Getting the Gospel Wrong
Today’s postmodern world with its diversity, subjectivism, and absence of absolutes, has led, Hixson maintains, to confusion regarding the Scriptures and particularly the gospel. In this insightful book the executive director of the Free Grace Alliance presents the following definition of the gospel: “Saving faith is the belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God who died and rose again to pay one’s personal penalty for sin and who gives eternal life to all who trust Him alone for it” (p. 84). Each part of this definition is significant. Salvation is available through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again; His death is the basis for His substitutionary atonement for sin; eternal life is available to all who trust Him; and salvation is available only in Christ and apart from any works (pp. 85–104). Hixson then defines faith as “assurance or confidence in some stated or implied truth” (p. 105), and the truth may be in a proposition or a person.
A common view is that saving faith requires repentance, that is, that a person must be willing to forsake his sins and pledge to avoid them in the future. As Hixson points out, this view adds a condition to receiving eternal life. Reformed theologians refer to a “spurious faith,” that is, if a person says he is a Christian but is not living a life of obedience, then his faith is not genuine; he was not a believer in the first place. This notion, like that of repentance, wrongly adds a human element to salvation. James 2:14–26 is often cited in support of this “spurious faith” view. But the author correctly notes that James “is contrasting vibrant, healthy faith of believers with [their] useless, ineffective faith” (p. 124). Interestingly the Bible nowhere adds qualifiers to the word “believe,” such as “truly believes,” or to the word “faith,” such as “genuine faith.”
In chapters 4–8 Hixson discusses five perversions of the gospel, what he calls the purpose gospel, the puzzling gospel, the prosperity gospel, the pluralistic gospel, and the performance gospel. The purpose gospel, according to Rick Warren and others, does not adequately focus on sin. The chapter on the puzzling gospel discusses authors who encourage people to give their lives to Jesus, to turn their lives over to Jesus, to commit their lives to Christ, or to surrender to Christ—all of which are statements not found in the Scriptures.
The prosperity gospel, represented by Joel Osteen, T. D. Jakes, and others, emphasizes God’s physical, financial, and emotional blessings in people’s lives, rather than salvation from sin for eternal life. The pluralistic gospel is the view that people can be saved without having heard of Jesus Christ. Proponents of this view include Clark Pinnock and John Sanders. Their view, as Hixson writes, fails to note the purpose of evangelism, and it is “built upon a misunderstanding of the distinction between general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is not sufficient for salvation. One must respond by faith directly to specific revelatory truth in order to be saved” (p. 291).
In commenting on the performance gospel Hixson first discusses several Reformed authors who seek to make works, such as repentance or commitment, a prerequisite for eternal life. He then discusses several Reformed authors who seek to make performance a postrequisite for eternal life, that is, the fruit in a person’s life shows whether he is a believer. This view, however, raises the question, How much fruit is necessary to prove that one is saved?
This book is a much-needed call for clarity in presenting the gospel. What could be more important than to be sure unsaved individuals clearly understand what is involved in placing faith in Jesus Christ for eternal life? With so many voices presenting variations of the biblical plan of salvation, the observations in this book need to be studied and heeded.
Appendix A lists the references of more than 160 verses that state that salvation is by faith alone. Appendix B lists four ways the word “save” is used in the Bible. Appendix C discusses how “repent” and “repentance” are used in the Scriptures. And Appendix D lists thirty motivations in the Bible for believers to do good works (obviously not to gain or prove one’s salvation).