Book Review: The Exceeding Great Power of God’s Grace
by Bill Gothard, Ph.D.
Book Review by Pastor Barry D. Black
with contribution by L.L. (Don) Veinot, Jr.
A litmus test of Biblical theology is what a person believes concerning grace. One’s view of grace will determine what they believe concerning salvation and daily Christian living. This was one of the main arguments between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformers. The Reformers argued that grace was God’s favorable attitude toward the undeserving or, as we say it in short hand: unmerited favor. Roman Catholicism rejected this idea, and in “Canon XI” declared it “anathema:”
Canon XI.—If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost,1 and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.
As we read through The Exceeding Great Power of God’s Grace, we did note one positive point. Bill Gothard certainly knows how to use a Bible concordance! In fact, he states in the “Introduction:”
Every single verse in the New Testament on the subject of grace is included in this study.2
He then organizes the verses under nine categories (which are the nine chapters of this 78-page book)—each of which “explains an aspect of the power of God’s grace.”3 This is a book review and, as such, is not intended to be an exhaustive critique. That likely would require a book at least as long. Rather, we will highlight some of the biggest issues.
During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, we attended no less than half a dozen of Bill Gothard’s “Basic Seminars,” and no less than two “Advanced Seminars.” we distinctly remember during that period, Gothard defined “grace” as “the power and desire to do God’s will joyfully.” That definition is far removed from the orthodox, Biblical definition of grace which, again, is: God’s unmerited favor. The English word grace comes from the Greek word charis meaning gift, and it was in common usage among the pagans in the culture in which the epistles were penned. They certainly would not have understood it to mean “the power and ability to do God’s will joyfully;” and if they had, the question then would have been, “Which god or gods?” since the word was in use prior to Christianity. Rather, the apostles employed the word commonly used to denote “unmerited favor” or “God’s favorable attitude toward the undeserving;” and they applied it to God’s attitude toward undeserving sinners, because it is something not deserved, and it cannot be earned or merited.
With that in mind, the problems immediately begin as we read the “Introduction” which is titled, “God’s grace: an attitude or a power?” As he often does, Gothard will begin his teachings with an “either/or” fallacy. For example, in regard to grace, Gothard quotes a portion of Romans 6:14 “… not under the law, but under grace” (KJV). He continues:
These words have been taken from their context and given a meaning that is virtually opposite to the intent of Scripture. To many people today, the phrase means that they are not under any obligation to fulfill the righteousness of the Law of God but are under a blanket indulgence called grace so that they can do whatever they think is right and receive God’s approval.4
In Gothard’s view, Christians are categorized into one of his two views: (1) We either must be obligated “to fulfill the righteousness of the Law of God,” or (2) we place ourselves “under a blanket indulgence called grace so that they can do whatever they think is right and receive God’s approval.”
Why does he only give those two possibilities (i.e. those two “either/or” arguments)? He apparently ignores any other possibilities and sets up a straw man argument which is fairly easy to kick over. In doing so, he seems to ignore the obvious problems with his “either/or” options of “fulfilling the righteousness of the law” or “a blanket indulgence.” First of all, where does the Scripture tell us that we are obligated to fulfill the righteousness of the law? It doesn’t; and strangely, he doesn’t quote any verse(s) to prove this is even a possibility. The closest he comes is in quoting the first part of Romans 8:4, which states:
That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (KJV)
What happens when we back up and include Romans 8.3 as it leads into verse 4?:
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: (KJV)
It is evident from the context that this verse concerns our position in Christ. Gothard made the verse apply in the practical sense. In other words, his view is basically that God gives grace to the Christian (that is as long as the Christian is eligible or willing to receive God’s grace), in order to enable them to fulfill “the righteousness of the law.” Are we hearing the faint sound of Rome in the pages of this book?
Secondly, a student of the Scriptures will realize the Bible never encourages the Christian to sin. Grace does not give us a “blanket indulgence.” The Apostle Paul was horrified at the prospect and declared in Romans 6:2, “May it never be!” (NASB) God does not bestow grace to those who do deserve it. In fact, the opposite is true. He bestows grace to those who do not deserve it, and could never deserve it (according to Romans 3:23, “… all have sinned …”). That is why it is called grace, that is why it is offered to everyone, and that is why it includes any and every sin. The Bible has numerous warnings for the disobedient believer; however, God’s grace certainly covers every sin (cf. 1 John 2:2). To add insult to injury, Gothard provides no evidence that some define grace as meaning a believer could “do whatever they think is right and receive God’s approval.” He simply makes the assertion. Gothard is obviously misrepresenting those who hold the Biblical, orthodox view of grace.
