DANGER # 6: Both scenarios involve an unsaved soul with little to no knowledge of Christianity.
Zane Hodges writes: "Let me begin with a strange scenario. Try to imagine an unsaved person marooned on a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. he has never heard about Christianity in his life...he doesn't know that Jesus died for his sins on the cross and rose again the third day [1 Cor. 15:3-4]...If we believe that Jesus is the One who guarantees our eternal destiny, we have believed all we absolutely have to believe in order to be saved...That's why the man on the deserted island can get saved with only the barest minimum of information."1 Hodges goes on to say: "No one has ever trusted in [Jesus'] name for his or her eternal well-being who has not been saved by doing so. And this is true no matter how little they might have known about the One whom that name represents."2
Similar to Hodges, Tom Stegall states: "Yet...we must ask, does Paul's Epistle to the Galatians contain the saving gospel or doesn't it? Are we honestly to believe that a lost soul could actually read and believe every word of Galatians and yet slip into hell for lack of knowledge about Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances to Peter and the twelve [1 Cor. 15:3-5]?!"3 Elsewhere Stegall asserts: "His being buried was not a work which accomplished our eternal redemption, and it is therefore not absolutely essential for someone to know about it and believe it in order to go to heaven".4
Playing Cut and Paste with the Gospel
In a twist of irony, Stegall actually bears witness against his own partial gospel position when he says: "some Christians [like partial gospel advocate J. B. Hixson, Getting the Gospel Wrong, p. 80] insist...that a lost person can be saved by believing only part of the gospel. But Scripture nowhere endorses such a possibility. In the Bible, people are never said to be saved by believing 'part of' the gospel but only by believing 'the gospel.' According to the New Testament, people either believe the gospel or they don't. To reject it in part is to reject it in whole."5 Stegall sounds like a traditional Free Grace advocate because he is using the same vocabulary as a traditional Free Grace advocate would use - but he has redefined the terms! That's why his gospel is so deceptive.The truth is, Stegall has no problem playing cut and paste with the biblical gospel. For instance, he writes: "When Paul states that the gospel that he received and delivered to the Corinthians is 'first of all,' he means that the gospel is in first place when it comes to importance. And this gospel message that was to be first in importance is defined specifically as the message 'that Christ died for our sins...and that He rose again.'"6 It is very revealing that Stegall must edit Paul's declaration of the gospel by adding ellipsis after the words "Christ died for our sins" (thus removing the mention of Christ's burial) and by adding an artificial period after the words "He rose again" (thus removing the mention of the third day and Christ's resurrection appearances). Also notice that Stegall omits the twice repeated phrase "according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3, 4) from his new, mini-gospel.Is it any wonder that a false gospel doesn't include the references to "the Scriptures"? Tragically, Stegall's "gospel" is a partial gospel lacking vital truths "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3). Ironically, Dennis Rokser says that "Hodges...undermines the 'core essentials' of the Gospel declared in this passage as NOT BEING OF FIRST IMPORTANCE when it comes to that which 'must be believed in order to be eternally saved.' What a strange twist!"7 Yes, what a strange twist indeed that Tom Stegall and Dennis Rokser also undermine "the 'core essentials' of the Gospel declared in this passage as NOT BEING OF FIRST IMPORTANCE"!
Having highlighted the partial gospel mindset and cited some examples, we must ask: Is this what the Bible teaches? Is it really "not absolutely essential for someone to know" certain facts "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3ff) in order to receive eternal life?
People Must Hear the Whole Story
In contrast to Zane Hodges and Tom Stegall, the apostle Paul didn't have a "barest minimum"8 mindset when discussing the eternal destiny of the unsaved. He makes it clear that knowledge of the biblical gospel - not merely part of it - is essential for salvation (1 Cor. 15:1-5; cf. Rom. 10:2, 16-17; 1 Cor. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:3-6, 10:5; Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Tim. 2:3-4).9 Free Grace theologian William R. Newell affirms "that the simple story, Christ died for our sins, was buried, hath been raised from the dead the third day, and was seen, IS THE POWER OF GOD to salvation to everyone who rests in it, - who believes!10 Newell goes on to add: "This story of Christ's dying for our sins, buried, raised, manifested, is the great wire along which runs God's mighty current of saving power. Beware lest you be putting up some little wire of your own, unconnected with the Divine throne, and therefore non-saving to those to whom you speak."11 In an excellent article titled "Missing the Whole Story," Kellie Arabie also affirms the same truth saying: "1 Corinthians 15:3-5 highlights the essential elements of the gospel. Christ died for our sins. He was buried and resurrected. He was seen by witnesses. Anything less than that falls short of good news. Anything less than that is not the gospel."12
In reviewing the facts of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, it's important to notice what the apostle Paul didn't say. For example, he didn't say: "It's not absolutely essential to know and believe all these things to be saved - surely not the fact that Christ was seen by Cephas and the others, my goodness! What was I thinking when I first delivered that to you? I'm sure I just overwhelmed you with the complexity of my message and confused you with unnecessary 'excess baggage' (so says Hodges13) and 'extra details' (so says Stegall14). Don't sweat the small stuff. You don't absolutely need to know and believe all that!"
Actually Paul took quite a different approach. When he explained from the Scriptures "the word of this salvation" to an unsaved audience in Acts 13:26-41, he highlighted four basic facts:
Christ's "death" (Acts 13:28),
His burial in "a tomb" (Acts 13:29),
He was "raised...from the dead" (Acts 13:30),
"He appeared to...His witnesses" (Acts 13:31).
This preaching is "the good news" (Acts 13:32); it is the full gospel message15 - and the Bible says that those who don't believe it will "perish" (Acts 13:41; cf. Jn. 3:16; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 4:3-6; 2 Thess. 1:8-9).
John Aeby (a former professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana) is correct to conclude that "we are saved because we have 'heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation' (1 Cor. 15:3-5) and have believed God's message and trusted God's Son".16
1 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): pp. 4-5.
2 Ibid., p. 8.
3 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
4 Stegall, "Proposed Change" to the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION," Word of Grace Bible Church handout (2007), underlining added. It's important to notice that Stegall's reasoning here is non sequitur and self-refuting. Stegall claims that "His being buried was not a work which accomplished our eternal redemption, and it is therefore not absolutely essential for someone to know about it and believe it in order to go to heaven". (Ibid.) Stegall is correct to point out that Christ's burial did not accomplish our eternal redemption, but his conclusion that it is therefore not part of the gospel is non sequitur. First, let's make sure we understand what redemption is, and then I will make my point. In the Bible, "redemption" involves the payment for sin - Christ redeemed us by His death on the cross (1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; Heb. 9:12-15; 1 Pet. 1:18-19, etc.). Christ redeemed us by His death, not by His burial, and not by His resurrection. In other words, Christ's burial did not pay for sins, nor did His resurrection. Redemption was accomplished on the cross. It was there that the ransom price was fully paid (Jn. 19:30, Greek tetelestai = "paid in full"). Even Stegall affirms that "[Christ's] resurrection didn't pay for our sins, His death did." (Stegall, "THE GOSPEL OF THE RESURRECTED CHRIST," [1 Corinthians 15:1-11], March 27, 2005.) Similarly, in an article titled "TRUTHS ONE MUST SEE AND BELIEVE IN ORDER TO BE SAVED" Stegall writes: "[Christ's] sacrifice for our sins paid the penalty in full, satisfying God's holy demands completely...Christ fully paid for our sins when He died". (Stegall, "TRUTHS ONE MUST SEE AND BELIEVE IN ORDER TO BE SAVED,"Word of Grace Bible Churchwebsite [accessed April 5, 2011].) In his book The Gospel Of The Christ, Stegall makes several more statements connecting full redemption with Christ's substitutionary death on the cross. He talks about being "redeemed by the blood of the Lamb". (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ [Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2009], p. 30.) He goes on to explain that "The Lord has seen fit to use a multiplicity of metaphors, images, and diverse terminology to depict the one truth of the Savior's death for our sins. These terms include 'cross,' 'tree,' 'blood,' 'gave,' 'offered,' 'sacrificed,' 'redeemed,' 'suffered,' 'slain,' etc. Yet, despite such rich diversity of expression, there is still a unity of content, as each of these terms point to the same substitutionary, atoning death of the Savior." (Ibid., p. 312.) Stegall also says: "Jesus had in fact provided redemption for Israel by that very crucifixion, and this redemption was proven by virtue of His resurrection." (Ibid., p. 660, italics his.) Stegall is echoing the words of John Hart when he says: "The resurrection proved our justification, but it did not provide for our justification." (Hart, "Why Confess Christ? The Use and Abuse of Romans 10:9-10," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 12 [Autumn 1999].) Dennis Rokser also affirms this same basic truth saying in reference to 1 Corinthians 15:4: "'and rose again' (which is the proof that God was satisfied with Christ's payment of our sins)." (Rokser, "EXAMINING LORDSHIP SALVATION Pt. 2," The Grace Family Journal [Fall 2007]: p. 13, italics his.) One last statement by Stegall is particularly to the point. Commenting on "the redemptive and propitious aspect of Christ's death in Acts 20:28," Stegall emphasizes: "The redemption price for every member of the Church was clearly the death of Christ". (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ [Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2009], pp. 660-661.)
