Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Free Grace and Lordship Salvation: Rival Hermeneutics for a Biblical Soteriology

For awhile, I've known that even within what some will call independent, fundamental Baptists, there have been several views of salvation and for sure sanctification as well.  Many just want to leave it alone, not make a big deal about it, sort of treat the views as welcome inhabitants of a bigger tent as a part of a view on unity.  The idea, I think, is that we be generous, sort of accepting of several views in a general way, and sort them out at a lower level.  One question that some might be asking is, "At what point has the plan of salvation been altered to be a false gospel?"  Or perhaps another, "When is the difference great enough that it means separation?"

I know some don't know on which side of this debate they fall.  Both sides make points that sound good to them.  They might not want to offend either side.  If they do come down on a side, they do it by inviting only one of the sides to preach for them or for a conference.  They will promote only one of the sides of which they prefer.  They might think that one of the sides just has a few quirks or some over emphases of certain aspects of salvation, but besides that is OK.

Does the Bible give latitude on the plan of salvation?  Is there any hint that some variety is acceptable within permissible boundaries?  There is only one Bible and one plan of salvation.  God is clear.  How did we get to where there is the present degree of difference between those who might generally identify with one another?

For the sake of this one post, and since this is what I've written about the last three posts, I want to keep it to these two points of view that have disagreement coming from each side, those two being what some call Lordship salvation (LS) and another that some label free grace (FG).  We'll leave "works salvation" or legalism and universalism, those types of extremes, out of it.  Relating to what I've recently written about, I take the side called "Lordship salvation."  Someone here is wrong-- both FG and LS cannot both be right.  Where we get the difference is an approach to scripture, the interpretation of the Bible, what is called "hermeneutics."

My credentials for writing this and reporting my conclusions are that I have studied the entire New Testament verse-by-verse in the original languages and I'm very proven independent.  I've studied exegetically and preached expositionally for decades.  I'm more of a biblical theologian than systematic.  I'm widely read on both sides of the salvation issue.  I am less biased than most.  I don't think I'm biased at all, but at the same time I think everyone is biased at least some.

With all that being said, I read the "free grace" (FG) position as a proof text position, influenced greatly by the outside and by pragmatism, and the "Lordship salvation" (LS) view as contextual, grammatical, and historical.  That evaluation is my being as straightforward as possible, not holding back.  To put it the most simply, the FG side "proof texts" and the other doesn't.

How I am reading this is that FG has a particular perspective of free, freedom, or grace, coming as it has out of a position of pragmatism that likely arose out of a wrong view of man's nature, and then everything else has to fit into that.  All the passages have to fit into that, even if they have to be forced to do so.  True interpretation doesn't work like that.  Everything in the Bible fits naturally.  There is one God, who doesn't deny Himself, and so the harmony of scripture is not forced.

Rather than finding the message of the whole New Testament, FG finds verses that might teach what it wants the Bible to teach, then adjusts the rest of the New Testament to it.  It is a method similar to Campbellism, which finds a few verses that Campbellism purports the teaching of baptismal regeneration and then makes the rest of the New Testament conform to them.   Alexander Campbell has a big influence on those who say they're just trying to teach what the Bible teaches.  The Church of Christ says that it speaks where the Bible speaks and is silent where the Bible is silent, but actually they're just morphing Campbell.  Their views are part of a Campbellist tradition, that fit the Campbell hermeneutic.  They are easily exposed, but there is still a lot of emotion and angst that can turn into hours of argument.

FG saturates evangelicalism and fundamentalism, arising out of a tradition of Keswick, Finney, Moody, Torrey, Chafer, and then Campus Crusade, among others.   Its plan of salvation was reduced to a kind of pragmatic presentation, like a sales pitch, everything fitting on something that you could carry in a shirt pocket.  It was repeated again and again and again.  There were professions and results, all of which were an assumed validation of its truth.  A few verses took on major importance in the tradition.   That message, however, over a period of time also eroded and began to disintegrate to something easier and simpler.  When it is challenged, it is as if the Bible is being disputed, but it really is a tradition propped up on years of repetition.

The latest iteration of FG is less a biblical theology of salvation as it is an attack on LS.  FG has to defend itself after years of a free pass.  It doesn't look pretty.  Rather than prove its point, it essentially just attempts to debunk LS.  I read it as sending LS into one rabbit trail or wild goose chase after another without providing actual proof itself, beside pulling out its typical proof texts and red herrings.  One of the red herrings is:  salvation and discipleship ARE NOT THE SAME.  I write that in all caps, because either yelling that or reciting it again and again is what gives it authority.  Some of the other red herrings are "make Jesus Lord" or "frontload works" or "commit to changing every aspect of your life ahead of time."  LS must stop itself from dealing with the red herrings, which is difficult.

