"Is so-and-so Free Grace?"

The question often arises, “Is so-and-so Free Grace?”

I understand the desire to ask the question, but the answer isn’t always a simple one. Of course, the bigger issue is, “Are they biblical?” Someone might understand justification, but be off in different areas. Such differences can range on a scale between something minor (what should be a difference of opinion or difference of interpretation in non-essential topics) to heretical. And often, the two that disagree on the topic or passage may well disagree on where the difference lies on that scale!

However, given that the question is, “Is so-and-so Free Grace,” I start by checking so-and-so’s soteriology: What do they say is the condition for salvation and what do they teach about works and/or “fruit production”? We need to then evaluate the answer to that question based on what is meant by “Free Grace” (FG). My broad definition is, “Salvation (justification) is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone with no strings attached.” “No strings” simply means nothing is necessary to earn, keep, or prove salvation. Notice that I do not include here what one must know about the person and work of Jesus. The greater FG camp has debated this for the last several decades with no resolution in sight, and I’m not going to address it here. It is an important issue, and I do have convictions about it, but that’s a discussion for another day. From my perspective, if someone holds to the above definition, they are, in a broad sense, Free Grace – at least in their view of justification. But that is insufficient to recommend someone’s teaching or ministry. Often, there are other issues.

Someone asked, can you be FG and not dispensational? I would say such people hold a FG view of justification but hold different views on dispensationalism. Someone else asked, “Can someone be FG if they hold to a flat earth?” (Yes, there are some out there who profess this combination!) In a similar fashion, I would say they seem to hold a FG view of justification, but they hold different – and I believe seriously flawed - views on other important topics. Yet another asked, “is Joseph Prince FG?” (I’m only using his name because it has popped up a number of times). He, too, seems to lean towards a FG view of justification, but holds different views than me on a number of other issues. I say he “leans toward a FG view” because he does emphasize grace but his “salvation prayer,” as recorded in Destined to Reign is fuzzy, although he specifically uses the phrase “justification by faith” three times in the book. Personally, I cannot recommend him or his writings because of significant issues with many of his other views (but this, too, is a discussion for another day).

So, when the question pops up, investigate the soteriology of so-and-so. And don’t lump other issues under the FG umbrella, and say they are not FG because of what may be significant errors in other doctrines. Instead, acknowledge that they may hold a FG view of justification but are off – and maybe even seriously off – in other areas. Be honest and say “I can’t recommend this person or his ministry because of _____, even if he seems to get justification by faith correct!”

“Is so-and-so FG?” Not always a simple yes/no question!

Learning from the Failure of a Leader (Tullian Tchividjian)

TTullianhe fallout of Tullian Tchividjian’s admission of an “inappropriate relationship” will sweep broadly through the Christian community.First, how does it impact the message of Free Grace? I’ll call Tchividjian “Free-Grace-ish,” as he seems to have moved substantially towards a free grace position, but may not be fully free-grace. His views recently led to a separation between him and the Gospel Coalition, as explained by Tim Keller and Don Carson:

It was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom.[1]

So, reformed theologians already have their eyes on him. As I write this, I have yet to see any article by a prominent reformed writer which connects his fall with “antinomianism” or his free-grace-ish views. I hope that trend continues. But it would not surprise me if rocks are thrown connecting his doctrinal convictions and this issue. A well-known Lordship author wrote some years ago when a Free-Grace pastor he knew fell to sexual immorality:

Was his theology an accommodation to his sinful lifestyle? It surely might have been. This much is certain: No-lordship theology [aka, Free Grace] would have a soothing effect on a professing Christian trying to rationalize their long-term immorality… Certainly preaching that constantly touts ‘grace’ but never features law could help someone like that find comfort while sinning.[2]

Such thinking has no room in the free-grace position. The issue is not faulty theology but faulty obedience (aka, yielding to sin). No theology prevents sinful choices; only faithful obedience relying on the power of the Spirit prevents it. No matter what system one accepts. For those of us in the Free-Grace camp, two issues: (1) Be alert to those who use faulty logic (the fallacy that correlation implies causation) to incorrectly conclude that the systemlead to the actions, and (2) teach and practice the truth that Free Grace theology should motivate towards righteousness, not lawlessness and licentiousness. Paul addresses this very issue:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2) 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom 6:15-16)

Second, this situation should remind Christian leaders of two important truths: (1) The failure of a leader causes greater repercussions than the failure of a “person in the pew.” The sin is not worse (infidelity is horrible no matter who is involved), however, because of the influence held by a leader, the ripple effects of his failure significantly harm the ministry he serves and those who choose to follow him. Leaders who fail cause greater damage to the cause of Christ and provide great fodder for critics precisely because they areleaders. (2) We are neither immune to temptation nor beyond its power. We must guard our walk and our lives carefully.