My point is simply this: Stegall doesn't believe that Christ's resurrection "accomplished our eternal redemption" (i.e. the resurrection didn't pay for our sins in any way, shape, or form) yet he still includes it in his gospel!Thus, for him to exclude Christ's burial for the same reason is ridiculous. Stegall's logic is non sequitur and self-refuting. If Stegall were consistent with his own reductionist reasoning he would not only have to exclude Christ's burial from the gospel buthe would also have to exclude Christ's resurrection because it wasn't redemptive either - it "didn't pay for our sins, His death did."
5 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, pp. 563-564, italics his.
6 Ibid., p. 512, italics and ellipsis his. Dennis Rokser argues the same groundless point. He states: "the content of the Gospel is the person of 'Christ' and His finished work ('died for our sins...rose again') responded to by faith alone." (Rokser, "A CRITIQUE OF ZANE HODGES' ARTICLE - 'THE HYDRA'S OTHER HEAD: THEOLOGICAL LEGALISM,'" The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2008], emphasis his.) Notice the obvious cut and paste involved in Rokser's definition of the gospel. He fails to mention that Christ's burial and resurrection appearances are also "the content of the Gospel" - being included in hoti content clauses in parallel with Christ's death and resurrection. It is quite revealing that Rokser never mentions any of these grammatical truths from God's Word.
8 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 5.
9 Although I do not agree with his partial gospel, Dennis Rokser is correct to say: "The Gospel offers the good news of SALVATION to us. (1 Cor. 15:2a)...by which also you are saved....The present tense of 'saved' may be viewed in two possible ways. First, Paul may be communicating that these Corinthians via the Gospel were being presently saved from the POWER OF SIN in their Christian lives as long as they remained steadfast to the Gospel, just like they had been saved from the PENALTY OF SIN (Hell) when they had trusted in Christ. In other words, the Gospel they had received would continue to have saving effects from spiritual damage upon their lives 'if you hold fast the word which I preached to you.' In the second view, the apostle may be indicating that the Gospel continues to bear fruit in Corinth by various [unsaved] sinners continuing to receive it, and as a result being 'saved.' Both views are presented by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson in his comments on 1 Corinthians in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1255." (Rokser, Let's Preach the Gospel [Duluth: Duluth Bible Church, no date], p. 23, bold and caps his.)
The commentary of S. Lewis Johnson on 1 Corinthians 15:2a is as follows: "Ye are saved (Gr., present tense) may refer to continual salvation from the power of sin in the lives of believers, or it may refer to the day-by-day salvation of the inhabitants of Corinth as they received the message and formed part of the church of Jesus Christ." (Johnson, Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison, Editors, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1990], p. 1255, bold his.)
While I agree that both views are acceptable, in this article I'm focusing on the second of the two meanings: the gospel has application to non-Christians to save them from Hell. This understanding of 1 Corinthians 15:2 is also supported by Zane Hodges. Notice what he says: "The problem in correctly understanding this verse [1 Cor. 15:2] is caused by the English translation. A very flexible Greek verb (katecho) is translated 'hold fast' in the New King James Version (the AV has 'keep in memory'). But the verb could equally well be rendered 'take hold of' or 'take possession of.' [e.g. Matt. 21:38, NIV; Lk. 14:9, NIV] In that case it would refer to the act of appropriating the truth of the Gospel by faith. Closer examination of the Greek text suggests that this is indeed the correct understanding. The Greek word order can be represented as follows: 'by which also you are saved, by that word I preached to you, if you take hold of it, unless you believed in vain.' From this it appears that Paul is thinking of the saving effect of the preached word when it is duly appropriated, unless in fact that appropriation (by faith) has been in vain. What he means by believing 'in vain' is made clear in verses 14 and 17: 'And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty [the AV has 'vain' for 'empty']. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins [the AV has 'vain' for 'futile'].' First Corinthians 15:2 must be read in the light of the subsequent discussion about resurrection. Paul is simply saying, in verse 2, that the Gospel he has preached to them is a saving Gospel when it is appropriated by faith, unless, after all, the resurrection is false. In that case, no salvation has occurred at all and the faith his readers had exercised was futile. But naturally Paul absolutely insists on the reality of the resurrection of Christ. He therefore does not think that the Corinthians have believed 'in vain.'" (Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege [Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981], pp. 91-92, first and second brackets added.)
In regards to Hodges exegetical insights on 1 Corinthians 15:2, I'm in agreement with another Free Grace advocate who said: "My opinion is that Zane Hodges explained 1 Cor. 15:2 exceedingly well, evidently before he changed his mind about the gospel". (Art, comment under the post "1 Corinthians 15," Rose's Reasonings blog, March 28, 2008, http://rosesreasonings.blogspot.com/2008/03/1-corinthians-15.html#c5057204266597401204, accessed April 10, 2012.)
10 Newell, Romans Verse-By-Verse (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1994), p. 19, capitalization and italics his.
11 Ibid., p. 21.
12 Arabie, "Missing the Whole Story," Kellie Arabie's blog (a bible.org blog), http://blogs.bible.org/tapestry/kelly_arabie/missing_the_whole_story, accessed April 24, 2012.
13 Hodges labels the gospel truths of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection "excess baggage". (Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 2: Our Invitation to Respond," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 [Spring 2001]: p. 17.) Hodges goes on to brand these gospel truths as simply "context" (Ibid., p. 9) and "the facts surrounding the gospel message" (Ibid., p. 11), and says that they tend to "cloud the issues" when making appeals to faith in Christ (Ibid., p. 12).
14 Stegall labels the gospel truths of Christ's burial and resurrection appearances "extra details". (Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2008]: p. 21.) Stegall goes on to brand these gospel truths as simply "additional facts" (Ibid) and "additional details...but they are not in themselves elements of the saving gospel." (Ibid.)
15 Herbert Lockyear writes: "First of all, Paul states the sum and substance of the sublime yet simple Gospel with which he accomplished mighty victories. Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised, and appeared to His saints. If, as one early leader wrote, there are shallows in this very full and potent Gospel where a little lamb may wade, there are depths where an elephant must swim." (Lockyear, All the Books and Chapters of the Bible [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], pp. 259-260; cf. Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology [Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2004], 4 Vols., Vol. 3, p. 549; Michael Svigel, "The Full Gospel and Nothing More," Insight for Living website, Newsletter Articles, http://www.insight.asn.au/newsletters.php?item=19 [accessed March 15, 2012].)
