Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: Free Grace Theology

"Free Grace" Theology. Wayne Grudem. 2016. Crossway. 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It is with some reluctance that I write this book.

Wayne Grudem argues against "Free Grace" theology in his newest book. Wayne A. Grudem clearly defines what 'free grace' theology is. (At least as he understands it.) After having established what the phrase means, he then seeks to show how it differs from the historic Protestant position. He then proceeds to illustrate the weaknesses this theology can lead to in real life. In other words, why believing rightly matters in the first place. He makes a few strong statements in this one. First, he is NOT saying that those who hold to 'free grace theology' are unsaved heathens. He is NOT saying that they are false preachers in danger of hell. Second, he is NOT continuing the "lordship salvation" debate from several decades ago. This fact he INSISTS on. His book is different. (He sees that argument as going nowhere.) In particular, the "free grace" he's attacking is the position held by Zane Hodges and his followers.

Essentially he is writing the book because he feels that "free grace" theology is dangerous. It is dangerous for several reasons. First, because it reinterprets the "faith alone" of the Protestant Reformation to mean something completely opposite from how it was intended. Second, because it reinterprets, misinterprets many Scripture verses in trying to make its own case. Third, he feels that the "free grace" movement completely neglects repentance. Preachers and teachers--anyone and everyone who shares the gospel, formally or informally--need to agree with what the Bible says about repentance. Whether people neglect repentance because they are worried it will make them unpopular OR because they feel that it's completely unnecessary to a believer makes no difference in the end. Why does it matter? Well, that leads to an additional reason for concern: assurance and false assurance. If repentance is optional, AND, sanctification (holy living) is optional, then what your assurance is based on is often a one-time profession of faith. (Perhaps coming forward to an altar, perhaps being led in a prayer, perhaps being confirmed in a church, or even baptized). The "free grace" view, he argues, says "Don't worry, you're saved. Nothing matters but that one moment when you were justified."

Last (but not least), Grudem argues that "free grace" advocates emphasizes FACTS about Jesus and never Jesus himself. Believe this, this, this about Jesus and YOU ARE SAVED as opposed to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

Grudem argues that repentance is a sign that you have the faith you profess to have. That without repentance, there is no outward, visible sign that you've been justified by God. Same with sanctification. To be saved is to be MADE (by God) into a NEW CREATION. To be saved is to PUT OFF THE OLD, and put on the new. To be saved is to LIVE BY THE SPIRIT, to WALK IN THE SPIRIT. It isn't that "justified" people never, ever, ever is that when we sin--not ever "if" we sin--we are grieved by that sin.

One thing that could have used slight clarification is his position on repentance and conversion. I believe that Scripture teaches that we are lost, blind, dead--unable and unwilling to repent. The Spirit converts the soul, "breathes life" where there was once death, makes us born again. After this conversion, after this new birth, then that is where repentance enters in. It is the Holy Spirit who shows us our sin, how ugly and grievous it is. Not just "sin" in general, but OUR sins specifically. Our need for a Savior becomes crushingly overwhelming in that moment. It brings us to our knees--literally or not. Grace is only properly seen when it's viewed in light of what we actually deserved and what we've been given instead. Until you feel like you've deserved hell, then grace will never be amazing. Repentance is not optional, in my opinion--or his. Because it is like a baby's first cry. Can a baby be born alive and never once cry????? No, that first repentance is just the first of many times when we will cry out our sins to God and ask for forgiveness.

Since so many people are confused about the order of things, perhaps thinking that repentance is the first step to being born again, I thought the book could have used this opportunity to clarify things. Repentance is impossible--at least true repentance--without the Spirit having acted on us first. (Like there's a difference between being genuinely sorry, and just sorry that you got caught and are having to deal with the messiness of being caught.)

I am also giving the author the benefit of the doubt in another area. Based on the arrangement of the chapters, one could wrongly assume that the author places equal weight--or authority--on the historic Protestant position as affirmed in the writings of Luther, Calvin, etc. as he does on Scripture. I do not believe this to be all. But he doesn't really give Scripture proper attention until later chapters.

Did I love this one? I'm not sure I did. I liked it and I definitely found it thought-provoking. I was unfamiliar with the "Free Grace" position before reading this book.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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