Friday, April 29, 2011

Face It, It's Empty - by Charles Ryrie

Tombs, graves, mausoleums, urns, ashes.

All are vivid reminders of something we do not like to think about. Something that angers us when someone’s life is cut short. Something that saddens us when someone we love dies. Something that makes us grieve, sometimes for years and years. We even avoid saying the word “died” and substitute “passed away” or “passed on.” Yet we visit the grave or tomb and place flowers there on Memorial Day.

Suppose on one of those visits, we found a hole in the ground where the grave was, and no casket. Where is the body? Could grave robbers have been at work? Was there some legitimate reason to exhume the body? What gives?

But an empty hole still leaves us wondering what happened to the body. Was it still in the casket wherever it was, or was the casket empty?

That’s what happened on Easter. The loved one (Jesus) was put in a tomb. A large stone (not like a rock, but like a solid upright wheel) was rolled in front of the entrance. No one person could have rolled that stone away by himself or herself. But there it was—a hole in the wall of a tomb, and inside no body, only the wrappings used to prepare the body for burial. Face it—it’s empty.

No explanation, except one, makes any sense at all.

Well, some say, the whole story was made up. It’s a myth. How do you know? You weren’t there. But a number of people, men and women, were there and said it was true. Not only was there no body in the tomb, but many saw and recognized Jesus walking along a road with two others, inside a room twice, outside by a lake cooking breakfast, and outside on a hill. He also appeared to his half-brother, James, who was not a believer until this moment, and he appeared to over five hundred people. A myth? Face it—that’s not even a good try.

An illusion? Impossible that so many different people under so many different circumstances and at so many different times could have come up with the same illusion. Face it—that’s the myth.

Maybe there were grave robbers in Jesus’ time. If so, they certainly had to be experts. They had to get past the soldiers guarding the tomb. They had to roll the heavy stone away. They had to dispose of the body some way. Face it—not too likely.

The soldiers were asleep, they said, so somebody actually did sneak in and steal the body. But that story was concocted by the religious authorities who bribed the soldiers to say that’s what happened even though they knew full well it was not true. Face it—even in the first century people could be bought to lie. Some say that his spirit lives on, and that’s what counts—not whether his body was raised. But what kind of spirit would that be? An untrue spirit if he didn’t rise from the dead. Jesus several times predicted that he would die and be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:28). Not only an untrue spirit but an inoperative one. Yes, memories can sometimes motivate us, but memories cannot do tangible things, and memories eventually fade. My grandfather, long gone, used to give me $25 each semester when I left home to return to college. I still admire him, but I don’t get any more money from him. Face it—the Easter spirit does not guarantee much. The Easter person can and does.

If Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, he could not send the Holy Spirit, he does not now pray for us, he cannot give gifts and help, he cannot empty the tombs and graves in which we will be placed, and our faith is in a false gospel (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). Face it—without a resurrected Christ, our present is without his help, and our future is bleak.

Kids have great fun playing cops and robbers. Fun, that is, until they hear a noise they did not make and cannot explain. Maybe there is a real robber in the bushes. Time to quit playing and get real. People play religion, creating their own god and choosing what appeals to them to believe. But suppose the biblical report is true and the tomb is empty. It’s time to get real. He did rise from the dead and he is alive today. I can ignore him, reject him, or believe him, but ultimately I cannot escape him. And there is no better time to begin a person-to-person relationship with him than now. Easter celebrates his actual, factual, historical resurrection from the dead. His death three days before paid the penalty for all our sins. Alive he now forgives all who will receive him through faith. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).

Face it—it’s empty. And because it is, you can come to a living Christ and have forgiveness of sins and possession of eternal life.

Face It, It's Empty copyright © 2007 by Good News Publishers. Used by permission. For more information, visit www.goodnewstracts.org.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Grave Robber


"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory 
through our Lord Jesus Christ."

~ 1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV ~

Monday, April 25, 2011

Andy Stanley is "Big" on the Gospel

What is the essence of the gospel? What's the take away? What's the bottom line? What's the irreducible minimum?

