Freely By His Grace is an effort by sixteen pastors and theologians to defend and explain what is commonly called “free grace” soteriology (p. xiii) and related themes. As with any multi-authored volume, this one is uneven in both content and style but is a good representation of the positions taken by the majority within the Free Grace Alliance (p. 343). Still, as Michael Stallard points out, the Free Grace movement is not monolithic and its “members disagree on the nature and role of repentance, the elements necessary for a gospel presentation, how to view good works as evidence of regeneration, and how to interpret various passages about rewards to name a few areas” (p. 343). The authors are universally opposed to the more extreme Free Grace teachings sometimes referred to as the “crossless gospel” (pp. 12-13, 59, 66, 145). This crossless gospel now appears to be the understanding of the original Free Grace organization, the Grace Theological Society, represented most notably by Zane Hodges and Bob Wilkin. The authors are equally opposed to “Lordship Salvation” teachings as propagated by Reformed theologians and John MacArthur. While correctly identifying some serious concerns with Reformed theology, such as extreme views on perseverance (pp. 151, 332, 510, 523, 542), and seeing the Mosaic Law as the Christian’s rule of life (pp. 427-535), the authors repeatedly misunderstand the role of works as taught by the Reformed thinkers, in the salvation process. Several authors attempt to display Reformed and Lordshippers as requiring works for salvation (pp. 77, 101-104, 155-156, 538) when, in fact, they teach that works are a result of genuine regeneration not its cause.
The chapters attempting to dissect Lordship Salvation are the weakest in the book (Bing, Lybrand). They make an effort to present a case in which Lordship adherents frontload the gospel with works, as they (the authors) view commitment and surrender, but not faith or trust, as works added to faith for salvation (pp. 6-9, 101). This discussion, by necessity, must include the role of repentance in the gospel presentation. On this the grace teachers do not agree, some believing it is not required (p. 152) but others that repentance is “included as an essential part of believing” (p. 23). With the latter, virtually all Lordshippers would agree although the object of repentance is debated. Lordshippers would see repentance as a changing of one’s mind about Christ resulting in turning to Him from all other objects of salvific trust, as well as a turning from sin, and all of this as part of the believing process (pp. 56, 201, 211). Most of the authors would not agree with this definition, limiting repentance to the object of Christ alone (pp. 56, 108-110, 152, 159, 190-191). Yet Stallard understands that a person must recognize he is a sinner before he can be delivered (pp. 345), and that sin is central to the cross-work of Christ (pp. 348-350). Stallard’s chapter on sin (twelve) is the most balanced one in the book, but there were also good chapters on eternal security (Rokser), sanctification (Witzig), rewards and judgment (Stegall), dispensationalism (Ice), regeneration (Anderson), and the church-age model of evangelistic content (Meisinger).
One of the weaknesses of Free Grace theology is its overdependence on the Gospel of John, which supposedly gives the definitive definition of how people are saved and, in turn, interprets the rest of the New Testament’s soteriological contributions. Not only is this approach arbitrary (Scripture makes no claim that John’s Gospel has the final word), it is also reductionistic as it rejects the contributions of all other inspired scriptures, either setting those contributions aside (through misinterpretation) or refusing them a place at the table. Some of the authors of Freely By His Grace fall into this trap (see pp. 23, 152, 166, 212, 217), while others recognize that this is an unbalanced position (see p. 60) and others acknowledge that the epistles actually sharpen John’s message (see pp. 87-90, 94).
The two key differences between Free Grace and Lordship teachers are the nature of, and result of saving faith. Both are addressed in this book. Concerning the first, Free Gracers teach that saving faith is simply believing “in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who died and rose again to pay one’s personal penalty for sin and the one who gives eternal life to all who trust Him and Him alone for it” (p. 37). Further, “To believe something (i.e. trust it, have faith in it) simply means to be certain that it is true” (p. 161). Lordshippers would question how this definition would be anything more than intellectual knowledge and consent. They would define saving faith as including commitment to the Lordship of Christ (see p. 97). As an example of theological differences is Lybrand (chapter 6) who tries to distinguish (unsuccessfully I believe) salvation from discipleship (see pp. 127-131).
Concerning fruit, or results of regeneration, some of the authors see a great divide between the two camps—others not so much. Hixson claims Lordshippers make “good works the focus when validating one’s eternal salvation and thus by default, instrumental in securing eternal life” (p. 155). While this is a distortion of the Lordship view it is what many Free Grace teachers think Lordshippers believe. Hixson, rather illogically I think, states, “Logically a person believes what he believes whether or not he ever acts on that belief” (P. 175). Of course this is exactly what those holding to Lordship deny, as they state that what we really believe will be seen in how we live, even if at times we live inconsistently. “The problem with [the Lordship] approach,” Hixson believes, “is that it makes a subjective evaluation of one’s works the determining factor in knowing whether one is really saved or not” (p. 182). But in fact most Lordshippers would agree with Rokser who writes, “While the title deed of salvation is the unfailing promises of God because of the finished work of Christ, there are subjective evidences of spiritual life, such as the believer’s desire for the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2), his cry of ‘Abba Father’ (Galatians 4:6), and normally growing in grace (1 John 2:12-14)” (p. 300).
Overall, Freely By His Grace is well written and represents fairly the view of Free Grace theology. This reviewer appreciates a good number of the articles while distancing himself from some of the views mentioned above.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel, Springfield, IL