Written by board member John Warren:
Robert Gagnon made the unfortunate decision to attack a key ministry leader for unfounded reasons on June 30, 2012, in his article, “Time for a Change of Leadership at Exodus.” He claims to know Alan Chambers, but then he attacks him for espousing doctrinal positions that aren’t those of Mr. Chambers at all. Dr. Gagnon knows full well the difference between speaking extemporaneously as Mr. Chambers is called upon to do, and writing a scholarly work that is researched, edited and very carefully written. Alan Chambers is President of Exodus International. Exodus is the leading global outreach ministry to churches, individuals and families offering a biblical message about same-sex attraction. Dr. Gagnon also knows that Mr. Chambers’ role places him in a position of constant scrutiny from parties on multi-faceted sides of issues which are complex and have diverse implications. Mr. Chambers would be the first to acknowledge, as he has done a number of times of late; that a “mulligan” or the opportunity to expound on a particular response or comment would have certainly been preferred in some of the cases cited in Dr. Gagnon’s article. However, Mr. Chambers, as well thought out and prepared as he is for each of his public speaking opportunities on these complex and sensitive matters, does not enjoy the luxury of writing 35 page articles which are researched, edited, and strategically circulated in an effort to discredit the subject. Mr. Chambers is a minister of the Gospel of our Lord, and he is in the trenches day after day and week after week serving a diverse and complex constituency to that end. Surely Dr. Gagnon must be able to see the heart of this man and this ministry.
Dr. Gagnon expresses concern that Mr. Chambers is condoning sin, and thereby giving a false sense of security to those who by the evidence of egregious sin in their lives are either not genuinely converted Christians or have fallen away. This concern is based on quotes of answers to questions and extemporaneous comments to various audiences. He goes on to critique Clark Whitten and his book, Pure Grace, similarly claiming that both Mr. Whitten and Mr. Chambers teach a doctrine that condones sin or at least makes salvation seem too easy and the Christian life one that can be lived without regard for sin or walking in a manner that is consistent with God’s truth. Contrary to our natural tendency to think that the grace of God would allow us to be soft on sin, Romans 2:4 and a number of other references make clear that “the goodness of God leads (us) to repentance.” Paul speaks to this issue elsewhere making it clear that we don’t sin to activate more grace. Romans 6:1-2 speaks very plainly to this subject. We have “died to sin” and are now “alive to God” (Romans 6:11). Being from a reformed background, I will be the first to acknowledge that God’s grace could be presumed upon by a pretender. However, I have learned through more careful study of Scripture that God’s love and His grace compel us to walk in newness of life because of a relational reality that is beautiful beyond my ability to describe. Trustful surrender is so much deeper and more powerful than compliance because of a sense of obligation. In fact, Paul says that we have been “set free from sin” and have become “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
Further, Dr. Gagnon cites scripture claiming that the security of the believer is tenuous at best. He makes the erroneous and inconsistent argument that salvation occurs by faith alone in Christ alone, but he states that, “Persistent and unrepentant sin of an egregious sort, I believe, can get one excluded from eternal life.” To his credit, Dr. Gagnon then points out that no man can make this judgment call regarding another person. Dr. Gagnon rightly states that these are difficult matters; even stating that he once held the position that the believer is eternally secure in Jesus Christ. He goes on to list “texts that make the point clear” that the believer who comes to Christ by faith alone may fall away or lose the salvation that Christ’s finished work on the cross provided. I find it difficult to believe that the learned Dr. Gagnon would have held to an erroneous view previously if texts “make the point clear.”
I’m not going to attempt to explain every reference cited by Dr. Gagnon in support of his contention that the believer is not secure in Christ. To be sure, there are sections of Scripture that are difficult to interpret on this subject, as I think Dr. Gagnon would acknowledge. There are also admonitions among the references he cited that are clearly admonitions, but they don’t clearly speak to the believer, and they don’t reference the post-regeneration sin of a believer as deserving of eternal damnation.
1 John 1:7, taken in context, is clearly indicative that “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.” The verse in its entirety states, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Theologians have written volumes on the complexities of 1 John, and I’m not going to write a summation of the work on this book herein. I will point out, however, that the point John is making in this section is clearly the fact that our walk authenticates our positional reality in Christ. Verse 4 says that the purpose of John’s writing is that our joy will be full. Then verse 5 says that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” Verse 6 says that we are lying if we walk in darkness but say that we have fellowship with Him. Then, as indicated above, verse 7 says that we have fellowship with each other if we walk in the light as He is in the light, and “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” John makes it clear in his Gospel that Jesus is the Light of the world. Walking in the light is a relational reality; not a state of not sinning. Verse 7 wouldn’t make sense if walking in the light means that we don’t practice sin. Why would the promise of cleansing by the blood of Jesus be promised at the end of the verse, and why does John say that His blood “cleanses us from all sin”? The good news that makes our joy full in verse 4 is that all of our sins are forgiven. In my opinion and in the opinion of many respected theologians, to state something less than this is to diminish the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Romans 6:10 states “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God”. Read in context this verse is even more beautiful. Jesus says, as it is recorded in Mark 3:28 – 29, “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter. ”Again, Jesus’ blood was shed for all of our sins, and our faith in him effectuates our redemption. However, this redemption is based on His finished work rather than our behavioral compliance. Matthew 12:31 repeats the same promise.