Andy Stanley, senior pastor of Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta, Georgia, discusses these and other questions in his dynamic message "Big Church, Part 4: Big Audience". Notice what he says:

"The apostle Paul was a very educated, probably wealthy man. Because he was a Roman citizen he had access to things that even some of his brothers in Jerusalem did not have access to. He had access to education they didn't have access to. And because of his brilliance he was able for our benefit to extrapolate from Christian Judaism what needed to be transferred to the Gentile world. In fact, he continually got into trouble, as we'll see next week, with the Jews in Jerusalem because he had a Gentile version of Christianity. But the thing that God raised him up to do was to help those of us who don't have an Old Testament background, who weren't looking for a Messiah, for the people in his day that weren't looking for a Messiah, to understand: What is the essence of the gospel? What is the essence of this message? What is - what's the take away? What's the bottom line? What's the irreducible minimum? And over and over and over the apostle Paul would go into Gentile regions - especially in Athens and Ephesus - and say: 'Even if you're not Jewish, even if you never understand the Old Testament, here's the thing you have to understand. Here's the new thing that God has done in our midst.'

In the book of 1 Corinthians [Paul] gives us the synopsis of this message, the take away for all of us who are Gentiles, who are non-Jewish people, who don't have an Old Testament background, who weren't raised to be on the lookout for a Messiah, and in this passage he defines as clear as anywhere in the Scripture exactly what the gospel is, exactly what the message is that had to be transferred from generation to generation. Here's how he describes it in 1 Corinthians. This is a letter that he wrote during that time when he was traveling around the world to the ekklesia, the gathering, the church, in Corinth. Here's what he says to them: 

'Now brothers and sisters, I want to remind you' [1 Cor. 15:1a, TNIV] - because he's already been there, now he's writing to them - 'I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you' [1 Cor. 15:1a, TNIV] - so now he's about to define for us what is the gospel - 'which you received and on which you have taken your stand' [1 Cor. 15:1b, TNIV] - and now he gives it to us in no uncertain terms, skipping over to verse 3, 'for what I received' [1 Cor. 15:3a, TNIV] - and that is, received from God and received from the disciples, the apostles, and received during all that time of preparation for his ministry, 'for what I received I passed on to you as of first importance' [1 Cor. 15:3a, TNIV] - so here is the most important thing, if you forget everything else, if you lose sight of everything else, if you don't understand anything else, here's what is of first importance: 'that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried' [1 Cor. 15:3b-4a, TNIV] - that's how we know He died, that's what you do to a real dead person, you bury them, okay, this is important: 'and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas' [1 Cor. 15:4-5a, TNIV] - and who's Cephas? Anybody know? Peter, that's right - 'to Cephas/Peter and then to the twelve' [1 Cor. 15:5b, TNIV] - the twelve disciples. 'After that He appeared to more than 500 of the brothers and sisters at the same time' [1 Cor. 15:6a, TNIV] - you didn't know that, did you? That Peter, that Paul rather, realized and discovered in talking to all the people in Jerusalem that there were points after Jesus' resurrection - He didn't appear just to one here and two there and three there that thought they had some kind of, you know, mysterious vision of a resurrected Jesus. [Paul] said: 'No, you need to understand, you Corinthians, there was a time when the resurrected Jesus appeared to more than 500 people at the same time!' And then listen to this next part: 'most of whom are still living' [1 Cor. 15:6b, TNIV]. Now this little piece of document [i.e. the book of 1 Corinthians] was written probably in the early 50's A.D. or 55 [A.D.], about 20 or 20 something years after the events. And [Paul] says to the Christians in Corinth: 'Look, this resurrection - I know that's hard to believe, it's hard to get your arms around that, it's hard to embrace that fact that somebody would rise from the dead, but you need to know that there were over 500 people at one time who saw the resurrected Jesus, and if you want to get yourself a boat ticket and go to Jerusalem, you can find most of those people, they are still alive and walking around today' - 'though some have fallen asleep' [1 Cor. 15:6b, TNIV] - some of them have died in the ensuing years. 'And then He appeared to James' [1 Cor. 15:7a, TNIV] the brother of Jesus, 'and then to all the apostles' [1 Cor. 15:7b, TNIV]. And then listen to Paul now as he brings it back to his personal ministry: 'and last of all He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born, for I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle' [1 Cor. 15:8-9a, TNIV] - now Paul why would you say that? You spent, you know, 10 or 12 years of your life traveling around in a dangerous part of the world proclaiming the message of the Messiah, that the Messiah has come - 'because I persecuted the church of God' [1 Cor. 15:9a, TNIV]. There's our word again. 'I persecuted the gathering, the ekklesia, the movement of God. I persecuted it. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not without effect' [1 Cor. 15:9b-10a, TNIV]. Isn't that powerful? He says to the Corinthians: 'I don't know why God chose me to bring this message to you. I don't know why of all the people that should have been chosen to make a difference, to plant these ekklesias, these gatherings - I am the least of everyone that God could have chosen, but He chose me and He chose me by His grace!' And that was central in the message of the apostle Paul.

