Thursday, November 30

Free Grace

Surely you are expecting me to support the idea of Free Grace after my post on Lordship Salvation yesterday - right? It makes sense. Scott argues against Lordship (at least MacArthur's version), so he must be a Free Grace guy. After all, it must be one of those positions or the other - right?

Um, not so fast.

While I believe MacArthur has taken Lordship too far, I also believe that Zane Hodges and others have taken the idea of Free Grace too far. As with nearly any doctrine, proponents tend to harden their positions, ignore context, set up straw men, and call the other side heretical - all much easier than attempting to look at the broad scope and find common ground. I referenced this article by Dr. James Sawyer in my post yesterday, and believe that he has found the common (and Biblical) ground between two unacceptable extremes.

So, what is "Free Grace"? Here's the definition that Sawyer gives:

[Free Grace] is a free gift offered without condition or precondition to those who will simply stretch out the empty hand of faith and receive it. Once one exercises faith, he is secure forever in his possession of that gift, even should he cease to believe.
And here is the Free Grace view on Lordship:
Any talk of works even in a post-conversion state smacks of mixing faith and works and ultimately of a compromise of the free offer of salvation...
Sawyer argues that the view espoused by Hodges is every bit as dangerous as the extreme Lordship view. In fact, one gets the sense that while in the end the Lordship view bothers Sawyer more, he finds far more disagreement - at least in practice - with Free Grace. Following are some of his problems with this viewpoint and its differences with Lordship:
  1. Hodges in particular is attacking a caricature of the Lordship position by insisting that the Lordship view makes works a condition of salvation (I must apologize for having done this myself in yesterday's post). He is, in short, attacking a sort of straw man.
  2. Free Grace adherents tend to place a divide between justification and sanctification that simply doesn't exist.
  3. Free Grace implies that faith arises from within the individual, not as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Salvation is seen as a legal transaction not related to the experience of the individual.
Sawyer summarizes as follows:
In Hodges and those who follow him there is an explicit disavowal of the concept of the witness of the Spirit in the life of the believer, as well as a decidedly "anti-mystic" tendendcy which, in effect, strips the Christian life of its relational qualities in order to raise the authority of the Scripture as that to which the individual can cling for assurance. The next problem is the greatest, that is the reduction of faith to something close to bare mental assent...

In his discusssions of faith, his working definition seems often to have reference to [an assent to facts rather than trust in a person].

As his positions are worked out he insists that faith can exist without commitment. If pressed, there is a danger of reducing salvation to a kind of magical incantation... whereby, for example, the individual repeats the prayer at the end of the Four Laws, with the barest assent to the Gospel, and then is eternally saved, assured by the promises of Scripture.

The Free Grace position, along with much of evangelical Christianity, has succumbed to an unBiblical bifurcation between justification and sanctification. While justification is by faith alone, the Christian life is variously viewed as being accomplished by works, or as beginning sometime after salvation and coming through an experience, a second blessing, a dedication, or some such thing. Zane Hodges has constructed a theology of inheritance based upon the concept of being an heir with Christ. For him, it is the hope of reward that serves as the sole basis and motivation factor for Christian growth. Specifically, he sees no necessary relationship between the salvation of an individual and any reflection of God's character. This he labels as works salvation.
It is clear to me, reading Sawyer's opinions on these two views, that he is right in saying that both are "right in what they accept and wrong in what they deny." I simply cannot sign on to one of these extreme views when it is obvious, at least to me, that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Next up - The "Middle".


Stan said...

Okay, you're going to have to speed up "the middle", because in my post today on the topic, I indicate my confusion. I wait, oh wise one, for clarity ...

Stan said...

Okay, let's see if I have this straight. You believe NEITHER that Jesus is Lord OR that grace is free. Do I understand you correctly?

(If I can't yank your chain, what else am I good for?)

(In other words, the question is intended only to be silly. Well, actually, also to point out the ridiculous leaps some people make in some matters.)

Scott Arnold said...

Oh, I'm sure my comments on "the middle" will leave you wanting - wise I am not (but I do pray for wisdom). Your second comment had me laughing out loud - but you are close, very close (think OPPOSITE)

I believe, like Sawyer, that both positions are right in what they assert and wrong in what they deny. In fact, I really have a problem seeing where the confusion lies. I believe the regenerated believer will make Christ Lord in his life, and I believe that starts immediately through the work of the Holy Spirit at regeneration. I also believe that grace is free, and that it must be, otherwise we somehow contribute to our salvation.

So "middle" is not really the right characterization of where I fit. I believe both to be true, I don't see where or why they are mutually exclusive. And before you react too strongly to that, remember that while you don't believe in "once saved, always saved" - you don't believe it is actually possible to lose your salvation in practice. It's an end result thing - and that's where I fall with Lordship. Those who are saved will submit, those who do not are not truly professing believers.

Sorry for the lateness of this reply. The ice storm that hit central Illinois had us without internet for the past 12 hours.

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