“Free Grace" Theology: 5 Ways it Diminishes the Gospel, Wayne Grudem, 2016, Crossway, 159 pages, £8.59 amazon, ISBN: 978-1-4335-5114-7
I purchased this book thinking that it was addressing the somewhat similar and perhaps adjacent ‘Hyper Grace Gospel.’ I am not convinced it does - rather it criticises a movement far more insidious, dangerous, and frankly frightening. At times I was baffled by the teaching espoused by the ‘Free Grace Theology’ and saw it as not only biblically untenable but a terrible deceit which, as Grudem points out, threatens the eternal rest of many souls.
Grudem begins by wanting to state that this book is to be seen as part of a discussion amongst friends. This is something which he largely manages to maintain and indeed he is careful - and quite right - to hold back from using the term ‘heresy’ to describe what is nonetheless a dangerous teaching and twisting of the Good News. At the core of this discussion is a disagreement over what is meant in the common Protestant refrain that we are saved by ‘faith alone.’
The first chapter addresses the question of what the Reformers meant by this phrase and bluntly puts the case that all the Reformers believed that “we are saved by faith alone, but that faith is never alone.” Grudem’s formulaic and academic method shines through and he gives extensive references as to why the Reformers did not teach what the Free Grace promoters allege. His illustration using a set of keys on page 37 was particular useful for the minister who wishes to explain this to those largely out of the academic loop.
The following chapters consider why this correct understanding of ‘faith alone’ is so important. This is achieved by looking in consecutive chapters at repentance, assurance, and trust in the person of Christ. In each of these chapters Grudem systematically cuts through the arguments of the Free Grace authors with the efficiency of a world champion food slicer. With repeated and simple strokes he proceeds to undermine each and every point of contention with biblical, theological, and historical evidence. Whilst impressive, it did actually become rather tiring and almost nauseating; having the same list of biblical passages repeated in full again and again and again - sometimes only pages apart - was perhaps overkill. Indeed, that word ‘overkill’ came to find when considering the overall character of this book. It reads like Wayne Grudem has brought a Challenger Two Battle Tank to a knife fight.
Perhaps what made the Free Grace Theology seem so repulsive to me was how the main authors promoting it were deceitful and disingenuous. Time and again Grudem shows how they have quoted from prominent historic theologians or secular Greek manuals to demonstrate that their view is correct. Grudem reveals these deceits for what they are - selective quotations ignoring wider context or co-text and clever editing. I do not know whether these misrepresentations were somehow accidental or purposeful but either way it is deplorable. As an Anglican I have seen all too well how such selective use of material and ‘clever’ editing can change whole denominations (many of the Ritualists of the 19th century were masters in this art) and I find it rather frightening that it is still occurring today.
One minor issue I had with the book was not with Grudem's work but rather the formatting of the footnotes (which were moderately extensive). This is most unlike Crossway and sadly was rather distracting in the end. Due to there being insufficient gap between the tiny superscript numbers and the actual footnote it became very difficult to quickly identify which note was to which number when dealing with a series of long footnotes.
Ultimately, this is a superb resource which seemingly blows Free Grace Theology not only out of the water but out of planetary orbit. It is a great example of relentless academic rigour overpowering poor scholarship and emotional appeals. On the down side it comes across on occasion as somewhat soulless, cold, and hard. Sadly that is what the truth is like at times.