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)

Friday, March 20, 2009

J.B. Hixson Shoots his Movement in the Foot, Revealing Major Flaws

Dear Free Grace Theology Blog patrons,

A reader of Free Grace Theology Blog informed me that the latest Chafer Theological Seminary conference, held early this month, was available in mp3 on the web. Two of the plenary speakers especially interested me. First, there was George Meisinger, president of Chafer, who presented a paper on 1 Corinthians 15. I have not yet listened to this mp3, and still yet intend to do so. I was also able to get a Word document of the paper through Bob Wilkin. My friend Rene Lopez is doing two workshops at the upcoming GES conference, one of which is entitled, "The Use and Abuse of 1 Corinthians 15". I directed him to the mp3 and sent him the hardcopy. Rene informed me that he has already listened to the mp3 on his iPod while flying to Florida. I do look forward to his workshop.

The next speaker who interested me was Dr. J.B. Hixson, executive director of the Free Grace Alliance. He presented a paper which was essentially a chapter out of his exegetically flawed new book, Getting the Gospel Wrong. I believe that this, indeed, is an appropriate title for his book in that he significantly garbles the saving message. He read the paper for the conference (was over 20 pages long) and inserted his commentary where necessary. I listened to this mp3.

I haven't looked very critically at the paper or listened to his message a second time. But in the brief encounter that I have had with his paper and message, I have found that J.B. Hixson shoots his movement in the foot, revealing major flaws with it.

The So-called "Technical Gospel"
A key ingredient in Fundamentalist Free Grace theology is the term "gospel". Greg Schliessman once wrote a paper describing the "technical usage" of the term "gospel". It is argued that "gospel" can be used technically to denote what one must believe to be saved. It must be noted, however, that not one passage in the whole of Scripture gives us a detailed definition of what this "technical gospel" is. This is a major flaw in Fundamentalist Free Grace theology (FFG from here on). If there is a "technical gospel" and you must believe it to be saved, it is a tragedy of inestimable proportion that not one passage defines it! Can we not assume that God, in giving us Scripture that is profitable to the human race, would provide for us the exact and incontestable requirements for one to have eternal life? For the FFG to proclaim that a "technical gospel" is required to be believed for eternal life, and then to find that such a "gospel" is not clearly defined for us in Scripture is a major flaw.

Furthermore, J.B. Hixson is taking away the foundation of the "technical gospel". His words are here instructive and true:

Even a casual survey of the usage of the term gospel (Gk. eujaggevlion)in Scripture reveals that it is not used in a technical sense.3 There is no inherent, technical meaning of gospel...

Although attempts have been made to demonstrate a technical meaning of the term, such efforts are an example of what D.A. Carson calls the fallacy of false assumptions about technical meaning.4 “In this fallacy, an interpreter falsely assumes that a word always or nearly always has a certain technical meaning—a meaning usually derived either from a subset of the evidence or from the interpreter’s personal systematic theology.”5...

A survey of the New Testament usage helps clarify the various nuances of the word and one quickly concludes that the term gospel is not a technical term.

After stating this, he then affirms that the word "gospel" is used in this sense. This is a bit of double-speak. First he says that "Scripture reveals that ["gospel"] is not used in a technical sense." But later he says, "the term [gospel] in fact is used sometimes in this [technical] sense". First we must note that he is contradicting himself. "Gospel" is either used in a technical sense or it is not. Furthermore, he affirms that which he does not prove by proper hermeneutical practice and exegesis. To substantiate his claim that "gospel" is used technically to denote what one believes to be saved he gives 13 proof texts, and a few sentences on one of the proof texts. And he did this at a conference on hermeneutics!

J.B.'s study he provided in his paper to show that the term "gospel" is not used in a technical sense was sufficient to raise red flags when viewing the evidence for the "technical gospel" usage in the New Testament. What I am saying is that he did an adequate (but by no means exhaustive) study to show that the term "gospel" covers a broad spectrum of truth. Why would we assume that these 13 passages in some way use the terms "preach the gospel" and "gospel" in a "technical" sense, in a way different than the other 117 usages of them? J.B. Hixson asserts what he does not prove by exegetical considerations. His study on the term "gospel," which shows that the "gospel" is broad, for all intents and purposes shoots his movement in the foot. It provides a study that calls into question the bald assertion that "gospel" has a technical sense used in the Scriptures, denoting what one must believe to be saved. A final note that ought to disarm the FFG proponents is the fact that the term "gospel" is nowhere to be found in the only book in the canon written with an explicit evangelistic purpose, the Gospel of John.

