Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Dangers of the Free Grace "Deserted Island Scenarios," Part 7

DANGER # 6: Both Zane Hodges' "Deserted Island Scenario" and Tom Stegall's "Galatians-Only Scenario" 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:
  1. Christ's "death" (Acts 13:28),
  2. His burial in "a tomb" (Acts 13:29),
  3. He was "raised...from the dead" (Acts 13:30),
  4. "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

< Part  6                         Part 8 >


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 Church website [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 but he 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.

7 Ibid.

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 John Aeby, commentary on Ephesians 1:13, "Walking with Christ through Ephesians," The Brethren Missionary Herald, Vol. 21, Num. 32 (August 8, 1959), p. 504.

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