Wayne Grudem, Free Grace Theology: How Free Grace Diminishes the Gospel. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 160 pp. $11.42
Theological disputes have a tendency of generating more heat than light. The controversy surrounding the so-called Free Grace movement is no exception. Ever since the landmark book by John MacArthur was published, The Gospel According to Jesus, competing camps have vigorously fought to maintain their ground. Indeed, both positions including the Free Grace view and the so-called Lordship position have fought as if their lives depended upon it.
But the debate did not find its genesis in the musings of John MacArthur. The debate is as old as the Protestant Reformation itself. The age-old questions remain: How does a sinful person stand in the presence of a holy God? On what basis is this sinner justified? What role (if any) do works play at the moment of justification? Is sanctification a necessary component of the Christian life? And, are works a necessary result of justification?
Disheartened, discouraged, and dismayed. These three terms do not adequately describe my thoughts about the initial reviews of Wayne Grudem’s new book, Free Grace Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel. One review observes, “Wayne Grudem is a Reformed Calvinist, so his views are skewed through Calvinist lenses.” The initial reviews fail to show any degree of constructive interaction with the book. One wonders if these early reviewers even bothered to read the book.
The Free Grace movement, whose primary tenets are found in Zane Hodges book, Absolutely Free. In that book, Hodges maintains,
… Lordship thought abandons the straightforward meaning of the word ‘believe’ and fills the concept of saving faith with illegitimate complications. The result is that the saving transaction is made much more complex than it actually is. But salvation really is simple and, in that sense, it is easy. After all, what could be simpler than to ‘take the water of life freely.’
The primary tenets of the Free Grace movement include:
- A two-tiered discipleship, or two classes of believers, those who believe but do not follow Christ and those who believe and cast all their hope and future on Christ.
- No calls to repentance in evangelism.
- Giving assurance to people who are backslidden or have denounced the Christian faith.
- Rejecting the notion that good works accompany justifying grace.
Dr. Grudem’s primary contention is that the New Testament clearly teaches two principles which stand in opposition to the Free Grace movement:
- Repentance from sin (in the sense of remorse for sin and an internal resolve to forsake it) is necessary for saving faith.
- Good works and continuing to believe necessarily follow from saving faith.
Grudem’s arguments against the Free Grace movement are summarized below:
First, the Free Grace movement misunderstands the doctrine of justification by faith alone and as a result, fails to truly teach the doctrine that Luther said, “is the doctrine upon which the church stands or falls.”
Second, the Free Grace movement undermines the gospel by refusing to require repentance in the proclamation of the gospel.
Third, the Free Grace movement offers false assurance to people who make a profession of faith, but may in the final analysis not possess saving faith.
Fourth, the Free Grace movement fails to emphasize the fiducia component of faith, that is, a personal trust or adherence to Christ.
Fifth, the Free Grace movement embraces interpretations that are highly unlikely.
These arguments against the Free Grace movement are further explained in the five chapters of the book. My own view is that Dr. Grudem has succeeded in successfully refuting this movement. He should be commended for the gracious tone throughout this work. He does engage in rigorous polemic but does so without caricaturing his opponents. While he argues strenuously against the Free Grace movement, he admits it is not a false gospel. However, it is a diminished gospel.
Some may argue that the so-called Lordship controversy (a term that Grudem dislikes) is over. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The Free Grace movement continues to influence people and diminish the gospel. Wayne Grudem’s excellent work is a needed corrective and a gracious response to a troubling trend.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.