And so he brings to us in no uncertain terms, those of us who don't have an Old Testament background, those of us who weren't raised to look for a Messiah, those of us who weren't well versed with the Scripture, he brings to us the bottom line - the thing you can't ignore. And here's what it is; it's four simple statements: 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'. That's it. 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'. Let's just say it together, say it with me. Ready? 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'. Again: 'Christ died for our sins', 'He was buried', 'He was raised', 'He appeared'.

Here's what [Paul] was saying; he was saying: 'Look, I know, you know it was seven literal days of creation and what happened to the dinosaurs - don't worry about that. Here's what you need to know: Christ died for your sins, He was buried, He was raised, He appeared.' [Someone might object:] 'I know, but all the - I was reading like in Revelation and there was like all these horses and fire and the world comes to an end...' It's like [Paul's] going: 'Okay, we'll get to that. Here's what you need to know: Christ died for your sin, and He was buried - that's how we know He really died, and He was raised, and He appeared, and the way we know that He really rose from the dead is because He appeared. He died on the cross for your sins, and He was buried, and He was raised, and He appeared.' And yeah you got a lot of questions. And yeah you have never read the whole Old Testament. And yeah you can't really put together the way that the - all the different accounts of the resurrection, and there's lots of questions and you don't understand certain verses of the Bible and some of it's so complicated, and you think you have to go to seminary, and sometimes, you know, everybody else is to where they need to be in the Bible and you haven't even found your Bible yet, and there's just so much information - and the apostle Paul says: 'Okay, okay, okay, okay, let me just, here's the thing you got to know; here's the irreducible minimum, here's the part you just can't ever lose sight of: Christ died for your sins, and He was buried; He was raised from the dead, and He was seen' - and that's the gospel; that's the starting point. That's not the point you get to after you get all your questions answered. That's the thing you wrestle with. If you want to wrestle with whether or not Christianity is true, don't look at the Christians who disappointed you; don't attend a church that puts you to sleep; don't worry about the fact that your parents brought you up to be a Christian and then got divorced and your Dad ran off with somebody else. [Paul] says: 'Look, all that stuff is a distraction. If you're going to wrestle with Christianity; if you're gonna wrestle with the truth of the gospel - wrestle with this one thing: Did Christ die for your sins? And was He buried? And was He raised from the dead? And was He seen? That's it. That's the starting point. That's the stopping point. That's the gospel. That's the foundation. That's what it's all about.' And the message [Paul] took from Jerusalem after he disseminated through all the different stories, and all the things that he learned about Jesus, and of his Old Testament background, and all that he had been brought up to believe as a little Jewish boy - he would say to the believers in Corinth and Ephesus and all over that world, 'Here's what you need to know: Christ was sent into this world to die for your sins; He rose from the dead; He has been seen - He appeared.'

So you know what the challenge is for you and for me? Is to ask the question: Have you ever embraced that personally? You see, most of us as children, many of us as children, we - somebody sat us down, our parents sat us down, and they explained it to us, we don't know what they explained but at the moment in your life, at the moment in your life that you finally got it: Christ died for my sins and He rose from the dead - at that moment you entered into a faith relationship with your heavenly Father. For some of you it was at a camp, for some of you it was after a church service, for some of you it was at an FCA gathering or a Young Life gathering, for some of you it was at a church gathering, for some of you it was in a home, for some of you it was watching someone on television or online, for some of you it might have been at a Billy Graham crusade, but at some point the thing we all have in common is it dawned on us - not that we understood the whole Bible, not that we could work through all the discrepancies in the Gospel accounts - but it dawned on us: Jesus died for my sin, and He was buried - He was really dead, and He rose from the dead, and He was really alive, because somebody saw Him. Paul says over 500 people at one time, and if you don't believe me he would say: 'Go to Jerusalem, they are still there walking in the streets today.' That's what brings us together. That's the unifying theme. That's what we have in common with Christians all over this city, all over this country, all over the world: that Christ is the Son of God - the living Son of God, who died for our sins, was buried, rose from the dead, and was seen. 

