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)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How to Lead People to Christ, Installment #2: The 'Deserted Island' Scenario

The theological world is often a reactionary climate
Men and women who at all consider themselves theologically savvy have various doctrines that they attach a lot of emotion to. For instance, the Calvinist’s passion is for God’s sovereignty, monergism, and the decrees. When statements are made that seem to play down the importance of these dogmas the dedicated Calvinist will often go up in arms. To be fair, Free Grace Theology advocates have been quite combative against apparent compromises with the absolute freeness of everlasting life.

We ought not to be surprised with these things. Cults and “isms” have so twisted the Scriptures as to prevent men and women from receiving the Gift of God. Truth is unquestionably of great importance! Men and women have selflessly given their lives for its proclamation. Ignorance is wide spread. Truth is a commodity that Christians have appropriately put a high premium on.

Yet in all of our doings have we overstepped our bounds?

2 Timothy 4:2
Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

No matter what the hour or circumstance, the people of God ought to be ready to preach the word. Furthermore, because there are those who “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Tim 4:3) we must convince, rebuke and exhort. Yet notice, there is a mode for us described to which we must adhere when we perform these duties: our ministry must be characterized by longsuffering and teaching.

1 Peter 3:15-16
… sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.

There is a rightful place for apologetics in Christianity. Many are the enemies of God, and our voices ought to be heard giving a defense of our most certain hope. The first step of such a ministry is to devote our every affection to God as our Lord, for this will necessarily set our minds and hearts into the subjective state the Holy Spirit can use to do the will of the Father. As well, it will institute a paradigm shift from working through our flesh and for our own inadequate motivations to the mindset of a humble servitude, sincerely seeking to bring glory to our Master by faithfully discharging our commissions. Finally, our divine activites (lo, ought not our every activity be of divine origin?) must be done “with meekness and fear,” for only by so doing will our “conduct in Christ” be “good”!

Through Jesus Christ came “grace and truth” (Jn 1:17). These are never to be separated. I believe in our zealousness for those doctrines that animate us we often divorce grace from truth. We have become impatient in our ministries, casting aside the necessity of understanding, and taking the easy routes of ad hominem, mischaracterization, and open disdain and hostility.

In the place of teaching, we have resorted to character assassination, scare tactics and fear mongering, and have succumbed to the appetites and desires of our flesh becoming puffed up in our pride.

Instead of sanctifying God in our hearts, we have hardened our hearts and seared our consciences, putting ourselves on the throne, and acting upon our own carnal motivations. In our pride, we have substituted “meekness and fear” for a desire to humble others, poison the well, and keep people from an open-minded and biblical examination of other positions.

Men and women, we have every reason to be ashamed of our dealings, and to repent of our pride. We must pledge allegiance to Christ afresh, seeking an understanding of those positions we find offensive before attempting to correct them. How can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch (Lk 6:39)? Enough of the reactionary mindset! We all give lip service to the grace of God, but do we employ it in our interactions with other believers?

And with this introduction, we now move to next installment of Zane Hodges’ seminal message entitled, “How to Lead People to Christ”.

So this afternoon: The Content of Our Message.

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 entire life. One day a wave washes up a fragment of paper onto the beach. It is wet but still partly readable. On that paper are the words found in John 6:43-47, but the only readable part of the paper are these: "Jesus therefore answered and said to them," that’s in verse 43 and "Most assuredly I say to you, He who believes in Me has everlasting life" and that’s verse 47.

Now suppose that our unsaved man somehow becomes convinced that this person called Jesus can guarantee his eternal future since He promises everlasting life. In other words, he believes Jesus' words in John 6:47. Is he saved? I suspect that there are even some Grace people who would say that this man is not saved because he doesn't know enough. For example, he doesn't know that Jesus died for his sins on the Cross, and rose again the third day. Needless to say there is a lot more that he doesn't know either, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the eternal Sonship of Jesus Christ, or the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. But my question is this. Why is he not saved if he believes the promise of Jesus' words?

Let me also begin my commentary with a strange scenario: Jesus Christ came down bodily to earth from heaven and spoke to a man on the street saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you believe in Me, you have eternal life”. Somehow this man becomes convinced that this Jesus guarantees his eternal destiny and well-being. In other words, he biblically believes in Jesus. Why would he not be saved?