LS is a read of the New Testament within the arch of the entire biblical narrative.  Lordship is the story.  You take that out and you don't have the same story.  In a sense, you don't have the Bible or the New Testament.  You have in the beginning "God."  Lordship starts there.  Nothing is here without him.  Everything is about worshiping Him.  LS isn't a lense.  It is the entire landscape.  Revelation ends with Lordship.

Chronicles is the last of the Hebrew OT, which has a long genealogy.  Matthew is the first of the NT, Greek and English, and it starts with a genealogy.  You make the connection and it is Jesus is Lord.   Luke starts with saying that it is proving something and what it proves is Lordship.  I can pick out any of the New Testament books and see the same.  Almost every Pauline epistle starts with Paul speaking about Lordship.  I think of 2 Peter.  What do the false teachers have a problem with?  The second coming.  Why?  Jesus is Lord and they want to be.  I think of why people are not saved in Romans 1 -- they hold fast (suppress) the truth in unrighteousness.  They like doing what they want to do and so they suppress the truth.  They like things their way, so they suppress the truth.

If the entire New Testament is the gospel, the message is the Lordship of Christ.  Sure, we can be saved, but we're saved to worship.  We're saved as a love gift to the Son to worship Him forever.  Jesus is exalted, why?  That every knee would confess that He is Lord.  Even Jesus as Savior is tied into Lordship.  How?  Man is in rebellion against God and He can't do what the Lord wants Him to do without being saved.  He can't get into the Kingdom where Jesus is King without being saved.  Unless He is born again, He can't be in the kingdom.

Tell-tale in the whole discussion is the FG taking of "commitment" out of belief.  When you take commitment out of belief, you leave belief as merely intellectual.  You are left with intellectual salvation.  This smacks against the very idea of belief, which might be why they often prefer "accept" instead of "believe," even though "accept" isn't in the Bible.  You can't believe in Jesus and not be committed to Him.  Moses asked, "Who is on the Lord's side?"  Answer of FG, "I am, but I'm not committed to His side, just acknowledging that His side is right."  Moses:  "Fine!"  No, not fine.  Hebrews 11, faith chapter, it's obvious commitment is part of believing.  Commitment is the message of faith there.  If you believe in Jesus, and He is Lord, what is the commitment?  If He is Lord, how could there not be commitment?  Of course there is commitment, but taking commitment out is indicative of a strategy here.

FG was allowed, it seems for many years, to operate with little to no criticism, probably in part because there was a particular view of unity that allowance would support.  They were orthodox on the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, bodily resurrection, inerrancy -- those types of so-called fundamental doctrines.  On those, FG and LS are identical.  Now that there is criticism, probably because salvation has been so watered down to become almost a form of universalism, there is little to nothing to defend FG.  Of the few attempts, the faulty hermeneutic of FG has been exposed.


Tyler Robbins said...

I believe you go too far when you lump Chafer in with Finney! I've read his soteriology; he is Calvinistic and not pragmatic at all. His book True Evangelism was hated by Rice and the Sword crowd for eschewing revival-style antics.

I am enjoying your series.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for coming over. Chafer and Finney are perhaps the furthest extent, but I've got to lump Chafer in because of his best-selling He That Is Spiritual book, which broke Christians into two categories.

I've read his systematic too, and Finney is unorthodox, while Chafer would be orthodox. Both are in the trajectory, though.

Jim F said...


Thank you for being on of the LS proponents that actually realize that LS and free grace indeed are different things. Two different gospels and not just semantics. I of course disagree because I believe free grace theology flows out of balanced, disciplined, consistant literal, plain, dispensational hermeneutics. Which hermeneutic do you use? I could say many of the same things in reverse to the LS view. They tend to rely on their twisted proof texts for Calvinism and other things. To me LS is the gospel of Calvinism which flows out of Reformed theology. An erroneous view that came out of Catholic error. They tried to recover many teachings but yet failed in their own ways.

Jim F

Kent Brandenburg said...


A couple of times you've mentioned Calvinism, and I'm a no point Calvinist. I don't believe any of the 5 points, and I'm fine with that. Some would think I'm a Calvinist because I actually am more consistent with sovereignty than most Calvinists -- I actually don't know of a Calvinist that I'm less consistent. I think that a 1600-1700 Calvinist would rather be in our church than most Calvinist churches, because they could not stomach their methods and aesthetics.

If Lordship flows out of Calvinism, how could I believe it? I'm not at all Calvinist and people reading here know that.

The FG position is like reading from a different Bible. They don't answer arguments. I've given several here and they are just ignored. Everything Thomas Ross has said has not been answered. FG doesn't threaten LS at all.

