Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13-14)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Public Debates Declined!

The readers of Free Grace Theology Blog know that there has been an emphasis here lately on clear and simple appeals to faith in our evangelism. Some have taken great offense to this position and have vocally expressed their objections in writing. Two of these men are Tom Stegall (of Word of Grace Bible Church) and Dennis Rokser (of Duluth Bible Church). Serious allegations have been made against the doctrine of the Grace Evangelical Society (of which I am a member) by these pastors. Tom Stegall through the venue of Dennis Rokser's medium (The Grace Family Journal) has publicly launched a pre-emptive strike with an untamed war of words, misrepresenting and caricaturing consistent and biblical Free Grace Theology.

Bob Wilkin, Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society, has invited Dennis Rokser and anyone else Rosker wants to two public debates, one in Duluth, and one here in Texas at the GES National Conference. Dennis wrote back later and said he was “praying” about it. He said he was not sure he wanted to debate Bob publicly, but would like to meet privately. Bob responded by saying that a private meeting would have been fine if Tom and Dennis hadn’t written their public articles attacking Bob, Zane, and GES. But since those are now public, the debate (if it happens) should be public as well.

I emailed Dennis for some clarification on a charge that he made toward Bob that discussions with him were "stonewalled". If Dennis' assertion would be interpreted with the common and prevalent usage of this term, it would be false, as Bob has always been willing to dialogue with anyone. In his reply to me Dennis forwarded a portion of an email he addressed to Bob Wilkin, where he wrote, "After prayer and discussion with other godly leaders whom I respect, I have decided to decline your written offer to publicly debate you at Duluth Bible Church and at the upcoming GES national conference in Ft. Worth regarding our doctrinal disagreements of your teaching of the 'crossless gospel.'" Furthermore, in the same email, I find out that Bob also formally invited Tom Stegall to a debate, unto which he declined promptly.

I reported this exchange on Lou Martuneac's blog (he promptly deleted it) and included a bit of my commentary. Lou is another outspoken opponent of the Grace Evangelical Society. I wrote that I wondered why these men would decline to debate this issue. Was it that they did not want their flocks to be persuaded by the biblical, consistent, and simple arguments of the GES? Was it that they did not want to answer the multitude of examining questions that the GES conference attendees would barrage them with? Or was it because they did not want their forceful mischaracterizations to be exposed?

Dennis Rokser was made aware of my comment by Lou Maruneac and emailed me this one-liner, "I'm very disappointed that you have reported the material I sent you inaccurately and negatively." To which I responded:


The whole thing makes me disappointed. It is one thing to discuss theology like Christian brothers. It is another thing altogether to coin an inaccurate, pejorative, disingenuous, and misleading label of a theology that shares a rich heritage with your own. This same label is then applied ad naseum. What kind of poisoning of the well is it to include the designation 31 times in only 8 pages of Tom Stegall's second article? It is a debate tactic that betrays a weak position. Furthermore, it is childish and bad form. The tone is adversarial and demeaning.

I believe it shows a lack of character on your part and that of Tom Stegall to refuse Bob's invitation to debate in both your forum and his. Your ministry has sounded the alarm and has proceeded to go publicly to war. Did you suppose that you were going to persuade Bob with your correspondences with him? Why the surprise that he didn't "repent"? The reactionary rhetoric coming from your side is at times vicious. We are supposed to be Christian gentlemen. Now, when given the opportunity to flesh these things out in a public forum, you and Tom retreat to the safety of your written devices. Did it not occur to you that you could continue to publish Tom's articles and have a reasonable, equitable, agreed upon, and moderated debate at the same time?

Your charges are very strong. You fault the GES with heresy and heterodoxy. Now you wish to retire to the loft of your refuge, continuing to merely toss your grenades our way. You are thus placed in a position of public unaccountability free from the direct cross-examination of those brothers in Christ who you vehemently oppose with the constant barrage of theological name calling.

I don't know what exactly I have reported inaccurately. About the 'negatively', I found [this situation] negative and relayed it as I saw it.

