What Is The Truth About Grace? by Milton Gillie, Part 1
Over the past couple of years I have come across a number of articles that were very critical of some of the most successful pastors and teachers of the current era. The vicious attacks are based on a difference of opinion over teaching on grace. They claimed all sorts of false teaching by preachers who teach grace with no buts. The common term used by these critics to describe what they perceive as wrong teaching is “hyper-grace”. The accusations leveled at these preachers can be summarized in the following statements taken from a web site (gotoquestions.org) attacking the so called hyper-grace teaching:
The term hyper-grace has been used to describe a new wave of teaching that emphasizes the grace of God to the exclusion of other vital teachings such as repentance and confession of sin. Hyper-grace teachers maintain that all sin, past, present, and future, has already been forgiven, so there is no need for a believer to ever confess it. Hyper-grace teaching says that, when God looks at us, He sees only a holy and righteous people. The conclusion of hyper-grace teaching is that we are not bound by Jesus’ teaching, even as we are not under the Law; that believers are not responsible for their sin; and that anyone who disagrees is a pharisaical legalist. In short, hyper-grace teachers “pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 1:4) and flirt with antinomianism.
Another term that the critics bandy about is the accusation that “Cheap Grace” is taught by the hyper-Grace teachers. This is a term created by German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who defined it as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, and communion without confession. “Cheap grace” is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” (definition also taken from (gotoquestions.org)
They have all sorts of scriptures lined up to back up their position. It all sounded like a timely warning that the church needs to heed. However I was left with a nagging feeling about this that disturbed me to the point that made me investigate the claims rather just accept this critical teaching. Are these claims about what they teach actually true, and if so, what is the correct biblical position on grace?
I began to question why these self-styled guardians of biblical accuracy were so passionately trying to discredit the ministries of fellow believers. One of the most criticized of any of these preachers is Joseph Prince, senior pastor of New Creation Church in Singapore, a large thriving church with around 30,000 members and continuing to grow. The particular article I read basically accused him of leading a personality cult. I had a particular interest in this attack because although I have never personally met him, my senior pastors, Mark and Darlene Zschech, are good friends with him and have frequently ministered at his church. If true, it either meant my pastors who I have gotten to know reasonably well are friends with a cult leader and completely ignorant of it, or themselves are deceived with the same false teaching. Having sat under their teaching for four years I knew that neither was true, which le is on our online d me to the strong conclusion that the criticism is at least flawed, if not completely unbiblical.
Coinciding with this was a discussion I had with a friend from my youth days who had pastored a number of churches and was now writing. His focus was the need for the Church to make a paradigm shift into teaching Christians how to read the Bible and discern the different teaching between the old and new covenants (Hebrews 8:6.) When you understand the new covenant teaching, you begin to see the meaning of Scripture in a whole new light.
So began my delve into what the scriptures really say on grace. I remembered reading Phillip Yancey’s “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” a number of years ago. That book was written in 1998 and became a best seller. It presents the teaching of grace in a similar fashion to those receiving all the criticism today. What puzzled me was why I didn’t remember a similar campaign against Philip Yancey like the one you want the there is today against people like Joseph Prince. However as I reread some of his book, I discovered that he had received exactly the same kinds of criticism in letters from readers who objected to his teaching. Just last week I read an article that called him a “great deceiver”. Maybe any such criticism didn’t get the same amount of publicity before the advent of social media.
Of the critics one of the most prominent is Dr Michael Brown who penned the book “Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message”. There are many other critics but most are not as thoughtful or as articulate as Dr Brown. Many in fact just let go with unsubstantiated slander against the Hyper-Grace teachers. In his book Dr Brown takes aim at six preachers who he identifies as hyper-grace preachers – Joseph Prince, Clark Whitten, Steve McVey, Andrew Farley, Rob Rufus and Paul Ellis. Why he restricted it to these six is odd because it doesn’t take long to find many many more who also teach the same message. And because he felt in his own words “honored” to be on that list, Paul Ellis has published a response titled “The Hyper-Grace Gospel: A Response to Michael Brown and Those Opposed to the Modern Grace Message”.