"To Be[lieve] or Not to Be[lieve]"
Tom Stegall, in his Tragedy of the Crossless Gospel series, has affirmed the necessity of believing in the humanity of Christ:

I will seek to defend what I believe are the essential, defining elements of the Gospel which must be believed for one to receive eternal salvation in this age. I will summarize them for now as follows:

1) Jesus Christ is God (“Son of God” and “Lord”).
2) Jesus Christ is human (“Son of man”).
3) Jesus Christ died for (huper – i.e., in a substitutionary sense) our sins.
4) Jesus Christ rose bodily from the dead.
5) Salvation is by God’s grace, apart from works, through faith in Jesus Christ and His work alone. [emphasis mine]

Number 2 above states that one must believe that "Jesus Christ is human" in order that one may "receive eternal salvation in this age." But J.B. Hixson does not agree! Here is J.B.'s opinion on the matter:

An evangelistic discussion also might emphasize any one of various non-negotiable truths such as the Trinity, inerrancy, full humanity of Christ, or the hypostatic union of Christ. But one does not have to affirm explicitly these truths in order to receive eternal life. [emphasis mine]

Are we now to expect a series of articles penned by Tom Stegall titled, "The Tragedy of the Humanityless Gospel" in which he condemns J.B. Hixson as preaching a false, non-saving gospel? Wouldn't Tom Stegall be inconsistent and hypocritical if he did not write such a series of articles?

I mean look! The condition(s) of receiving eternal salvation are of great importance. If the lost are not specifically told that they must believe in the humanity of Jesus, and this is indeed a requirement for eternal life, then the evangelist has preached a false gospel, and the lost may have a false assurance of salvation! Would not docetists, Hindus, and JW's (only to name a few) need to be instructed in the proper Christology that affirms the humanity and physical corporeality of Jesus in order that they might be saved? To neglect to preach that a man must believe that Jesus is human when if in fact it is required of him to do so as a mandate from God is to preach a false gospel!

Leaving the realm of objectivity
Whenever one leaves the objective material of the Gospel of John, which explicitly states its evangelistic purpose, the truth of the whole bible becomes fair game in the quest for the content of saving faith. J.B. Hixson has stated that his checklist in evangelism was derived at by bible "synthesis", but he has failed to apprise us of the objective hermeneutical process by which he regards one truth essential to be believed for eternal life and another to be non-essential. This is a major flaw in FFG theology! There can never be the certainty of a "Thus saith the Lord" in the evangelism or soteriology of FFG. The evangelist himself becomes the final arbiter of the exact requirements for eternal life. His final checklist is a product of his tradition and subjective "synthesis" criteria. The result is that the FFG person becomes the authority: "Thus saith the evangelist!"

We must state here that J.B. Hixson and Tom Stegall cannot both be preaching the "True Gospel"! They both require different conditions for eternal life. Either one is right and the other wrong, or they are both wrong.

They cannot both be the gospel! One or both of them is a false gospel and comes under the curse of perverting the gospel or preaching another gospel!

J.B. Hixson has shot his movement in the foot by revealing this major flaw: when you leave the objective pronouncement of Christ and the Father in the Gospel of John, the only book in the canon written with an evangelistic purpose, the sky is the limit on the content of saving faith.

To err is human, but to forgive is to be "something more than just a mere man".
During the course of J.B. Hixson's session at the Chafer conference he addressed the features of his checklist for eternal salvation. We must note again that his list is different than Tom Stegall, or others I have encountered, for that matter. One of the items in his opinion on the content of saving faith, derived from tradition and a subjective "synthesis" of the bible, is that one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

Although Hixson goes into great length to show that Jesus is God in his paper and presentation, he stops short of requiring that one believe that Jesus is God in order to be saved. This position that he takes essentially shoots his movement in the foot and turns our attention to yet another major flaw. The last flaw we looked at is the subjective nature of determining one's checklist for evangelism when one leaves the objective words of Jesus Christ and the Father in the Gospel of John behind. The flaw now being discussed describes the ambiguity present in FFG theology.

Here is Hixson describing for us what one actually believes as a minimum (in terms of content) when he believes that Jesus is the Son of God (transcribed from the presentation of his paper):

[One must believe that] [t]here is something unique about Him. I suggest in the paper that of course we would not say that a person today has to have a fully developed Christology and understand all of the intricacies of the doctrine of the deity of Christ. They may not have even heard of the term "deity". But there is a sense in which they have to understand that the Jesus who is saving them is the Son of God: He's transcendent, He's something more than just a mere man, or just a mortal hero.

Tom Stegall and others in Fundamentalist Free Grace circles require that the lost actually believe that Jesus is God, fully equal to the Father. But J.B. Hixson has clearly fallen short of requiring the lost to believe in the "deity" of Christ. I believe that this is a major concession on His part.

