Monday, April 16, 2012

DANGER ISLAND! Examining the Deserted Island Scenarios of Free Grace Theology, Part 3

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. 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. 

Hodges says: "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

It seems Hodges allowed a highly subjective experience to shape his understanding 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 Savior's teaching!

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 Hixson highlights the dangers involved when he writes: "In true postmodern form, the entire equation is hazy, individually defined and subjectively experienced."11

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.


< Part  2                         Part 4 >


ENDNOTES:

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.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid.

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.

18 Ibid.

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.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

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.

40 Ibid.

41 Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 727, italics his.

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