16 Aeby, commentary on Ephesians 1:13, "Walking with Christ through Ephesians," The Brethren Missionary Herald, Vol. 21, Num. 32 (August 8, 1959), p. 504.
The strange scenarios proposed by Zane Hodges and Tom Stegall are nothing more than conjecture! They are theological speculations - "theologically contrived and not exegetically derived."1
In his article "How To Lead People To Christ, Part 1," Hodges introduces his topic by saying: "Let me begin with a strange scenario. Try to imagine an unsaved person marooned on a tiny, uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean."2 Notice here that Hodges asks his audience to "imagine" his Deserted Island Scenario, thereby affirming that it is indeed imaginary and make-believe. A few sentences later Hodges goes on to add: "Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person [in John 6:47] called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future".3 Then in Part 2 of the article Hodges says, "Let's return for a moment to that deserted island in the Pacific Ocean that I invented in my previous article. My hypothetical unsaved man has just read the words of Jesus in John 6:47".4
Stegall's Galatians-Only Scenario is also based on nothing more than theological speculation. He asks: "Are we honestly to believe [or suppose] that a lost soul could actually read and believe every word of Galatians and slip into hell...?"5 Notice that Stegall uses the word "could" as opposed to the word can. This is a subtle yet important distinction because the word "could" suggests "less force or certainty" than the word can.6 While Hodges plainly tells us that his scenario is hypothetical, Stegall is subtle in implying it - which only makes Stegall's strange scenario more dangerous to the unsuspecting.
Taking the Guess-work Out of the Gospel
Fred Lybrand highlights the danger of hypothetical scenarios when he says: "After much reflection I want to suggest that we adjust the questions we are asking and discussing. Usually this discussion...is about a hypothetical situation where someone didn't have time to hear the 'whole message' of the gospel. In this situation, the Questionee is being put on the spot with, 'Would God send that person to hell? Can't He save them if they just believe that He's the answer to their eternal need?' The problem is that folks in theology tend to deal too much in Theory and not in Fact. Theories are basically unproved (and often un-provable), so another word for this would be GUESS. Most theorizing and conjecturing goes beyond what the Word says [1 Cor. 4:6], and mistakenly forces conclusions, that in turn are used to interpret scripture...We just guess...and try to support our guesses with passages and reasoning. Sometimes we find passages and then guess based on them; but, in the end, it's still just a guess."7
Hodges and Stegall can debate theological speculations ad nauseam, but at the end of the day all that really matters is "what the Word says" (as Lybrand has noted). It is telling that in evangelizing the real lost souls in Galatia and elsewhere the apostle Paul didn't hand out gospel tracts of John 6:47 or even "every word of Galatians,"8 but instead he preached the good news of salvation including Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances (Acts 13:26-41; cf. Acts 18:8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11).9
We Must Not Be Wise Above What Is Written
The apostle Paul gives an admonition to the Corinthians that we need to hear today. He says: "Do not go beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6, NIV). Augustine put it this way: "We must not be wise above what is written."10 The danger of hypothetical scenarios is that they tend to go beyond what is written! Paul tells Christians what to do with theological "speculations". He writes: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; [we are] CASTING DOWN IMAGINATIONS [the NASB says "DESTROYING SPECULATIONS"], and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and [we are] bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5, KJV; cf. 1 Tim. 1:3-4).11 Instead of commending Hodges' imaginary scenario as "a helpful illustration"12 (as Stegall has done), the apostle Paul would cast it down - and he urges us to follow his Godly example (1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:6, etc.).
1 Stegall, "Vigilance Regarding the Truth of the Gospel: Reengaging the Heresy of the GES 'Crossless' Gospel, Part 1," In Defense of the Gospel blog, http://indefenseofthegospel.blogspot.com/2010/05/vigilance-regarding-the-truth-of-gospel_04.html (accessed, May 4, 2010).
2 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 4, underlining added. Notice that Hodges says: "Let me begin with a strange scenario." Let's begin with the Bible. Problems arise when strange scenarios begin to redefine and/or undermine the truth of God's Word and thus overthrow the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:18, NKJV). Hypothetical scenarios are dangerous because of the tendency to allow the theological tail to wag the hermeneutical dog. (Adapted from Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2008]: p. 18.)
3 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 4.
4 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 2: Our Invitation to Respond," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 (Spring 2001): pp. 11-12.
5 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
6Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (2004), p. 284.
7 Lybrand, "GES Gospel: Lybrand Open Letter," p. 15, second ellipsis his.
8 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
9 See the article by Jonathan Perreault, "Getting the Gospel Right," Free Grace Free Speech blog, pp. 15-17.
10 Augustine, On The Soul And Its Origin, Chapter 15. Similarly, C. I. Scofield cautions against "logic chopping and inferential reasonings. It is being wise above what is written." (Scofield, "Biblical Notes and Queries," W. R. Moody, Editor, Record of Christian Work, Vol. 28 [New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899], p. 381.)
11 In the original Greek language in which the New Testament was written, the phrase "casting down" means: "to pull down, demolish...the (subtle) reasonings (of opponents) likened to fortresses...to refute, 2 Co. x. 4 (5); to destroy". (Thayer, Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, see the entry for kathaireo/"casting down," http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2507&t=KJV.)
12 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 4," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2007): p. 3.
DANGER# 4: Both scenarios arbitrarily select the saving message.
It's not wrong to require a certain portion of God's Word to contain the saving message if it's God's requirement. But problems arise when certain portions of God's Word are required to contain the saving message when in reality they do not.
First let's look at the salvation requirement set forth by Zane Hodges. Notice what he says: "Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the Gospel of John teach that a person must understand the cross to be saved. It just does not teach this...What is the core issue? Very simply it is this: We want people to believe that Jesus guarantees their eternal destiny. Of course, we would like them to believe a lot more than this, but this at least must be believed."1
But in response to Hodges, it really doesn't matter what "We want people to believe". That's a subjective and arbitrary requirement - not to mention cultish! The real issue is: What does God want people to believe? If Hodges were intellectually honest with the Gospel of John2 he would have to admit that God wants people to believe in Christ crucified for eternal life (Jn. 3:14-16). Actually, Hodges used to affirm this very truth! For example, in his book The Gospel Under Siege he wrote: "[In John 3:14-16] Jesus means to say, He Himself will be lifted up on the cross, and the one who looks to Him in faith will live...So, in John 3, the issue is faith, or confidence, in Christ for eternal life. Will a man look to the Crucified One for eternal life, or will he not? The man who does, lives! But this very simplicity, the Gospel confronts and refutes all its contemporary distortions."3 Unfortunately, in his later years Hodges slowly drifted away from the truth of the gospel to embrace a "promise-only" message where people don't have to believe in "the Crucified One for eternal life" - they just have to believe in "the name of Jesus...for eternal well-being".4 Instead of John 3:14-16, his "gospel" became John 6:47. Notice how Hodges arbitrarily selected his new saving message:
Hodges changed his saving message from John 3:14-16 to John 6:43a, 47
Hodges cut John 6:43a, 47 out of the surrounding text and context
Hodges connected the two fragments of text
Hodges cited the text in the NKJV5
Similar to Zane Hodges, Tom Stegall has also arbitrarily selected his saving message. Notice what he wrote in 2007: "The years ahead will require us to define what is the sine qua non of the Gospel".6 That same year Stegall proceeded to put his words into action. He redefined the gospel by removing the burial of Christ from his church's doctrinal statement on the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION".7 But he needed to find some Scripture besides 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (which mentions the burial of Christ) to make his redefinition of the gospel look legitimate. Stegall now believes he has found such a text in "Paul's epistle to the Galatians".8 But how did Stegall choose the book of Galatians? What was his selection process? Why not choose the book of Acts where Paul's gospel to the unsaved in Galatia is recorded? Stegall no doubt picked Galatians over Acts because while the book of Acts specifically mentions the burial of Christ, Paul's epistle to the Galatians does not. As if cherry-picking Galatians were not enough, Stegall then proposed a strange scenario in which the book of Galatians is isolated apart from all other books of the Bible!9 Amazingly, he doesn't seem concerned that his new Galatians-only gospel is based on a perilous kind of argument (some would say a logical fallacy) - the argument from silence. This kind of argument is based on nothing more than conjecture! In other words, Stegall's reasoning is not based on any Biblical evidence, but on the absence of evidence.10 Much like Hodges arbitrary selection of John 6:47, Stegall's new saving message consisting of "every word of Galatians"11 is artificial and contrived. Notice how Stegall arbitrarily selected his new saving message:
Stegall set out to define the sine qua non of the Gospel
Stegall cut the burial out of the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION"
Stegall changed his saving message from 1 Cor. 15:1-4 to "every word of Galatians"
Stegall isolated "Paul's epistle to the Galatians" apart from Acts 13, 1 Cor. 15, and all other books of the Bible which mention the gospel truths of Christ's burial and resurrection appearances.
