Add the word Radical to any conversation and attention skyrockets. When anything is described as radical, exciting elements of extremism and activism are added, as in "Radical _____" (Republican, Democrat, or etc.), "Radical ______" (Islam, Hinduism, or etc.), or even "Pizza Hut's Radical New Menu!" One website is even dedicated to the curiously contradictory concept of "Radical Librarians."
And now we also have "Radical Grace."
--What is Radical Grace?--
There is a teaching becoming popular in Christendom today which is known by some of its adherents as the "Radical Grace" message. This message is being presented as a message of liberation from all the horrible legalistic bondage that "religious" Christians get caught up in when they struggle to overcome sin. According to this message, we can relax because all we need to do is believe that Jesus has taken care of everything for us – that there is really nothing for us to do in order to be saved. According to this teaching, it would be nice if we lived holy lives but its no big deal if we don't – because our salvation is assured by what Christ has done for us on the cross and has nothing to do with how we live at all.
Prepare to be surprised. The description and critique above does not come from an over-reacting member of the Churches of Christ, but instead comes from the mainstream Protestant website christianfaith.org. That's right. Even Protestants who believe in Faith Only before salvation reject Radical Grace after salvation.
The difference between before and after helps us understand that the focus of Radical Grace is on radically reduced, even eliminated, expectations for Christians after they are saved. This is the nonconventional view that a Christian's sins are "no big deal." The conventional view is described as John says, "I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (I Jn. 2:1). Two points are clear:
1. Even as he promotes the blood of Christ as the antidote for sin (I Jn. 1:5-10; these verses immediately precede I Jn. 1:2), John "suggests that the end of his writing on these subjects was, that they [Christians; the already saved] might not live in sin...give themselves to it, and walk in it" (John Gill, Baptist). In other words, "By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments" (I Jn. 2:3; this verse immediately follows I Jn. 1:2).
2. The impact of Jesus' advocacy on our behalf (John's words for grace) takes place "if anyone does sin." Imagine a seamstress. She is ready to stitch up the torn seat of her husband's pants, but does not begin stitching until after the britches are ripped (and, hopefully, after the britches are off!). Similarly, Jesus stands ready to advocate on our behalf if and after Christians rip their britches with sin.
Radical Grace rejects both of these teachings. First, Radical Grace rejects the idea that Christians have an obligation to battle sin in their lives at the risk of losing grace (Rom. 6:1). Second, Radical Grace rejects the idea of grace as an antidote for sin after sin is committed by arguing that, if grace is already there, then sin is already gone. These two problems with radical Grace are highlighted by this quote from another mainstream Protestant website, letusreason.org.
The main idea [in Radical Grace] is that because of grace believers only get blessings, they do not need to be concerned about sin [because] ALL our sins, past and future were forgiven at the cross, therefore, repentance or confession of sin are not necessary.
Another characteristic of Radical Grace is the assumption that everyone who does not embrace Radical Grace must be a legalist. Mature Christians see through this accusation, realizing that there are more than two extreme choices. Instead of the stark either-or choices of "no big deal" and legalism, there is the third choice of the high expectations of "The grace of God [who] has appeared...training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (Tit. 2:11-12).
As is typical of the present age, Radical Grace began at the fringe before influencing the middle. A Pentecostal, Prosperity-Gospel, mega-church pastor from Singapore, Joseph Prince is the originator of Radical Grace. Also known as hyper-grace, his teaching about radical physical and spiritual prosperity (we get both - for nothing!) has slowly influenced some denominations while other Protestant groups have fought back. As has been repeatedly observed, it takes about 30 years for a false teaching to bubble through to the Churches of Christ. When did Prince begin the Radical Grace ministry? His New Creation Church was founded in 1983.
--Radical Grace in the Churches of Christ--
Evidence of the presence of Radical Grace among our brethren is present in three statements; (i) "But what about grace?", (ii) "We shouldn't preach on it if grace is going to cover it," and (iii) the general tenor of "Don't worry about it ("it" being sin)."