Third, when anyone falls, whether or not someone in our camp, all of us (not just leaders) should remember the warning Paul gave the Corinthians: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (1 Cor 10:12).” None of us can completely avoid temptation, however, we have the ability in Christ to resist it. We can look for “the way of escape” promised in 10:13; we can recognize the truth that we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:6); we can “walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16).

I don’t know what lies ahead for Tullian Tchividjian, his wife, his church, his future ministry. I do know it will not be easy. We can and should learn from this situation, but at the same time, pray for him, pray for his wife, pray for his family, pray for his church, pray for other who looked up to him as a leader. Pray that God will be glorified in the long haul through this trial, because “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).

     [1]http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/may/tim-keller-don-carson-explain-why-tullian-tchividjian-tgc.html, accessed June 25, 2105, emphasis added.
     [2]John F. MacArthur, Jr., Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 124.

A Request and a Prayer For 2015 and Beyond

Dear Friend of the Gospel,

As you consider year end giving, would you consider helping the Free Grace Alliance? I'm prayerfully asking God to give us $25,000 or more. Would you help?

The FGA turned 10 this year. And the need to "connect, encourage, and equip" is greater than ever! 2014 was a good year. We heard great speakers at the annual conference in October. Dr. Charlie Bing, one of the founding members of the FGA presented a excellent workshop about our history some of the misunderstandings about the Free Grace Movement. You can read his manuscript on our website (http://freegracealliance.com/). We held several regional conferences throughout the year. Many FGA members travelled around the world, helping to connect with, encourage, and equip church leaders who might otherwise not receive much grace-friendly training. As I was typing this appeal, a man who was one of my students in Ghana called me and thanked me (again) for the training we brought. All around the world, we find church leaders who want to learn more about God's amazing grace! We want to explore ways to help those around the world who hold to Free Grace but have limited resources and opportunities to interact face-to-face with us.

But battles are also erupting against Free Grace. One well known reformed theologian chose to publicly critique the Free Grace Movement and the FGA. At one of the national meetings where he spoke, we were denied the opportunity to present a defense of Free Grace. But in a way, his presentation is good news! It means this man thinks the Free Grace message is dangerous enough (from his perspective) to warrant this kind of attention! We provided a lengthy response to this individual and we and made this response available to our members.

The coming year looks exciting. Of course, we will meet again in October for our national conference and we will hold regional conferences around the country. Right now, we are working on one in Salem, Oregon and in Houston, Texas. If you are interested in hosting a regional, contact us and we will be happy to help you. We are also working with the publishing arm of Grace School of Theology to provide opportunities for publishing high quality Free Grace books. We are redesigning our website in general and specifically our church and job opportunity listings.  We are working on a paper for members summarizing grace-friendly views on an often misunderstood concept, repentance and hope to have that available to you mid-year. And of course, in all of this our main thrust continues to be "sharing grace graciously" as we strive to expand awareness the grace gospel and living by grace.

And that gets me back to the original request. Our membership dues are pretty low ($25 per person) and do not cover the cost of running the organization. They certainly do not allow us to expand our scope. That's where we need your help. I am trusting God will provide our needs. In fact, between the time I started writing this letter and the time I finished it, someone handed me a check for $1,000 for the FGA (I'm not making this stuff up!). So, $1,000 down. $24,000 to go. Would you help us? You can give directly on-line (http://freegracealliance.com/support.htm) or you can mail a check to the address below.

Thank you in advanced for your help. I am looking forward to seeing what God does this coming year!

In His grace,

Roger Fankhauser
FGA President

Membership Has Its Privileges!

Okay, we stole the line. But it is a true statement!
Some of you think you've joined the Free Grace Alliance or that your dues are current, and thus you think you are a current member. Here are a few tests to see if this is true:
  • If you have joined the Free Grace Alliance and your dues are current, you recently received access to the "Members Only" page, which allows access to a "live" membership directory. What a helpful tool if we really want to connect - encourage - equip!
  • If you joined the Free Grace Alliance and your dues are current, you recently received a paper addressing a critique of free grace in general and the Free Grace Alliance in particular given by a prominent reformed theologian. The paper corrected many of the misconceptions this theologian had about free grace.
  • If you joined the Free Grace Alliance and your dues are current, you recently received an invitation to provide literature on your ministry for us to include in the folders given to those who attend the FGA conference October 13-15. 

If you didn't get these, then chances are:

  1. Your dues are not current (you can quickly take care of that by clicking the link http://freegracealliance.com/join.htm), or  
  2. Our e-mail address for you is incorrect (send corrections or questions to julie16689@aol.com). 

Either way, if you are in agreement with the Free Grace Covenant, we want you.

There are a lot of reasons to be part of the Free Grace Alliance. These are just three! By the way, we have done a great deal behind the scenes to improve keeping up with dues and notifying you when they are due (or overdue). And we'll continue to provide valuable resources to our members. 

Membership doeshave its privileges.

Still not sure if you're dues are current? E-mail Julie (julie16689@aol.com). She'll check and let you know. We DO want you!