In the past few months, there has been an aggressive backlash against the gospel of grace. This backlash has been seen in the Christian media, the blogosphere, and in the publication of books by respected Bible teachers. I have come across articles with titles like “Confronting the error of hyper-grace,” “The deception of hyper-grace,” and the oddly-titled, “What’s wrong with grace?”
The authors of these articles typically describe the gospel of grace as a “dangerous teaching,” a “false message,” and “a hyped-up, watered-down, seeker-friendly gospel.” Those who preach it are branded “false prophets,” “antichrists,” and “pied pipers” leading people to hell.
What do these critics have against the gospel of grace?
Their criticisms are numerous: Apparently the grace message is soft on sin. It’s opposed to the law. It’s a prosperity gospel. It’s unbalanced. It’s extreme. It’s a fad.
Some of these criticisms reflect abiding misperceptions (“grace promotes licentiousness”). Some of the criticisms are slanderous (“grace preachers are closet sinners”), while others are risible (“this message was responsible for the rise of Adolph Hitler and the runaway Democratic party”).
Presented with these sorts of claims, it is tempting to dismiss the opponents of the grace message as ill informed and reactionary. But not all of them are.
In January 2014, Dr. Michael L. Brown released a book entitled Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message. In his book, Dr. Brown seeks to correct “some serious distortions and errors” that are being preached as part of what he calls “the modern grace message.” Dr. Brown portrays hyper-grace preachers as being opposed to repentance and the confession of sins, and he claims we think the words of Jesus have no relevance for us today.
Is this true? Do hyper-grace preachers actually think this way?
Since I am one of the hyper-grace preachers identified by Dr. Brown, I thought it might be helpful to respond to these accusations. To be fair, some of his accusations are spot on. On several occasions reading his book I said to myself, “Guilty as charged,” and I did so with a grace-addict’s grin. Still, a number of his accusations are based on misperceptions or they misrepresent what we are actually saying.
For instance, on page 37 of his book, Dr. Brown identifies four statements that he embraces and we, apparently, reject. They are (1) sanctification is progressive, (2) it’s healthy to confess our sins to God, (3) New Testament repentance includes turning away from sins, and (4) the words of Jesus are authoritative. To three of these claims, most hyper-grace preachers would shout amen! Confession is healthy, repentance is often evidenced by a turning away from sins, and everything Jesus said is good and authoritative. The only claim we would reject out of hand is the first one, that sanctification is a process. (More on this here.)
As Dr. Brown’s book illustrates, much of the criticism made against the hyper-grace gospel and those who preach it is based on misperceptions and misunderstandings. To illustrate this, ask yourself whether the following claims are true or false.
The hyper-grace quiz
True or false…
- Hyper-grace preachers are against repentance.
- Hyper-grace preachers are against confession.
- The hyper-grace gospel is universalism in disguise.
- Hyper-grace preachers say it’s wrong to ask God for forgiveness.
- Hyper-grace preachers say God is not grieved by your sin.
- Hyper-grace preachers are against the law.
- Hyper-grace preachers ignore the Old Testament.
- Hyper-grace preachers disregard the words of Jesus.
- The hyper-grace gospel encourages sin.
- The hyper-grace gospel discourages obedience and holy living.
- Hyper-grace preachers don’t talk about hell and wrath.
- The hyper-grace gospel makes people lazy.
To have real dialogue, you need to hear both sides of the story. If your only exposure to the hyper-grace gospel comes from attack articles and Facebook debates, you may think that every statement in the above quiz is true. In fact, every statement is false. Each is either a fiction or a distortion of what the hyper-grace gospel actually says.
We will look at some of these claims in coming posts. But for now, I want to hear from you. Which of the claims above have you heard? Which have you believed? And what are some other misperceptions you have encountered when telling others about the good news of God’s extreme, over-the-top, and hyper grace?
Adapted from The Hyper-Grace Gospel, pp.22-23.