While everyone within conservative evangelicalism agrees that salvation comes as a gift of God’s grace and is received by faith alone, there is much disagreement concerning the content and results of saving faith. On one side stand the “Lordship” salvationists who insist that saving faith includes repentance from sin and obedience resulting in spiritual fruit which verifies regeneration. At the other side are those who espouse “Free Grace” soteriology. The defenders of “Free Grace” are concerned that the Lordshipers have, in their zeal to assure authentic faith, gone too far and added works to faith. Free Grace leaders define faith as belief, trust and appropriation. However, repentance usually is either not part of the salvation process or is defined as changing one’s mind about who Jesus Christ is. Fruit is not inevitable and some true Christians never evidence any sign of regeneration while others may completely apostatize and yet still be part of the family of God. Between these two poles lies any number of positions. David Anderson, adjunct professor for Dallas Theological Seminary and president of Grace School of Theology, seeks in this book to define “Free Grace” theology, especially its unique views concerning the doctrine of salvation. While he does not always agree with those in his own system (e.g. p. 23) it would appear that Free Grace Soteriology represents a mainstream view of the Free Grace position. The book is drawn from seminary course lecture notes and this is evident at times making for some redundancy and mismatch of writing styles. There are two appendices which are reprints of previous articles, one dealing with Augustine’s move from premillennialism to amillennialism, the other with Greek influence on early Christian theological development.
Free Grace Soteriology covers a lot of territory so I will mention but a few of Anderson’s core positions:
• James 2:14-26 is a battleground for those in this particular debate, and Anderson’s interpretation differs even from some on his side. He believes that faith in this text is saving faith and James is therefore speaking of Christians. Dead faith is still saving faith, but it describes the Christian who has lost his fervor for Christ. Works will bring such faith back to life (pp. 22-37; 174-177).
• In 1 Corinthians 2 the “natural man” is a Christian who is living as an unbeliever (pp.50-52).
• Anderson agrees that no one is able to come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44) but he is adamant that the Lord does not drag the unbeliever kicking and screaming into the kingdom (pp. 54-55).
• Theologically Anderson is a trichotomist (p. 37), a progressive dispensationalist (pp. 85-89), a four-point Calvinist, who rejects limited atonement (p. 92) and reduces perseverance to eternal security (p. 323).
• He traces the Roman Catholic understanding of “justification” (“to make righteous”) to Augustine who did not understand Greek (p. 106).
• Anderson sees repentance as “an internal resolve to turn from one’s sins” and is important for both unbelievers and believers (pp. 138-139). However, it is not a condition for coming to Christ (p. 128).
• He accepts Hodge’s definition of faith as being trust and appropriation but not commitment (pp. 170-174).
• The author strongly, and often, opposes the doctrine of perseverance. Anderson believes this doctrine stems from Augustine’s misunderstanding of Matthew 24:13 and has led to the inability to have assurance of salvation (pp. 204, 212, 241, 321).
• Anderson does not deny that good works should flow from regeneration but, unlike some of his fellow Free Gracers, sees good works as a secondary evidence, not the primary evidence (which is faith) of salvation (pp. 213-218; 242-243).
• He rejects all forms of baptismal regeneration and traces the history of the doctrine (pp. 222-231).
• He rejects regeneration as coming prior to faith and gives a good summary of the differences between Reformed and Dispensational theologians on this issue (pp. 231-240).
• Anderson takes a “soft” determinism view on the sovereignty of God (pp. 291-294).
• He distinguishes reception of eternal life, which is by faith, from the possession of eternal life which is by works (pp. 136-141). Anderson interprets much of Scripture through this lens. For example, he apparently views the people of Israel, even during rank rebellion and idolatry, as being in relationship with God but out of fellowship. Therefore they needed repentance, not for salvation but to be restored to fellowship (pp. 146-156). He divides the Gospel of John into a similar pattern seeing disciples who had relationship but not fellowship with Christ as distinguished from disciples who had both (pp. 177-183). Jesus’ friends are those who obey, His children are those who believe (pp. 181-183). Therefore passages which reference actions that cause one to not “inherit the kingdom” are concerned with reward not salvation (pp. 195-198). Perhaps it is over this issue that the “salvation wars” rage the hottest. Is it possible for a true believer to live totally out of fellowship with God, in complete and prolonged rebellion and sin, and yet be born again?
Overall Free Grace Soteriology offers a comprehensive and helpful understanding of the Free Grace position. It eliminates the straw men, clarifies what is really being said and provides scriptural base for this view. Whether the reader agrees with what has been presented is a totally different matter, but at least a clear defense of Free Grace is given and that is most helpful.