So here's my question for you as we wrap this up: Has there ever been that time in your life, that 'ah ha' moment for you when you said: 'I see this, I believe it, and I embrace it'? Have you ever expressed to your heavenly Father: 'Thank you, that Christ died for my sin, He was buried, He rose from the dead, He lives today and I want to embrace Him as my personal Savior.' Has there ever been that moment for you? I know you have questions that are so sophisticated I will never be able to answer them for you satisfactorily - in a satisfactory way. But the real issue is: What have you done with the gospel that Christ died for your sin and rose from the dead? If there has never been a moment in your life where you have embraced that personally I want to give you that time, I want to give you that moment today. And today is the perfect day because you're in the gathering. This is part of the movement. This is the message that brings us together. And if during this message there was something that clicked and it dawned on you that somehow all the other questions kind of, you know, filtered away and there was just this one big thing in front of you and you think: 'You know what? I think I believe that!' Then perhaps this is the day for you to embrace this message and to join the ekklesia - the church - the movement of God."1


ENDNOTES:

1 Andy Stanley, "Big Church, Part 4: Big Audience," January 30, 2011, http://northpoint.org/messages/big-church/part-4 [27:28 minutes - 38:41 minutes]. For additional information see the Free Grace Free Speech "What is the Gospel?" page.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Overlooked Fact of the Gospel

Easter is a time when we rightly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But in our rush towards the resurrection, let's not bypass the burial.

In his sermon "The Overlooked Fact of the Gospel," Bill McFarland reminds us of the importance of Christ's burial in the gospel story. He writes:

"Notice that the burial of Jesus is an important event, an important fact of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus predicted his suffering, just as he prepared his disciples to know that he was going to be raised up again on the third day, he also predicted his burial...

The letters of the New Testament, even the preaching in the book of Acts, also emphasize the place of the burial in the gospel story...

And then notice that all four of the gospel accounts have paragraphs in them that describe the event of the burial. There are not very many episodes in Jesus' life which are described by all four of these gospel accounts."

Please click on the link above to read the full article.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

In Defense of the Gospel, Part 2

Continued from "In Defense of the Gospel, Part 1".


Question: "Does your view of the gospel have any historical credibility?"

Answer: This question was originally an objection rather than a question. Last year a no-burial gospel advocate wrote to me and one of the things he said was (to paraphrase): "Your view of the gospel has no historical credibility or tradition."1 At the time I simply replied by saying that if the apostle Paul and the early church held to it (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-11; 2 Thess. 2:14-15), that's enough historical credibility for me!

I had all but forgotten about this objection until recently when I happened upon the book Walvoord: A Tribute.2 The book is a compilation of articles written by faculty members of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) as a Festschrift to John Walvoord to commemorate his 30th anniversary as the Seminary's second president. A statement in the book caught my attention. Notice the following analysis by Dr. John W. Reed (currently the Senior Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Ministries and Director Emeritus of the D. Min. Program at DTS) in his chapter titled "The Pastor as a Theologian". Dr. Reed writes:

"Throughout the history of the church the biblical definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 has been the accepted view." 3

Some groundless gospel advocates (a.k.a. those who teach "the burial isn't really part of the gospel") might try to blunt this statement by arguing that they too believe the gospel is "in" 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.4 But if the gospel concludes at 1 Corinthians 15:4a with the words "and that He was raised..." (as groundless gospel advocates suppose), why does Reed include verse 5? Reed includes verse 5 in the definition of the gospel precisely because it is part of the gospel. This is why a few pages later he goes on to say: "The biblical gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:1-5".5

Groundless gospel advocates want us to believe that their view has been the accepted view throughout the history of the church. But Dr. Reed tells us otherwise. Down through the centuries, orthodox Christianity has affirmed Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances in the biblical gospel (see 1 Cor. 15:1-5). Throughout the history of the church this has been the accepted view.

Continue on to "In Defense of the Gospel, Part 3".


ENDNOTES:

1 For a list of other groundless objections see "Beware of the Wolves Within Free Grace".

2 Donald K. Campbell, Editor, Walvoord: A Tribute (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982).

3 John W. Reed, Ibid., p. 274, italics added; cf. Scot Mcknight, "The Gospel and Orthodoxy". In reference to his statement above, Reed immediately goes on to say: "That definition [i.e. 1 Cor. 15:1-5] focuses on the death and resurrection of Christ". (John W. Reed, Donald K. Campbell, Ed., Walvoord: A Tribute, p. 274.) Do you see the biblical balance here? The gospel emphasizes Christ's death and resurrection without excluding His burial and appearances. This is a key insight. Dean Henry Alford affirms:  "I declare...the (whole) Gospel: not merely the Death and Resurrection of Christ, which were en protois [priority] parts of it". (Alford, The Greek Testament, 4 Vols., Vol. 2, p. 602, bold his, ellipsis added; cf. Alford, The New Testament for English Readers, 2 Vols., Vol. 2, p. 229.)
     For further discussion see the following articles: "The Burial of Christ," "First Among Equals in First Corinthians 15," and "Getting the Gospel Right" (particularly pages 16 and 24 in the PDF document).