Antonio da Rosa

In my comment I left on Lou Martuneac's blog, I asked him if he or Greg Schliesmann (who is also an opponent of the GES and has written against it on Lou's blog) would like to take the place of Dennis and Tom in a debate with Bob Wilkin. I am sure that it could be arranged. I don't know what the fear on their part is. Do their arguments look better on paper where they can use their pejorative term, 'crossless gospel' 31 times in the span of 8 pages? Or does the thought of operating on an equal playing field give them second thoughts?


Blogger Lou Martuneac said...

Why is the interpretation of the Gospel that is coming from the leadership at the GES referred to as the “Crossless” gospel? The answer is quite plainly found in the writings of Zane Hodges.

The following excerpts come from part two of a two part series by Zane Hodges titled, How to Lead People to Christ. The series by Hodges and selected quotes below appear in the Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Spring 2000.

“The gospel message about the death, burial, and resurrection is the normal context for our presentation of this core objective. But at the end of the day, anyone who trusts Christ for eternal life is born again.”

“People are not saved by believing that Jesus died on the cross; they are saved by believing in Jesus for eternal life.”

“The simple truth is that Jesus can be believed for eternal salvation apart from any detailed knowledge of what He did to provide it”

“I now realize that no one is saved by praying a prayer. They are saved when they understand God’s offer of eternal life through Jesus and believe it. That’s when people are saved. And that’s the only time when people are saved. All of the excess baggage that we bring into our encounter with unsaved sinners is just that, excess baggage!”

A “Crossless” gospel.


August 21, 2007 12:19 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 21, 2007 12:23 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...

You wrote I am an, "outspoken opponent of the Grace Evangelical Society."

Your statement gives the false impression that I am against the GES and its membership as a whole. That would be incorrect.

You would be more correct in stating that I am an ouspoken critic of the interpretaion of the Gospel coming from certain men in the GES membership, such as Zane Hodges.


August 21, 2007 12:31 AM  
Blogger Colin Maxwell said...

So, the Muslim Jesus ("Peace Be on Him" just to keep it authentic)can give us eternal life. Is this the same eternal life that promises 72 virgins to suicide bombers, or is this information considered excessive baggage too?

August 21, 2007 5:39 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...


You wrote, "In my comment I left on Lou Martuneac's blog, I asked him if he or Greg Schliesmann...would like to take the place of Dennis and Tom in a debate with Bob Wilkin. I am sure that it could be arranged."

Have you and Bob Wilkin discussed a debate involving Stegall, Rokser and/or myself and Greg?


August 21, 2007 6:57 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...


I am hopeful that a few years from now you will look back on statements, like those that appear in your article here, and feel some sense of regret over the elitist, arrogant attitude about you.

I don't say that to offend you. It is something I believe you need to hear and weigh.

Lord willing, you will mature to a point where you can disagree sharply, yet remain charitable.

In debates such as this, emotions can run high; feelings get hurt and egos bruised. You need to disconnect the emotions if you are ever going to be taken seriously and not offend many with your comments. Check your ego at the door; I have to do it daily.

I don't know who your pastor is or if he read what you wrote to Pastor Rokser and have now publicly disclosed. You have publicly scolded and rebuked a pastor. The Bible says, “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching,” (1 Tim. 5:17).

Maybe your pastor, Wilkin or Hodges have some influence with you, but I would hope they might see the value in counseling you to memorize and live by the principles in these passages.

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man”, (Col. 4:6)

Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled,” (Titus 2:6).


August 21, 2007 7:26 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...

I can recall an incident where I was in the congregation during a preaching service. The guest preacher was a man whom I had known personally for years.

Within 5 minutes of his sermon I realized he was preaching as extreme a Lordship Salvation message as I had ever heard. The problem was this was being preached in my home church.

While he spoke I was looking around and wondering/hoping that folks in the pews were realizing this was a false gospel that they were being exposed to. At least 10-12 of our men caught it. I could see our pastors and they were “spiritually” squirming.

Choice if you/I are the host pastor:

1) Let it go on and deal with the fallout over the next few weeks. Prepare a series to address and refute what is being preached to your people.

2) Rise to your feet, go to the pulpit, kindly ask the preacher to cease and close the service.

#2 may not the best choice, but in this case I would have had no problem doing it, or supporting my pastor if he had felt compelled to do it.

We had no idea that this man was going to preach Lordship Salvation, but that was what the people got a huge unscriptural dose of.

