«The Free Grace Alliance within the Free Grace Movement: It Is What It Is! There are recurring myths, misinformation, and misconceptions about the ...»
Charlie Bing, FGA National Conference 10/14/14
The Free Grace Alliance within the Free Grace Movement: It Is What It Is!
There are recurring myths, misinformation, and misconceptions about the Free Grace Movement (FGM) as
well as the Free Grace Alliance's (FGA) origins, purpose, practice, and theology. Some of the misinformation
comes from being uniformed, some from attacks both outside the Grace Movement and inside the Grace
Movement. Why was the FGA started? Where does FGA fit in the FGM? Is the FGA too inclusive or too exclusive?
th What is the truth? Can you handle the truth? On this 10 Anniversary of the FGA, it would be helpful to clarify who we are and where we fit in the FGM, especially in light of recent and familiar criticisms.
First, we should define what is the Free Grace Movement. A “movement” is defined as a coordinated series of group actions to accomplish a goal or advance an issue. It would be difficult to establish that there ever was a coordinated group action to advance specifically the Free Grace (FG) message until recent history. However, there has always been a FG presence throughout history, and in recent history we can point to various groups who hold the FG view, yet may fall short of being described as a coordinated movement. They existed or exist for other reasons (evangelism, missions, education, church) while they held a FG perspective. When Grace Evangelical Society (GES) formed in 1986 under the leadership of Bob Wilkin, we had what could legitimately be called a FG movement. The FGA, formed in 2004, continues to represent the FG message as “a coordinated series of group actions to accomplish a goal or advance an issue.” Part One: Misunderstandings from Outside the Free Grace Movement
1. The Free Grace Movement is something recent in history.
It is true that FG is not the prevalent view today, but history would probably show that it never was. Even in Paul’s day it had to be defended constantly and rigorously. Critics often appeal to the Reformers, but such an appeal falls flat, because if those critics really wanted to honor the Reformers, they would hold, as the Reformers did, to Sola Scriptura; not Sola Scriptura with an Addendum of John Calvin. Calvin was committed to Scripture before he was committed to his own system. His system came from his understanding of Scripture which has since been modified and “improved upon” by his Calvinistic heirs. If the Reformers were given the opportunity today, would they not continue to reform their doctrine as they grew in their knowledge of the Scriptures?
Critics who want to engage the FG message must engage at the level of Scripture, not theological tradition, commentary counting, or proof-texting that often goes along with their criticisms. We wait invain for exegetical arguments, but what we get are the canards “This is a new interpretation without historical precedent,” or “This message is antinomian and would promote license.” Both of which are not true and usually not supported.
Everyone who has ever been saved has been saved by free grace. There is only one gospel, and grace means that it must be applied to us as a free gift “not by works” (Eph. 2:8-9). The discussion of the role of works has always accompanied the gospel issue in some form. Works have intruded from the beginning of the church (Romans 3-4, 10. Galatians, Ephesians 2, Acts 15), and the counter to it was that we are justified freely by his grace. That argument is not recent but perpetual.
2. The Free Grace Movement is an irrelevant minority movement.
It may well be a minority movement. But isn’t that always part and parcel of any movement? And if it is so irrelevant, why are some prominent theologians beginning to attack it or find it necessary to even say this? Doesn’t this attest to the growing influence of the FG message?
Recently, a leading theologian has attacked the FGM and the FGA at conferences and on his web site, and will criticize the FG message in a workshop in November at the Evangelical Society’s Annual Meeting in San Diego.
When we (the FGA council) found out about this, we submitted a proposal that would counter and defend the FG view. We were turned down. The proposal was in my name as the presenter. I have presented several papers at the annual ETS meetings and have never had a proposal rejected before—until now. It leads me to believe that if the FG message is a minority movement, it is because the mainstream, largely controlled by Reformed Calvinists opposed to the FG message, is working to keep it that way. And frankly, they hold the academic and publishing reigns. But on the other hand, we should be encouraged that the FG message and the FGA have influenced enough people to elicit a response.
The FGA is working and giving us more gravity in academia, in churches, and on the mission field. As tough as it has been for some to work together, enough have so as to cause others to respond to us. So I am encouraged by the criticism, not discouraged.
preaching grace (Rom. 6:1, 14). If we are not being criticized for preaching license, then we are not preaching the gospel of grace. But of course, we do not preach license. We preach that grace teaches and motivates us to live a godly life (Titus 2:12). These critics are usually unaware that there are various views of repentance within the FGM, though all views support the FG perspective. Still, everyone in the FGM is united in believing that every believer should turn from sins, be transformed in life, and reject licentiousness. However, those are not the conditions for salvation.
Furthermore, the FG message teaches that the Judgment Seat of Christ holds us accountable to live a changed life because every believer’s life will be assessed for its good and its bad and there will be rewards or consequences accordingly. But the Bema judgment is neglected, totally ignored, or at best minimalized by these critics, and therefore so is the proper motivation for the believer’s responsibility. If by “antinomian” the critics mean that we do not preach that we are under the Mosaic Old Testament Law, then we plead “guilty!” But that does not mean we do not recognize the Christian’s responsibility to obey the Law of Christ, the Royal Law, and the other commands of Scripture. We do not however, make any law the determiner of our eternal salvation either at the front end or the back end.