Ephesians 1: 13 and 14, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory”. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, and He is the guarantee of our inheritance. We are a purchased possession. To state that we may somehow fall away diminishes this beautiful promise of the work of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”. Titus 3:5 speaks to this matter as well. “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”.
John 10:28 – 30 contains a similarly beautiful promise. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” Romans 8:38 and 39, state that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Again, read the entire book for the context of this beautiful section. And Jude 24 makes it clear to me: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory, with exceeding joy. To God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen”. If He is able to keep us from falling, but we can fall based on the commission of egregious sin, hasn’t God then lied? When I compare Scripture with Scripture, and I accept as a given that God’s Word is inspired and therefore true; and if I then therefore believe God’s promises as clearly explained in Scripture, I have to find that we are secure in our Lord Jesus Christ because of His finished work and His character – not our performance or resolve. A world dependent on my performance and resolve would be a sad place. My recognition of the fact that it is His truth and His promises that save me, keep me, and form the basis of the life I live in The Spirit, was a turning point for me in my understanding of the Gospel.
To Dr. Gagnon’s credit, he did not reference Hebrews 6: 4 – 6 in the subject article. This section is widely considered a difficult passage because it references those who “taste the good word of God” and states that “if they fall away” it is impossible to “renew them again to repentance.” This passage is made more challenging by the writer’s reference in verse 9 to being “confident of better things concerning you, yes things that accompany salvation”. Some feel that this is indicative of the fact that the aforementioned who have fallen away were not truly regenerate. I tend to agree with this theory, but I must candidly state that this passage is a challenging one to interpret clearly.
I believe Dr. Robert Gagnon is a passionate voice in the battle of the Kingdom of God versus evil. His work on many of the issues that Alan and ministries like Exodus care about and focus on every day clearly articulates a position that is well thought out and most importantly, biblical. I’m not writing to seek to silence Dr. Robert Gagnon at all. I’m writing to ask him to look at the body of work that Alan Chambers and Exodus perform…to ask him to look more carefully at his claims against Alan; particularly those that are based on quotes that have been taken out of context or were intended as responses to a particular question in a particular audience. Mr. Chambers has clarified his position since his initial statements were made in an effort to ensure that his positions on these important matters are clear. I’m asking him to recant his harsh criticism of Alan Chambers and Clark Whitten and to value their efforts as brothers in Christ who are championing sound doctrine and seeking to minister the Gospel to a hurting world. A quick read of Clark Whitten’s book “Pure Grace” in its entirety would put to rest the notion that Clark is weak on God’s holiness and light on condemnation of sin.
Clearly Dr. Gagnon’s position on eternal security in Christ differs sharply from the views of Alan, Clark, and many others of us who believe that we are kept by the same grace of God that saves us. This doctrinal difference is important, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker or a reason to separate. The propagation of heresy is a reason to separate, and neither Alan nor Dr. Gagnon is guilty of espousing heretical positions of essential matters of the Christian faith. Dr. Gagnon is right to hate sin as God does. He is right to warn that the habitual, unrepentant practice of egregious sin is indicative of an unregenerate soul. But he is wrong in his accusation that Alan Chambers and Clark Whitten treat sin lightly or even excuse it because of their recent references to the beauty of God’s grace. For some reason he has decided to attempt to publicly call out these two men because he feels that they are soft on sin and its impact. I know these men personally, I have read Clark Whitten’s books, and I have listened carefully to Alan Chamber’s talks. I can assure Dr. Gagnon and anyone who shares his concerns that these men have a biblical view of sin and repentance, and they have each invested many years teaching a hurting world to turn from their sin in humble trust of Jesus Christ our Lord for salvation.
I appreciate Dr. Gagnon’s passion and his well-articulated positions on matters of doctrine other than the security of the believer. I appreciate the need to call out those who espouse doctrine that is significantly weak or heretical when it is appropriate that we do so. If he is genuinely concerned and as compassionate as he says he is, a private conversation with Alan addressing his concerns would have been sufficient, and this would have been consistent with the Scriptural mandate to go to the offending brother. He has missed the mark here, and he has hit two warriors who are contending for the same principles he believes in with “friendly fire.”
Dr. Gagnon, we are so much stronger if we lock arms and contend for the faith together. I challenge you to examine your position, retract your harsh criticisms, and unite with Alan and others who love our Lord with passion and purity, just as you do. The stakes are too high, in my opinion, for you to attempt to marginalize ministers of the Gospel who have committed their lives to serving our Lord.
John Warren has served as president and CEO of three bank holding companies during a 28-year banking career. His education includes an MBA from The University of West Florida. He is a student of theology, and consults with several national ministries on financial matters facilitating the application of sound business practices and strategies with missional focus. John’s passion is speaking and writing on matters found at the intersection of finance and ministry. He is the Treasurer of the Exodus International Board of Directors.