4 For example, a few years ago one groundless gospel advocate named knetknight (a.k.a. Stephen Stark) started a forum discussion on 1 Corinthians 15 under the heading "I don't get it!" Mr. Stark began the discussion by saying: "I'm one who believes that 'the gospel' of salvation is presented by Paul in 1 Cor. 15:1-5. I've long held the view that what must be believed here is Jesus' death for our sins, and his resurrection, since those two statement [sic] are singled out with 'according to the scriptures'". (Stephen Stark, "1 Corinthians 15:1 et al," StudyLight Forums, bold added, comment posted on October 16, 2008, 2:37pm.) This is the classic groundless gospel position. They say that the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 only contains "certain elements of" the gospel that the reader must decipher using the "amazing triangular testimony" and "virtual mirror reflections" of Stegall's new triangle - although other decryption devices are allowed. (Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, pp. 19, 286, 529; cf. "The Strange Beliefs of Stegall's System".) Groundless gospel advocates like Mr. Stark and Mr. Stegall teach that the gospel elements one must decipher are Christ's death for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3a) and His resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:4a) but none of the other elements mentioned in the passage - not His burial (1 Cor. 15:4a), not the third day (1 Cor. 15:4b), not His appearances (1 Cor. 15:5), and not even those parts about 'according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3b, 4b)! These other elements are considered to be something like "excess baggage" (Zane Hodges, "How To Lead People To Christ, Part 2: Our Invitation To Respond," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 [Spring 2001]: p. 17.) in evangelism and are not considered part of the gospel according to groundless gospel advocates.

5 John W. Reed, Donald K. Campbell, Editor, Walvoord: A Tribute, p. 279.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ryrie Got the Gospel Right

     In the article "The Full Gospel and Nothing More," Michael Svigel (now the director of the Creative Ministries department of Insight for Living and Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary) shares how Dr. Ryrie would open his class on soteriology - by getting the gospel right! 
     Svigel writes: "In Bible college I sat under Dr. Charles Ryrie for a course in soteriology - the doctrine of salvation. He opened the first lecture with this instruction: 'Take out a piece of paper. You have less than one minute to share the gospel with a stranger, or he'll be lost for eternity. Write down what that person needs to believe to be saved. Start now!'"
    By the way, what would you write down on a piece of paper if you were asked that same question? I would write down what the Bible says the gospel is in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.

Click on the link above to read the rest of this insightful article.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beware of the Wolves Within Free Grace

A dangerous new attack on the gospel has begun. There are Free Grace people in our midst who are tearing apart the gospel of salvation. The apostle Paul predicted it when he wrote: "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears" (Acts 20:29-31). Who are these attackers and what are they saying? As Fred Chay has written in the recent Free Grace Alliance (FGA) newsletter, "it is imperative that we be aware so that we can beware of such goings on."1

A Voice from the Past

Let me begin by reviewing the glorious gospel of salvation that some among us are attacking. And don't just take my word on the gospel. I think one of the past presidents of Dallas Theological Seminary will be a bit more persuasive than me in this regard - even if we are saying the same thing. Have I got your attention yet? I truly hope so. In The Theological Wordbook, co-authored by "four Dallas Theological Seminary stalwarts and theological statesmen - Donald K. Campbell, Wendell G. Johnston, John F. Walvoord, and John A. Witmer"2 and subtitled "What the Bible Teaches on 200 Theological Terms and Their Relevance for Today," Donald Campbell (the third president of Dallas Theological Seminary)3 writes the following in his discussion of the term "Gospel":

"The gospel message is simply that 'Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve' (1 Cor. 15:3-5). Paul said this was the gospel he preached to the Corinthians and it was the message by which they received salvation."4

That's pretty simple isn't it? Notice that Campbell doesn't try to remove the burial, the appearances, the third day, or those parts about "the Scriptures" from the gospel. He doesn't try to reduce it and he doesn't try to redefine it. Instead, he just repeats it. He lets the Bible speak and leaves it at that. His attitude is: "Paul said it, I believe it, and that settles it!"5

A Fierce New Attack

But in contrast to Donald Campbell, a few Free Grace people have a problem with Paul's gospel and are actively speaking out against it. Allow me to be more specific. I am going to cite some chilling examples of how groundless gospel advocates (those who teach that the burial of Christ is not really part of the gospel) are attacking not only the gospel of salvation but also those who stand on its truth (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-2; 2 Thess. 2:14-15).