The most important aspect concerning grace is what a person believes concerning eternal salvation. In chapter 3 “Qualified by Weakness for Salvation by the Power of Grace!” he quotes Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. (KJV)
He then makes the following statement:
… the activating power of salvation is the grace of God mixed with our faith, both of which are free gifts of God.5
The problems here start with the claim that something is needed for “the activating power of salvation.” That would mean that salvation is dormant until ignited by a spark of something—in this case, the combination of two things called “grace” and “faith.”
Here again, we hear the echoes of Rome who goes out of her way to use words like “free” and “undeserved” and even “favor” when they define grace as “favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God …”6 But then, only three pages after this definition, the Catechism turns right around and discusses the Catholic doctrine of “Merit,”7 which completely obliterates any notion that grace is “free” or “undeserved” in Catholic theology. In reality, faith is sinful man’s response to the offer of salvation which is extended solely because of the grace of God, “God’s attitude of favor toward the undeserving.” When it comes to salvation, if a person believes what God has said—which, indeed, is the response of faith—the believing sinner is born again. The power of salvation is always present and active in the Gospel (Rom. 1:16). If a person rejects what God has said (in this case concerning salvation), then he or she has rejected God’s grace and the free gift of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ. In fact, when a person attempts salvation by works (i.e. anything other than or in addition to faith), then he or she rejects God’s favorable attitude toward the undeserving (grace) and the appropriation of the free gift (i.e. eternal life).
Finally, in chapter 4 entitled, “Enabled With Power Over Sin Under the Reign of Grace!” after quoting Romans 8:2-4, Gothard states:
Based on this passage and other important passages, grace does not free us from the righteousness of the Law. Instead, it gives us the power to carry out God’s righteousness so that sin does not reign in our lives.8
Again, he repeats the error of trying to make a positional passage (Romans 8:2-4) apply as a practical passage (a passage for daily living). The problem is that “the righteousness of the Law” (to which Gothard often refers) is fulfilled in Christ and is applied to us when we receive eternal life (i.e. salvation, born-again, etc.). Grace—the favorable attitude toward the undeserving—is the very reason that the righteous fulfillment of the Law by Christ is applied to those who believe.
Then on page 29, Gothard makes an astounding statement: “There is no reason or room for carnality in the Christian life,” (and then he quotes Romans 8:6-8). The Apostle Paul, a chapter earlier, refutes this claim as he makes a statement concerning his own condition in Romans 7:14-25. Paul leads up to this comforting proclamation:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, KJV)
In addition, Paul confronts the problem of carnality (living in the “flesh,” or “old nature”) in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. Carnality is a very real problem that can happen to any believer at any time. Gothard could have more accurately stated that carnality in a Christian’s life will result in consequences (chastisement, reaping that which is sowed to the flesh, etc.).
After reading this book, we think it is safe to say there is no room for the Biblical view of grace in Bill Gothard’s theology. The man certainly can give numerous references, but in The Exceeding Great Power of God’s Grace, Bill Gothard either misrepresents grace or demonstrates that he has no idea what it is.
Barry D. Black is Pastor of Anchor Bible Church www.anchorbible.org
Barry’s e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
1. “The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent,” Canon 11 (On Justification, 1547), in Philip Schaff and David S. Schaff, eds., The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, reprinted 1985), pp112-113.
2. Bill Gothard, Ph. D., The Exceeding Great Power of God’s Grace (Institute of Basic Life Principles, 2006), p5.
4. Ibid., p4 -5.
5. Ibid., p22. (emphasis mine)
6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, [NY: Doubleday, 1997], ¶ 1996, p538.
7. Ibid., 2006-2011, pp541-542.
8. Bill Gothard, op. cit., p.28.
Reprinted by permission from www.midwestoutreach.org
(published in the Winter 2008 issue of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. Journal)