Monday, March 21, 2011

Rob Bell and the Deadly Trend in the Free Grace Movement

Br Dr. Fred Lybrand

Let's have a discussion.

So, Rob Bell writes a book called "Love Wins" and it is basically all about heaven and hell with a final conclusion that Love wins out; God's love will ultimately persuade everyone to embrace Him and His heaven.  It sounds like universalism, but Bell and others are also denying it.  You can call it what you want, but if everyone gets in, then salvation is clearly 'universal' (hence the name).

Of course this is unabashedly anti-scriptural (nice interview here: ), but what is behind his conclusion?  Cynically we could speak in terms of fame and fortune as motivating Bell to depart from the historic / biblical Christian faith.  I, however, think there is a far more simple way to think about it theologically.  Bell has just imposed a hierarchy on the attributes of God.  The net result is that Bell has taken grace (he says love, but a loving God must be gracious) to the extreme.

Face it---if God is gracious wouldn't He save everyone (that's the idea)?  If you are gracious to save one, you are even more gracious to save two.  If you are loving enough to save one, you are even more loving to save two. The more the merrier...why not just save all?  Rob Bell is simply running one piece of the puzzle to the extreme.  This is the kind of logic behind Paul's accusers in Romans 3:8, that grace was un-boundried.

In Back to Faith ( I have an appendix dealing with Antinominism.  Basically, I point out that the real antinomians are the universalists.  Rob Bell is the end result that Lordshippers and Legalists think our theology leads a person to conclude.

Though I have fought against the legitimacy of that accusation, I'm starting to waver a little.  It may be that some of us are flirting with the same deadly trend we see in Rob Bell.  I believe some of us are starting to create a hierarchy within the attributes of God to our own demise.  If this is new to you, then indulge the thought for a moment.  God has a nature (complex of attributes) which includes such things as love, holiness, justice, mercy, omnipotence, etc.  These attributes essentially describe God and the way in which He functions as best we can discern from the revelation through His Word.  When we understand God's attributes as perfectly balanced within His person we are fine, but if we begin to elevate one attribute above another, we reshape the very nature of God.  Consider how different each of these 'gods' would be:

1.  A god who is more justice than mercy
2.  A god who is more love than justice
3.  A god who is more forgiveness than truth

Each one would be different from the other.  The other attributes aren't excluded, but they are subservient.  In a similar way, if we make any person of the Trinity 'more' and another member 'less'---then the doctrine of the Trinity collapses.

So, what of us in the Free Grace Movement?  What is our danger?

Simply put, many of us have been overly concerned about Reformed Theology, especially as it shows up in the various renditions of DORT.  The theory is that if you buy one part of the '5 Points' you must buy them all.  Of course, it is the Calvinists who try to insist upon this...and some of us just follow along.  Mostly it is a definitional problem and an allegiance to a theology over Scripture.  Personally, I am clearly a 'moderate Calvinist' (labels being what they are), but I am also Free Grace to the core.

Here's the deadly trend--- we have folks in our Shire who are saying that the Doctrine of Election cannot be true because "What love is that?  How could a loving God who can elect whomever He wishes elect some to hell?  What love is this?"  I believe that there are many assumptions in this argument that don't match the record or Calvinism; however, the BIG ISSUE is that the love of God is being elevated above His sovereignty (at least).  Indeed, I have friends who try to argue that sovereignty isn't much of an issue because it isn't mentioned the Bible (counter arguments: see the word *Trinity*).  Of course, even the definition of love is warped a bit in the argument as well (a different post should address this).

In any case dear friends, please consider that what is happening is an elevation of one attribute above the others in the very nature of God.  God's nature is complete and balanced unto itself.  This is why the Cross makes such sense given the character of God.  Justice and love are perfectly balanced in the death of Christ for us.

Rob Bell has elevated one attribute above the rest, and so he is off to sup with universalism.

However, are we much different?  Are we elevating one attribute of God above the others?  It doesn't take much math to see how this trend leads us astray.  Are our accusers on to something?  Are we forcing categories on God to make our own theology work?  I find comfort in mystery, not knowing how it all works.  I find fear in tampering with the Word of God.

God help us.

Grace and peace,

Dr. Fred R. Lybrand

P.S.  Please tell me what you think...let's have a discussion.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lordship Salvation, Free Grace, and Pascal’s Wager

Have you ever thought of preaching the message of God’s grace in terms of the probabilities and consequences that you’re right?