For balanced, disciplined, and consistent, you're talking starting with a position not in the Bible and then fitting in a disciplined and consistent way with that position.

Jim Peet said...

Thank you. Helpful.

Colin Maxwell said...

Kent: Side issue here, so I'll accept a simple 'Yes' or 'No' answer w/o coming back on it: Would you let a 5 point Calvinist from whatever era join your church?

Kent Brandenburg said...


Yes. We've had 5 pointers a member of our church. It's not a separating issue. They can't cause division over the church because of it, but they can join. No one, by the way, can cause division in the church.

Colin Maxwell said...

Thanks for your swift and agreeable reply. Back to the main issue again: I fundamentally agree with your analysis of the Lordship Salvation matter. I certainly don't see it as being part of the Calvinist/Non Calvinist debate with the Calvinists autmatically going one way and the Non's in the opposite direction. I know plenty of Non C's who refuse to divide Christ into managable proportions.

Ricci said...

Can you explain your last statement? What do you mean by "no one can cause division in the church"?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Ricci,

Good to see you again. Yes, even after I pushed "publish" I thought that one might be confusing, and, alas, it was.

There is not to be division in the church. No one can cause division without getting into trouble.

I think a Calvinist might want more in our doctrinal statement about salvation, but wouldn't disagree with anything that is in it. There are not a lot of Baptist Calvinists in this area and we aren't producing them. The two we've had didn't last in the church, but it was for the kind of disobedience that can be characteristic of anyone. One did not like that we invited people to be saved. He actually stopped coming and we disciplined him out for not attending. The other guy got disciplined out for not working. His wife worked but he wouldn't. They didn't cause any division over their Calvinism, however, i.e., they weren't factious.

Division is factiousness, heresy, and Romans 16:17-18, 2 Thess 3:6-15, Titus 3:10-11 talk about it. 1 Corinthians 1, among other places, teaches one mind in the church. People have to be able to grow, but they can't cause division in the church and stay.

Hope that helped.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks Colin.

I'm not a Calvinist, but I see this as a bigger deal and a much, much bigger difference for me than with Calvinism. I see these free gracers as changing the gospel.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Josh P from SharperIron,

If you're there....have you studied 2 Corinthians 12 or Galatians before? Have you looked at the beginning of Paul's epistles period. In all of them he gives his credentials. Have you ever been at linkedin? What's on there, and why? What about when someone advertises for a conference and puts bios of the men in the conference material---what's that all about? I hope you'll be consistent here. Shouldn't you be rejoicing that I've preached through the whole New Testament and studied it out?

It's true I didn't quote FG men. Did I quote any LS men? I understand the FG and LS men. Neither side is 100% homogenous. "Entrust self to the Jesus," according to Ryrie isn't the same as a commitment of self. Anyway, the fact that you think that it does is tell-tale about you.

horace said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

So then you don't think Calvinism is something to break fellowship over, unlike most other Independent Baptists such as David Cloud? Would Old Earth Creationists, amillennialists or others who disagree with similar secondary doctrines also be allowed to be members provided they do not cause "division" over it?

Sincerely Yours,
Casey Cho

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Casey,

I don't know for sure what David Cloud believes about separation. We would be different on amillennialism and old earth creationism. This is not so much about essentials/non-essentials as it is about what we believe and practice. Amillennialism changes a large chunk of the Bible and not just eschatology. Old earth creationism undermines the gospel.

We separate over belief and practice, but we don't have an anti-Calvinism aspect to our doctrinal statement or covenant. A Calvinist could agree with what is written, I believe.

Someone wouldn't agree with our premillennialism and young earth creationism.

The biblical understanding of fellowship is cooperation in ministry, just so that you know.

horace said...

Dear Pastor Brandenburg,

Thank you for your response and in particular your clarification on which doctrines your church would separate over. As to Mr. Cloud here is one such quote by him: "“Whosoever will” election is a fundamental doctrine (as opposed to “sovereign” election). “Whosoever believeth” is repeated seven times in five books. The Bible clearly teaches that everyone is invited to be saved and everyone can be saved." [1]


Dave said...


Have you considered that FG and LS could both apply to a believer's life?

We know from Scripture that the grace extended to us after Christ is something that the prophets told of, and the angels desire to look into based on 1 Peter 1:10-14.

We also know from Scripture the grace extended to the Corinthians, and their being reminded not only of it, but of the Lord's will that they walk as children of God.

I understand what has come to be labeled as "Free Grace" by some is in reality what others have come to understand as "Antinomianism", but I believe there is quite a bit of room that the Lord allows in the growth process of His children...however it's no excuse for ignoring His Lordship and His command for us to be Holy.

By the way, I liked your article for the most part. :)