“But beyond this my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless and excess devotion to books is wearying to the body.” This biblical exhortation from Qoheleth, the preacher traditionally understood to be Solomon, might be problematic to an editor and publisher of books. But let me augment the biblical injunction by suggesting that reading books does not mean endless or excessive devotion to them. The sacred Scriptures alone are owed that mindset. The role of books concerning theological and biblical studies is a combination that seeks to describe error and defend truth. In order to beware of error, we must be aware of it. The only way to correct bad sight with a corrective lens is to understand the nature of the problem with one’s vision.
And so, might I be so bold as to suggest a book you might wish to consider reading. For those who wish to clarify their vision on the theological tensions that exist in the arena of soteriology and perseverance, let me suggest “Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life” by Bradley Green, Ph.D. (published by IVP in 2014). This is a book in the series “New Studies in Biblical Theology” from NSBT Series Editor, D.A. Carson.
This is a good book to gain understanding of the most up-to-date biblical, theological and historical arguments regarding justification that is “already” and the final justification that is “not yet.” In order to get from the former to the latter, works and obedience are necessary and essential, for each Christian will be judged according to works to determine if their justification is vindicated at the final judgment (Rom. 2). In other words, salvation is “conditioned on works” but initial justification is not “grounded” in works. Works produce merit, but they are non-meritorious, only confirmation that faith truly worked. In short, it can be said that “future salvation is conditional” and “we are saved by perseverance” in that the only faith that saves contains and maintains perseverance to the end. Let me be clear – Dr. Bradley holds that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and not by works. But he also contends that although works are not the grounds of salvation, they are necessary for salvation.
Dr. Bradley finds a foundational source of support for this view as he enlists the promise of the New Covenant (Ezekiel and Jeremiah) that provides a new power to keep the law. The New Covenant is originally promised to Israel, but finds its fulfillment in the new people of God. Hence, the people of God, the Church, are to expect and experience the power of God through the Holy Spirit and regeneration, resulting in empowerment, ensuring every Christian a life of perseverance, although not meaning perfection in this life. Hence, the title “Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life.”
In this monograph, Dr. Green provides some exegetical details, more theological inference from the reformed perspective, and even more evidence from the viewpoint of historical theology and the development of reformed dogma. He enlists the support of the original reformers, Calvin and Luther, the post Westminster reformers, John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, and the recent works of Richard Gavin, Greg Beale, John Piper, and N.T. Wright, all of whom appear to endorse two types of justification: one that is forensic and initial and the other that is a final vindication at the final judgment based upon works. (Rom. 2, 8) All of the aforementioned theologians clearly hold to and state in other works that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and not by works, and that works are not the grounds of salvation, although they are necessary for salvation to be authenticated. They also declare that future justification, vindication, and salvation is by works or a faith that works evidenced through perseverance. (This is very similar to the works of Paul Rainbow, Chris Van Landingham, and Alan Stanley.)
It appears that since the Reformation, the reformed church has struggled to reject the Roman Catholic Church dogma of “salvation by faith and works” and has replaced it with a doctrine of “faith that works.”
This book will be a review for some and new for others. Due to its length and the fact that you cannot cover all things in one book, by necessity there is much left out at the exegetical level. However, it provides a good theological and historical explanation for the interface of faith and works and the final judgment based on works.
The most noticeable omission of the book but one that was most certainly designed is the fact that there is not one reference in text, index, footnote or bibliography to the views or authors (either classic or contemporary) who would hold to what is called a Free Grace Theology. I assume this is a planned omission due to the limited length and purpose of the book. In fact, I imagine that one of the reasons for the writing of the book was to clarify the reformed view on this topic because of the danger of Neonomianism in reformed circles and the perceived but unrealized and unsubstantiated danger of antinomianism in Free Grace Theology. I think you will enjoy the book.
Serving Him with you
Until He comes for us,
Fred Chay, Ph.D.
Managing Editor, Grace Theology Press