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Christianity Today Gets Free Grace Wrong

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Bonnie Kristian wrote an article in Christianity Today about dispensationalism entitled “The Surprising Staying Power of Dispensationalism.” The article reviews Daniel G. Hummel’s The Rise and Fall of Dispensationalism: How the Evangelical Battle over the End Times Shaped a Nation.

I haven’t read Hummel’s book, so I can’t comment on either its accuracy or the accuracy of Kristian’s summary, but this passage about dispensationalism and “free grace” jumped out at me:

And dispensationalism has a distinct theory of salvation, the piece that alone may rival its eschatology in how it dominates popular conceptions of evangelicalism. This “free grace” model calls to mind praying a one-time “sinner’s prayer” or “accepting Jesus into your heart” at the revivalist’s feet. As Hummel explains, it “lowered the bar of salvation to little more than a onetime mental assent to the proposition that Jesus is Savior,” and it overwhelmed “broader American understandings of being ‘born again.’”

That’s wrong. That’s not what Free Grace believes. Forgive me if I come across as impatient. Free Grace authors have refuted this kind of outright error since at least the 1980s. For example, here’s a recent blog by me.

In Free Grace theology, salvation is by faith alone, apart from works. That means we don’t believe that salvation comes by doing religious things like saying a sinner’s prayer or asking Jesus into your heart, and any of the other misguided conditions of salvation that get sold by preachers around Christendom.

There’s one and only one condition to be saved.

One of our favorite verses is John 3:16: “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” Notice that Jesus didn’t say everyone who says a sinner’s prayer or who asks Him into their hearts gets eternal life. His promise is to everyone who believes in Him. Believe and only believe. Paul put it this way, “But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life (1 Tim 1:16, emphasis added).

So the first part of Kristian’s quote is flat out wrong. It’s the opposite of what Free Grace teaches.

In the second half of the quote, Kristian has Hummel explaining that this “free grace” message “lowered the bar of salvation to little more than a onetime mental assent to the proposition that Jesus is Savior.”

Yes, believing means understanding and assenting to the truth of a proposition. In other words, to believe means being persuaded that something is true. Where salvation is concerned, you must understand and assent to the gospel. Are you persuaded that John 3:16 is true? If so, you believe it. God set things up that way so there would be absolutely no ground for boasting on your part, and no question that all of the power of salvation resides in Jesus and not in anything you can do. The only way to show that salvation is by grace was to give it through simple faith. That way Jesus gets all the glory.

It’s also accurate to say that Free Grace believes that salvation requires a one-time act of faith in Jesus. One act of faith is all it takes to have the permanent result of being born again, justified before God, or saved. It doesn’t take ten minutes, ten months, or ten years of faith before salvation finally kicks in. Abraham was justified the very night he believed, and so are we. It happens in a second.

What alarms me is how Hummel thinks that means we’ve lowered the bar. That assumes salvation depends on meeting some kind of bar—passing some high-quality standards to be saved. Based on Galatians and Romans, that’s the wrong way to look at salvation.

Instead of saying Free Grace has lowered the bar, I’d prefer to say Jesus took the bar away! There’s no bar exam for salvation. Or maybe you can say He decided to pass the bar Himself by becoming a perfect man, dying on the cross for our sins, and rising from the dead, so that He could give eternal life away for free, as a gift, to whoever believes in Him (Eph 2:8-9). Jesus passed the bar exam with flying colors, and when you believe in Him, His passing score gets imputed to you (i.e., you get justified, Gal 2:16).

I wish more Americans believed that. I wish more dispensationalists believed it! But they don’t. They love thinking salvation depends on saying magic prayers, having heartfelt encounters, and trying to outdo each other in raising the bar of salvation ever higher and higher. But that’s not what Jesus taught, and that’s not what Free Grace believes. I'm thankful, though, that the more often publications like Christianity Today talk about Free Grace, the more people will hear about it, and maybe go searching for some really good news.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


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