September 25, 2009

The Gospel of the Christ: Apologetic Aid or Spiritual Alp?


Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Earlier this month I had the privilege of introducing the new book by Pastor Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical response to the Crossless Gospel Regarding the Contents of Saving Faith.

In Tom Stegall’s introduction of his book he noted:

My objective in writing the book was to provide a biblical response to the controversy within the Free Grace community over the subject of the ‘crossless gospel’ and the contents of saving faith. Part I of the book lays the groundwork by introducing the problem of the crossless/promise-only/Grace Evangelical Society (GES) gospel and its associated doctrines. The remainder of the book still interacts with the new GES theology but it is primarily an exegetical synthesis of dozens of key passages involving the terms ‘gospel’ and ‘Christ’.

Today is our sixth in the series comprised of excerpts from Stegall’s book. The selections I am publishing (with permission) provide a balanced cross section of issues related to the Gospel.

Apologetic Aid or Spiritual Alp?

The rationale that stands behind the crossless claim to always present the person and work of the Savior in evangelism is seen to be illogical on another count. Oftentimes crossless proponents express sentiments that appear to contradict their claim to value the preaching of the cross. In personal correspondence with one teacher of the crossless view I was reproved for suggesting that our evangelism is more effective when starting with a presentation of the person and work of the Savior, rather than the promise of eternal life, since His person and work form the very basis for possessing eternal life. After stipulating that a lost person must believe in the Savior’s deity for eternal life, I was told that according to my evangelistic approach, the “poor soul” who heard my gospel would end up being “subjected to a course on Christology” before he could be saved. This claim was made despite the fact that John begins his Gospel with an unequivocal declaration of Christ’s deity (John 1:1) and a prologue that is among the most highly Christological portions in the entire Word of God (John 1:1-18). But such sentiments clearly reveal the perspective of some crossless proponents that the doctrines of Christ’s person and work are actually more of an obstacle than an aid to receiving eternal life.

This inconsistency in the crossless position is reflected in an article that appeared in the G.E.S. publication, Grace in Focus, which was written by a man who does mountain climbing as a hobby. In the article titled, “Alp upon Alp,” the writer compared the experience of a lost person who is presented with the requirement to believe in Christ’s person and work to the discouragement that a mountain climber faces at the prospect of having to scale a series of mountain peaks. He writes:
I’ve many times experienced the heartache of Alp upon Alp. Just when I think I’m cresting the summit ridge and I’ve reached my goal, my heart sinks to see another difficult ridge (or two!) remaining to ascend before reaching the top. Tragically, thoughtless evangelism can also place Alps between people inquiring after Jesus Christ and the goal of eternal life. When someone draws near to Christ and wants to know what he must do to be saved, some presentations require agreement with long lists of Biblical truths along the way as a necessary precondition for attaining to that life. But these Alps, thrown up no doubt with good intentions, may instead have the effect of prohibiting all but the hardiest seeker from ever believing Jesus’ promise.1
In spite of the continual refrain coming from crossless gospel proponents that they always present the cross and resurrection in their evangelism, sentiments such as the previous one stand directly opposed to that claim. Why should we present the person and work of Christ if it has a deflating and defeating effect upon the lost that actually discourages them from receiving the promise of eternal life? How can the cross-work of Christ really play a “vital role”2 in evangelism and be the “greatest apologetic”3 for believing that Christ guarantees eternal life when in fact it is viewed as an obstacle to obtaining that goal? With reasoning like this, it is not too surprising to discover that sometimes the importance of Christ’s person and work are diminished by crossless proponents when they evangelize the lost. This is done so that the unbeliever, ostensibly, may accept more readily the promise of eternal life. Thus, the same writer goes on to propose a “promise-only” gospel in the place of the doctrinal “Alps” of Christ’s deity, humanity, substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection that stand between the unbeliever and eternal life:
Likewise, for eternal life, Christ need be known only as its Giver, no matter how that conviction arises, no matter how ignorant the believer may be of the underpinnings of the promise, and no matter even if he may hold to errors about Christ at the same time. The only Alp that stands before any person hungry for eternal life is the persuasion that Jesus’ promise of it is true.

In short, as we tell our inquiring friends at the Denver Rescue Mission, you’re believing in the right Jesus if, whatever you may know—or not know—about Him, you’re convinced He gives you eternal life when you believe Him for it. The more information the better, of course; the more we know, the easier it is to believe. But if we never rise to the level of full orthodoxy about the bodily resurrected, substitutionally offered, fully divine, fully and perfectly human, virginally conceived Son of God, thank God the simple promise of eternal salvation He made to us is true for the taking, now and forever!
4
Note carefully that this writer assures his unsaved inquirers that they have faith “in the right Jesus” even if they don’t accept Christ’s person and work. Does this not diminish the value of believing the gospel? How can we avoid the conclusion that in essence the crossless approach to evangelism amounts to telling the lost that the deity, humanity, death, and resurrection of Christ do not ultimately matter when it comes to believing in Jesus for eternal life? If this new teaching of a crossless gospel persists and gains a following, it will have devastating consequences upon the practical evangelization of lost souls as they are given the false assurance that they have “the right Jesus” even though they may believe in a Jesus who was not God the Son who became incarnate to die a substitutionary death for our sins and rise from the dead.

