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Comprehensive Grace Challenged
by Marcus Booker
"Comprehensive grace," whether its adherents know it or not, is the bastard of hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism. CGers say that Jesus redeemed (and/or saved) every individual; they say, like the Arminian, that the atonement covered everybody, elect or not. Yet they combine this misunderstanding with a deranged form of unconditional grace; they hereby make grace impotent. Moreover, much like Dispensationalism, CG denies the conditionality of God's promises and blessings. They confound conditionality with merit."Comprehensive grace," whether its adherents know it or not, is the bastard of hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism. CGers say that Jesus redeemed (and/or saved) every individual; they say, like the Arminian, that the atonement covered everybody, elect or not. Yet they combine this misunderstanding with a deranged form of unconditional grace; they hereby make grace impotent. Moreover, much like Dispensationalism, CG denies the conditionality of God's promises and blessings. They confound conditionality with merit.Comprehensive Grace operates off of a shallow, non-Hebraic modernistic mindset. Now that those fancy words are out, I'll cut to the chase:
Here's the pattern of redemption:
1. Plight. Israel was in bondage. They were strangers in the land of Egypt
2. Crying out. "And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." (Exodus 2)
3. Mercy. "It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." (Deut 9)
4. Expectation to remember former condition and, on that basis to show mercy. "You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were stangers in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22)
5. Removal of mercy (for those unmerciful and forgetful) and restoration of former condition. "The LORD will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, 'You shall never see it again!'" (Deut 28)
This pattern is not foreign at all to what Jesus said in his parable of the unmerciful servant. Here is the breakdown of that parable:
1. Plight. Servant about to be sold into slavery because of great debt to master.
2. Crying out. "So the slave fell [to the ground] and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.'"
3. Mercy. "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt."
4. Expectation to remember former condition and, on that basis to show mercy. "You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?"
5. Removal of mercy (for those unmerciful and forgetful) and restoration of former condition. "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him."
Notice that in the above pattern is a demonstration of how grace actually functions. First off, mercy came as the result of being helpless and broken down; people begged and pleaded for mercy. Secondly, mercy was granted because of compassion and forgiveness from above, not because the one crying out from below has made satisfaction. Thirdly, the "brokenness" is necessary for the granting of forgiveness. Nevertheless, it does not cause that forgiveness, nor does it merit satisfaction. To be broken is merely to acknowledge that, of yourself, you can make no satisfaction and that compassion from above is your only recourse. Fourthly, grace should beget grace. Fifthly, if grace doesn't produce grace, grace will be removed from you. You will be "fallen from grace." Christ said, "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
Grace, once given, may be removed by he who gives it. The master in the parable, after his servant showed no mercy to others, required the full debt of that servant. In other words, for grace to remain grace, there must be a response from us.
Of course, the charge might be made that I speak here of some synthesis between man's and God's role in our salvation. It might seem that I am here robbing God of His glory and giving it to men. Not at all! Men, particularly those who act under grace, do not act of themselves but as Christ moves them. In other words, Christ is in them, and their deeds are the deeds of Christ. Men in such a condition do not act as if from their own strength and power. Their deeds are genuine good works, not the counterfeit works done for men, for outward show. There is a huge difference between these two. They must not be confounded. I touched upon this idea in an article called "We are justified by works and not faith alone."
My point is that if you understand that faith and works and love and words are the working of God, then you will not set them at odds with grace. Yet it is apparent that final rewards are, quite simply, contingent upon our deserts. Paul said, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." And John says that "those who did the good deeds [will come forth] to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." These apostolic words, brothers and sisters, are not contrary to God's grace. Indeed, if they seem to stand in contradiction to that grace of God, then maybe it is you who need to reform your understanding of grace and to bring it in greater conformity with the Scriptures. The absolute necessity of human action is not antithetical to grace. Yes...prideful human action is against grace, as is counterfeit rigtheousness. True righteousness is lowly and grateful.
With this principle in mind, you will see how our final condition, with respect to rewards and punishments, depends upon our deeds. If our deeds came from Christ's cross, we will achieve glory. Otherwise, shame will be our inheritance. The Scriptures are clear on this point. In my refutation of CG, I will use only 1 John. Notice the "if" statements:
"But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his son cleanses us from all sin." (1:7)
"If we confess our sin, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1:9)
"But whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him. The one who abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as he walked." (2:5-6) In this excerpt, John says that those who keep the word are the ones "in him." In whom? In Christ! The same in whom all will be made alive. Yet not everybody is included under this heading; not everyone is "in Christ." Otherwise, it would be superfluous and irrelevant for John to say that "by this" we know that we are in Him.
"Whoever denies the son does not have the father; the one who confesses the son has the father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the son and in the father." (2:23-24)
"We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death." (3:14) Under CG, how does anybody abide in death? Isn't death gone? Maybe John meant that those before a.d. 70 who didn't love abided in death and that those after a.d. 70 who didn't love had life. I'll let the CGer or he who is considering that teaching to ponder this point on his own.
The text continues, saying, "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."
"We love because he first loved us." (4:19) Think about this statement closely. If our love comes about because God loves us, then can God love everybody? If God loved everybody, then everybody would love. But not everybody does love. And God shows Himself as hating certain men. Psalm 5 says, "For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood." And Psalm 11 says, "The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates." Has God changed? Does He no longer hate?
One proponent of CG said that God must love His enemies because He requires us to do so. The question was, "Would God require us to do anything He Himself refused to do?" First off, this is the wrong question to ask. God tells us to love our enemies so that we put our trust in Him and to leave room for God's vengeance. "Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and He shall save thee." And "If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee."
Comprehensive grace misses the mark on many key areas. The aforesaid is only the tip of the iceberg. Here are other areas where their teaching falls short:
1. Ignoring implications of perpetual principles of God (idealism).
2. Being unbalanced in approach toward Scripture. Not grounding interpretation of particular texts upon the teaching of the whole. (Ex: "in Adam...in Christ").
3. Internal inconsistencies. One CGer will distinguish between redemption and salvation. Yet many CGers base the whole doctrine on Jesus being "Savior" (not just "redeemer") of all men. He says that he will have all men to be "saved." He doesn't say "redeemed." Also, the text say that the grace of God that brings "salvation" has appeared to all men. It also says that he came not to judge the world but to "save" the world. [Davo fits in this category]. Another CGer says, "unbelievers [in the hereafter] will go through a purging of sorts for their sins." How is this [comprehensive] grace? How is this forgiveness? This seems to be saying that some people, covered by Christ's atonement, would pay a penalty for their sins.
4. Partly because no two CGers seem to agree with one another, the doctrine is incoherent. It is gnostic in that it will not clearly define its terms and state its claims. I have read through all the posts on CG on this site, and I see ambivalence!
Of the above 4, #1 is probably the most critical. If CGers allowed for the individual recapitualation of eschatological principles and realities, then their entire doctrine would vanish (if they were consistent). The whole premise of CG has been, "This is done," "That is done too." "It's all accomplished." They go hyper with this teaching because they extend it beyond its proper place, i.e. beyond the confines of historical eschatology. They apply it (i.e. the idea of full completion) to individuals and their destinies as well. Yet, as I have shown in my last article, there is more awaiting us. Our earthly house has yet to be destroyed, and judgment is yet to come. CGers need to recognize the implications of that; they must soak in the consequences of individual eschatology.