Most of us are at least passingly familiar with Pascal’s Wager, a logical premise by which it was sought to say that the only reasonable course was to worship God because it had no negative consequences and only possible positive consequences.  While there are certainly deficiencies in the argument, it nevertheless has some merits.

I was having a discussion with a student earlier this semester where this idea came floating into my mind.  My student had a friend who said, in effect, that if Reformed theology (i.e. Lordship salvation) leads people to be scared or lack assurance, then hey at least they are saved.  This got me thinking about the relative merits and dangers of preaching Free Grace versus preaching Lordship salvation.  This is not to debate the relative merits of the positions, but merely to look at the relative risks and dangers of each.

This is what I came up with:


Along the top is the two possibilities under consideration, namely whether LS or FG is true.  Along the side are two actions, namely whether we preach LS or FG. (note that this is why it resembles Pascal’s Wager)  In this scheme, if LS is true and we preach LS then God is glorified and the elect will come to faith and persevere.  If FG is true and we preach FG then God is glorified and many come to faith alone in Christ alone.  Both of those are good results.

It’s in the negative boxes that an interesting truth presents itself.  If LS is true and yet those who are FG still preach FG, that doesn’t take God by surprise.  God is not glorified by that, but within the Reformed system irresistible grace WILL draw the elect to faith.  They WILL believe in Christ as Lord and Savior and they WILL persevere.  While some will have false assurance on earth, the only ones who have false assurance were reprobate anyway!  They only have false assurance for a short time and will end up in hell, just as God foreordained.  Therefore in an absolute, eternal sense nothing is lost.

However, if FG is true and LS is preached there is great danger.  If FG is true, decisions matter, and LS is a works-based salvation based on my perseverance and fruit, then not only is God not glorified but many are led to hell who might not be.  If FG is true but LS is preached, just as bad is that many true saints are robbed of their assurance on earth and, because of that lack, do not stay faithful to Christ like they could have with proper motives.  They are robbed of their faithfulness at the Bema seat of Christ.  Therefore, in this paradigm there is real, eternal risk.

So in light of this, there is little risk to the FG preacher if they are wrong, but great risk to the LS preacher if they are wrong.

Now, I will admit that I have not noodled through every nuance and permutation of this.  However, the idea has been rattling around in the mush of my brain for a bit so I wanted to get it out there and get your thoughts.

What do you think of the analogy?  Is the logic sound?  Is it reasonable?  Has someone done this already and I missed it?

Friday, March 4, 2011

President's Letter - March 2011

                                                                                                                                           March, 2011
Dear FGA members and friends,
One of the most strategic philosophies of the Free Grace movement over the years has been the tactic of focusing and grounding the issue of grace theology on a proper exegesis of individual passages in the Bible.
We are all too aware of the danger of grounding our views in the man-made systems of theology. For even the best of them, although attempting to be coherent, consistent and comprehensive, at times fail due to allegiances formed by a prior commitment to a system that has as its foundation  a system of theology that is less than biblically based.
This being the case, it is imperative that we make sure that we not only continue this foundation, but that we also make sure the next generation is able to not only engage in proper theological reflection and articulation, but even more so that they are able to do proper exegesis. Don't get me wrong, there is a need for a systematic Free Grace Theology. And by the grace of God we are beginning to see some Free Grace Theology textbooks coming into existence. But these must come about only as we have made sure to ground our theology on proper exegetical procedure and proper hermeneutical principles.
Many of us in the FGA have attended advanced Bible training institutes, Bible colleges and or seminary. That means that many of us have been trained in how to study the Bible or have had a course in Hermeneutics. Might I challenge each of you who have so been trained to make sure you are passing on to others the joy of learning how to study the Bible. I teach Hermeneutics at the seminary level for a living. But I also have just finished teaching a group of laymen a 6 week 2 hour per week course on Bible study methods. (Prof Howie Hendricks lives on forever.) I have done this for the past 33 years. Many of you have done the same both here in the U.S. and overseas. Literally thousands of people have learned how to study the Bible on their own. (If this is not part of 2 Timothy 2:2 then I do not know what is.) I believe this focus on the text has kept the grace issue alive and well.   So here is the bottom line:
"If you can, do --- If you cannot
then find someone who can help you."
 If you can teach others how to study the Bible for themselves then might I challenge you if you are a pastor or church planter to form a group from your church each year and plan to teach some of your people the joy of discovery. If you are a layman, who has been trained in how to study the Bible, ask the Lord to lead you to others whom you can teach.
If the Free Grace movement loses its focus on the text and its ability to exposit the text then we are one generation from - if not extinction, then irrelevance.
Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,
 Dr. Fred Chay
President, FGA