Here is my point. Why would any pastor want to host a preacher in his own church knowing that his flock is going to be exposed to what he (the host pastor) believes is false teaching?

This is why I would never agree to host a debate/open forum on the interpretation of the Gospel being debated in recent months.

I don’t think it is wise to subject a congregation made up of believers at various levels of spiritual and doctrinal growth to what you may be convinced is false teaching.

IMO, the best place to hammer out doctrinal discussions is in the written forum. This way men can carefully reason through the Scriptures.

If I were asked to host a debate such as is being suggested; No Thanks!


August 21, 2007 12:05 PM  
Blogger the jerk said...


With all due respect, that sounds like a cop out.

One of my closest friends is a die-hard liberal. One of the things that really peeves me is how she will get on her soap box when she sees in the news that an individual's freedom of speech is violated, and then the very next moment she is cussing out FOX News and preaching to me how they shouldn't be allowed to broadcast because of how "biased" it is.

I fully understand leadership's duty to "protect the flock" however, what are you protecting it from? If Free Grace Theology is indeed false, then why aren't you jumping at the opportunity to put out the flame through open discussion amongst both parties?

Would you decline an invitation to debate a Mormon in front of your congregation? How about a JW? Or what about an atheist?

I'm going to assume that if you were to decline these debates (Mormonism, JW, etc.), it would not be for the same reason you've given Antonio or any other FG'er (because if any pastor would decline someone such as these for the same reason you're declining the FG debate, that pastor needs to resign. As I'm sure you've experienced, any slightly mature Christian can study Mormonism for two weeks and hold their own while debating a Mormon).

You know for a fact that you would put a Mormon or JW to shame in a public debate. All you need to do is bring to light the inconsistencies of their "holy book". So then, why refuse the opportunity to publicly reveal the inconsistencies with Free Grace (considering there are inconsistencies in FG thinking)?

If, like my very liberal friend, you truly feel that it is your obligation to think for your flock, then I would agree that declining an invitation for open debate is the way to go.

August 21, 2007 3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, good comment. I'm not sure if you're aware that this is a fight within Free Grace. Rokser and Stegall are opposed to Wilkin and Hodges on the issue of whether a person can believe in Jesus for eternal life without being aware of the Death/Resurrection, but all four men are Free Grace.

August 21, 2007 4:18 PM  
Blogger the jerk said...


My apologies are extended to all parties.

It looks like I should be more careful and aware when stepping into something and/or whether I should stay out of it! :-)

Thanks so much for the heads up Danny!

August 21, 2007 8:15 PM  
Blogger Antonio said...

Jeff (the jerk),

your initial comments are right on, even though you did not understand who one of the two parties are.

When you said,

"If, like my very liberal friend, you truly feel that it is your obligation to think for your flock, then I would agree that declining an invitation for open debate is the way to go. "

You expressed my sentiments exactly.

If Lou Martuneac, Greg, Tom Stegall, and Dennis Rokser's positions are true, then this will come out in a debate.

Lou must think that his position is not persuasive. If he feels he is speaking the truth, there is nothing that persuades true Christians like the truth!

If the debate was only Bob speaking at Duluth or any other moderate/soft free grace church, I can see Lou's concern. But since the debate would be two sided, and his side would have the opportunity to champion their position and declare its stronger biblical evidence and support, his point is completely canceled.

Aren't people able to weigh and consider two points of view presented at the same time and make determinations for themseves without Lou's 'babysitting' concerns? Or do they need Lou's superior wisdom to dictate to them the truth?

It is a poor attempt to find justification for the declining of an invitation to an equitable and moderated debate.

To me it is duplicity. Lou wants to scold and reprimand Free Grace theology in public but only in written form. When the opportunity comes to discuss these things in a personal and public forum, the boldness shrinks away.

They should be happy to come to the GES convention and shut the mouths of the Free Grace heretics, showing them the error of their ways with their more persuasive and biblical arguments.

But indeed, such an unwillingness to debate where real consequences can be at stake, manifests itself in the way that these outspoken antagonists are shrinking back into recreant discomposure. They are scared to death to debate.

So they will continue to publish their bitter rants and tirades, in the safety and solace of the written page; leaving us all wondering how we are to take such men seriously when they feel no moral compunction to stand their ground and defend their attacks against those whom they shame.