Let us look at his language. To believe that Jesus is in "a sense" the Son of God one must understand that He is "transcendent" and that He is "something more than just a mere man".

Boy does this open up a bunch of cans of worms, ladies and gentlemen!

1) First we must note that he and Stegall are providing us with two different requirements. Stegall asserts that one must believe in the deity of Christ, that He "is God" equal to the Father, but Hixson simply states that one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God with the minimum sense that He is "transcendent" and "more than just a mere man". Here again we are met with the logical conclusion that they both cannot be preaching the same or true "Technical Gospel". Either one of them or both of them is preaching a false gospel and is under the curse of God.

Now, are we to be expecting Tom Stegall to produce yet another series of articles titled "The Tragedy of the Deityless Gospel"? Again, it would be hypocritical and inconsistent of Tom Stegall to not accuse J.B. Hixson of preaching a false gospel! J.B. Hixson does not require the lost to believe in the "deity" of Christ!

2) Hixson's position illustrates for us the ambiguity that is inherently resident in FFG theology. Terms like "sense" and "more than" lack an objective quality to them that can both stifle evangelism and prevent one from assurance.

Question: How does Hixson come to this minimum description and definition of the term "Son of God"? How does he know that his required minimum content is enough?

What if more than believing that Jesus is transcendent and more than just a mere man is required for eternal life as Tom Stegall has stated? Wouldn't Hixson be preaching a false gospel?

Could not later the lost question himself if he believed that Jesus was the Son of God adequately enough? Surely this is a great possibility!

3) He opens the door to the same criticism that has been leveled against Consistent Free Grace Theology (the theology the GES prescribes to). If one must understand that Jesus is the Son of God in a sense that He is transcendent or someone more than just a mere human, then the J.W.'s and Mormons (only to name a few cults) would have this part of J.B. Hixson's doctrinal checklist for salvation covered. Is not Jesus the archangel Michael in J.W. theology, a transcendent being who is more than a mere man? Of course! Is not Jesus a God in Mormon theology, a transcendent being who is more than a mere man? Of course! I fully expect that J.B. Hixson's email will be rife with cries of "Heresy!" from our Separationist friends.

More thoughts from J.B. Hixson from his paper itself:

In first century Jewish thought... [a] well-developed understanding of the doctrine of the deity Christ, and even more so the Trinity, was lacking. These doctrines did not take shape fully until later in Church history. Yet saving faith involved the rudimentary affirmation of Christ as uniquely divine or transcendent on some level... Jesus’ death and resurrection, more than anything else, sets Him apart as unique among men. Ultimately, His death and resurrection attest to His deity even if early believers did not entirely make this connection.

There is, in Hixson's theology, a necessity to have only a "rudimentary affirmation" of Christ as being divine or transcendent "on some level". Hixson has again shot his movement in the foot! It should be clear to the reader that J.B. Hixson does not require the lost to believe in the deity of Christ, that Jesus is God, equal to the Father.

Whereas Stegall's affirmation that one must believe that Jesus is God, equal to the Father, requires that one have some understanding in the trinity and hypostatic union (things that don't actually make his list, but are there by default), Hixson does not clearly articulate nor enumerate for us what one must exactly believe about Jesus being the Son of God. The methods by which these two men have devised their checklists for eternal life are shown to be greatly flawed by their complexities and ambiguities.

Hixson states that one must believe that Jesus is divine. Here are the definitions I found in an online dictionary for "divine":

1: of or pertaining to a god
2: godlike
3: heavenly; celestial
4: of superhuman or surpassing excellence

Such an understanding may potentially include everyone who could be persuaded that Jesus guarantees one's eternal destiny by faith. Who else but someone divine in some sense can guarantee one's eternal destiny!?

It has been aptly shown that when men and women leave the objective pronouncements of Jesus Christ and the Father as found in the Gospel of John for their traditions and subjective "synthesis" they fall into major error. If you ask 10 Fundamentalist Free Grace people what exactly must one do to have eternal life, you will get 11 different answers.

This short treatise only described a small few of the major flaws in the Fundamentalist Free Grace theology of the Executive Director of the Free Grace Alliance. Many more flaws reside there. I am afraid that Hixson has garbled the message of Christ.

Readers of Free Grace Theology Blog: God has not left us to wonder what is exactly required of us for eternal life, nor has he left us to figure out how to properly synthesize the bible in scavenger like fashion, hunting every truth that He requires must be adhered to in order to be qualified for eternal life. God has given us His love letter, the Gospel of John, specifically written that one know that he has eternal life. The Father's command is eternal life. The pronouncement of Jesus:

Most assuredly I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life! (John 6:47)

Grace and peace to you, my blog patrons.

Antonio da Rosa
Lakeside, CA