WOLF ATTACK #1: In his book The Gospel of the Christ, Tom Stegall (the main proponent of the groundless gospel) not only mischaracterizes adherents to the biblical gospel as a small group of extremists, but he also declares them to be downright wrong. Notice what he says: "There are a few extreme Free Grace advocates who, in their overreaction to the crossless gospel, have concluded wrongly that Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances to Peter and the twelve (1 Cor. 15:5) are also required content for saving faith."6 (I find it incredibly ironic that Stegall would label any Free Grace advocates "extreme" considering he's the one who has used a pagan symbol to redefine the gospel!)7 With this statement Stegall attacks not only the gospel but also the conclusions of at least8 "four Dallas Theological Seminary stalwarts and theological statesmen" including Donald Campbell, the seminary's third president.

WOLF ATTACK #2: Groundless gospel advocates Stephen and Rachel Stark make similar statements on their blog "The Land of Reason". For example, Stephen writes: "JP has NO solid basis for his unique view whatsoever...JP maintains that the lost are required to believe in Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and appearances (1 Cor. 15) in order to be saved. I disagree on the burial and appearances aspects."9 Stephen's claim that I have "NO solid basis...whatsoever" for my beliefs is countered by the fact that even he cites the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 as the basis for my beliefs! Apparently, Mr. Stark does not think that 1 Corinthians 15 provides a solid basis for the gospel. Tragically, this does indeed seem to be the groundless gospel position.10 Furthermore, notice how Stephen goes on to mischaracterize my position as "unique". Yet I think he would have to admit that when a view has been held by the leadership of Dallas Theological Seminary it is hardly "unique".

WOLF ATTACK #3: Rachel derides my position in the Free Grace gospel debate as crazy and unorthodox saying: "JP, newsflash: Your view is fringe, so fringe in fact that you're the ONLY ONE who holds it!"11 She goes on to label it a "unique, novel, and incorrect view of the gospel".12 With these remarks Rachel is not only highlighting her disavowal of the biblical gospel (i.e. she does not hold to it as the apostle Paul instructs in 1 Cor. 15:1-2 and 2 Thess. 2:14-15), but also her ignorance of the voices in the Free Grace gospel debate (as well as the voices in the evangelical community at large) - for numerous scholars do in fact hold to the same view of the gospel as myself (e.g. Donald Campbell, et al. - "each one a skilled Bible expositor and theologian" as Roy B. Zuck affirms).13 Groundless gospel advocates would have us believe that Free Grace theology has always affirmed the so-called savior of the groundless gospel - but this is hardly the case! In all my study of Free Grace theology I have not found any Free Grace theologians before Dennis Rokser and Tom Stegall who have denied that Christ's burial and appearances are part of the content of the gospel of salvation.14 (Even Earl Radmacher affirms that the content of the gospel includes Christ's burial and resurrection appearances as stated in 1 Cor. 15:3-5.)15 I challenge groundless gospel advocates to cite even one example. At the risk of mixing metaphors let me say that the groundless gospel is "the new kid on the block" who is trying to bully his way around. In other words, groundless gospel advocates are the wolves we have to watch out for.

WOLF ATTACK #4: An outspoken member of Stegall's congregation has repeatedly accused me of heresy. On more than one occasion Vince Cullen (also known online as "MC") has told me that I hold to "a false gospel"16 and "heresy".17 Yet when I asked him what I've said that the apostle Paul didn't say, Mr. Cullen could only murmur: "I don't want to talk about it anymore."

WOLF ATTACK #5: More recently another Stegall supporter wrote to me and said: "As lovingly as I can say this, your exegesis on 1 Cor. 15 is deplorable. It is sloppy which has led you to sloppy theology. Simply put, your teaching on the gospel is not only false but also heresy."18

WOLF ATTACK #6: The last time I talked to my Dad he was attending a pro-groundless church called Duluth Bible Church (pastored by none other than groundless gospel advocate Dennis Rokser - a strong Stegall supporter).19 In the conversation with my Dad he said to me: "Your gospel is not the same as our church's gospel."20 Wait a minute - "our church's gospel"? That's quite a fallible standard isn't it? Unfortunately, a person's church will oftentimes come to have more authority in their life than the Word of God. By way of contrast, from the time that I first got involved in the Free Grace gospel debate I determined in my heart and was convinced that the biblical gospel was true no matter what anyone else or any church said about it (Rom. 3:4)! It's telling that my Dad didn't say, "Your gospel is not the same as the biblical gospel." (He couldn't say this because my gospel is the same as the biblical gospel. Instead  of making the Bible the standard he made his church the standard and said: "Your gospel [i.e. 1 Cor. 15:3-5] is not the same as our church's gospel.") Notice that my Dad just admitted that his church's groundless gospel is a different gospel than the biblical gospel (2 Cor. 11:4, ESV; Gal. 1:6-10; cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-5)!