1 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 7, italics added.
2 I'm not talking about proof texts taken out of context. I'm talking about the Gospel of John as a narrative written from a resurrection perspective.
3 Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1992), pp. 18-19, italics his, ellipsis added. Note: This book was first published in 1981.
4 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ: Part 1, The Content of Our Message," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): pp. 5, 8, ellipsis added.
5 Fred Lybrand explains the significance of this point: "The [Bible] verse that washes up on shore [in Hodges' Deserted Island Scenario] must be from the NKJV. All [Bible] versions based on the NU MSS [i.e. the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament and the United Bible Societies' fourth edition manuscripts] (NASB, ESV, NIV, NLT, NET, etc.) translate it [that is, John 6:47] without 'in Me' in the sentence (the KJV translates it 'on Me' - which could create other challenges for Zane's hypothetical scenario). So in virtually all other versions [except the NKJV], the verse reads, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life (ESV).' 'Whoever believes what?' our island inhabitant would ask frantically; and, with absolutely no way to find our or figure it out. There is no content for believing if the Majority Text is not at least footnoted (and not faded) on the washed ashore page from John. If any of the popular versions of the English Bible (except the New King James Version) are used, then the man cannot get saved, according to Hodges's view. This should be seen as a glaring problem. Why would God allow the most important essential verse explaining the gospel (according to Zane) to have a text-critical problem that destroys all hope for the man on the island? Forgive me tone, but it is a glaring problem that Zane based his WHOLE argument on a DISPUTED VERSE in the Bible." (Lybrand, "GES Gospel: Lybrand Open Letter," pp. 21-22, emphasis his.)
6 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 1," The Grace Family Journal (Spring 2007): p. 9, underlining and italics added; cf. Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ (Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press, 2009), p. 42. Apparently Stegall doesn't realize that God has already defined the gospel for us (see 1 Cor. 15:1ff).
7 Stegall, "Proposed Change" to the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION," Word of Grace Bible Church handout (2007), no page number.
8 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
9 Biblical Greek scholar J. Gresham Machen gives the proper perspective when he says: "The First Epistle to the Corinthians must be allowed to cast light upon Galatians." (Machen, The Origin of Paul's Religion [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Printing Company, 1925], p. 125.) Machen goes on to emphasize: "The epistle to the Galatians must always be interpreted in the light of 1 Cor. xv. 1-11." (Ibid., p. 145.)
10 This is why when Stegall attempts to prove his Galatians-only gospel he doesn't present any biblical evidence in support of his position - he just asks questions and makes an excuse for why he doesn't refute those who contradict. Stegall does this because his Galatians-only gospel is based on an argument from silence. It is based on conjecture. It is based on the lack of evidence. Notice Stegall's three lines of reasoning:
(1) Stegall says: "Yet, to this imbalanced position, we must ask, does Paul's Epistle to the Galatians contain the saving gospel or doesn't it?" (This is a question! Stegall is not providing any evidence here in support of his position. Instead he is simply begging the question.)
(2) Stegall says: "Are we honestly to believe that a lost soul could actually read and believe every word of Galatians and yet slip into hell for lack of knowledge about Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances to Peter and the twelve?!" (This is another question! Notice that again Stegall is not presenting any biblical evidence in support of his position. Instead he is employing a straw-man argument and again begging the question.)
(3) Stegall says: "Such a conclusion is so palpably in error that it hardly requires a refutation." (This is Stegall's excuse for why he doesn't provide a refutation. But in reality Stegall doesn't provide a refutation because his Galatians-only gospel is based on an argument from silence which is nothing more than conjecture and the lack of evidence. All Stegall has to argue with is conjecture and he knows that conjecture can't refute anything! So he makes an excuse.)
11 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
DANGER # 3: Both scenarios isolate one portion of God's Word.
Zane Hodges Isolates the Gospel of John
Zane Hodges writes: "Now suppose that our unsaved man [in The Deserted Island Scenario] . . . believes Jesus' words in John 6:47. Is he saved?"1 Later Hodges goes on to answer his question when he says: "Let's return for a moment to that deserted island in the Pacific Ocean that I invented in my previous article. My hypothetical unsaved man has just read the words of Jesus in John 6:47, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has eternal life.' All this person needs to do is to believe that statement and eternal life is his."2 Fred Lybrand highlights one of the problems involved in Hodges scenario: "The most glaring problem for the GES Gospel as explained by Zane Hodges is found in what we might call a One Verse Fallacy. Zane does not simply elevate the Gospel of John above all the books in the Bible concerning the evangelistic message, he elevates one passage above all others. The readable parts are these: 'Jesus therefore answered and said to them...Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me has eternal life' (John 6:43a and 47, NKJV)."3 Lybrand is emphasizing how Hodges elevates John 6:47 above all other verses in the Bible. But it's important to understand that in addition to that, Hodges also isolates John 6:47 apart from all other verses in the Bible. This second distinctive is actually a defining characteristic of his Deserted Island Scenario, as Hodges even indicates. Unfortunately, Hodges' method of Bible interpretation is fundamentally flawed. In fact, it's not an overstatement to say that his hermeneutic is a perfect example of how not to interpret the Bible. It is very problematic to pick and choose Bible verses (such as John 6:43a and 6:47) and then take them out of context and build a doctrine on them. D. A. Carson affirms: "a text without a context becomes a pretext for a proof text".4 I've said this before but it bears repeating: "Hodges truly preaches a non-contextual, non-historical, hypothetical, heretical, 'promise-only' and 'crossless' gospel when he rips John 6:47 from God's Word and builds a doctrine on this 'imagined' and 'hypothetical' strange scenario of this Scripture washing ashore on a remote desert island."5
Tom Stegall Isolates the book of Galatians
While Hodges isolates the book of John and more specifically John 6:47, Tom Stegall isolates the book of Galatians. Notice how he subtly introduces his Galatians-only gospel by asking: "does Paul's epistle to the Galatians contain the saving gospel or doesn't it?"6 (Stegall believes that the book of Galatians does in fact contain the saving message - even though it doesn't mention one of his "essential, defining elements of the Gospel which must be believed for one to receive eternal salvation in this age,"7 namely the fact that "Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead"!8) Stegall goes on to say: "Are we honestly to believe that a lost soul could actually read and believe every word of Galatians and yet slip into hell for lack of knowledge about Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances to Peter and the twelve [1 Cor. 15:3-5]?!"9 Although Paul's epistle to the Galatians is addressed "to the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2), Stegall is making it required reading for the unsaved! Like Hodges before him, Stegall is taking a portion of God's Word out of context, isolating it apart from all other books of the Bible, and then building a doctrine on it. Thus, it's not surprising that. . .
