Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Dangers of the Free Grace "Deserted Island Scenarios," Part 5

DANGER# 4: Both Zane Hodges and Tom Stegall 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:
  1. Hodges changed his saving message from John 3:14-16 to John 6:43a, 47
  2. Hodges cut John 6:43a, 47 out of the surrounding text and context
  3. Hodges connected the two fragments of text
  4. 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:
  1. Stegall set out to define the sine qua non of the Gospel
  2. Stegall cut the burial out of the "SOLE CONDITION FOR SALVATION"
  3. Stegall changed his saving message from 1 Cor. 15:1-4 to "every word of Galatians"
  4. 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.

< Part  4                         Part 6 >


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.

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