July 26, 2009

The Free Grace Fracture: What Every Advocate of Lordship Salvation Should Know

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Today I am presenting the first installment of an article that addresses and documents a rift that developed within the Free Grace community, which eventually lead to an open split. The author is Brother Bob Nyberg. I have never met Brother Nyberg, but we have become familiar with one another through the blogs and some brief discussions on the Gospel, especially the controversial Lordship Salvation and Crossless Gospel interpretations.

With Bob’s permission I am reprinting his article, The Free Grace Fracture (October 2007), which originally appeared at his personal web site. Well before I knew of or interacted with Bob Nyberg I wrote and posted, Free Grace: Fractured by the “Crossless” Gospel (July 2007). I consider his article and mine companion and complimentary articles.

Nyberg’s article is an important discussion because our brethren on the Lordship side of the Gospel controversy must recognize that there is a wide chasm in the Free Grace community. The chasm developed over a long period of time, beginning approximately 20 years ago.

Dr. John MacArthur frequently cites Zane Hodges’s writings as representative of the so-called “no-lordship” camp. MacArthur is right to a great degree in that label of Hodges, Bob Wilkin and Grace Evangelical Society (GES) soteriology, which is a theme I will develop in a future article. The shrinking cell of GES extremists insist the lost can be saved apart from knowing, understanding or believing in the Person (deity) and finished work of Christ. Every responsible Bible-believing should recognize and reject this egregious form of reductionist soteriology. IMO, however, when speaking of biblical justification MacArthur’s “no-lordship” has no traction with Free Grace men outside the GES who utterly reject the reductionism of Hodges. MacArthur himself recognizes and does draw the distinction between the Hodges and Charles Ryrie views noting that Hodges represents a more radical and extreme view than he (MacArthur) finds with Ryrie or Robert Lightner.

There are sharp differences between the views of Drs. Lightner/Ryrie and Dr. MacArthur on the necessary content of saving faith. However, everyone in or viewing the debate must understand that Hodges, Wilkin and GES have drifted far outside the main stream of Free Grace theology with their reductionist assaults on the content of saving faith. The teaching of Hodges, Wilkin and the GES is commonly known as the “Crossless” or “Promise-ONLY” gospel.

Today the fracture in the Free Grace movement is much wider across a very clear line of doctrinal division. Much more sharp and clear than it was at the time of this article’s initial publication. By following the teachings of Zane Hodges the GES has isolated itself into an extreme and radical corner of evangelical Christianity. Advocates of Lordship Salvation must understand that when they read or hear of the teaching of Zane Hodges and Bob Wilkin they are not hearing historic, balanced Free Grace theology. Brother Nyberg’s article will be a helpful read for all who wish to better understand the rift and fracture in the Free Grace movement. With that I present to you part one of Brother Bob Nyberg’s article The Free Grace Fracture.

The Free Grace Fracture
By Bob Nyberg

Myth: Free grace theology began in the 1980’s as a response to John MacArthur’s book
The Gospel According to Jesus.

If you do a search on the internet for the phrase “
free grace theology,” you will come across this popular myth. In reality, free grace theology has been around a lot longer than that. For instance, William Newell, Harry Ironside and Lance Latham wrote about free grace theology long before the lordship salvation controversy came to the forefront within Christendom.

William R. Newell (1868-1953) wrote:
To preach full surrender to an unsaved man as the way of salvation will just make a hateful Pharisee out of him.”
Dr. Harry Ironside (1876-1951) wrote:
When anyone comes promising salvation to those ‘who make full surrender’ of all that they have to God, and who ‘pay the price of full salvation’ he is preaching another gospel, for the price was paid on Calvary’s cross and the work that saves is finished. It was Christ Jesus who made the full surrender when He yielded His life on Calvary that saves us, not our surrender in any way to Him.”
Lance Latham (1894-1985) wrote:
Surely we must recognize WHO HE IS, or we will die in our sins (John 8:24). But this is vastly different from making Him your Lord in your life, in other words, promising to obey the rest of your life. This latter is preaching ‘works.’
Long before these men wrote on the subject, another free grace theologian took pen in hand and scribed the memorable words,
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Paul the Apostle; Ephesians 2:8-9)”
However, John MacArthur’s books on lordship salvation did evoke a response from free grace advocates. In 1989, Charles Ryrie wrote So Great Salvation: What It Means to Believe In Jesus Christ. In the same year, Zane Hodges wrote A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation: Absolutely Free. In 1991, Robert Lightner wrote Sin, The Savior, and Salvation: The Theology of Everlasting Life. All three of these men were professors at Dallas Theological Seminary.