The Galatians-Only Gospel Just Doesn't Add Up
I can hear Stegall now:
Okay everybody, let's start passing out those Galatians gospel tracts! All you have is the Gospel of John? That's not good enough - it has to be "every word of Galatians"! What? The book of Galatians doesn't contain one of my five "essential, defining elements of the gospel"? Well, I'll just have to call our printer and have him make "several slight changes"...
There are grave problems involved when the book of Galatians is isolated apart from all other books of the Bible!
1 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 4.
2 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 2: Our Invitation to Respond," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 (Spring 2001): pp. 11-12.
3 Lybrand, "GES Gospel: Lybrand Open Letter," p. 20.
4 Carson, "One Way," Richard Phillips, Editor, Only One Way? (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006), p. 134. Even Hodges admits this point, which is ironic in view of his Deserted Island Scenario. He writes: "As a great Bible teacher once said, 'A text taken out of its context is a pretext!'" (Hodges, "The Hydra's Other Head: Theological Legalism," Grace in Focus [September - October 2008], p. 4.) Similarly, Antonio da Rosa admits: "A text without a context is a pretext." (da Rosa, comment under the post "The Gospel According to Charles Ryrie," Gospel Life blog, September 15, 2006, http://reformationhappiness.blogspot.com/2006/09/gospel-according-to-charles-ryrie.html#3065858992673219404.)
5 Perreault, comment under the post "Is This Heresy?," theocentriblog, Tuesday, May 20, 2008, http://jmoorhead.blogspot.com/2008/05/is-this-heresy.html, accessed March 15, 2012.
6 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
7 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 1," The Grace Family Journal (Spring 2007): p. 9.
8 Ibid., italics added.
9 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
DANGER # 2: Both scenarios contain postmodern thinking.
Postmodernism believes that truth is relative to the individual. What's true for one person might not be true for another. It places a lot of emphasis on experience in determining truth. It is highly subjective. Christian author Randall Price affirms that in the postmodern way of thinking, "words are only symbols for a subjective interpretation of and experience of the 'Living Word.'"1 In the following examples notice how both Zane Hodges and Tom Stegall have allowed the subjective thinking of postmodernism to influence their understanding of the gospel.
The Postmodern Thinking of Zane Hodges
In the article titled "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," Zane Hodges writes: "Years ago, as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I washed dishes in the dining hall to pay for my meals. Often after I had finished this chore I hung around and talked theology with another student who swept up the kitchen every night. One night this student made a statement to me that I have never forgotten. He said something like this: 'I know that I trusted Christ for salvation before I realized that Jesus was the Son of God.' I was surprised because I had never heard anyone say this before. But I did not quarrel with that statement then, nor would I quarrel with it now. It is the name of Jesus that brings salvation whenever anyone believes in that name as his or her sure hope of eternal well-being...No one has ever trusted in that name for his or her eternal well-being who has not been saved by doing so. And this is true no matter how little they might have known about the One whom that name represents."2
Unfortunately, Hodges allowed a highly subjective experience to shape his misunderstanding of the saving message. Notice the word "I" repeated 7 times in the underlined statement above. One of the problems with this type of thinking is that it changes the question from "What does the Bible say?" to "What kind of experience did I have?" This type of thinking is more postmodern than it is Biblical. How Hodges can conclude that the deity of Christ is a non-essential element of
saving faith is mind-boggling. Even John 3:16 affirms the necessity of believing
in Jesus as the Son of God. Not surprisingly, Hodges conveniently skips over
Jesus' words in John 3:16 to focus on "Samaritan theology" in
John chapter 4.3 Sadly, Hodges has allowed "Samaritan theology" to trump the
Biblically, the Good News is shaped by the Old Testament Scriptures and objective history, not one's personal experience. The preaching in the book of Acts makes this abundantly clear. Walter C. Wright affirms: "Turn over to the apostolic Scriptures. The discourses of the apostles were historical, for the apostles were Israelites, and the Gospel was a fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers. Stephen makes his defense; it is a recital of history (Acts 7). Paul preaches at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14-31); the discourse is historical. Christianity is a historical faith; it rests back upon historical facts. And so the Gospel is announced in historical terms. 'For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how 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....' (1 Cor. 15:3-5). And so history becomes basic to revelation. We know what God is by what He is doing, by what He has done. God reveals Himself in action, but how unspeakably sacred, how mightily potent, His actions can be!"4
The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice, not one's conversion experience - or any experience for that matter. The apostle Paul says: "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar" (Rom. 3:4). J. Vernon McGee is correct to say that "experience cannot be trusted. Experience must be tested by the Word of God. Unfortunately, many folk today are testing the Word of God by their experience. My friend, if your experience is contrary to the Bible, then it is your experience, not the Word of God, which is wrong."5
Another problem with Hodges' saving message is that it only begs the question: Who is Jesus? Hodges would answer "Jesus of Nazareth,"6 but unfortunately that information is not contained in John 6:47.7 Jesus Himself said to watch out for "false Christs" (Matt. 24:24). The apostle Paul spoke of "another Jesus whom we have not preached" (2 Cor. 11:4). If people simply believe in "the name of Jesus"8 for eternal life, could they not be trusting in a "false Christ" or "another Jesus" (a merely human Jesus, for example) - one that the apostles didn't preach? This is indeed possible, especially when it is remembered that Satan, "the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44), also promises eternal life (Gen. 3:4).9 So the name "Jesus" and the promise of "eternal life" cannot be the only determining factors in recognizing the real Jesus.10 J. B. Hixson highlights the dangers involved when he writes: "In true postmodern form, the entire equation is hazy, individually defined and subjectively experienced."11
The Postmodern Thinking of Tom Stegall
While Hodges' understanding of the gospel is rooted in the conversion experience of one person, Stegall's understanding of the gospel is rooted in the conversion experiences "of a vast percentage of God's children in the world today".12 He contends that a valid reason to exclude the resurrection appearances of Christ from the gospel is because it "would nullify the salvation of a vast percentage of God's children in the world today many of whom cannot even identify the individual in [1 Corinthians 15] verse 5 with the Aramaic name 'Cephas.'"13 Stegall seems to be grasping at straws in an attempt to bolster his groundless gospel. His claims are false and exaggerated. No one in the Free Grace gospel debate is saying that a lost person must give the correct identity of "Cephas" (1 Cor. 15:5; cf. Jn. 1:42) in order to be saved. The lost are not required to pass an exam in theology. Instead, they are required to simply believe the gospel. In addition to this, Stegall's argument is based more on experience than on the Bible. Since when is one's soteriology and definition of the gospel based on the supposed conversion experiences of "a vast percentage of God's children in the world today"?!14 A vast percentage of God's children in the world today also asked Jesus into their hearts, but unfortunately they were wrong.15 Sadly, Stegall has allowed postmodern thinking to influence his understanding of the gospel. One's theology and definition of the gospel should never be based on popularity or percentage of opinion but instead should be grounded in God's Word. The words of Dennis Rokser are appropriate: "The accuracy of Scripture is not determined by a popularity contest....Will you base your beliefs and practice on the popular opinion of the human crowd or upon the unfailing and unchanging truths of the Word of God?"16
In an attempt to find some biblical basis for his redefinition of the gospel, Stegall employs a logical fallacy called the argument from silence. He contends that since Christ's burial and resurrection appearances are never explicitly mentioned in "Paul's Epistle to the Galatians" those facts are therefore not part of the gospel.17 But Stegall's Galatians-only hermeneutic (his method of Bible interpretation) is biblical in name only! Underneath the facade is a man-made method that is fraught with problems. Please notice:
7 Glaring Problems with Stegall's Galatians-Only Gospel
1.) Stegall's reasoning contains a straw man argument because no one in the Free Grace gospel debate is saying that a lost soul who reads and believes every word of Galatians will "slip into hell for lack of knowledge about Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances".18 Thus, Stegall's reasoning here is fallacious. I discussed this point at length in the previous article (see: "DANGER ISLAND! Examining the Deserted Island Scenarios of Free Grace Theology, Part 2").