As a proponent of Free Grace Theology, I believe that eternal life is the Gift of God. It is not a barter between man and God, nor is it a two way transaction, nor are there required preconditions attached. A gift, legitimately spoken of, does not require anything of the recipient but its reception.

The Time-Share Industry and ‘Free’ Gifts
My sister used to work in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, Mexico, selling time-share. She still has friends in this industry. When she was up a few months ago, she gave me a brochure that offered me a 'free' gift: an all included 4-night stay in a hotel in Cabo San Lucas. But there were catches. I had to be of a certain annual income, and I had to submit to a multi-hour meeting pitching the sales of time-share in Cabo San Lucas.

Was the vacation offered a genuine free gift? I do not believe so. There is a type of barter and two-way transaction going on here, as well as a required pre-condition. In exchange for a person’s time and attention at a multi-hour sales pitch meeting, he is given a 4-night vacation. Furthermore, in order to even be eligible for this exchange, one has to meet the condition of being at a certain level of affluence; his annual income must be at the predetermined amount.

It is my contention that well meaning traditional Free Grace theology people would be inconsistent if they did not consider this vacation a genuine free gift. Why? This scenario illustrates their doctrine of soteriology, in which they claim to be adherents of a free grace. But is their doctrine truly free grace?

One is not able to simply receive the free gift of eternal life in traditional Free Grace theology. There are preconditions to be met, which sets up a two-way transaction and barter for eternal life. In the following table we see the barter between God and man:

Man’s ExchangeGod’s Exchange
1. Strict Adherence to a Number of Orthodox Doctrines
  a) The Deity of Christ (along with subpoints)
  b) The Substitutionary Death of Christ for Sins (along with subpoints)
  c) The Bodily Resurrection of Christ (along with subpoints)
  d) The Humanity of Christ (along with subpoints)
  e) [Apparent Contradiction] Salvation is by Grace Alone in Jesus Christ Alone

2. Must Not Hold to Any Fatal Unorthodox Doctrines
  a) A Subjective Range

3. Must Not Deny the Essential Orthodox Doctrines
  a) A Subjective Range
If man’s conditions and items necessary for exchange are submitted and in order God will perform His end of the transaction:
Give Eternal Life

Just like the time-share companies, traditional Free Grace people require more to appropriating eternal life than simply receiving a free gift. This is not Free Grace Theology! Like the precondition of the time-share industry (being at a certain income level) which qualifies one for a vacation, the traditional Free Grace people have their preconditions, requiring one to be a type of orthodox fundamentalist before they are qualified for eternal life. Unless one be at some subjective level of orthodoxy (to be determined by the traditional evangelist, as you ask 10 of them what are the specific requirements and you get 11 different answers), he is no candidate for salvation.

It is as if the Scriptures do not say anymore, "And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17), but, "And let him who is orthodox come. Whoever meets these preconditions of orthodoxy, let him trade this allegiance for the water of life."

Let us make this point clearly:

The legitimate offer of a free gift comes with no other requirement but to simply receive it. This is essentially what free grace is! The conditions placed upon the lost by well-meaning, but erroneous, traditional Free Grace people are unnecessary caveats, provisos, and codicils in the saving transaction. The requirement of these things may indeed frustrate God's grace, and preclude people from eternal salvation (not to mention assurance!).

The Message of Zane’s Illustration
The purpose of the so-called ‘Deserted Island Scenario’ was to forcefully show the absolutely free grace of God. Now that the issue of sin has been judicially dealt with on the cross, thus removing the barrier between God and man, God freely offers everlasting life to all who will receive it by simply believing in His Son. As has been argued before by me, soteriologically believing in Jesus, in context in the bible, is entrusting one’s eternal well-being to Jesus, being convinced of the veracity of the promise and guarantee of Jesus Christ. The man in the scenario did this! He did all that was necessary to possess a free gift: he received it. To be required to do anything more than this would be to downplay and frustrate the sufficiency of the Cross of Christ. Remember, “Jesus Paid it All!” There remains nothing more for the sinner to do but to receive the benefit of Christ’s death by trusting in Him for eternal life.

