This is purely a critique based upon my personal perceptions of the Free-Grace Theology position finding context via interaction with some Free-Grace proponents (within the blogosphere) and some of the formal writings by people such as Zane Hodges, Bob Wilkin, and Joseph Dillow.
I believe the Free-Grace hermeneutic is based upon the Literal, Grammatical, Historical interpretive model finding its full expression within the Dispensational/Pre-millenial tradition. At this point I really don’t have any differences with the Free-Grace interpretive method, except for the fact that I follow a Progressive Dispensational grid of interpretation; which could still be compatible with the Free-Gracer’s interpretive conclusions (i.e. distinction between Israel/Church, rewards, etc.).
If Free-Grace theology was reducible to the simple idea that all that is required for salvation is simple faith in Jesus Christ alone–then it would be agreeable to me. Note what Free-Grace scholar says about their perspective on salvation contra Lordship salvation:
Under cover of a completely insupportable definition of saving faith, lordship teaching introduces into the Christian church a doctrine of salvation which was unknown to the New Testament authors. It transforms the offer of a free gift of eternal life into a “contract” between the sinner and God, and it turns the joy of Christian living into a grueling effort to verify our faith and our accpetance before God. As theology, it is a complete disaster. (Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free!, 27)
I agree with Hodges analysis here, but from my perspective, his position (Free-Grace, from now on will be FG) commits the same horrific error that the Lordship Salvation perspective does. In other words, the FG position still operates under the same notion of God (see Charles Ryrie’s “Basic Theology–and his understanding of the nature of God) as One who relates to man via contract. What I mean is that Hodges accuses the Lordship (LS) position of subsuming justification with sanctification, i.e. salvation is seen as a process of works constantly causing a person to look at self (anthropocentric) rather than looking at Christ–and His works. Retaining the same framework as the LS position, FG advocates say, “okay, LS, you’re right on the contract part of the salvation equation, right on the verification aspect of salvation, just wrong on the”referent” of salvation. In other words, whereas the LS position places emphasis upon works to verify if an individual is one of the elect and saved; FG’ers places emphasis upon works to verify if an individual will be an heir (=a nominal or even backslidden person now)or co/joint-heir (=faithful disciple/producing good works now) with Christ during the millenial reign of Christ and stretching into all eternity. Notice Joseph Dillow, FG advocate and articulate, he says in regards to Romans 8:17:
This passage, in agreement with Gal. 4:7, says we are all heirs of God by virtue of the fact that we are His children. But it says something else. It says we are also co-heirs with Christ ‘if indeed we share in His sufferings.’ The second heirship mentioned in this verse is conditional upon our joining with Him in His sufferings. Being an heir of God is unconditional, but being a joint heir of the kingdom is conditioned upon our spiritual perseverance. . . . (Joseph Dillow, “Reign of the Servant Kings,” 86-7)
Dillow builds his assertion here upon an elaborate biblical theology and motif study he has already done (in the Pentateuch), in his book, upon what it means to be an possessor of the land and an inheritor (i.e. the people of Israel when entering the promise land were already possessors based upon God’s unconditional promise [NT parallel=heir]; the problem was, is that they didn’t fully enter in and fully enjoy their inheritance [NT parallel=co/joint heir] which was conditional upon their obedience of completely taking the land they had already been given).
Admittedly, this provides an interesting and novel idea, but the hard part is to correlate these Old Testament concepts directly to their supposed New Testament counterparts. Indeed, Dillow and FG’rs try to do so–but it seems in the end to be an artificial attachment and parallel; which by the way does not follow a literal hermeneutic. In other words in order to draw such a correlation between these OT concepts and NT expressions the exegete must identify these OT motifs as typological themes that find substance in their fulfillment in the NT. This would follow a more Covenant/Amil spiritualizing methodology of interpretation; rather than the distinctive literal interpretation that FG’rs would supposedly follow. Consequently there is some fundamental inconsistency within the hermeneutics of the Free-Grace position (if the NT explicitly were to pick up on these OT motifs, and fill up the concepts of “heir” and “co-heir” in the NT with these concepts, then hermeneutically, from my perspective these would be legitimate typologies–but if the NT does not, then one is left with a “spiritualizing” interpretive methodology as I believe the FG interpretation leaves us with).
Thus, hermeneutically and theologically, FG does not produce what it promises. It still presents a salvation that puts one’s eyes upon self–proving their discipleship ultimately becoming a “co-heir” with Christ; paralleling the LS position that promotes the same basic construct only differing in referent (i.e. being ultimately saved vs. being a co-heir with Christ). And, as was just noted, The FG position operates under a hermeneutic that betrays their basic tenet of following a “literal” approach to interpretation.
If this is the case then I suppose I do, after-all, differ with the FG approach to interpretation. Only because from my perspective they say they follow a literal method of interpretation–but aren’t consistent here; and they say they offer a different framework of understanding and articulation of salvation (contra LS)–but they don’t, only, as noted above, a different “referent” for what an individual is “working” for (i.e. the implication–we still end up with a “man-centered” system of salvation–whether or not the FG advocate decries to the contrary–their system betrays them).
I have other issues (just ask my wife 😉 ), such as FG’s weak appraisal of placing any value on the history of interpretation; which in my estimation, if they did, might not fall into the same man-centered framework of theology that they are protesting (Lordship). And also another consequence of disdain for the history of interpretation is a weak view of a biblical anthropology. The FG proponent uses language like will and intellect, but they leave it very under-developed, and actually, from my point of view, assume the same weak conceptual understanding of will and intellect that their opponents (LS advocates) forward. But these are mere assertions at this point, i.e. the issue of history and FG theology, I’ll have to try and substantiate this point later.
In conclusion, the primary problem, in my view, is that FG is located in the same theological stream as their arch-rivals, the Lordship guys. Ultimately the problem is a methodological error, by using scholastic conceptuality to unpack who God is–in other words, the problem is reducible to a “Theology Proper” issue. Both Free Grace and Lordship follow the typical classical theistic understanding of God which emphasizes the “Oneness” of God instead of the “Threeness”. Anyway, I remain un-impressed with the FG alternative to LS, since in the end there really is no substantial difference between the two.