For the past year, Charisma Magazine has been running many articles against the grace gospel, labeling it "Hyper Grace". One of those articles was written by a regular contributor, Joseph Mattera (JM). It is a short review of Pastor Joseph Prince's first book, "Destined To Reign" (D2R). Perhaps tellingly, the title of the article was not something along the lines of "Book review: book title" but a rather provocative "Is Joseph Prince's Radical Grace Teaching Biblical?"
Typical of a few reviews of D2R which I have read, this review also follows the same pattern: "Well, D2R is generally OK, got some useful tips for new Christians BUT...", and these "buts" actually contradict the very essence of what Pastor Prince is trying to teach in his book. JM listed down 7 "buts" and I will deal with them one by one.
To facilitate my review of JM's book review, I will reproduce excerpts (in blue) here but you can read JM's full article by clicking his article title (highlighted in bold) above.
I do not get the impression Prince believes in cheap grace or that a person who really understands Prince's heart and teaching will dive into sin—but there are certain places where it is easy for the theologically untrained to take his teaching too far and preach a cheap grace or hypergrace message. Prince makes it clear he hates sin and also preaches from the Old Testament to exalt Christ.
The following are some of my concerns with the book.
1. Prince Makes Blanket Statements and Tries to Fit All Scripture Within His System
For example, he says it is not necessary to confess our sins and that Paul’s epistles never give an example of a believer confessing sin. He says this because he believes all of our sins, both past and future, have already been forgiven (something I agree with in principle) and that we should just be honest with God and speak to Him about our failures. But Prince says this is not the same as confession of sin for forgiveness. I say this is a merely a cute play on words because speaking to God about our sins is going to lead to confession anyway.
The challenge I have with this teaching is that in 1 John 1:9, John teaches us to confess our sins. Although Princeacknowledges that this passage refutes his teaching on radical grace, he tries to get around it by saying this passage was written to the gnostics in the church—something he states without citing any commentaries, sources or historical evidence. I counter that the context of 1 John shows that John was writing to believers. He calls them his “dear children” in 1 John 2:1 (NIV). Also, remember that originally the book had no chapters or verses; thus, the "children" in 1 John 2:1 are connected to the first chapter of the book.
Although the apostle John was dealing with gnosticism in this epistle when he spoke about the humanity of Christ in 1 John 1:1 and 4:2-3 and the fact Jesus came in the flesh—a fact gnostics refute because they believe Jesus only came as a spirit because they believed the realm of the flesh was evil—the recipients of this letter were not gnostics but true believers who were being warned against gnosticism.
Furthermore, if 1 John 1:9 was written to unbelievers, why would John tell them to confess their sins? Its impossible for an unbeliever to recount and confess all the sins they ever committed. When I came to Christ, I did not confess each and every individual sin of my past 19 years. I just surrendered my heart to Christ and asked Him to forgive me for being a sinner. When a person comes to Christ, they are not commanded to confess their sins but to receive Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10; Acts 16:31). Only a Christian can remember and confess individual sins as they are committed.
Furthermore, James 5:16 also teaches believers to confess their sins. Lastly, Paul actually implies confession of sin in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 when he encourages the Corinthian church to repent and have “godly sorrow.”
Every preacher has his own system,whether it is learnt in a seminary or bible college or through self study. If a passage of scripture does not fit within his system, then either there is a flaw in his system, and/or there is a misunderstanding or lack of understanding of that passage of scripture.
JM cites the example of 1 John 1:9 to prove his point of Pastor Prince forcing scripture to fit his system; so JM is implying that Pastor Prince's system is wrong and his interpretation of 1 John 1:9 is also wrong.
Let us now consider whether Pastor Prince's "system" is right or wrong: do we need to confess our sins to God in order to be forgiven?
Pastor Prince says no because all our sins, both past and future, have already been forgiven but JM disagrees because of 1 John 1:9. Now, this 1 John 1:9 debate has been going on for decades and basically there are two camps: one camp says it's addressing gnostics while the other says it is meant for believers. Neither side is willing to accept the other side's argument, so for the individual Christian, it is up to your personal conviction which "system" you want to believe.
There are a few flaws with JM's reasoning: he says "Only a Christian can remember and confess individual sins as they are committed " but this is simply not correct.
Firstly, any moral person, not necessarily only a Christian, can remember individual sins. Before I became a Christian, I already could remember my sins because I was ruled by my conscience; the apostle Paul also acknowledged that in Romans 2: 14-15
14 Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. 15 They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.
Secondly, it is impossible for any person, whether Christian or not, to remember and confess individual sins as they are committed. Pastor Prince has testified before that as a youth, he took 1 John 1:9 so seriously that he spends almost every conscious moment trying to catch himself sinning and then immediately muttering a quick confession of his sin to God, just in case he forgot about it later and he ended up with an unconfessed and hence unforgiven sin. This resulted in people around him thinking that he is a weird guy who is constantly whispering to himself.
If you truly believe in this system, can you with 100% certainty say that you have confessed every single sin you know you have committed? Even if you can answer yes with a straight face, let me ask you: what about those sins which you don't know that you have committed?
The third, and most fatal flaw in JM's reasoning is that he assumes that he knows what is a sin and what is not. However, what makes something a sin is not by our own estimation but by God's reckoning. How would you feel as you stand outside the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter says you can't enter because you have some sins which you did not confess and hence remained unforgiven because you did not even know that they were sins.
Do you still think that JM's system is correct? Do you still want to believe in JM's system? I hope not because you will surely be living a miserable Christian life (if you can still call it a life), focusing all your energy on catching yourself do wrong instead of listening to the Holy Spirit to help you live right.
I will deal with JM's second "but" in Part 2 (to be continued)...