Grant Hawley, author, Dispensationalism and Free Grace: Intimately Linked
This blog is from the Prologue of Grant Hawley’s new book, available now for pre-order.
About a decade ago I was introduced to free grace theology. At that time I understood discipleship to mean, “being a Christian,” the kingdom to often mean, “the church,” reward to mean, “free gift,” free gift to mean, “conditional gift,” justified by works (from James 2) to mean “justified by faith evidenced by works,” and believe to mean whatever I wanted it to mean at the time.[i] When I was introduced to free grace, I started seeing scholars like Joseph Dillow, Zane Hodges, and Bob Wilkin use the term kingdom to mean “kingdom,” believe to mean “believe,” reward to mean “reward,” etc., and I was dumbfounded. My thought process went something like, “This may provide an answer to the contradictions I was growing uncomfortable with, but do we have to redefine everything to make it work?” The irony certainly does not escape me.
It was not long until I realized that the Bible was really a much simpler book than I had imagined and that it really was written to be understood. A non-literal approach to Scripture is largely responsible for the widespread confusion and the resulting reluctance of the layperson to study the Bible without undue dependence upon commentaries. The popularity of paraphrases and dynamic equivalence versions of the Bible such as The Message[ii] and the New International Version[iii] is largely due to this misconception, and reflects a growing pre-Reformational attitude that the unlearned cannot be trusted with the Word of God without a mediator.[iv]
I have found over the last several years that much of the task of a free grace teacher is simply to unravel the confusion woven by a long tradition of non-literal interpretation, to help students pay attention to context, and to let words mean what they say. In doing so, I am reminded of dispensational works such as Prophecy Made Plain by C. I. Scofield,[v] in which the author shows that prophecy is not impossible to understand if we simply pay attention to context and let the principle of literal interpretation rule. Soteriology is no different.
As a pastor, I have introduced many people to free grace theology in discipleship settings, and those who have accepted it have without fail commented that free grace makes the Bible much easier to understand. This has long been recognized as a benefit of dispensationalism as well. This is plainly admitted in Arthur Pink’s introduction to his work against dispensationalism:
[Dispensationalism is] a device wherein the wily serpent appears as an angel of light, feigning to “make the Bible a new book” by simplifying much in it which perplexes the spiritually unlearned (emphasis added).[vi]
In Pink’s understanding, the simplicity and accessibility afforded by dispensationalism is outweighed by the desire to apply every portion of Scripture directly to the church age. Thus, covenant theology’s unification of Scripture was preferable to him. I have found this to be a common theme (at least to some extent) among many (perhaps all) who have written in defense of Lordship salvation. This is true even among Lordship salvation proponents who embrace some form of dispensationalism. This will be demonstrated in the present book.
In the first chapter, I will demonstrate that many of the proponents of Lordship salvation have advanced the argument that normative dispensationalism and free grace go hand-in-hand. Among these are Drs. John MacArthur[vii] and John Gerstner, though many others have also made this claim. I agree with this assertion.
To establish this connection, I will show where MacArthur and Gerstner have drawn a correlation between dispensationalism and free grace in their works on soteriology, and I will do a brief survey of the writings of A. W. Pink both before and after his change from dispensationalism to covenant theology, showing that his soteriology was greatly impacted by the change. In other words, in the first chapter, I hope to show that Lordship salvation comes out of an approach to interpretation that differs from the approach of normative dispensationalism.
In the second chapter, I will attempt to show how this occurs by interacting with specific methods of interpretation used by proponents of Lordship salvation as they are applied to various Biblical passages.
In the last chapter, I will attempt to demonstrate how and why dispensationalism has led so many to free grace theology.
[i]“Many people understand John 6:47 as though it read: ‘He who whatchamacallits has everlasting life.’ Since they don’t know what whatchamacallit is, they don’t know if they have everlasting life or not.” Robert N. Wilkin, “Beware of Confusion about Faith” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society vol. 18, no. 34 (Spring 2005):3. Wilkin here describes perfectly the confusion I had.
[ii]The Message, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress Publishing Group, 2002).
[iii]The Holy Bible, New International Version®, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™).
[iv]This perspective is also in evidence in MacArthur’s discussion of early dispensationalists: “Many of these men were self-taught in theology and were professionals in secular occupations. Darby and Scofield, for example, were attorneys, and Larkin was a mechanical draftsman. They were laymen whose teachings gained enormous popularity largely through grass roots enthusiasm. Unfortunately, some of these early framers of dispensationalism were not as precise or discriminating as they might have been had they had the benefit of a more complete theological education.” John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), p. 223. This is the updated edition of Faith Works. Contrast this with Gerstner’s assessment of Darby: “John Nelson Darby, for example, was a masterfully knowledgeable man, with expertise in languages and an intimate familiarity with the content of the Bible.” John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt Publishers Inc., 1991), p. 75. Darby’s capability as a scholar is not in question, but the fact that he was self-taught is likely to have contributed to him having the freedom to systematize the history of the Bible from the perspective of literal interpretation. Thankfully he was not taught in the allegorical method the seminaries of the time were teaching.
[v]C. I. Scofield, Prophecy Made Plain (London and Glasgow: Pickering and Inglis Ltd., 1935).
[vi]Arthur Pink, A Study of Dispensationalism: And the Ninety-Five Thesis Against Dispensationalism, <http://www.pbministries.org/books/pink/Dispensationalism/dispensationalism.htm>; Internet; accessed 10 February 2011.
[vii]On one hand, MacArthur states that the link between dispensationalism and free grace is imagined, but on the other he argues later that they are very much linked. I believe that the distinction is that he does not want people to associate all forms of dispensationalism with free grace. Nevertheless, I believe that he would agree that classical or revised dispensationalism in the mold of Chafer or Ryrie (which I have labeled normative dispensationalism) is the root of free grace theology.