In the 80s during the Lordship controvery between MacArthur and Hodges, at least 3 formal debates were in the works. John MacArthur backed out of them all. He later stated that he would rather have a "private" debate, like the one Dennis proposed. But even when the time for this came, John backed out.

There is a strong and compelling correspondence between the Duluthian antagonists and John MacArthur. When asked to put up, they back down.


August 21, 2007 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No problem Jeff. I loved your recent comment at Unashamed about Spurgeon. Everything you said was right on! I responded there :)

August 22, 2007 12:14 AM  
Blogger Colin Maxwell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 22, 2007 3:09 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...


Would you decline an invitation to debate a Mormon in front of your congregation? How about a JW? Or what about an atheist?

First, for clairty I do not pastor a church.

Second, NO WAY would I put any of those in front of an assembly of believers.

If the pastor of my church were to announce such an event for my church, I would meet with him and the deacons and strongly object to it. If they went ahead, I would not attend and would likely be looking for a new church.

Why? Because the Bible says,

"...come out from among them and be ye separate..., (2 Cor. 6:14-ff.)

"If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed: For he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker in his evil deeds, (2 John 10-11).

It is IMO foolish and dangerous to intentionally expose believers to known error. The debate you suggest is allowing trhe teacher of false doctrine to teach and instruct within the confines of a debate. Some believers, who may be suseptible to buying into error, could well be lead astray, and that is a serious issue.

The best way to feed and protect the flock is to teach them truth from the Bible. (See Acts 20:28-31) This way, when errors come along, they will recognize it because of its inconsistency with the Bible.

They may not be able to fully understand the error, they don't have to, but will know enough to realize there is something wrong and the Holy Spirit will prick the heart about it.


August 22, 2007 9:06 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...


This is a very small item, but...

I would suggest your referring to Hodges' position on the Gospel as "Free Grace theology" is not exactly accurate any longer.

Many men in the Free Grace community reject the teaching of Zane Hodges on the Gospel, which you are acting as apologist for.

As more men in the FG community pull out of the GES over how Hodges has redefined the Gospel, and Wilkin taking the same stand,
a more accurate label may be, "GES theology."

The way I see this developing, in the not to distant future, the GES will be left with a membership made up of ONLY those who have bought into this egregious error on the Gospel.


August 22, 2007 9:14 AM  
Blogger Lou Martuneac said...


You seem fired up to debate. How about we debate this question,

Can a lost man be born again while consciously denying the Deity of Jesus Christ if he believes in Jesus for eternal life?

I'll go first: NO!!!

Your floor.


August 22, 2007 9:24 AM  
Blogger Antonio said...

Colin, I want to ask you a question. But please move the answer to the comment thread about assurance over at Unashamed of Grace or the comment thread on this blog about the "Total Inability of Calvinism".

You say:

"For my salvation (and therefore my assurance) I look entirely to Christ and what He did on my behalf."

How can you look entirely to Christ and what He did on your behalf if you cannot be certain that what He did was actually on your behalf? Are you presuming, certainly, that Christ died for you? Many have done the same thing only to fall away in the end: thus spurious, temporary faith.

I would be interested to know your answer, but please post your answer on one of the two above mentioned blog posts. Thanks.


August 22, 2007 10:04 AM  
Blogger Colin Maxwell said...

Antonio: Give me the URL where you want me to post my answer

August 22, 2007 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I have been lurking and quietly following the debate between you, Lou Martuneac, Jon Lee, and Greg Schliesmann (to name a few). After a lot of thought I have decided to make a couple of comments regarding this series of posts.

You said:

"If Lou Martuneac, Greg, Tom Stegall, and Dennis Rokser's positions are true, then this will come out in a debate."

This simply isn't true. I have been reading the articles, and most of the debate, and I have not been swayed from my original position on these issues. From my reading of your posts I also believe that your position on the same issues has not changed either. Since neither of us has been swayed does this mean that no one has written any truth? I am confident that we will both answer this question as a resounding "no."