2.) Stegall's reasoning is self-refuting because even he looks outside the book of Galatians to determine the Galatian gospel. Ironically, in answering the question "Where is Paul's Gospel to the Galatians?"19 Stegall admits that it is in "Acts 13, where Paul's evangelistic message to the churches of Southern Galatia is recorded."20 Elsewhere Stegall states that "the content of Paul's gospel has already been recorded for us in Acts 13".21 Stegall even calls Acts 13 a "classic gospel text."22 In light of these admissions one has to wonder why Stegall chose to isolate the book of Galatians in his strange scenario instead of the passage in Acts 13?23
3.) Stegall's reasoning is self-refuting because he admits that the content of the gospel can be "implied" in the text.24 Notice what Stegall says in regards to "what Paul's gospel to the Galatians consisted of, as found in Acts 13".25 He asks: "Why should we look to Acts 13:23-48 for Paul's Galatian-gospel and not to Acts 14?"26 Stegall answers his question by saying: "The reason is simple: the content of Paul's gospel has already been recorded for us in Acts 13, before one reads Acts 14, and Luke does not deem it necessary to repeat this information."27 Notice how Stegall only selectively applies his logic to Luke in Acts 14 but not to Paul in Galatians. The truth is, Paul could also "not deem it necessary to repeat" in his epistle to the Galatians all the content of the gospel that he had first preached to them in Acts 13 (cf. Gal. 1:8-9, 11, 4:13)! Hence, those elements of the gospel which are not repeated in the book of Galatians are implied, not denied.28
4.) Stegall's reasoning is self-refuting because the book of Galatians doesn't even contain all of his gospel essentials. Although he argues that the book of Galatians does in fact "contain the saving gospel,"29 it does not explicitly mention one of his "essential, defining elements of the Gospel which must be believed for one to receive salvation in this age,"30 namely: "Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead."31 There is only one mention of Christ's resurrection in the book of Galatians (Gal. 1:1, "raised"/egeiro) - as Stegall even indicates.32 And the word Paul uses for resurrection (egeiro) doesn't mean bodily resurrection. Instead, it's defined to mean simply: "wake, rouse...fig. raise, help to rise".33 This is why even in English, the verse simply says that "God the Father...raised Him from the dead" (Gal. 1:1). No wonder Biblical Greek scholar J. Gresham Machen writes: "The First Epistle to the Corinthians must be allowed to cast light upon Galatians."34 Machen goes on to emphasize: "The epistle to the Galatians must always be interpreted in the light of 1 Cor. xv. 1-11."35
5.) Stegall's reasoning is self-refuting because he criticizes Hodges for a similar practice in regards to the Gospel of John. In other words, Stegall criticizes Hodges and his followers for isolating the Gospel of John to the exclusion of the others but then Stegall engages in a similar practice himself with the book of Galatians. For example, Stegall says that crossless gospel advocates "hold to Johannine exclusivity. By so doing they have moved toward an extreme, idiosyncratic type of 'only' doctrinal position, along the lines of 'KJV Only' and 'Jesus Only' anti-trinitarianism."36 But Stegall's statement is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, for Stegall similarly holds to Galatians exclusivity (i.e. the Galatians-Only Scenario). By so doing he has moved toward an extreme, idiosyncratic type of "only" doctrinal position, along the lines of "KJV Only" and "Jesus Only" anti-trinitarianism.
6.) Stegall's reasoning impugns the Word of God. Notice how Stegall casts doubt on the gospel with the question: "Are we honestly to believe that a lost soul could...slip into hell for lack of knowledge about Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances to Peter and the twelve?"37 Although Stegall fundamentally misrepresents the position he is critiquing, his position is clear. He doesn't think it's necessary to believe in Christ's burial or resurrection appearances in order to go to heaven. He has said this much elsewhere.38 Stegall's questioning of the biblical gospel is reminiscent of the "several slight changes"39 he proposed to the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION"40 in 2007. Also remember that Stegall questioned the reference to the third day in 1 Corinthians 15:4 when he said: "Though God prophetically and typologically ordained that Christ should be in the tomb for 'three days and three night' (Jonah 1:17; Matt. 12:40; 26:61; 27:40, 63), would the grounds of our eternal redemption really be removed if Christ had risen on the fourth day, or the fifth, or the sixth [or the 666th day], instead of the third day?"41 Once again Stegall is casting doubt on Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15 in regards to the gospel by asking: "Are we honestly to believe [that Christ's burial and resurrection appearances are included in the saving gospel]?" This only strengthens the contention that Stegall is at war with the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. Like the serpent of old who beguilded Eve in the Garden with the words, "Indeed, has God said...? (Gen. 3:1), Stegall is impugning the Word of God with the question: "Are we honestly to believe...?" The apostle Paul warns of this very danger when he writes: "Oh, that you would bear with me in a little folly - and indeed you do bear with me. For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Even by his craftiness [Gen. 3:1], so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus [like a Jesus who maybe didn't rise "on the third day according to the Scriptures" - thus allowing for a false Christ] whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit [like a spirit of error] which you have not received, or a different gospel [like a groundless gospel] which you have not accepted - you may well put up with it!" (2 Cor. 11:1-4, NKJV)
7.) Stegall's reasoning distorts the gospel using the very book Paul wrote to warn against it! This is dangerous ground to tread in light of the apostolic warning for those who distort the gospel of Christ (see Gal. 1:6-9). It's tragic to see Stegall using this very book of Galatians to promote his new partial gospel of the groundless savior.
1 Price, Searching for the Original Bible (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2007), p. 27, italics his.
2 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ: Part 1, The Content of Our Message," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): pp. 5, 8.
3 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 5.
4 Walter C. Wright, Ephesians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1954), p. 11, italics his.
5 McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 6 Vol., Vol. 3, p. 112.
6 For example, Hodges says: "But the simple fact remains that no one has ever believed in Jesus of Nazareth for the gift of eternal ilfe, who did not get it!" (Hodges, "Believing that Jesus is the Christ," Email from Zane Hodges to Antonio da Rosa, October 2, 2007, 10:28 AM, bold added. See the blog post by Antonio da Rosa titled "Zane Hodges Comments on the Practice of Requiring the Doctrinal Assent to Christ's Deity as a Condition of Eternal Life," Free Grace Theology blog, dated March 30, 2012. Another promise-only proponent makes a similar statement saying: "There is really 'no other' Jesus of Nazareth than He whom Paul preached, the historical person who, contrary to expectation but proven by his ministry, is He who gives eternal life to believers." (Lon Gregg, "A Critical Perspective: Orthodoxy, the Right Jesus, and Eternal Life," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 22 [Autumn 2009], bold added.)
7 According to the promise-only gospel John 6:47 supposedly contains all the information needed for eternal life, yet it makes no reference to Hodges' "Jesus of Nazareth".
8 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 5; cf. Ibid., pp. 8-9.
9 Ripped out of context the reference to "eternal life" in John 6:47 could mean virtually anything! (Cf. Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 4," The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2007]. Stegall correctly points out that Hodges idea of "eternal well-being" is not the same as the Biblical concept of eternal life.) Yet amazingly, one proponent of the promise-only gospel is on record as saying: "Does someone have to have a correct concept of what eternal life is to receive it? Yes." How a person "who has never heard about Christianity in his life" (as Hodges has said) arrives at a correct understanding of eternal life from a Bible verse taken out of context is never explained. (Antonio da Rosa, comment under the post "Zane Hodges Comments on the Practice of Requiring the Doctrinal Assent to Christ's Deity as a Condition of Eternal Life".)
