Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beware of the Wolves Within Free Grace

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

A Voice from the Past

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

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

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

A Fierce New Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Grace movement: Watch out for the wolves within!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Ibid, italics hers, bold added.

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

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

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

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

17 Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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