Issues Dealing with Identity
Such a scenario as the one depicted for us by Zane Hodges legitimately leads us to questions about identity. These have been addressed by me in several articles, two of being which:

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?
The Right Thing – The Right Person

There is yet one more area of discussion to be had in order to make my position balanced. If anyone starts with another historical or fictional person in mind, and then attributes characteristics of the bona-fide Jesus Christ of Nazareth to him, then they have not placed their faith in the Jesus of Nazareth.

For instance, if one attributes to Napoleon the authority to guarantee one’s eternal destiny by faith in him alone, he obviously has not believed in Jesus. Or if someone starts with a fictional character in mind, say, Sinbad, and attributes to him the authority to guarantee one’s eternal destiny by faith in him alone, he has not believed in Jesus.

But, I must equally stress, that if one identifies Jesus of Nazareth by the Bible, and places his faith in Him for eternal life, he has received the free grace of God, eternal life, even in spite of misconceptions that he may have about Him.

I am sure that in response to this, I may be subjected to a plethora of hypothetical scenarios and asked to determine if one is saved or not. Let it be said here, that in many of the cases that could be produced, only God would be able to sort through the mish-mash. He alone is omniscient and able to certainly determine when and if another has received His gift by faith.

In the question and answer portion of this message, Zane was asked many questions dealing with this scenario. His answers were clarifications for the benefit of the audience. These Q&A’s will be reproduced here. In them, he touches on hypotheticals and some of his methods in dealing with the lost. Stay tuned!

Any discussions concerning this scenario and this post are welcomed here in the comment thread.

Your Free Grace Theology Host,

Antonio da Rosa

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Quarterly Newsletter from Scripture Unlocked Ministries and René López

Dear Readers of Free Grace Theology Blog,

Exciting news! A new quarterly Free Grace Theology newsletter has come into existence. It is being produced by René López and Scripture Unlocked Ministries, a 501c3 ministry (all donations are tax deductible). The newsletter is free, and can be requested by snail mail or e-mail. I encourage all of you (whether you identify yourself as Free Grace or not!) to subscribe to this professionally constructed and spiritually edifying production. You may find details on how to subscribe at the end of this post. Don't delay, sign up now so you won't miss out on the first edition!

The following is a sneak preview of a small portion of the very first Scripture Unlocked Newsletter, due to be sent out in March.

Our Purpose for Existing
Our unique niche centers on clarifying difficult passages by using correct interpretive methods apart from the undue influence of theological systems (Calvinism, Arminianism, Covenantalism, Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, etc…). Though at times people may identify or use components found in theological systems, the ultimate test of truth depends not on whether an interpreter follows a certain system, but whether one applies the common rules of Bible interpretation (hermeneutics) to arrive at the best possible understanding. While our focus centers on interpreting all of Scripture in order to understand and apply difficult passages in our lives, this ministry holds a special place for clarifying the freeness of God’s grace in salvation. Without someone understanding God’s freegrace offer of salvation, it is hard to understand any other part of Scripture. God deals with man simply on the basis of grace. Man does not deserve anything due to the fact that he originally wanted to become independent from God (Genesis 3:1–7). Thus our dual purpose for existing centers on elucidating difficult passages of Scripture and clarifying God’s free-grace offer of salvation which is at the center of His dealings with humanity—by grace.

Our Plans to Implement
To meet our goals, numerous avenues will be employed: publishing books, public speaking, recordings, videos, newsletter articles, website articles, a future blog, and the possibility of a theological journal. Future plans also involve writing commentaries on Matthew, John, Revelation, and books about The Son of God and Deity in the Gospels, Salvation: Condition and Its Basis, Free Grace Biblical Theology, the Pauline Use of the Vice Lists and Inheriting the Kingdom, and many more ideas in the works. We also want to reach out to the Hispanic community in which free grace is almost non-existent.