Hodges, Ryrie and Lightner all represent free grace theology and oppose lordship salvation, but there are some differences between them. This is especially true regarding how they view repentance. Both Charles Ryrie and Robert Lightner insist that repentance is a requirement for salvation. In contrast, Zane Hodges says that repentance is not a requirement for salvation.

Charles Ryrie states:
The only kind of repentance that saves is a change of mind about Jesus Christ. People can weep; people can resolve to turn from their past sins; but those things in themselves cannot save. The only kind of repentance that saves anyone, anywhere, anytime is a change of mind about Jesus Christ. The sense of sin and sorrow because of sin may stir up a person’s mind or conscience so that he or she realizes the need for a Savior, but if there is no change of mind about Jesus Christ there will be no salvation.”1
Robert Lightner wrote:
The word repentance means a change of mind.… There is no question about it: repentance is necessary for salvation. However, Scripture views repentance as included in believing and not as an additional and separate condition to faith. All who have trusted Christ as Savior have changed their minds regarding Him and their sin.”2

“Repentance in Scripture has to do with a change of mind. Evangelicals agree no one can be saved who does not change his mind about himself and his need, his sin which separates him from God, and about Christ as the only Savior.”3
Dr. Lightner was wrong about one point. Not all Evangelicals agree that repentance is necessary for salvation.

Zane Hodges insists:
Faith alone (not repentance and faith) is the sole condition for justification and eternal life.”4

There can be no compromise on this point if we wish to preserve and to proclaim the biblical truth of sola fide. To make repentance a condition for eternal salvation is nothing less than a regression toward Roman Catholic dogma.”5
At first, this difference between Ryrie-Lightner and Hodges was seen as a minor issue. However, those minor cracks in the free grace dam have turned into a significant fracture within this movement today. Zane Hodges and the leadership of the Grace Evangelical Society maintain that a person can be saved without believing in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. This teaching has become known as “the crossless gospel.” However, I prefer the term “minimalist gospel” since Hodges is dealing with the “minimum requirements” a person needs to believe in order to be saved.

1) Charles Ryrie, So Great Salvation: What It Means to Believe In Jesus Christ. (Wheaton, Illinois, 1989), pp. 94-95
2) Robert Lightner,
Sin, The Savior, and Salvation: The Theology of Everlasting Life. (Nashville, Tennessee), p. 167
3) Ibid., p. 212
4) Zane Hodges,
A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation: Absolutely Free (Dallas, Texas, 1989), p. 144
5) Ibid., p. 145

Please continue to Part 2 of this series.

For additional reading to further explain how the GES has ceased to be a voice for the Free Grace community, see- Is “RE-DEFINED” Free Grace Theology- Free Grace Theology?


  1. Lou-

    I remember this article from Bob's website. I had read it some time ago and thought it was very good. Thanks for publishing it here. It is an important contribution, IMO.


  2. Jan:

    Thanks for reiterating the worth of this article. IMO, it is helpful in two regards…

    1) LS people will increasingly realize Hodges, Wilkin & GES represent are an aberrant movement that has long since departed a balanced FG theology. If LS advocates want to engage genuine representatives of Free Grace theology the need to read and interact with men like Dr. Charles Ryrie, Dr. Robert Lightner and Dr. Charlie Bing.

    2) Reminds FG people that the GES gospel is an assault on the one true Gospel of Jesus Christ and is no less an offense to the cross work of Christ than Lordship Salvation is from the opposite end of the soteriology pendulum swing.

    Where Lordship Salvation errs by addition the GES “Crossless” gospel errs by subtraction.

    Thanks again,


  3. I believe in FREE GARCE. Salvation is not based on our works but on His work. A gospel without "Jesus crucified and resurrected" scares me.

  4. Dear Chinedu:

    And in a sentence you have identified the twin errors of Lordship Salvation and the Crossless Gospel.

    LS errs by, among other things, calling on the lost man for an up-front commitment to do the “good works” (Eph. 2:10) expected of a born again Christian “to become a Christian.”

    The CG errs by insisting the lost man does not have to know, understand or believe in the deity, death and/or resurrection of Christ to be born again. In fact the GES teaches that the lost can *openly reject the Lord's deity and yet still be born again.

    There are the twin tragedies that we have in evangelical circles today and why I have taken my stand in defense of the Gospel.

    Thanks for your helpful comment.

    Kind regards,


    * See- Can the Mormon Jesus & Evangelical Jesus be “One and the Same?”

  5. Lou,

    This article could have included men even before Newell teaching free grace theology.

    Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). He was a 5 point Calvinist but believed in free grace. Very hard to get a Lordship gospel out of this message:


    I love this quote elsewhere from Horatius Bonar:

    "We have not fully preached a free gospel. We have been afraid of making it too free, lest men should be led into licentiousness; as if it were possible to preach too free a gospel, or as if its freeness could lead men into sin. It is only a free gospel that can bring peace, and it is only a free gospel that can make men holy."

