March 13, 2012

Archive Series: “Crossless” Gospel Advocates Have Gone Too Far

Dr. *J. B. Hixson’s new book, Getting the Gospel Wrong: The Evangelical Crisis No One Is Talking About contains an important section that address the Crossless gospel.

I trust the following notes from Dr. Hixson will make very clear to readers that the Grace Evangelical Society’s ReDefined” Free Grace reductionist theology is a radical departure from the biblical plan of salvation. Furthermore, this effectively erases any lingering notion that Hodges, Wilkin or GES speak for or represent the Free Grace community at large.


In recent years, some theologians have departed from the biblical view of the gospel by suggesting that one can believe in Jesus for eternal life without explicit knowledge that He died and rose again for one’s sins. For these theologians, knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection as a payment for one’s sins is optional as part of the content of saving faith.

The view that one can believe in Jesus for eternal life without knowing that He died and rose again has been variously termed the “crossless gospel,” the “promise-only gospel,” the “contentless gospel,” the “minimalist gospel,” and the “refined gospel.” This view is being propagated primarily by the Grace Evangelical Society and such notable theological scholars as Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin and John Niemela, to name a few. Their self-labeled view of the gospel is termed the “refined view,” indicating that the accepted view of the gospel throughout two thousand years of church history has been incorrect and that they have now provided a long-overdue corrective. Hodges refers to the traditional view of the gospel, as including the death and resurrection of Christ, as “flawed.” Cf. Zane C. Hodges, “How to Lead People to Christ, Pt.2,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 (Spring 2001): 9–18. Hodges elsewhere states, “The simple truth is that Jesus can be believed for eternal salvation apart from any detailed knowledge of what He did to provide it.” Ibid., p. 12. See also Zane C. Hodges, “How to Lead People to Christ, Pt.1,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): 3–12, emphasis added.

For Hodges and others who hold this view, the gospel is limited to: “Belief in Jesus Christ as the guarantee of eternal life.” Hodges writes, “People are not saved by believing that Jesus died on the cross; they are saved by believing in Jesus for eternal life, or eternal salvation.” Hodges, “How to Lead People to Christ, Pt.2,” 10. According to Hodges, details such as who Jesus is (i.e. the Son of God) and His work on the cross are not relevant to the precise content of saving faith. To be clear, proponents of this view believe Christ died and rose again; they just do not believe one has to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ to be saved.

The present writer applauds the quest for precision in the content of saving faith by those who hold this view; yet, in a tragic example of a theological method gone awry, they have gone too far. Their theological method manifests several errors such as [1] an unbalanced appeal to the priority of the Johannine Gospel (Consider Hodges’ statement, “All forms of the gospel that require greater content to faith in Christ than the Gospel of John requires are flawed.” Hodges, How To Lead a Person To Christ, Part 1, p. 8. And, “Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the Gospel of John teach that a person must understand the cross to be saved.” Ibid., p. 7.); [2] A failure to acknowledge and correctly handle the progress of revelation in Scripture; [3] A failure to acknowledge the changing content of saving faith within each dispensation (In support of their position that saving faith today does not require knowledge of Christ’s work on the cross, adherents of this view often will appeal to the fact that Abraham and other OT saints did not believe in the death/resurrection of Christ. Such an argument evidences a departure from the foundational dispensational understanding regarding the changing content of saving faith. It is self-evident that OT saints did not believe explicitly in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, since the events of Calvary had not occurred yet. But it does not follow from this observation that someone today could be saved without knowledge of Christ’s work on the cross. See note twenty-eight below.); [4] An improper theological synthesis when comparing Scripture with Scripture; and [5] The tendency to read a presupposed theological conclusion into a given passage, thus obscuring the plain, normal sense of the passage.

Sadly, in their commendable effort to eliminate any elements of works or human effort from the gospel, they have stripped it of key salvific components. One proponent of this view stated that it is possible for a person to get saved in the present age by believing in Jesus, and then die and go to heaven, whereupon he is surprised to learn that the Jesus who saved him also died and rose again for his sins. (Bob Wilkin, Question & Answer time during Wilkin’s presentation at the 2007 Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Diego, CA, entitled, “Our Evangelism Should Be Exegetically Sound,” November 15, 2007.) According to Wilkin, as long as one believes that Jesus guarantees him eternal life, he can be saved, even if he does not know that Jesus is the Son of God and even if he knows nothing about Jesus’ work on the cross.

