Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Dangers of the Free Grace "Deserted Island Scenarios," Part 9

DANGER # 8: Both Zane Hodges and Tom Stegall assume that certain facts take the focus off Christ.

Zane Hodges says: "Notice how the approaches I have objected to so far tend to blur the necessary focus on the Person of Christ as the object of faith. In the case of 'believe that Jesus died on the cross' the focus is on an action He performed (admittedly an indispensable one). In the two-step scenario we approach Christ first by believing certain facts about Him. The simple truth is that Jesus can be believed for eternal salvation apart from any detailed knowledge of what He did to provide it."1
Tom Stegall says:  "The first reason why at least [the resurrection appearances] are technically not part of the gospel is because this would make the gospel a message that revolves around the numerous disciples...rather than a message centered upon the Lord Jesus Himself...Once a person insists that the gospel extends through [1 Corinthians 15] verse 5, presumably to have some post-resurrection appearances included in their gospel, then the gospel becomes a man-centered message, a saving message at least about Cephas and the twelve and possibly others."2
Hodges thinks that the facts of Christ's death and resurrection take the focus off Christ and so he excludes them from his saving message. Similarly, Stegall thinks that the facts of Christ's burial and appearances take the focus off Christ and so he excludes them from his saving message.3

A Double Standard

It's important to point out that Stegall's logic in regards to 1 Corinthians 15:5 is completely self-refuting and fallacious. Notice that he bans verse 5 from the gospel because he says it is "man-centered" and "about...others." But the same could be said about verse 3 in regards to Christ's death "FOR OUR SINS". In other words, according to Stegall's reductionist reasoning 1 Corinthians 15:3 is also "man centered" and "about...others"! Stegall has even made comments to this effect.4 Is he now going to ban the substitutionary atonement from the gospel as well because it refers to other people besides Christ? Stegall is selectively applying his logic to 1 Corinthians 15:5 but not to 1 Corinthians 15:3. This is the logical fallacy of special pleading, i.e. a double standard.

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 Centers on Christ

It's important to understand that the person of Christ is the subject of all four verbs in the sentence in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. Thus, there's no incongruity between believing that Christ "died for our sins" (v. 3) and believing in Christ. Likewise, there's no incongruity between believing that Christ "appeared to Cephas" (v. 5) and believing in Christ. In other words, Christ is still the subject in verse 3 and in verse 5 even though others are referenced.
Free Grace expositors and other Bible scholars recognize the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15:3ff and affirm that Christ is the subject of the sentence even though others are referred to:

  • William R. Newell writes: "The gospel is all about Christ. Apart from Him, there is no news from heaven but that of coming woe! Read that passage in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: 'I make known unto you the gospel which I preached unto you: that Christ died, Christ was buried; Christ hath been raised; Christ was seen.' It is all about the Son of God!"5 
  • Raymond F. Collins writes: the "credal formula which [Paul] uses on 1 Cor 15:3-5 has Christ as its subject."6
  • C. K. Barret writes: “The first stage [of faith] is hearing the Gospel; the next is being obedient, that is, hearing with faith…It is important that faith is response to a preached, proclaimed message. This leads to a further consequence. Because the preaching has a specific content (e.g. 1 Cor 15:3-5, 11) faith also has a specific content and can be expressed in a confession of faith which is specifically related to the eschatological event of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. In Romans 10:9 (‘If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved’) there is the confession of faith which, from the believer’s responsive side, corresponds to the proclamation summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. CHRIST CRUCIFIED From this point we may proceed at once to the next main division of the substantive presentation of Paul’s thought. Paul sums up the Christian proclamation in traditional terms in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Here it is asserted that Christ died for our sins; that he was buried; that he was raised up to life; and that he appeared to Cephas and a number of others. The subject of every verb is Christ. The content of the proclamation, which is the ground of Christian existence (15:1, 2) is the historical event of Jesus Christ."7
  • Ralph Norwood writes: “WHAT IS THE GOSPEL? 1 Cor. 15:3-5 ‘For I delivered to you as of first importance what I received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then the twelve.’ 1. There are 4 verbs. a. Christ DIED, b. Christ was BURIED, c. Christ was RAISED, d. Christ APPEARED. [It is in the passive voice.] 2. Note the subject of each is the same....‘CHRIST’”.8
  • Roy E. Ciampa writes: "Christ is the subject of all the verbs from v. 3b to v. 8 except for the two in the relative clause of v. 6b (regarding the five hundred witnesses)."9

In contrast to what Hodges and Stegall would have us believe, the basic facts of the gospel "that Christ died for our sins...and that He was buried...and that He was raised...and that He was seen..." (1 Cor. 15:3b-5) are all Christocentric - they are all Christ-centered. Each fact puts the focus on Christ and fills in the "blank spots"10 in a person's knowledge of the gospel.