I have used this debate as an opportunity to ask myself what it would take to change my mind on these issues (every believer should be continually asking themselves the questions "why am I in this situation?" and "what does God want me to learn from it?"). I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing any person can say that will change my mind or make me recognize truth. Is there no hope then? Of course there is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I pray constantly that the Holy Spirit will help me to find, recognize, and learn truth (the true Gospel message is certainly truth), I have also began to pray the same thing for all of the participants in this debate. I do not believe that this will magically make everyone like each other but it will make a difference to those among us seeking truth.

Lou said:

I don’t think it is wise to subject a congregation made up of believers at various levels of spiritual and doctrinal growth to what you may be convinced is false teaching.

In response you said:

Aren't people able to weigh and consider two points of view presented at the same time and make determinations for themselves without Lou's 'babysitting' concerns? Or do they need Lou's superior wisdom to dictate to them the truth?

I do not know if Lou's explanation reflects Dennis' thought process on this or not. That being said, every pastor has the God given authority, and responsibility, to decide who goes before their congregation and what is taught there. This is no trivial responsibility and I don't think we should treat it too lightly. Each and every pastor has received a commission from Christ himself to feed His flock. The pastor is under no obligation to host debates and in fact is obligated to feed and protect his flock (I would think that 'babysitting' concerns aren't much different than 'shepherding' concerns).

You said:

"To me it is duplicity. Lou wants to scold and reprimand Free Grace theology in public but only in written form. When the opportunity comes to discuss these things in a personal and public forum, the boldness shrinks away."

While we all have our opinions regarding the debate, sometimes it is more gracious to keep our opinions to ourselves. If there is one thing that I am taking away from all of this is that I believe this debate should be carried out in written form and with the comments turned off. Why would I say such a thing? Because when writing a paper a person can usually reign in their emotions and advance important points without those emotions clouding the issue. The emotions I am seeing on the web make me believe that nothing positive is going to be accomplished on the web or in a face to face debate. If there is a face to face debate both sides will come away declaring victory, what will that prove?

I will close with this bit of doctrine I learned as a younger man. My pastor at the time taught a doctrine he called the Protocol Plan of God. It is a fairly involved doctrine with much nuance that I have forgotten but it can be summarized as follows:

1.) A right thing done in a wrong way is wrong.
2.) A wrong thing done in a right way is wrong.
3.) A wrong thing done in a wrong way is wrong.
4.) Only a right thing done in a right way is right!

Thank you.

Glenn W.

August 22, 2007 11:10 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Myers said...


People are being persuaded to see the truth. Just this week alone, I have personally heard from two people who were originally swayed by what Tom Stegall had written in his articles in the Grace Family Journal, but when they began to investigate the matter on their own by reading the articles and sources that Tom cited, saw that Tom had completely misunderstood and misprepresented Zane, Bob Wilkin, myself, and others.

We have posted one of these e-mails on the GES website for people to read. Another of them can be found at my personal blog, in the comment section of this post.

People who are not blinded by tradition, but instead consider the arguments within the light of Scripture and careful reasoning, are being persuaded to the truth.

Even if Dennis does not want Bob's views presented at Duluth Bible Church, I would think Dennis would jump at the opportunity to present his own views at the National Conference of the Grace Evangelical Society. Strange, to say the least....

August 23, 2007 9:38 AM  
Blogger MrGiggs said...

What's so hard to believe about Zane's explanation? He's just relaying what the bible says, what Jesus said, about how to have eternal life.

Did the thief on the cross understand why Jesus was being crucified, or did he just believe Jesus is the Messiah? What about others then who believed he is the Messiah but didn't understand why he died, or later the meaning of his resurrection? Is it possible there were some believers then who passed away before hearing why he died, that he was resurrected and/or why?

Even now, if someone is driving down the road, sees a billboard that reads: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten Son (Jesus) so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life" drives 50 miles down the road thinking about it and comes to believe it, then after another 50 miles a car crashes into him and he dies, would he not go to heaven?

Bob/Zane don't deny the meaning of the death and resurrection, nor the fact that it should be taught, obviously these and other details should.

As far as debating the issue in front of a congregation, I don't think thats the place to do it. If there is a disagreement, surely its better to get together and talk about it face to face, or even better, write it down. Some people are better at expressing themselves by speaking, but most by writing, especially when the other option is the #1 fear in America - public speaking! :D

August 24, 2007 10:56 AM  

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