That Radical Grace is being used to redefine and dumb down biblical doctrines and practices is evident in the question that is sometimes asked, "But what about grace?" Of course, by itself, this is a great question. But the question does not exist in a vacuum and is often misapplied before Bible study to preempt serious discussion of proper doctrine and practice.
"What about grace?" is asked as if grace makes all discussion of biblical propriety moot. Ironically, used to ignore doctrinal studies, the doctrine of Radical becomes the ace of doctrines, the trump doctrine of higher value than all other doctrines. As described by another Protestant website, Radical Grace is "a new wave of teaching that emphasizes grace to the exclusion of other vital Christian doctrines." Used in this way, grace becomes a one-word argument against all of the Bible's other words.
Radical Grace is also used to trump preaching and teaching about the kinds of sins that are costing people their souls. There are several New Testament teachings that cut very close and cause great discomfort due to the sinful influence of our ungodly culture on our lives. The tendency of the times is to avoid these touchy subjects and not preach on them. This is the tendency in the question, "Why preach about it if grace is going to cover it?" Considering the constant themes of morals and doctrines that emerge from the New Testament epistles, the writers of these epistles obviously never got the "Don't preach about it" memo from Radical Grace.
Based on the belief that sin has lost its meaning as a result of Radical Grace, all teaching that convicts and corrects sin is deemed "negative." "Positive" preaching is preferred by advocates of Radical Grace, preaching that avoids touchy subjects and that emphasizes good feelings. This "smooth words and fair speeches" approach to the proclamation of Jesus contradicts passages like Ephesians 5:6 that warn Christians against living an immoral life that will bring God’s wrath on the disobedient.
In a curious spin on Calvinism's "Once Saved; Always Saved," some of our members have adopted, for all practical purposes, the position of "Once Baptized; Never Subject to God's Wrath." This "Don't worry about sin" theme contradicts the passages listed below. In another curious spin, this list of passages in response to the errors of Radical Grace is borrowed from combatingunbelief.com, another mainstream Protestant website that savages Radical Grace.
• "The bible does say that we are saved to do good works (Ephesians 2:10)
• “Enter through the narrow door…” (Luke 13:24)
• “Add to your faith goodness; and to goodness knowledge…” (2 Peter 1:5)
• “Be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:14)
• “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
• “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Hebrews 10:26-27)
• "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (James 2:24-26)
• "Remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22)
• "For certain individuals...have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality" (Jude 4)
Storming in the face of scripture, Radical Grace also storms in the face of common sense. An old saying that captures the common Christian sense of the twin responsibilities to (i) honor God's grace and also to (ii) honor God's higher expectations is, "Pray as if it all depends on God; work as if it all depends on you." This old saying restores the edge of earnest effort to Christian living that is blunted by Radical Grace. What sort of an edge should we maintain? "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8).
A perfect storm of four problems is making a shipwreck of faith among our brethren and opening our seams to Radical Grace. First (this is good news and bad news), because we have no defining "confession" of doctrine (like The Baptist Faith and Message) and because we have no governing body for all Churches of Christ (like the Methodist General Conference), everyone is pretty much on their own. This created few problems when our brethren were astute students of God's word and when "rightly dividing the word" (II Tim. 2:15) was in full health.
That leads to the second problem - our members are being "tossed to a fro on the waves" (Eph. 4:14) because our Bible study habits have deteriorated. Making all of this even worse is the presence among us of several high-profile false teachers - the third problem. Even some of our formerly dependable institutions are drifting. The solution for these three problems is not to establish unscriptural governing boards or to create governing confessions. The solution is to return to serious Bible study and to turn away from those who "turn away from the truth" (II Tim. 4:4).
Radical rejection of our history is the fourth problem. Among some, the only sure thing about the history of the Churches of Christ is that our brethren have always been wrong, wrong, wrong. Un-tethered from our history, un-tethered from the Bible, never tethered to bureaucratic controls, and now tethered to several highly popular false teachers, we have become susceptible to false doctrines like Radical Grace that have even been rejected by the Protestant mainstream.