< Part 8                        Part  10 >


1 Hodges, "How To Lead People To Christ, Part 2: Our Invitation To Respond," Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 14 (Spring 2001): p. 12.

2  Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, pp. 564, 567, ellipsis added.

3 Stegall does not explicitly say that Christ's burial takes the focus off the person/work of Christ as the object of saving faith - yet this seems to be the implication of several of his statements. Following are three examples:
     1.) Stegall says that "belief in the person of Jesus Christ as the object of saving faith does not include His burial as part of the required content of saving faith." (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 696, italics his.)
     2.) Stegall says that "we are not requiring people to know and believe that Christ's death occurred at a place called 'Calvary' or for that matter that He was buried in a 'tomb.' [cf. Acts 13:29] The critical content [as opposed to uncritical content?] that must be known and believed involves what happened at Calvary and what happened inside that tomb - He died for our sins and He rose from the dead. The actual location of His crucifixion and resurrection did not provide the grounds of our redemption - what transpired at those locations did provide the basis for salvation." (Stegall, The Gospel Of The Christ, p. 309, italics his.) Stegall's statement is a straw man argument because no one in the Free Grace gospel debate is saying that an unsaved person has to know the location of Christ's "tomb" in order to go to heaven! By focusing on the location of Christ's tomb, Stegall is sidestepping the real issue which involves the action of Christ being "laid"/"buried" in a tomb (Acts 13:29; 1 Cor. 15:4).
     3.) Stegall says in regards to Acts 13:41 that “Christ’s being…buried, and then seen by men were technically not ‘works’ done by Christ, though they were all true of Christ”. (Stegall, “THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL, Pt. 9,” The Grace Family Journal [Special Edition 2008]: p. 21, ellipsis added.) But Stegall provides no scriptural support for his claim that Christ's burial and resurrection appearances are not His "works"! Actually, the context of Acts 13:26-41 argues against Stegall’s unsubstantiated assertion because the apostle Paul clearly does “describe” (Acts 13:41) not only Christ’s death (Acts 13:28) and resurrection (Acts 13:30), but also His burial (Acts 13:29) and appearances (Acts 13:31) – all together. Furthermore, since Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and appearances were all predicted by the Prophets (Ps. 22:1-22, 40:1-3, Isa. 53:1-12, etc.) and foretold by Christ Himself in answer to a request for “a sign from You” (Matt. 12:38-43; cf. Jn. 2:18-22, 12:23-24, 20:19-21:14) – it’s simply false to assert that Christ’s burial and appearances are not His “works”.

4 For example, Stegall in on record as affirming: “The Gospel of salvation centers in a specific accomplishment, namely that Christ died ‘for our sins’. (Stegall, “THE GOSPEL OF THE RESURRECTED CHRIST,” Miscellaneous Message [Milwaukee: Word of Grace Bible Church, March 27, 2005], underlining added.) Similarly, fellow groundless gospel advocate J. B. Hixson has said: “But in essence, the Gospel is the good news that God loves man and has sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the penalty for man’s sins. Christ accomplished this when He died on the cross at Calvary as man’s substitute.” (Hixson, “What is the Gospel?,” [2001], pp. 2-3, underlining added.) This statement by Hixson is quoted approvingly by Stegall in his article “THE TRAGEDY OF THE CROSSLESS GOSPEL Pt. 1,” The Grace Family Journal (Spring 2007): p. 16.

5 Newell, Romans Verse-By-Verse (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 1994), p. 6.

6 Collins, Studies on the First Letter to the Thessalonians (Leuven: University Press, 1984), p. 340. Elsewhere Collins affirms: "Paul presents Christ as the object of the creed." (Collins, First Corinthians [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999], p. 530.)

7 Barrett, Paul: An Introduction to His Thought (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), pp. 102-103, ellipsis added.

8 Norwood, “The Pure Gospel, Galatians Chapter 1,” Bible Readings for Believers website,, emphasis, brackets, and ellipsis his.

9 Roy E. Ciampa, Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), p. 744.

10 Adapted from Zane Hodges, “How To Lead People To Christ, Part 1: The Content of Our Message,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 13 (Autumn 2000): p. 10.

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