Sunday, March 6, 2011

The (a)historical roots of free grace theology

Perhaps one of the most devastating arguments against the no-lordship position is the appeal to antiquity. While some of the free grace teachers would deny it, the fact is that there is not one significant figure in the history of the church before the twentieth century who affirmed their position. With the exception of certain strands of antinomianism, there is not really any other theological position akin to free grace theology in the history of the church before the 1900’s. This fact alone should be enough to convince any Christian of free grace theology’s falsity.

In contrast to the no-lordship position, Lordship salvation has a long and steady line of tradition going back to the days of the Apostles. (Note: of course I realize such a statement may be seen as anachronistic; however, the essential element of Lordship teaching—the perseverance of the saints—can be seen in church doctrine throughout history even though it may not have been labeled “Lordship salvation” until recently). Consider the following research that supports my arguments above:

As to the lack of historical foundation for the free grace opinion, D.A. Carson, in his Exegetical Fallacies, points out numerous instances where Zane Hodges, in the cause of free-grace theology, makes exegetically unwarranted interpretations and mistakes. One particular criticism he lodges against Zane Hodges (and other free-grace teachers) is the absolutely bizarre and novel interpretations they give for very clear passages of Scripture in the Bible. Carson says of Hodges’s work on James 2,

“Perhaps one of the most intriguing—and disturbing—features of Zane C. Hodges's book... is that to the best of my knowledge not one significant interpreter of Scripture in the entire history of the church has held to Hodges' interpretation of the passage he treats. That does not necessarily mean Hodges is wrong; but it certainly means he is probably wrong…” (137).

Dr. Michael Horton and his colleagues at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, CA wrote a book a number of years ago entitled Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation in which they analyzed the Lordship salvation debate. Although the writers had critiques of both positions, the overwhelming number of objections were leveled at the no-lordship position. Perhaps the greatest objection to the free grace position was its novelty. Michael Horton wrote,

“…James Boice, J.I. Packer, and others have argued in their works [that] no respected, mainstream Christian thinker, writer, or preacher has ever held such extreme and unusual views concerning the nature of the gospel and saving grace as Zane Hodges [and his free grace counterparts].”

Furthermore he said,

“In our estimation, there is not the slightest support for Hodges and Ryrie to claim the reformers’ [like Luther's and Calvin's] favor for their novel views” (11).

Dr. Thomas Schreiner also notes the novelty of the free-grace (“loss-of-rewards”) view of salvation in his book The Race Set Before Us. See his comments on pages 28, 184, and 188.

While the free grace position is ahistorical and a theological innovation, the Lordship position has a firm historical foundation. Consider just a few pieces of information:

John MacArthur, in an appendix to his book Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, furnishes an abundance of historical material that clearly shows that Lordship salvation has been the consistent witness of the church throughout history. See pages 221-37.

Wayne Grudem, when discussing this issue in his Systematic Theology, writes,

“It is misleading to brand 'Lordship salvation' as if it were some new doctrine, or as if it were any other kind of salvation—MacArthur [a lordship teacher] is teaching what has been the historic position of Christian orthodoxy on this matter…” (715).

Much more could be said on this issue. But what has been shown is sufficient to support my contention that the free grace position is a Johnny-come-lately theological movement while the Lordship salvation camp stands on solid historical ground.

For more information about this here are a few resources to consult:

1. See my previous post about the historical validity of Calvinism and the resources I mention there since the Lordship position simply represents the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints.

2. See Phil Johnson’s excellent article on antinomianism here.

3. Andy Naselli has written a recent book that convincingly shows that the free grace position stems from Keswick theology which was started around the early half of the twentieth century. Get Naselli’s book here.


  1. Very interesting and succinct posts Lucas. But "novelty" isn't a strong argument. T.F. Torrance well-documented how the church fathers lost justification by faith alone very early and was truly not revived until Luther. No one ever before systematized doctrine as Luther, Melanthon, and the other Reformers did. If you want to argue that small "seeds" of their ideas can be found in church fathers, I'd grant that, but then you link with free grace theologians who find seeds of their theological system in church history as well. Zane Hodges found support in the literature for every one of his interpretations, except Romans 10. What Zane did that was "new" was pull together and systematize things that haven't been formulated in quite that way before. This is no different from what Luther did.

    Certainly let's be wary and careful to search the Scriptures ourselves. Yet it was novelty that ignited the Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakening in the 1700s, and the modern missions movement in the 1800-1900s. Personally, I hope in this century the church will find again assurance in Christ alone and the reality of accountability at the bema.

    This is not to be unexpected, contra Carson. With time we move up the "hermeneutical spiral" to learn more about Scripture. If this were not so, exegesis is pointless - just read old commentaries. Fallible interpreters both now (including you and I) and in times past haven't grasped the truth fully. The real meat of the issue is the biblical text itself. With that I'd recommend reading books that give the full breath of the matter, more so than blogging.

    Fred Lybrand's 'Back to Faith' examines the cliche "the faith that saves is never alone," Fred Chay has an excellent lexical study on faith in 'The Faith That Saves,' and Charles Bing's dissertation 'Lordship Salvation.' Dillow's book is okay but dated now.
    Anyway... sorry for the novel. God bless!

  2. Paul,
    Thanks for taking the time to read my post and to interact with me. I think you make a couple of good points and overall your thoughts are well taken. Let me say a few things in response, though:
    1. I do not consider this post the greatest evidence against free grace theology. The greatest objections to the free grace position come from biblical and theological considerations. I mentioned my theological problems with the system yesterday and in a few days will marshal the biblical case against it.
    2. The historical evidence, however, while not conclusive, is substantial. Your appeal to Luther’s “novelty” is a bit of a red herring considering the fact that the topic of justification is not under discussion. The point of my post is to show that the doctrine of perseverance—that good works necessarily follow faith—occupies a prominent place in church history. Hodges may be able to amass a few quotations here and there, but placed next to the abundance of quotations in favor of perseverance, I think there is no question which side has a greater historical pedigree.
    3. I certainly do plan to continue to read and study. I will check out the sources you cited when I am able to.
    Thanks again for your interaction. I appreciate your thoughts.

  3. If appeal to novelty is a good argument for the credibility of the Lordship Salvation view of salvation, then a good case could be made for the universalist view of salvation as something to be considered. But that’s why I go back to the written word which supports heavily the Free Grace position.