Pure Grace by Clark Whitten (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2012); 171 pp., paper $11.49.
The basic concern of author Clark Whitten is that legalistic, performance-based “religion” has eclipsed grace-based Christianity in the lives of countless believers. He calls for a return to what he terms “pure grace” and claims to see evidence of a “grace reformation” forming that will far exceed anything during the time of Luther and Calvin (pp. 23, 143-158).
There is much to commend in Pure Grace. For example, within its pages we find the following correct teachings:
• Legalism is devastating, not only for salvation but also for sanctification (p. 18).
• Christians are not under the Old Testament Mosaic Law (pp. 21, 55-62).
• Church age believers have been given a new nature, such that they are now fundamentally saints not sinners. This does not mean they no longer sin, but that they have been transformed so that they are saints who sin, not sinners who sin (pp. 26-27).
• Jesus did not die to modify our behavior but to radically change us (p. 29).
• Positional truth is rightly and clearly taught throughout (p. 31). It is very important for saints to know who they are in Christ—people who have been given the righteousness of Christ (pp. 47-54).
• Christians are now the temple of God in contrast to the Old Testament temple of stone (pp. 79-86).
• True repentance gets at the root of our sin problem in contrast with merely dealing with the behavioral symptoms (p. 101).
• The purpose of the Law for the church age (pp. 113-127).
• Teaches clearly the eternal security of the saint (pp. 125-141). One who rejects Christ, or denies His deity, was never saved (p. 130).
• Describes well the holiness of God (pp. 164-165).
However, there are a number of concerns in Pure Grace, for example:
• The author uses unnecessary, inflammatory and harsh words to describe those with whom he differs. Words such as lies, nonsense, prideful, insane and demonic are not uncommon. In addition he describes some motives as controlling, judgmental, and using certain teachings as weapons. When he says these things he is not speaking of heretics or false prophets but of those who do not agree with his understanding of grace. This is inappropriate at best (e.g. pp. 30, 36, 42, 65, 73, 92, 106).
• He misunderstands and over-emphasizes positional truth to the exclusion of practical application. This was (is) the error of the Keswick, or Higher Life Movement, which began in the late 1800s and taught that if only believers knew who they were in Christ they would live victoriously. Its slogan was “Let go and let God” and while Whitten never actually uses that phrase in the book, its echo permeates throughout. Some examples: Roy Hessian, a leading Higher Life promoter, is quoted positively (p. 36); the three tenses of sanctification as found in the New Testament are ignored and the positional sense given as if it is the only one legitimate (pp. 23, 29, 30); promotion of the idea that it is wrong to work to please Christ (pp. 40-41), despite Paul’s clear statement to the contrary (2 Cor 5:9; Phil 2:12).
• Christians are not required to confess their sins to God to be forgiven (p. 20). The author believes 1 John 1:9 is the most misunderstood and abused verse in the Bible—and even used demonically by many (pp. 91, 92). Contrary to the vast majority of interpreters, and out of context, Whitten believes the verse is about how one is saved, not how one deals with sin following salvation (p. 94). Confession, he claims, is for healing not forgiveness (p. 95). The author is so fixated on positional truth that he finds it most difficult to admit the practical necessities of Christian growth.
• Similarly, repentance is reworked. Although Whitten gives a good description of what repentance is (as mentioned above), he claims that teaching on repentance is often a tool used by Christian leaders to keep the rest of us in line (p. 97). In order to make the biblical word “repentance” fit his theology the author inexplicably turns to an English dictionary to define it as “to rethink your position in light of truth…” (p. 98). While repentance does mean to change one’s mind about something, in the Greek Lexicons, and in every use of the word when found in a spiritual connotation in Scripture, it is in the context of turning from sin (see my book This Little Church Went to Market, Appendix). When trying to illustrate his understanding of repentance, the author turns to the story of the prodigal son and yet, sadly, totally skips both the son’s confession and repentance of his sin (pp. 102-114).
• Pure Grace teaches that we are on the verge of a new reformation that will have an impact on the world beyond what the Protestant Reformation accomplished (pp. 23, 143-158). He believes that millions will be brought into the kingdom as a result (p. 150). Of course nothing explicit in Scripture promises this, but Whitten believes that such a prophecy is found in the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (pp. 148-158).
• In order to come to such a conclusion the author resorts to liberal use of typology, or allegorizing. This is a major flaw in Whitten’s understanding of Scripture. For example, in one context he even tells us the pitch used on Noah’s ark is symbolic of the “blood of Christ” (p. 135). This is pure fabrication.
• There are a number of less significant theological errors scattered throughout as well: we don’t love ourselves but should (p. 43); Jesus did not die to make our life on earth harder and more complicated (p. 46) (even though Jesus implies otherwise in Matt 5:11-12); the new covenant was enacted and completed between the Father and Son (p. 72) (but Heb 8:8 says it was enacted with Israel); at the cross God “moved out of the Son” (p. 84) (this is dangerous teaching at best); promises that the Holy Spirit will guide us (all) into truth (p. 107) even though Jesus was speaking to the apostles in John 16:13 when He make this statement; he believes the Pharisees’ problem was that they were law-keepers, rather than what Jesus actually said in Matthew 15:1-8 that they were adding to the Law (p. 22); he seems to undermine the importance of the fear of the Lord (p. 152); and claims that God doesn’t demand that we love Him, even though Jesus said this was the greatest of all commands (Matt 22:37).
While Whitten is trying to correct a serious error—works/performance-based Christianity—and while he does an excellent job of this in places, his exegetical work is seriously lacking. He does not prove his more controversial ideas through careful examination of Scripture nor through interaction with other views. His style is confrontational—that is, he states his position, often with little biblical support, and then defames those who disagree. This, along with several unbiblical positions mentioned above, seriously taints the book. If the helpful sections of Pure Grace could be extracted from the book and made into a smaller volume, Pure Grace would prove quite useful. But with these numerous flaws its value is greatly limited.
In addition, it should be mentioned that Pure Grace is published by Destiny Image Publications, which is a publishing house founded to promote the views of the Latter Rain Movement. The Latter Rain is an extreme arm of the Pentecostal Movement that was birthed after World War II to promote the view that the church will overcome the world which in turn will usher in the reign of Christ. Such accomplishments would mainly come through the restoration of all miraculous spiritual gifts and the offices of apostle and prophet. Much of this theology is based on a topological understanding of the Feast of Tabernacles and from Old Testament passages such as Joel 2:23. Whitten’s teaching on a new reformation found in the Feast of Tabernacles is based on Latter Rain theology, not his own insights or observations.