    Another man would be John McLeod Campbell born in 1800. He said concerning repentance on our part that God would accept is an "Amen" to Christ's confession and intercession on our behalf. He did not hold to what is today called Lordship salvation as he believed in free grace.

    We can even go back to the 1700's with the Marrow Controversy. Their beliefs were condemned on the following grounds:

    1) It held that assurance was of the nature of faith.

    2) It taught a universal atonement and pardon in the cross.

    3) It taught that holiness was not necessary to salvation.

    4) It taught that the fear of punishment and the hope of reward are not allowed to be motives of obedience.

    5) It held that the believer is not under the law as a rule of life.

    To say that Free Grace began in 1980 is proving that a screw is loose between the ears. One is deliberately being deceitful. Here is a quote from one website confirming what Bob Nyberg said:

    "A theological movement emerged in the 1980’s that appropriated the “free grace” label as its own.

    I think it is quite clear that free grace emerged long ago. Lewis Sperry Chafer died in 1952 and he clearly was a free grace believer.

    A new brand of free grace has emerged in the person of Zane Hodges that is completely foreign to Scripture. Never confuse free grace with Zane Hodges or Bob Wilkin as they departed from it by teaching another gospel.

  6. One correction I need to make as I paraphrased John McLeod not very well on his view of repentance. Here is a quote online that better words it:

    "In the consciousness of the repentant sinner, all that is morally and spiritually true and acceptable to God in his repentance is an ‘Amen’ to Christ’s confession and intercession on man’s behalf. This ‘Amen’ does not involve resting on one’s own repentance. Rather, it involves resting on Christ’s righteousness.

  7. Dave:

    Good to hear from you again. Thanks for the extremely helpful notes and historical perspective.


  8. It would be awesome, if someone would do a paper or book tracing the history of free grace theology.

  9. That's neat Dave! I'd love to know more about the Marrow people. They sound just like Darby, Newell, et al. I suppose I'll have to google them.


  10. Dave:

    You wrote, "A new brand of free grace has emerged in the person of Zane Hodges that is completely foreign to Scripture. Never confuse free grace with Zane Hodges or Bob Wilkin as they departed from it by teaching another gospel."

    I appreciate your reiterating those facts.

    Over and over as I read the teachings of Hodges and Wilkin, their reductionist assault on the Gospel I marvel at how these or any man could arrive at this kind of false, non-saving message.

    Their crossless and deityless gospel is much more than simply bouncing too far off the the errors in Lordship Salvation. I have often referred to the Crossless gospel of Hodges and GES as the most extreme form of the so-called "Easy-Believism" ever introduced to the NT church by one of its own.


  11. Very intresting article and does show the danger of Zane Hodges and those who follow his views of free grace. It is a sad reality that some Covenant Theologians & Reconstructionist like to broad brush all dispensationalist as holding to the views Hodges . This is seen in the so called 95 Theses Againist Dispensationalism. They like to use the extremes of Zane Hodges to dismiss and give a bad reputation to dispensationalist. I am glad you have spoken out againist the extremes that comes forth from Zane Hodge.

  12. They like to use the extremes of Zane Hodges to dismiss and give a bad reputation to dispensationalist. I am glad you have spoken out against the extremes that comes forth from Zane Hodge.

    This is also true in the Lordship Salvation debates. For example, I am aware of only one example from John MacArthur where he made a fair attempt to distinguish some of the factions in the FG camp. Other than that he and virtually all LS advocates will point to the reductionist extremes of Hodges and broad brush the entire FG camp and to demonize any non-LS person.

    I went to lengths to avoid any connection to Hodges so that LS men would be disarmed of that tactic. In my book I write to expose and rebuke Hodges, Wilkin and the GES for their reductionist assault on the Gospel of Christ.


  13. One argument from the Lordship Salvation crowd is that their position was taught throughout most of church history and that Free Grace, or what they call the "modern gospel," is departure from historical authentic faith. Now I'm starting to see that Free Grace is more historical than I thought. We not only had men like Harry Ironside and Lewis Sperry Chafer (two of my personal favorites), but also a lot of the early dispensationalists like J.N. Darby, C.H. Mackintosh, William Kelley, James Hall Brookes, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor. I also found a very free grace oriented article on Isaiah 55:7 written by Robert Murray M'Cheyne (May 21st, 1813-March 25th, 1843) which was VERY helpful to me. Here is the link http://www.the-highway.com/MCheyne9.html

  14. Thanks for sharing your study of this important subject.