In every edition of our newsletters we will include one answer to a hard question regarding a Bible passage or free-grace issue. Other answers to questions will be posted on the website. Thus, we urge our readers to send us hard questions of passages that they have longed to understand. We are committed to spreading the Word at all costs. Although SUM takes a stand on issues that are nonnegotiable (e.g., the freeness of salvation), room exists to agree to disagree on other issues, though important. Thus, we should not hold all truth equally dogmatic since some passages are easier to decipher than others.

Also, in the premiere edition of the Scripture Unlocked Ministries newsletter, our very own Agent4Him, Jim Reitman, author of Unlocking Wisdom, Forming Agents of God in the House of Mourning: A canonical-linguistic exposition of the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes, shares with us a timely article of encouragement that borrows from his studies in these two Books. We now can understand his blogger handle! God has molded Jim into His agent through the suffering and perseverance of trials that allow him to live the abundant life in communion with His Savior, and capacitates him for the contingent glories of the Kingdom of God.

Furthermore, I have been given word by René López that a second edition to his very popular Romans Unlocked: Power to Deliver commentary will be printed and available very soon. In this edition he revisits key passages on predestination and free will that my loyal Free Grace Theology blog patrons will all appreciate. René has continued to hone and sharpen his exegetical precision in what is arguably the most important New Testament epistle.

For those of you who would like to sign up for this free newsletter, please follow this link and let René know if you want to receive the newsletter through e-mail or snail mail. Please of course leave your name, e-mail address or home address.

Click Here to Sign Up for the Scripture Unlocked Ministry's Newsletter!

Also, please continue to visit the Scripture Unlocked Ministry's website to keep updated with all the happenings: http://www.scriptureunlocked.com

your Free Grace Theology Host,

Antonio da Rosa
Lakeside, CA

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How to Lead People to Christ, Installment #1: Zane's introduction to his address

The following is the first installment of a multi-part series that will provide the transcripts of Zane Hodges’ provocative and seminal addresses of the Grace Evangelical Society’s National Conference in 1999, titled “How To Lead People to Christ: Pts 1 & 2”.

Today’s portion is Zane’s introduction to the material he wishes to present. In it he highlights the objective of his message.

Special thanks must be given to brother Don Reiher, who has spent many hours in the transcription of this message (and countless hours providing Free Grace people with beneficial resources). Don, we all appreciate your efforts, and would like to encourage you to continue to make available Free Grace Theology media.

Zane Clark Hodges:

How to lead people to Christ. The title of my two talks at the GES Pastor’s Conference this year may lead you to expect that I am going to talk to you about how to do personal evangelism. Hopefully, you will get some ideas about personal evangelism from the things that I say, but that is not my major objective. Instead, I want to talk about how Grace Theology should effect the way we present the Gospel whether we are presenting it to individuals or to groups.

Nevertheless, before I go any further, let me just say this. I do genuinely enjoy talking to people about their eternal salvation. And, I have done so with many, many individuals over the years. In the Kerugma office where I work, there works with me a close friend who does not attend Victory Street Bible Chapel. When I first met him he did not understand the way of salvation, but over a period of years and after many conversations on the subject he became a believer. He understands now that salvation is absolutely free even though most of the people that he knows do not understand that. He even knows what Lordship Salvation is, and he knows it ain't good. Now the salvation of this friend of mine is one of the very highly treasured results of my many years of service to Christ. It’s an immense joy to me to realize that as a result of his faith in Christ the friendship that we’ve had now for 18 years will go on forever in the Kingdom of God.

What I am trying to say is this. I am a teacher by spiritual gift, but I enjoy doing the work of an evangelist as much, or maybe more than teaching. So as I talk today about putting good theology into our soul winning, I am talking about something that is an important issue to me. And I want you also to know that I try hard to practice the things that I'll be preaching to you today and tomorrow.

The question I am raising in my talks is a basically simple one. Here it is. Have we allowed solid Grace theology to properly affect the way we proclaim and share the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Have we really allowed our Grace theology to impact our sharing of the Gospel? Now I propose to address that issue under two headings. The two headings are these. Number one: The Content of Our Message, and number two: Our Invitation to Respond to It. Now I want to consider the first of these topics this afternoon, and the second one, God willing, in the discussion tomorrow morning.