These are tragic examples of how groundless gospel advocates are speaking out against the biblical gospel and those who hold to it.21

Free Grace movement: Watch out for the wolves within!


ENDNOTES:

1 Fred Chay, Free Grace Alliance newsletter (April 2011), http://www.freegracealliance.com/pdf/FGA%20April_2011Newsletter.pdf (accessed April 10, 2011), bold his; cf. Col. 2:8, KJV.

2 Charles R. Swindoll, General Editor, Don Campbell, Wendell Johnston, John Walvoord, John Witmer, The Theological Wordbook [Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000], "Foreword," p. xi.

3 Donald K. Campbell is currently president emeritus of Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and professor emeritus of Bible Exposition. He has served over 50 years at DTS. In addition, he has served on the boards of numerous evangelical ministries, schools, mission agencies; has written a number of books and contributed to numerous articles and book reviews in theological journals, especially Bibliotheca Sacra.

4 Donald K. Campbell ("DKC"), The Theological Wordbook, p. 142. For more information on Donald Campbell see "Celebrating 80 Years: Highlights from the History of Dallas Theological Seminary, 1924-2004" and scroll down to where it says "Third President". (Notice the picture of John Walvoord placing his hand on the head of a kneeling Donald Campbell during the inauguration ceremony.)

5 In light of the fact that the apostle Paul received his gospel directly from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12), one could also say: "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!"

6 Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 375, bold added. In his book Stegall makes it a habit of shredding the biblical gospel. Following are a few more examples. He writes: "the burial and post-resurrection appearances of Christ are not technically part of the gospel, and therefore not part of the required content of saving faith" (Ibid., p. 578); "the cross and resurrection are elements of the gospel in distinction to the burial and appearances" (Ibid., p. 579); "The interpretation that views the four clauses in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 as...all being necessary components of the gospel, is at odds with the entire pattern of the New Testament." (Ibid., p. 588); "the Lord's burial and appearances are not the required content of saving faith...they are not technically part of the gospel" (Ibid., p. 589).
     For a discussion of Stegall's shift away from biblical orthodoxy and how he got the gospel changed at his church, see the Free Grace Free Speech article "Getting the Gospel Right" endnote 83 (pp. 33-34 in the PDF file).

7 See the article "The Strange Beliefs of Stegall's System".

8 Notice the emphasis: "Stegall attacks...the conclusions of at least...four Dallas Theological Seminary stalwarts" (italics added). Among evangelical theologians I have not found anyone who would disagree with Campbell's statement except for a small handful of groundless gospel advocates led by Dennis Rokser and Tom Stegall.
     For further discussion see the following Free Grace Free Speech articles: "Getting the Gospel Right," "The First Things of the Gospel," and "Three Views on the Gospel of Grace".

9 Stephen Stark, comment under the post "Beheading Hodges Hydra - Part 3 of 3," http://thelandofreason.blogspot.com/2008/10/beheading-hodges-hydra-part-3-of-3.html (accessed April 10, 2011), caps his, bold added.

10 For further discussion see the following Free Grace Free Speech articles: "Getting the Gospel Right" (pp. 2-3 in the PDF file), and "The Strange Beliefs of Stegall's System".

11 Rachel Stark, comment under the post "Beheading Hodges Hydra - Part 3 of 3," http://thelandofreason.blogspot.com/2008/10/beheading-hodges-hydra-part-3-of-3.html (accessed April 10, 2011), caps and bold hers. Note: In Rachel's original comment her entire sentence is in bold print.

12 Ibid, italics hers, bold added.

13 Roy B. Zuck, Managing Editor, Don Campbell, Wendell Johnston, John Walvoord, John Witmer, The Theological Wordbook, "Preface," p. xiii. The full statement by Zuck is as follows: "These men, each one a skilled Bible expositor and theologian, are retired faculty members of Dallas Theological Seminary." (Ibid.)
     For further discussion see the following Free Grace Free Speech articles: "Getting the Gospel Right," and "The First Things of the Gospel".