The radical and harmful effects of such a doctrine are demonstrated in the statements of one vocal internet promoter of a crossless, deityless saving faith, *Antonio da Rosa. On his website, “Free Grace Theology,” he affirms the salvation of Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons who believe the “promise-only gospel.” In an article that is aptly titled, “Believe Christ’s Promise and You are Saved, No Matter What Misconceptions You Hold,” Antonio da Rosa writes:
Yet, I will not get into debates concerning things peripheral to the reception of eternal life. If a JW hears me speak of Christ's deity and asks me about it, I will say, “Let us agree to disagree about this subject.” I will discuss with him Jesus’ ability to impart eternal life by faith alone apart from works. This is where I want to zero in with the JW or the Mormon. They believe that salvation comes by faith AND works, and LOTS of works (not unsimilar to the Traditionalist religion). At the moment that a JW or a Mormon is convinced that Jesus Christ has given to them unrevokable eternal life when they believed on Him for it, I would consider such a one saved, REGARDLESS of their varied misconcetions and beliefs about Jesus. Both the Mormons and the JWs will say that Jesus IS “the son of God.” Yet they will provide some other import other than monotheistic deity into it. For John, the “Son of God” and “the Christ” have the import “the one who promises (guarantees) eternal life to the believer in Him for it.” I would never say you don't have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. This has the import of the gospel proposition which makes it salvific! If someone asks me point blank, do I believe that one must believe that Jesus is God in order to go to heaven, I would say “NO!”5
Though it is certainly appropriate and necessary when witnessing to address the meritorious, works-based salvation that characterizes both the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons, this provides no biblical justification for giving members of each cult the false assurance that they possess eternal life. Furthermore, da Rosa provides another clear example where the truths of the Savior’s person and work are not viewed as great apologetic aids to belief in Christ as the guarantor of eternal life. When a cultist hears da Rosa speaking of Christ’s deity, instead of using the occasion and the subject of deity to apologetically underscore the truth that Christ can guarantee eternal life precisely because He is God, we are told that this is a “peripheral” issue that shouldn’t be pressed but instead put on the backburner as we simply “agree to disagree” over it.


Please continue to Excerpt 7: Preach the Maximum, Require the Minimum

1 Lon Gregg, “Alp upon Alp,” Grace in Focus 24 (January/February 2009): 1.
2 Niemelä, “The Cross in John’s Gospel,” 19.
3 Niemelä, “Objects of Faith in John: A Matter of Person AND Content.”
4 Gregg, “Alp upon Alp,” 4.
5 See the article titled, “Believe Christ’s Promise and You are Saved, No Matter What Misconceptions You Hold,” dated May 25, 2006 (accessed August 20, 2007).


*Antonio da Rosa has been a featured speaker at GES regional and national conferences. He has articulated some of the most extreme and anti-biblical views stemming from the Zane Hodges inspired Crossless gospel. He has, furthermore, behaved in some of the most unethical ways one could imagine finding in Christian circles. Nevertheless, from April 2008 at Fred Lybrand’s (President, FGA) blog when asked, da Rosa stated,
…that one could deny the death and resurrection of Christ and still at that moment place His sole faith and reliance upon Jesus to guarantee his eternal destiny?”

Additional examples of da Rosa’s reductionist doctrine include:

Believing the Gospel, “May Indeed Frustrate God’s Grace

Heresy of the “Crossless” Gospel: Verified & Confirmed

The Mormon Jesus and Evangelical Jesus are, “One and the Same.”


For related reading and discussion of the GES Crossless gospel see these articles.

The Gospel Under Siege by the Very Man Who Wrote the Book On It

GES Reductionist Affirmation of Faith

Is the “Crossless” Label the Right Label?

The Hollow “Gospel” of the Grace Evangelical Society


Zane Hodges: Drifting Far Off the Marker

Free Grace Theology: What Every Advocate of Lordship Salvation Should Know

8 comments:

  1. I think this is an excellent argument. I can't imagine how any crossless gospel advocate could deny this contradiction.

    I suspect most crossless proponents--especially ones with some sort of position or reputation to maintain-- would not admit they are willing to put Christ's death, resurrection, and deity on the "backburner" because that would jeopardize their reputation. But what other conclusion can we reach when they call these issues obstacles when we insist on sharing them in our gospel presentation?

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  2. Greg:

    Thanks for stopping by and raising this important point. What else can they do, but put these truth on the “back burner?” The Crossless gospel advocates already have in that they insist the lost do not have to know, understand or believe in the Lord’s deity, death and/or resurrection, but can still be born again.

    When you raise, “jeopardize their reputation,” I recognize that as one of the reasons most GES people will not be honest and transparent about their true beliefs when asked a defining question.

