The book is a team effort by Dr’s. Dave Anderson, Jody Dillow, Paul Tanner, Ken Wilson and myself. I invite you to read the introduction in hopes of conveying to you why such a book is needed.
Serving Him with you until He comes for us,
Fred Chay, PhD
Managing Editor, Grace Theology Press
In “The Progress of Dogma,” James Orr (Scottish divine, 1844-1913) realized there was a difference between the apostles’ teaching (the static word of God) and the teaching of the church1. The history of the church has manifested a variety of theological discussions and disputes. But even the apostles found themselves entertaining theological differences and, at times, locked in theological dialogue and debate concerning doctrine.
The history of the church has created a variety of creeds and confessions that have sought to clarify the theological positions of the church. The theological topics have and still include both the nature of the authority of the Bible and the extent of the atonement. Ancient and recent debates continue concerning the nature of the Godhead, the Trinity, and the eternal subordination of the Son. The nature, duration and population of hell have always been topics of contention. The issue over spiritual gifts comes and goes, and of course, that is the actual point of contention. The perennial problems regarding eschatological events and end times figures as well as exit timelines have always held theological interest. But the foundational and fundamental topic of soteriology is essential for present and eternal life. To be more precise, our understanding and articulation of the nature of faith and the relationship to assurance need to be both precise and accurate. The misunderstanding concerning faith and assurance has produced a variety of theological errors as well as pastoral complications for both the ancient and modern church.
This theological question has always been at the center of contention. After all, it is the devil who desires to confuse as well as blind people concerning the goodness and the glorious grace of God. Many look to the Protestant Reformation led by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli and fueled by Augustine’s theology as the determinative event that settled the issues. This was followed by concessions, creeds, and confessions to provide correction for the church and catechetical indoctrination for its members. But it is often forgotten or perhaps unknown that the relationship of faith and assurance and the resulting issues concerning the Christian life were not easily or uniformly connected. Both in the European Reformation and the American Puritan Movement, there was an unevenness and uneasiness as to how faith and assurance are related2.
All evangelicals would agree that we are “saved by faith alone.” But is it biblically true that “the faith that saves is never alone”? The determination of both the origin of assurance (Augustine saw it as a gift) and the role of assurance (Puritans saw it as the primary evidence of genuine salvation) in the life of the Christian has tremendous consequences.
And so it is today that the church must continue the dialogue and debate when necessary to clarify if assurance is the essence of saving faith and if faith must always work. And what do we conclude if it does not? Click & Tweet!
There have been some recent attempts to deal with this issue3, but the most recent is by a tried and true and thoroughly trusted evangelical theologian and an astute student of the history of doctrine, Wayne Grudem, Ph.D., D.D. His recent book strikes an irenic tone as he shares his concerns with those who hold to what is called Free Grace theology. His concern has to do with definitions of terms and deficiencies in the theology and what he sees as errors of doctrine that diminish the gospel of Jesus Christ. His book, “Free Grace” Theology: 5 Ways It Diminishes the Gospel, is a simple and sharp expression of the seriousness of the issue.
Having been a colleague of Dr. Grudem’s for 13 years and having enjoyed many a dialogue on a variety of theological topics, I know that he is sincere in his concerns and has an unwavering commitment of his convictions concerning Reformed theology. However, neither sincerity of heart nor theological tradition is the test for truth. Although traditions are often the tramway of intellectual transportation, traditions are not to be assumed automatically, accepted unconsciously, or assimilated uncritically4. Like all dogma or doctrine, a theological position is to be inspected and, if necessary, rejected.
The purpose of this book is to clarify certain theological definitions and doctrinal positions regarding soteriology. We will seek to interact with some of Dr. Grudem’s concerns as we integrate exegetical detail, form theological decisions, and evaluate historical theological dogma. Since many of the authors of this book were evaluated in Dr. Grudem’s book, we have both a personal and professional desire to understand and be understood. It is also our desire that we articulate our views with both clarity and charity.
“The past will not tell us what we should do, but it will often tell us what we should avoid.” Click & Tweet!
“The past will not tell us what we should do, but it will often tell us what we should avoid.5”It is neither to the recent past nor the reformational past but to the ancient past of the Scriptures that we must turn to find ultimate truth.
1 See Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine, John Hannah, Nav Press 2001, 26.↩
2 See Michael Eaton (a charismatic Reformed theologian like Wayne Grudem), No Condemnation: A New Theology of Assurance (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1997); M. Charles Bell, Calvin and Scottish Theology: The Doctrine of Assurance (Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1985), his dissertation published by Cambridge University; Robert W.A. Letham, “Saving Faith and Assurance in Reformed Theology: Zwingli to the Synod of Dort” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 1979).↩
3 The most recent is Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works and the Gospel of Jesus the King (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic publishing, 2017). Also see, Sujaya T. James, Salvation and Discipleship Continuum in Johannine Literature: Toward an Evaluation of the Faith Alone Doctrine (Lewiston, N.Y.: The Edward Mellen Press, 2014); Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew Barrett, Faith Alone — The Doctrine of Justification: What the Reformers Taught . . . and Why It Still Matters (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2015); Bradley G. Green, Covenant and Commandment: Works, Obedience and Faithfulness in the Christian Life, (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2014); Alan P. Stanley, Did Jesus Teach Salvation by Works?: The Role of Works in Salvation in the Synoptic Gospels, ed. David Baker, Evangelical Theological Society Monograph Series 4 (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2006).↩
4 See José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses (N.Y.: W.W. Norton, 1994). ↩