14 Keep in mind the difference between when a truth is denied as not part of the gospel and when a truth is implied as part of the gospel. Also keep in mind that when a truth is not denied it's implied.

15 Radmacher writes: "What was the content of the good news that especially Paul was commissioned to present? He stated this clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 3-5: 'Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel [euangelion]...that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.'" (Earl Radmacher, Salvation, 116, italics, brackets, and ellipsis his.) Elsewhere Radmacher writes: "Hodges puts it simply: 'What faith really is in biblical language, is receiving the testimony of God. It is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true. That - and that alone - is saving faith.' This is the faith that saves from eternal destruction because it has the gospel as its object (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21; 15:1-5). It would be even more consistent to talk about faith in the saving gospel rather than about saving faith." (Earl Radmacher, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 33, "First Response To 'Faith According To The Apostle James' By John F. MacArthur, Jr." [March 1990]: pp. 38-39, italics his.)

16 Vince Cullen, bold added. As a member of Stegall's congregation, Vince was one of the initial casualties of the groundless gospel. Not surprisingly, Mr. Cullen wants us to believe that he has always affirmed the groundless gospel. In a comment on Stephen and Rachel's blog "The Land of Reason," Cullen says: "I have been saved by faith in the death and resurrection of Christ for the forgiveness of my sins for 30 years according to ROM 4:25 'He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.' I have [recently] even went through my Bible and wrote '2 key points' next to every verse I could find that only lists the death and resurrection. In fact the "Gospel" as JP would like to define it seems to be lacking is [sic] its entirety throughout the New Testament." ("MC," comment under the post "Clearing the Haze of Always," http://thelandofreason.blogspot.com/2008/10/clearing-haze-of-always.html, bold added.) Now compare this statement by Cullen with another statement he made back in 2001. Ten years ago Cullen self-published a booklet he had written called Kingdom Rewards. In the "INTRODUCTION" Cullen writes: "The topic of this booklet is controversial among the realm of true born-again believers, yet it is not an issue that determines in anyway the outcome of the soul in regard to eternal salvation. The author of this booklet believes that salvation (the total forgiveness of all sins) is absolutely a free gift (Rom. 6:23), bought and paid for entirely by the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 1 Peter 2:24)" (Vince M. Cullen, Kingdom Rewards, p. 1, bold added.) Although I do not completely agree with Vince's statement here (because 1 Corinthians 15:3 cites only Christ's death as being "for our sins"), it still shows that Cullen has not always affirmed the groundless gospel as he would have us believe. In 2001 Vince said that salvation was through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, but since at least 2008 Vince has been excluding the burial!

17 Ibid.

18 Liam Moran, bold added. Unfortunately Liam is one of the latest casualties of the groundless gospel. His drift away from the biblical gospel is a matter of documentation. Let me be more specific. Several years ago Liam left a comment on my blog regarding an article I had written called "The Tragedy of the Groundless Gospel" (the precursor to my article "Getting the Gospel Right"). This is what Liam said: "JP, I am deeply appreciative of all the research and exegesis you have done on this. Your articles are very well written, well researched and well contended for." How strange that Liam is now branding this same exegesis "deplorable" and "sloppy" - even "heresy"! As sad and surprising as it may seem, Liam Moran has gone groundless. At one time he affirmed the biblical gospel but has since been swayed to accept Stegall's new teaching so that he now says, "While I may have differences with Tom on various matters, in terms of...the gospel, and free grace theology, I stand shoulder to shoulder with my arms locked." Liam has given the right hand of fellowship to a false gospel.

19 Dennis Rokser wrote the "FOREWORD" to Tom Stegall's book The Gospel of the Christ - calling it a "scripturally-sound, exegetically-based volume by my dear friend, Thomas Stegall." (Dennis Rokser, The Gospel of the Christ, p. 15.) As I have said before, it is telling that no one besides Stegall's former pastor and fellow groundless gospel advocate endorsed his book. 

20 Bruce Perreault, bold added. My Dad is yet another casualty of the groundless gospel. In 2007 after Stegall removed Christ's burial from his church's doctrinal statement on the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION," my Dad said something like: "I don't see why Tom had to take the burial out." Now several years later, my Dad has unfortunately come to embrace the groundless gospel.

21 For more information see the article "Looking a Wolf in the Mouth" by D. Scott Henderson.