10 Related to what I said above, here are three reasons why the name "Jesus" and the promise of "eternal life" cannot be the only determining factors in recognizing the right Jesus:
A.) There is more than one "Jesus" mentioned in the Bible. For example, in Colossians 4:11 Paul mentions a "Jesus who is called Justus". This is clearly a different Jesus than the "Jesus of Nazareth" who Hodges describes. Using Hodges' model of ripping Bible verses out of context, an unsaved person could come across a scrap of paper containing portions of text from Colossians 4:11a and some other Bible verse - say 1 Timothy 1:16b. So the only readable portions are: "and Jesus [Col. 4:11a, NKJV]...believe on Him for everlasting life [1 Tim. 1:16b, NKJV]". When an unsaved person believes these Bible verses and places their faith in this "Jesus" for "everlasting life," promise-only gospel advocates would have to consider such a one saved even though this "Jesus" is actually "Jesus who is called Justus" not "Jesus of Nazareth".
B.) There are "false Christs" who will "mislead many" (Matt. 24:4, 5, 24). Remember: Hodges defines the term "Christ" to mean "guarantor of eternal life". Thus, to be consistent he would have to admit that a "false Christ" is a false guarantor of eternal life - a false promiser of eternal life.
C.) Satan himself promises eternal life. All the way back in the Garden of Eden he deceived Eve and one of the lies he told her was: "You surely shall not die! (Gen. 3:4). This was a false promise of unending life - a false promise of eternal life.
11 Hixson, Getting the Gospel Wrong (Xulon Press, 2008), p. 201. Note: Hixson is writing in regards to the Purpose Driven Gospel, but the same conclusion holds true for the Promise-Only Gospel as well.
12 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 566.
15 See the booklet by Dennis Rokser, 7 Reasons Not to Ask Jesus Into Your Heart (Duluth Bible Church, no date).
16 Ibid., pp. 36-37.
17 Stegall, THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
19 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 340, italics his; cf. Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 3, italics his.
20 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 340.
21 Ibid., p. 347.
22 Ibid., p. 353.
23 Paul's evangelistic preaching in Acts 13:28-31 contains the same four facts of the gospel highlighted in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5, namely Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and appearances.
24 In other words, Stegall admits that specific elements of the gospel can be implicit ("implied") in the text - they do not always have to be explicitly mentioned. For example, in listing all the many references to Christ's death in Scripture, Stegall writes: "'death' - (Matt. 20:18, 26:59, 26:66, 27:1; Mark 10:33, 14:1, 55, 64; Luke 23:32, 24:20; John 11:53, 12:33, 18:32; Acts 2:23, 24, 13:28 (2x); Rom. 5:10, 6:3, 4, 5, 9, 10 (implied); 1 Cor. 11:26; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:8, 3:10; Col. 1:22; Heb. 2:9 (2x), 14, 9:15, 16; 1 Peter 3:18". (Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 3," The Grace Family Journal [Fall 2007]: p. 8, bold added.)
25 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 6, italics his.
28 Dean Flemming affirms that "in his letters the substance of Paul's gospel is generally assumed rather than spelled out. Paul only discusses those aspects of it that are relevant to the situation at hand. He could grant that his converts had already received instruction in the basic understanding of the faith, and in general Paul does not need to repeat this unless there is some misunderstanding of the gospel that needs to be corrected. [In Galatians the misunderstanding involves a performance gospel, not a partial gospel as in 1 Corinthians 15.] Just as a sermon may not continually retell the story of the text on which it is based, but presupposes it throughout, so Paul's letters constantly assume and interpret the gospel story of God's redeeming action in Christ." (Flemming, Contextualization in the New Testament, p. 93.)
29 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
30 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 1," The Grace Family Journal (Spring 2007): p. 9.
31 Ibid., italics added.
32 Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ, 76; cf. Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 3," The Grace Family Journal (Fall 2007): p. 7.
33 Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 214. Liddel and Scott give this definition for egeiro: "to awaken, wake up, rouse, stir: metaph. To rouse, stir up...to raise from the dead" (Liddel and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, Abridged from Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, p. 189). W. E. Vine has: "to arouse, to raise (W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr., Ed., Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary, p. 531). Likewise, Bill Mounce has: "raise up, wake" (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, p. 421). Also see Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, Commentary on Galatians 1:1.
34 Machen, The Origin of Paul's Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Printing Company, 1925), p. 125.
35 Ibid., p. 145.
36 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 6," The Grace Family Journal (Spring 2008): p. 2.
37 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition): p. 21.
38 For example, Stegall 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" (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, 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., 589).
39 Stegall, "Proposed Change" to the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION," Word of Grace Bible Church handout (circa 2007), emphasis his. In the original document Stegall's words were not only italicized but also in bold print as well.
41 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 727, italics his.
What exactly is so dangerous about the Deserted Island Scenarios of Free Grace Theology? Let's begin to answer this question by examining:
THE DANGERS OF THE DESERTED ISLAND SCENARIOS
DANGER #1: Both scenarios assume that God will not give further revelation from His Word to those who have received some Bible truth.
The False Premise of Zane Hodges
In reference to the Deserted Island Scenario, Zane Hodges says: "Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future, since He promises everlasting life. In other words, he believes Jesus' words in John 6:47. Is he saved?"1 Notice that Hodges never entertains the possibility that the marooned islander could receive further revelation after believing the truth of John 6:47. In response to Hodges' question, consider what Bob Wilkin says in an article titled "Is Ignorance Eternal Bliss?" Wilkin writes: "Scripture teaches that all who respond to the light they have will receive more light. The account of Cornelius coming to faith in Jesus Christ shows that (Acts 10-11). So do Paul's remarks on Mars Hill in Acts 17:27. God brings the explicit good news of Jesus Christ to all who respond to the light they have by seeking God."2 If Wilkin's assessment is correct then surely God will send the marooned islander additional light at least comparable with what is revealed to Cornelius in Acts chapter 10! Interestingly enough, notice in Acts 10 how the apostle Peter highlights the gospel truths of Christ's "death...on a cross" (Acts 10:39), burial and resurrection on the third day (Acts 10:40), and reappearance to witnesses (Acts 10:40-41). The Gospel of John includes all this information as well. Hodges' Deserted Island Illustration falls short of the Biblical model and is therefore rightly rejected.