This introduction shares with us pertinent material that we must keep clearly in mind if we are to understand the rest of Zane’s message. In his own words, Zane gives to us his objective:

I want to talk about how Grace Theology should effect the way we present the Gospel

Have we allowed solid Grace theology to properly affect the way we proclaim and share the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Have we really allowed our Grace theology to impact our sharing of the Gospel?

Zane Hodges had concerns on how the gospel was being presented to the lost. Biblically insupportable practices and unbiblical terminology have found their way into the evangelism of Free Grace people. It was his desire to see that “solid Grace theology” be the foundation for our evangelistic appeals. Zane wanted us to start to think about the issues concerning the saving message in order that we might ask ourselves, “Have we really [really!] allowed our Grace theology to impact our sharing of the Gospel?” It is the fact that he got people’s attention! And he got people thinking; some with an open mind, and others with an unfortunate reactionary response.

As we will find out from the installments yet ahead, Free Grace people often run scared from their theology in the practical exercise of evangelism. In this, they have adopted ways of sharing the gospel that betray concessions to points raised against Free Grace Theology. We have even borrowed methods from Lordship Salvation! Brothers, we must take a good, hard look at the way that we have been accustomed to preaching to the lost, and “allow… our Grace theology to impact our sharing of the Gospel”!

Furthermore, we see Zane’s heart for the lost and his love of evangelism. He puts in practice that which he preaches.

Zane Hodges was a man of impeccable character, as many of his detractors will also note. He has been the Godfather of the Free Grace movement. Zane’s scholarship found in the forms of teaching, preaching, and writing have been lauded by all in Free Grace. I recently saw a vocal opponent of the GES soteriology position use Zane Hodges’ material and refer others to it for a positive benefit.

In light of Zane’s unique position in Evangelical Christianity: never married, scholar par excellence, 26 ½ years teaching Greek and New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, exemplary Christian walk and love for Christ, and past theological achievements (this is by no means an exhaustive list!), those who identify with Free Grace theology (and I would suggest all Christians everywhere for that matter) ought to give him a dispassionate and attentive hearing.

What I am suggesting is that we act as Bereans. There is a process in this. We must first condition ourselves to be “fair-minded” (Acts 17:11). I know this is something hard to do. Often, truth first brushes us the wrong way – is that not the case? Factors within us often withold us from even considering an argument. This often makes people rash in their condemnation. Biases must be set aside.

Next, we must “receive the word with all readiness [of mind: προθυμίας] ” (Acts 17:11). Our minds must be prepared beforehand to willingly and considerately consider the word being ministered to us. Prayer for the Holy Spirit to lead us into His truth is of course appropriate here.

Lastly, we must “search the Scriptures” (Acts 17:11). Often, we search the Scriptures only to discredit another’s teaching that we are already hardened against. This is not what I mean here! The Scriptures being expounded to us must be thoroughly examined in the light of what has been taught. So often men and women go to other texts to use as ammunition against their opponent’s interpretation of another text. We must first start with the passage in view, and then work from there. In having the nobility of a fair-mind, receiving the word ministered to us with impartial readiness, and studying the pertinent Scriptures, so we will be Bereans.

As the footnote to this introduction portion of Zane Hodges’ GES address, entitled: How to Lead People to Christ, I would like to provide a short admonition that was spoken at the 2001 GES conference, entitled: The Spirit of Antichrist: Decoupling Jesus from the Christ (found in a condensed written form in the Autumn 2007 Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society):

… the grace movement faces some significant dangers…

It may seem strange to say it, but the grace movement must face the danger of not being open to God’s Word.

Most grace people probably feel that openness to God’s Word is a hallmark of the grace movement. After all, we are prepared to let the Scriptures speak even if they clearly contradict long-held traditional interpretations. The doctrine of rewards is one such area where the grace movement seems prepared to let the Scriptures speak.

I agree that this has been a strong point of the grace movement up until now. I hope it will continue to be. But there are some warning flags.

… the grace movement must bring all of its convictions to the bar of Scripture. And we must be prepared to revise these convictions however God’s word requires. No movement can remain vital which no longer examines itself in the light of Scripture.

When such examination of our convictions ceases, tradition and dead orthodoxy are not far down the road.