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.
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.”1Robert 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.”2Dr. Lightner was wrong about one point. Not all Evangelicals agree that repentance is necessary for salvation.
“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
“Faith alone (not repentance and faith) is the sole condition for justification and eternal life.”4At 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.
“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
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?