In his book, Paul Ellis addresses three topics a) A definition of Hyper-Grace; b) Myths about the Hyper-Grace Gospel; and c) A response to Michael L Brown. The term Hyper-Grace was created as a derogatory term to malign those that teach this message. Paul Ellis has taken the step of embracing the term and wearing it as a badge. After all, most names of various denominations in the Churchworld started out exactly that way, but are now embraced as identification by its members.
Here you have people with different opinions backing up their argument with scriptures that point only to their point of view. It is very easy to get confused when hearing the opposing voices. What makes it even harder is that the message of grace is clearly in the Bible so the critics claim they actually believe and teach grace.
Paul Ellis defines this as teaching a “mixed grace” message. To understand this we first need to clarify in our mind what grace is. Many have come up with their own definition, but most agree it is something like “the undeserved, unmerited favor or kindness bestowed by the giver upon the recipient due to no work or justification”. This is the very basis of the gospel, that while we were undeserving enemies with God, Jesus came and gave His life for us to redeem us back to God. Once we understand this, the definition of “cheap grace” becomes an oxymoron. Because if we only receive grace on the basis that we fulfill certain conditions such as obedience, discipleship, etc., then what we receive ceases to be grace; it becomes a reward for effort.
Confusing it even further, the critics claim they teach grace (Gods unmerited gift to us) but we have to work to receive it. However, they purposely don’t use the word “work.” They instead use obedience, discipleship, repentance, and various other terms to describe what Scripture states that a Christian’s response to God should be. But no matter which way you phrase it they are describing what we must do, what our effort should be. Hence the term “mixed grace”.
Another term used is “grace but!” That is you receive God’s grace, but only if you fulfill certain conditions. Adding conditions creates something entirely different than pure salvation by “grace alone” “period”.
I have a good friend who is a pastor and an evangelist who is in the camp of the critics. While I admire his evangelism, I get staggered at some things he has written to me like “God’s love is conditional”; “Nowhere does the Bible say God’s love is unconditional” and “We only please God if we strive and toil.” My statements regarding “Pure Grace” have drawn quite indignant responses. In fact, one thing I have noted from the critics is they don’t tend to show any grace to those with contrary opinions.
Paul Ellis defines 20 differences between the two grace teachings in this table taken from his book on page 6.
|Mixed-Grace Gospel||Hyper-Grace Gospel|
|What is it?||Grace + self effort; you are saved by grace and kept by works||Grace alone; you are saved by grace and kept by grace|
|Key words||Try, try harder, hunger, struggle, obey, wrestle, perform||Believe, rest in, yield to, surrender, satisfy, trust, receive Jesus|
|The preacher …||Drives you with law (look for carrots and sticks)||Draws you with love (look for gracious invitations)|
|Grace is …||One of God’s many blessings; an important doctrine||All God’s blessings wrapped up in Jesus Christ|
|Faith is …||Trying to influence God||Trusting what God has said or done|
|Repentance is …||Turning from sin usually with sorrow and grief||Turning to God, often with joy; changing your unbelieving mind|
|Confession is …||Reviewing your sin||Agreeing with God|
|Forgiveness is …||Maintained through repentance and confession||A done deal; in Christ we are eternally forgiven|
|Obedience is …||Keeping all of God’s commands||The result of abiding in the love of Christ|
|Sanctification is …||A process (you gotta work at it)||A gift to receive; a fruit to cultivate|
|Be holy because …||Without holiness, no one will see the Lord, so watch yourself||In Christ, you are holy; be who you truly are|
|The law …||Shows us how to please the Lord||Leads us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith|
|Sacrifice is …||Giving up stuff for the Lord||The Lord giving Himself for us|
|God’s love is …||Unconditional, with conditions||Unconditional, period|
|The Holy Spirit’s conviction …||Points to your badness; it’s fault finding and rebuke||Points to God’s goodness; He leads you into the light|
|Eternal security hinges on …||Your faithfulness||God’s faithfulness|
|I am first and foremost …||A servant of God||A son of God|
|How to overcome sin …||Repent, confess, try harder – repeat as necessary||Reckon yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ|
|More gets done when I …||Work||Rest|
|This message makes me …||Self-conscious||Christ-conscious|
Part 2 of What Is The Truth About Grace is immediately available on the web.
What Is The Truth About Grace? by Milton Gillie, Part 1