October 2, 2009

The Gospel of the Christ: Is the Gospel Still the “Saving Message”?

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

I have 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’.

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

Is the Gospel Still the “Saving Message”?

Grace people on both sides of this issue may raise the objection that the phrase “crossless gospel” is no longer an accurate designation, since in the last year or so, a significant new development has occurred within the crossless camp with respect to the term “gospel.” It should be noted that the “crossless gospel” quotations provided on the preceding pages now need to be amended with a postscript such as this, since at least one major teacher of this view has changed his position on the meaning of the term “gospel.” Approximately 18 months before the publication of this book, Bob Wilkin taught publicly for the first time that the lost do not have to believe “the gospel” to go to heaven. He stated:
What if the word “gospel” doesn’t ever mean the saving message? Now hang with me hear. I gave this same message, but I didn’t say quite this, a little over a month ago in Omaha at a Regional we had there. And what I suggested is that the term “gospel” rarely, if ever, means, “What must I believe to have eternal life? What must I believe to be saved? What must I do to have, to go to heaven, to be sure I’ll be in the kingdom?” But in the intervening time as I’ve been reflecting on it etcetera, I realized that we should go further than saying, “It’s rare that this term refers to the saving message.” I’m now of the opinion it never refers specifically to “What must I believe to have eternal life?”1
Wilkin now teaches that the gospel message of Christ’s substitutionary death for sin and bodily resurrection is not the message that the lost must believe for their regeneration, rather it is only the message that the saved must believe for their on-going sanctification and spiritual growth. On the basis of this new position on the “gospel,” some in the Free Grace community may feel that it would be more appropriate to drop the term “gospel” from the phrase “crossless gospel.” They might object that the designation “crossless gospel” no longer accurately defines Wilkin’s doctrine as he himself articulates it; and so to continue using it would unfairly mischaracterize Wilkin’s own position. However, there are several reasons why such deference to the crossless position is inadvisable.

First, the crossless doctrine on this point is still developing, and it is not certain whether a significant percentage of those in the crossless camp will follow Wilkin in this distinctive. Based on precedent, however, it is likely that the majority of crossless proponents will follow suit; but this remains to be seen. The current crossless position is hardly monolithic on this particular point of doctrine. Even Zane Hodges used the term “gospel” as a synonym for the “saving message”2 until recently. Just a few months prior to the publication of this book, Hodges wrote that requiring belief in Christ’s death and resurrection is not only “theological legalism,” it also subverts “the biblical gospel.”3 While Wilkin has openly changed positions on the meaning of the term “gospel,” Zane Hodges continued using it as a reference to the content of saving faith. To date, only one other proponent of the crossless view, Jeremy Myers, has publicly articulated the same position as Wilkin.4 It may be premature, therefore, to characterize the entire crossless position by the recent views of Wilkin and Myers on the term “gospel.”

Please continue to, The Language of Accommodation or Correction?

1) Bob Wilkin, “Gospel Means Good News” Grace Evangelical Society Southern California Regional Conference, August 24, 2007.
2) In the context of explaining the nature of belief in Christ for eternal life, Hodges said, “I am convinced that some committed grace people are still a little scared by the simplicity of believing in Christ. They are eager to avoid the charge that we teach mere intellectual assent. It is hard for people like this to agree that faith and salvation occur when the core message of the Gospel is simply accepted as true.” Zane C. Hodges, “The Spirit of the Antichrist: Decoupling Jesus from the Christ,” JOTGES 20 (Autumn 2007): 39 (italics added).
3) Hodges, “The Hyrda’s Other Head: Theological Legalism,” 3.
4) Jeremy D. Myers, “The Gospel is More Than ‘Faith Alone in Christ Alone’,” JOTGES 19 (Autumn 2006): 33-56.

Editor’s Note: The Crossless Gospel was originated by the late Zane Hodges. This is the most egregious form of reductionist heresy ever introduced to the New Testament church by one of its own. No one in Christian circles outside the membership and friends of the Grace Evangelical Society (Bob Wilkin, Executive Director) believes in and/or advocates this assault on the necessary content of saving faith. For related reading and discussion see these articles.

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

The “Christ” Under Siege

The “Christ” Under Siege: The New Assault From the Grace Evangelical Society

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

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