Kevin Lane has written an excellent article highlighting the same point I'm making about how Hodges' question is in reality based on a false premise. Notice what Keven says in the article titled "Is There Any Question?". He writes: "In defense of their 'Redefined Free Grace Gospel' members of the GES [the Grace Evangelical Society] and it's community of sympathizers will often ask this hypothetical question: 'What if a person on an tropical island is only told that Jesus will guarantee their eternal life and they believe Him for it? Is that person saved by grace through their faith in Jesus?' Then they ask who are we mere [or mean!] men to say the person could not be saved? And then they state that if this person could be saved, then reception of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a requirement for Salvation...[But if] we do receive what He is revealing then He will give more. Even if it takes sending an Angel to an Evangelist to get someone to the person so they can hear 'beginning with' where ever they arebut ending up with the full preaching of Christ to them. Just like in Acts 8:35. And having had a preacher sent to them, and having heard (received), they can have faith and be saved unto Eternal Life. Because the REAL questions, the ones we find in Scripture that relate EXACTLY to this subject are found in Romans 10:13-17: 13 For 'whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.' 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things! 16 but they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, 'LORD, who has believed our report?' 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. When I ask 'Is there any question?' the answer is these questions: How can they call on Him if they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him if they have not heard? How shall they hear without a Preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? The false premise of the question asked by the GES and it's sympathizers assumes that God will not give further revelation to the person who is seeking. But everything we know about our Graceful God tells us otherwise. We are told that 'he who seeks will find' and we are told that God put Christ's work on the Cross on public display. We are shown that God will send the preacher to the one who has received just the little bit they are given."3
The False Premise of Tom Stegall
Similar to Hodges, Tom Stegall also proposes a strange scenario based on the false assumption that God will not give further revelation to those who respond to the light. But instead of fragments of text from the Gospel of John, Stegall uses the book of Galatians. Notice what he says: "There are a few extreme Free Grace advocates [supposedly like Donald Campbell, Warren Wiersbe, George Meisinger, Keith Krell, Andy Stanley, etc.] who...say that it is not enough that lost sinners believe that Jesus Christ is God-incarnate who died for all their sins and rose from the dead [no bodily resurrection mentioned] and that salvation is by grace through faith alone. According to them, one can still believe all of these truths and go straight to hell [a straw man argument]. Yet, to this imbalanced position, we must ask, does Paul's Epistle to the Galatians contain the saving gospel or doesn't it? Are we honestly to believe that a lost soul could actually read and believe every word of Galatians and yet slip into hell for lack of knowledge...?!"4
Stegall here is assuming that God will not send additional light beyond what is contained in the book of Galatians. That is one of the false premises of his strange scenario. But Stegall's own words bear witness against his reductionist reasoning. He makes a statement in regards to the Deserted Island Scenario that highlights the same problem of the Galatians-Only Scenario. Stegall says: "We have to ask the theological question, if God could cause John 6:47 to reach a poor man stranded on a desert island, then why couldn't He allow a few more verses or even the whole chapter to wash ashore, so the poor man would have absolutely no room to doubt who Jesus really is"?5 The same basic question can just as easily be asked in regards to Stegall's Galatians-Only Scenario! In other words, we have to ask the following theological question: If God could cause "every word of Galatians" (as Stegall has said) to reach a poor man stranded on a deserted island, then why couldn't He allow a few more verses like 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 or even the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 15 to wash ashore, so the poor man would have absolutely no room to doubt who Jesus really is? For that matter, why couldn't God allow a portion of Acts 13 to wash ashore (as that was Paul's original message to the unsaved in Galatia)?
One of the problems with Stegall's Galatians-Only Scenario is that it assumes that an unsaved man "could...slip into hell for lack of knowledge about Christ's burial and post-resurrection appearances to Peter and the twelve". In other words, the scenario assumes that the lost soul will not receive further revelation of gospel truth. This assumption is both illogical and unbiblical. The scenario is actually a straw-man argument because no one in the Free Grace gospel debate is saying any such thing. That's why Stegall doesn't quote anyone as saying that - because no one has! In contrast to what Stegall has said, what has been affirmed is that an individual who is responding to the truth will be given more truth. Such an individual will not be sent to hell (as groundless gospel advocates misrepresent us as saying), but will instead be sent more light! The principles is this: "Light received brings more light, but light rejected brings night."6 In other words, the unsaved soul who believes every word of Galatians will not "slip into hell for lack of knowledge" but will instead receive more gospel truth, "as it is written: 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!'" (Rom. 10:15b, NKJV; cf. Isa. 52:7). Biblical examples of this being true include:
Ninevah (Jonah 4:11)
The Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:25-40)
Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48)
The Macedonian man (Acts 16:6-10)
Lydia (Acts 16:13-14)
The Athenians (Acts 17:22-34)
God is not wishing that any should perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9; cf. Ezek. 18:23, 33:11). Therefore in His "perfect patience" (1 Tim. 1:16; cf. 2 Pet. 3:9) He will move to bring more light to a lost person who has received some gospel truth. So if the "lost soul" in Stegall's Galatians-Only Scenario does one day "slip into hell," it's because he rejected the light that he had, not because he didn't know enough information.7
1 Hodges, "How to Lead People to Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 4.
2 Wilkin, "Is Ignorance Eternal Bliss?," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 16 (Spring 2003): p. 10.
3 Lane, "Is There Any Question?," On My Walk blog, September 29, 2008, accessed April 13, 2012.
4 Stegall, "THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 9," The Grace Family Journal (Special Edition 2008): p. 21.
5 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ (Milwaukee: Grace Gospel Press: 2009), pp. 94-95.
6 David Anderson, Free Grace Soteriology (Xulon Press, 2010), p. 269; cf. Gregory Sapaugh, "A Response to Hodges: How to Lead a Person to Christ, Part 1 and 2," The Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 (Autumn 2001): p. 27.
7 See 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9. For further discussion see the article "In Defense of the Gospel, Part 1," Free Grace Free Speech blog.
Here are some thoughts I wrote about Lordship Salvation several years ago...
Some people base Lordship Salvation on Romans 10:9 which says, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved".
I'll say a few things and then get into explaining why this verse doesn't validate Lordship Salvation. If a person says that you must make Jesus Lord of your life before you can be saved he is placing an additional condition on salvation besides simple faith in Christ. He is adding a work onto salvation in addition to faith alone in Christ alone. He is also undermining the sufficiency of Christ's death, by putting something back on me to do for salvation.
By using Romans 10:9 to refer to Lordship Salvation, the verse is being taken out of context. Romans chapter 10 is a passage especially targeted at Jews (chapters 9-11 are about Israel) who would make the claim to "believe in the Lord" (or Yahweh, the Old Testament name for God). But while these Jews claimed to believe in the Lord, at the same time they rejected Jesus Christ as that very God and Messiah sent to save them. Christ's ministry was first to "the lost sheep of Israel" (Matt. 10:5-6) - that is Jews. Christ's ministry was not initially to the Gentiles, although there were exceptions to this rule - the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4 comes to mind, for example. It wasn't until the Jews totally rejected Christ that God grafted in the "wild olive branch" (the Gentiles) and made the gospel available to them as well (Rom. 11:11, 13-17).
Getting back to Romans 10:9 the second half says, "and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved": These Jews also failed to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead (the resurrection is proof that God accepted Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross) - they had yet to embrace the finished work of the Jesus Christ on the cross as sufficient payment for their sins.
Romans 10:10 clarifies the correct order for us when it reads, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." We can confess to others of our salvation by grace when we have BELIEVED in Christ with our hearts.
These verses are not requiring two conditions for salvation. That would contradict or leave as insufficient over 150 verses in the New Testament that require a sinner to simply believe in Jesus Christ alone!
People who believe in Lordship Salvation say that Christ must be Lord of every area of a person's life before he or she can be saved. But spiritual growth is gradual. Some people have old sin habits that last for years. This doesn't mean they aren't saved, but that they just aren't as mature a Christian as other people may be. Philippians 1:6 emphasizes the fact that the growth process is a long term thing - in fact we are growing all our lives. We will never be perfect until we get to heaven.
Ephesians 3:17 gives us more insight on growth. It says "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love...." The word "dwell" here is a very important word. In Greek it has the meaning of "to settle down and feel at home". Here's an illustration. When you go to someone's house to visit you like it when they say, "Make yourself feel at home!" Right? Because you are given freedom to go anywhere in their house, eat their food, do anything - just as if it were your house! That's what Paul is talking about here! We as Christians are to give every area of our lives over to the Lord to be used by Him - not for salvation, but so we can better be used by Him. If we set aside one area (or room) of our lives that He doesn't have control over, He doesn't feel at home. Let's say I have a problem with boasting. If I set aside that one "room of my house" and say "God, you can't go in there, that's mine!" then Christ can't dwell in us. He can't settle down and feel at home because we aren't letting Him be Lord of that area of our lives. We aren't letting ourselves be used of God as we should. So that is more what Lordship is about. Not salvation, but a day by day, moment by moment choice I make to submit to the Holy Spirit and to be controlled by Him, not myself. As I grow in my maturity I will learn not to give in to the flesh and will be conformed more to Him.