Yet, several New Testament passages indicate that explicit knowledge of Jesus’ death and resurrection is necessary for eternal salvation. A detailed critique of the so-called “crossless gospel” is beyond the scope of this present work, but a couple of passages are worth noting here. In 1 Corinthians 1:17–18 Paul references the gospel he preached and refers to the “cross of Christ” and the “message of the cross.” Three verses later in 1:21, he states that one is saved by believing the message he preached. Two verses after that, he affirms once again the content of his message, which, when believed, results in salvation. He states, “we preach Christ crucified…” (1:23). This passage inseparably links the work of Christ on the cross to the content of saving faith. Later in 1 Corinthians 15, in a passage previously discussed in this present work, Paul states that one is saved by believing the gospel, which he then defines as including the death and resurrection of Christ. Galatians 1:8–9 also is instructive here. In Galatians 1:8–9, Paul states plainly that any gospel other than the one he had preached to the Galatians during his visit to them is a false gospel. Scripture provides a record of the precise gospel that Paul preached to the Galatians during his first missionary journey. That record is contained in Acts 13. There, one finds that the gospel Paul preached included quite naturally the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Acts 13:28–30; 38–39). When synthesizing Galatians 1 with Acts 13, the conclusion can only be that any gospel that omits the death and resurrection of Christ is a false gospel. Many additional passages could be cited that affirm the centrality of the cross in the gospel message, but these should suffice to render the view discussed above as warrantless and unbiblical.

For a detailed treatment of this erroneous view of the content of saving faith, see Tom Stegall’s 5-part series in The Grace Family Journal. Tom Stegall, “The Tragedy of the Crossless Gospel, Parts 1–5,” The Grace Family Journal (2007).

See also Gregory P. Sapaugh, “A Response to Hodges: How to Lead People to Christ, Parts 1 and 2,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 (August 2001): 21–29.

Reprinted by Permission (Originally posted June 16, 2008 with minor formatting changes for presentation at this blog)

Please continue at Preface to Getting the Gospel Wrong.

*J. B. Hixson is the former Executive Director of the Free Grace Alliance. He also teaches Theology at Grace School of Theology in The Woodlands, TX and Free Grace Seminary in Atlanta, GA. He earned his B.A. from Houston Baptist University, Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. from Baptist Bible Seminary. He has pastored churches in Texas and Illinois.

Getting the Gospel Wrong is available through Amzon. Or You can order through Dr. Hixson’s website: Not-by-Works.


  1. All of this reminds me that Acts 8:37 is important after all. (Along with the myriad of verses) The modern versions do tie into this issue. I know some want to ignore this within the debate, but it is important.

  2. The Crossless gospel advocates insist that a lost man does not have to know, understand or believe in whom Jesus is (His deity) or in what He did to provide salvation. This is the most egregious form of reductionist heresy ever introduced to the NT church by one of its own.

    You find the teachers of this heresy almost exclusively in the Grace Evangelical Society, which thankfully is become a greatly reduced cell of theological extremists.

    The originator of the Crossless gospel was Zane Hodges. Its best known advocates in the GES today are Bob Wilkin, John Niemela, Rene Lopez, Steven Lewis, Jody Dillow.


  3. Lou,
    Do you know when Zane Hodges started advocating this "crossless" position? I know he was a professor at Dallas Seminary, but I don't recall much of this in discussions on campus.
    PS. Tell your sons thank you for their service, and Semper Fi!

  4. Roger:

    I am just headed into church, so this will be brief. Most agree that the time Hodges actually began advocating his Crossless, Deityless, Resurrectionless gospel was with Deserted Island (scenario) two part paper, "How to Lead People to Christ." I don't recall the publication date.

    When in his own mind he adopted this heresy as his own belief no one I am aware knows for sure. It certainly predates the paper.

    I will extend your greeting to my sons. One of them, our Navy "nuke, " is on leave with us this week.

    Kind regards,


  5. To All:

    I am writing to correct an error in my thread comment above. I am in error stating that Jody Dillow is an advocate of the GES Crossless Gospel.

    I have come to learn that Brother Dillow rejects the CG, has expressed his disagreement directly to Bob Wilkin and at the GES conference.

    Jody has informed me that he appreciates the book by J. B. Hixson, and has complimented him for it. He has also read and agrees with much of Tom Stegall's book, "The Gospel of the Christian."

    My apology to Jody Dillow.