    This week we have classic example of this at Fred Lybrand's blog. Fred asked Jim Reitman, “what do you believe one must believe to be saved?” And Reitman, to date, refuses to answer that question.

    Answer to that question aside, which IMO Reitman will never answer, his reputation is shattered already. That is on the basis of his dodging and evading the question above that any new believer would answer confidently and without hesitation.

    Reitman, just like da Rosa, Myers, Johnson, et. al. before him do all they can to avoid being honest and transparent because that exposes the soft underbelly of their reductionist assault on the Gospel.


    Lou

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  3. ...would not admit they are willing to put Christ's death, resurrection, and deity on the "backburner" because that would jeopardize their reputation.

    I think this is the issue when dealing with anyone who wants to present an unorthodox position and not be called out for it. Lou has noted that the simplest of questions will not be squarely answered by people of this type. They are unwilling or unable to acknowledge an orthodox statement of faith on the one hand, but on the other hand they do not want to be called heretical or unorthodox, etc. Therefore, they use many words to attempt to assuage those who call for a clear statement of orthodoxy. Clear statements of orthodoxy do not need many words to express, nor does wrangling over words (adjusting their definitions, changing the sense in which they are used, etc.) gain these positions the orthodoxy their proponents strive for.

    Instead of being succinct and clear, they will flood the arena with smoky, distracting, pseudo orthodox ambiguity (and a little bit of condescending nastiness, and attempts to turn the tables doesn't hurt either) in which they attempt to hide their subtle (or not so subtle in the case of GES) errors and even try to gain the upper hand at framing the issue and forcing their detractors to think as they do.

    While there are other master manipulators out there who use this technique, the GES will never succeed at this form of leavening because the proponents of it are not sophisticated enough in their word smithing and their errors are not subtle enough to pull it off. That alps analogy was frankly pathetic.

    Verbal Fred Astaires they are not.

    JanH

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  4. Jan:

    I can’t recall ever reading a more clear explanation of the dodge and evasion tactics that is commonplace among GES people.

    Is there any GES member/sympathizer who entered the discussion over the Crossless gospel who did not, “…flood the arena with smoky, distracting, pseudo orthodox ambiguity (and a little bit of condescending nastiness, and attempts to turn the tables doesn’t hurt either) in which they attempt to hide their subtle (or not so subtle in the case of GES) errors…?”

    Antonio da Rosa, Matthew, Jeremy Myers, Jim Johnson, Alvin, Gary, Rose and Michele come to mind immediately. Jim Reitman over at Fred Lybrand’s blog being the most recent and current example of this disturbing trend.

    GES will never succeed at this form of leavening because the proponents of it are not sophisticated enough in their word smithing and their errors are not subtle enough to pull it off.

    Exactly!

    Verbal Fred Astaires they are not.”

    Clever!


    Lou

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  5. ... the dodge and evasion tactics that is commonplace among GES people.

    Lou,

    It is these precise tactics that expose them. Teachers of truth do not need to resort to such depraved means as they have nothing to hide. For all that the specific doctrines these heretics (does anyone have any question that this teaching is heresy?) are teaching need to be exposed, the reality is there will always be another new, exotic heresy behind it. But the tactics never change. Not having truth to support them, they must resort to other means.

    The worst part is those who have been taken in by emotional connection to the teachers, appreciation for dealing with other heretical or erroneous issues, etc. and have become heretical themselves. Not just WHAT they think about the doctrine but HOW they think about is changes. It is always a gradual thing and often starts with opposing some other incorrect doctrine. Did anyone suspect Zane Hodges of heretical inclinations when he was exposing Lordship Salvation decades ago? Yet he even then did list in the direction of promise only and no one noticed. Now he's got a whole slew of disciples whom he has taught to think a certain way about the gospel and salvation. And it is these folks for whom the Alps analogy makes sense. Sigh.

    You have been right to point these maneuvers out, as you have on Fred's blog and elsewhere. They are transferable to any heresy anywhere on any issue. If in doubt about a person's orthodoxy the best thing for all parties (including the one under the "spot light") is to require the person to answer direct questions that allow him to affirm orthodoxy. He should be able to do this with a short, concise statement. It should not be sentences or (even paragraphs!) of hemming and hawing. "Is the cross of Christ a necessary component of a gospel presentation? If so, why?" is not difficult to answer, especially for a learned theologian. "What is the content of saving faith?" is not a difficult question to answer either (if it is, we are all in trouble!). If he will not answer, and that plainly, there is definitely something wrong.

    JanH

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  6. Jan,

    I'd like to add a large part of your comment to my article on the LS presentation.

    I think you have said some things that apply to that article very well.

    Lou,

    I haven't been around as I've been too busy putting off work I should have had done by Friday... :)

    Kev

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  7. Hey Kev:

    I have dibbs on that. She is developing an article for my blog and these are rough draft excerpts.

    But go ahead and use it, more exposure of their dodge and evade mentality the better.


    Lou

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  8. Yes! By all means, Kev, help yourself!

    JanH

    (They are not quite so far developed as rough draft excerpts. More like thinking out loud at this point.)

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