4. The Free Grace Movement’s gospel presentation is a form of decisionism, intellectual assent only, and easy-believism.
Some in the FGM take the view that response to the gospel is a decision, others do not. Most would agree that it is not easy to believe, but it is simple to believe. Some say it is only intellectual assent, some say it is that, but also involves the will. So these charges against the FGM are uninformed. The nature of faith is a valid discussion within the FGM, but it has also been so outside the FGM, even in Reformed circles. Perhaps the problem comes from psychologizing the Scriptures beyond what is revealed. The Scriptures lead us to believe that faith allows for an intellectual approach, but at times the gospel seems to appeal to the will also. There are those who will come to salvation through the different emphases. We should not impose on the Scriptures our human construct of a psychological model.
Part Two: Misunderstandings from Within the Free Grace Movement
1. The Free Grace Alliance began as a split with Grace Evangelical Society over doctrine.
No. It began as a sincere effort to advance the grace message around the world. Everyone who helped found the FGA was a GES member. We have always recognized, affirmed, and valued the contribution of GES academically and theologically (while not endorsing all their beliefs). However, there was a large sentiment that more could be done missionally, and that an alliance of all FG ministries would be necessary for that.
I was an initiator of the founding of FGA, though it was not called that until later. It began as a discussion within GES, with Bob Wilkin and many other FG leaders present. Bob Wilkin, and Zane Hodges were the first informed of the idea for the FGA, the first invited to join, and their input was invited. I will not speak for them, but I can document that the initial reluctance to join was because of some doctrinal inferences in our Covenant that never developed into any significant discussion later. However, after the FGA formed, members of both FGA and GES (sometimes those who belonged to both) began to raise the issue of the content of the gospel and it developed into a heated discussion. It was clear there were many who felt they could not endorse the GES gospel, as well as some who felt they could not endorse the FGA gospel (see the attachment for a statement of the differences). So it became evident that the FGA and GES now provided each group a “home,” though that was never an original motivation for the FGA (nor GES). Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, that controversy became associated with the reason for the founding of FGA, but it never was. This is a great misunderstanding that needs to be confronted. I repeat, the FGA was not a split of any kind with GES. Doctrinal differences only emerged later.
Today, I would say there is an understood agreement between those of FGA and GES to disagree on the issue of the content of the gospel or “saving message” (as GES prefers to call it). Both organizations do not however minimalize the importance of this issue. I know that both organizations have worked to restrain and control the ungracious people and language in this discussion and to maintain a gracious disposition.
2. The Free Grace Alliance welcomes those who believe the so-called “Crossless Gospel.”... or those who believe that deity is not essential to the gospel, or those who believe that acknowledgment of sin is not relevant in evangelism, or those who think believers can be under the wrath of God.
First, I do not think it is fair and accurate to call the view espoused by GES the “Crossless Gospel.” It implies that they say the cross is irrelevant to the gospel and its saving message. It is similar in tone to those who accuse the FGM of “No-Lordship Salvation.” Both terms are misleading, unfair, and unnecessarily derogatory.
While GES does hold that the cross and resurrection of Christ are essential to Christ’s saving work, they do not believe that those facts are a necessary part of the saving message. In contrast, the FGA Covenant stands on its
own. It says:
Charlie Bing, FGA National Conference 10/14/14 The sole means of receiving the free gift of eternal life is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whose substitutionary death on the cross fully satisfied the requirement for our justification.
Faith is a personal response, apart from our works, whereby we are persuaded that the finished work of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, has delivered us from condemnation and guaranteed our eternal life.
I don’t understand how anyone who holds to the GES gospel could agree to the FGA statement. The FGA statement makes it clear that a person must believe in the person of Christ as well as His provision and His promise. Yet, some have tried to float the criticism that the GES view is the majority view in the FGM and by implication, the FGA. I don’t know how they could measure this, and I am pretty sure it isn’t true of the FGM and definitely not true of the FGA.
Another unfair criticism has tried to paint the FGM and FGA as rife with people who do not think belief in the deity of Christ is necessary for salvation. I find no basis for such a rumor. The FGA statement does not articulate the deity of Christ, but we could argue that it assumes it (The statement says, “the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God”). However, we recognize that there is room for some discussion of how much of the deity of Christ must be explicitly understood.
Still another false accusation I have encountered is that the FGM and the FGA welcome people who do not think a sinner has to recognize his or her sin in order to be saved. I know that this is the position of Bob Wilkin of GES and perhaps some in the FGM, but I do not find it in any way a prevalent or popular idea. While there is no explicit statement demanding a person recognize his sinful condition in order to be saved, that is certainly implied by the language used in the FGA Covenant.
o “... whose substitutionary death on the cross fully satisfied the requirement for our justification.” o “... has delivered us from condemnation and guaranteed our eternal life.” o Christ has delivered us from condemnation...” One more criticism I’ll mention has to do with the interpretation of God’s wrath and it implications for believers, if any. There is some discussion among FG adherents about whether believers can experience the wrath of God. Mostly the discussion centers on the significance of the present tense in “God is pouring out His wrath” in Romans 1:18 and its implications for believers, especially in Romans itself. As you can see, the argument goes according to how one defines wrath. Can it be temporal as well as eternal, or is a term used exclusively of one or the other? As is usually the case in interpretation, it is best to let the context define wrath. There are people within the FGM who have different views of God’s wrath. It does not address the issue to simply assume one view over the other and then implicitly charge those who disagree with heresy. A different view of the meaning of wrath should not exclude anyone from the FGA or the FGM, especially when they base their view on biblical evidence.
3. The Free Grace Alliance includes those who believe in punitive damages at the Bema and kingdom exclusion.