): 1-24, esp. pp. 20-21.
13 GotQuestions.org has an article on the rich young ruler. The unnamed author writes, “In His conversation with the rich young ruler, Christ did not teach that we are saved by the works of the Law. The Bible’s message is that salvation is by grace through faith (Romans 3:20, 28; 4:6; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:9; 2 Timothy 1:9). Rather, Jesus used the man’s love of money to show how the man fell short of God’s holy standard—as do we all. The rich young ruler needed the Savior, and so do we.” See https://gotquestions.org/rich-young-ruler.html. Accessed November 30, 2016.
14 Erdman, The Gospel of Luke, 194.
15 C. Marvin Pate, Luke Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 353.
16 Ibid., 354.
17 See Stephen R. Lewis, “Consensus Theology Taints Biblical Theology,” JOTGES (Autumn 2010): 27-41.
18 Crisp, Saving Calvinism, 100.
19 See Zane C. Hodges, “Introducing John’s Gospel: In the Upper Room with Jesus the Christ,” JOTGES (Spring 2008): 29-44 and “Miraculous Signs and Literary Structure in John’s Gospel, JOTGES (Autumn 2008):15-27.
20 Only in 1 Corinthians 11 do we learn that women are to wear head coverings when praying or prophesying. However one understands that text, it is only found in one chapter of one book. But that does not mean we cannot understand and apply it. Though the Rapture is found in quite a few passages in Scripture, only 1 Thess 4:16-17 specifically and directly mentions the Rapture. The Rapture is true regardless of how few books of Scripture discuss it.
21 James D. G. Dunn, “The Justice of God: A Renewed Perspective on Justification by Faith,” Journal of Theological Studies, New Series, 43 (April 1992): 7.
22 See, for example, Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 34; Zane C. Hodges, Faith in His Name: Listening to the Gospel of John (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2015), 95.
23 See Robert N. Wilkin, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words (Corinth, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2012), 107-26.
24 See Hodges, Harmony with God, 5-11.
25 The way he explains the second view is misleading. We do not say that repentance is optional, any more than we say that church attendance or baptism are optional. Yes, a person can be born again without repenting, attending church, and being baptized. But if a person does not turn from his sins and follow Christ, he will be a miserable person in this life and he will suffer loss and shame at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
26 Charlie Bing, Grace Notes, No. 22, 2016 available online at http://www.gracelife.org/resources/gracenotes/ ?id=22. Last accessed Oct 19, 2016.
27 Joseph C. Dillow, Final Destiny (NP: Grace Theology Press, 2013), 52.
28 Ibid., 53-54.
29 Ibid., 54, favorably quoting a missionary friend in Romania.
31 Ibid., 56.
32 I do not think that the explanations of repentance by Bing and Dillow are consistent with FGT or with what they write elsewhere. However, if Grudem is discussing FGT on repentance, he should explain their views.
33 John Frame, Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2013), 953.
34 Wilkin, The Ten Most Misunderstood Words, 8-15.
35 Actually there are a few more headings in the chapter, but for the sake of space I left the final few off.
36 In fact, I did not write that in my chapter on faith, which is where the other snippets he gives comes from. That snippet comes from the conclusion of the book, 160 pages later! So not only does he not give full quotes when he criticizes me for not giving quotes in my chapter on faith, he gives a misleading snippet from a different chapter.
37 Ibid., 171. What I actually wrote was: “Most people from within Christianity today and over the centuries reject and have rejected justification by faith alone apart from works.”
38 Ibid, 8-14.
39 Why would this make FGT “a weakened gospel?” Grudem does not explain, other than to say repentance “cannot be omitted without grave consequences in the lives of people who hear such a weakened message” (p. 74). But what if FGT does not omit repentance, but simply says that it is not a condition of everlasting life?
40 The false gospel anathematized by Paul in Gal 1:8-9 is the message that one is justified by works (Gal 5:4). Thus I would agree with Grudem that FGT is not a false gospel. However, his own message is very similar to that of the Judaizers. To be justified, Grudem says one must turn from his sins, submit his life to Christ, and follow Christ his entire life. That position is contradicted by Gal 2:16, as well as over 100 places in the NT where the sole condition of regeneration or justification is faith in Christ.
41 Grudem does not interact with the GES affirmations of belief for some unknown reason. Since GES is the older organization, it would seem that any serious study of FGT would at least include a discussion of the GES affirmations and distinctives (e.g., assurance is of the essence of saving faith).