Book ReviewsGod's Riches: A Workbook on the Doctrines of Grace By John Benton and John Peet; 1991, 64 pp. Banner of Truth, $10.95.
Preachers of the Bible know how valuable it is to have their learners "discover" the truths of God's Word for themselves. Secondhand doctrine, like canned corn, is never as sweet, nutritious, or appreciated as that which is homegrown. God's desire always is for our people to be taught by Spirit.
The Spirit performs this ministry when the Word is studied. Personal study, along with receiving the Word preached, is essential for healthy spiritual development. John Benton and John Peet have done a wonderful service for Pastors and serious Christians everywhere with their workbook, God's Riches.
Here is a tool that can be used in-group study or privately to help believers understand "Foundation Principles" (The Bible, God and Man--covered in Part One) and "The Doctrines of Grace" (depravity, election, atonement, effectual calling, and perseverance--covered in Part Two). It is a true workbook with questions that are designed to be answered in writing.
The format is simple and the language is clear. A variety of line art is included which makes the pages appealing to the eye. More than a dozen valuable quotations from men like Spurgeon, Sibbes, Owen, and Luther are interspersed.
This instruction manual ought to have great usefulness in churches who teach the doctrines of grace.
Ours is the age of instant gratification and the quick fix. Even Christians have succumbed to the spirit of the times. We want to attain that state frequently referred to as "victorious Christian living" by simply going to a retreat or walking down an aisle.
Don Whitney's book comes as a much needed corrective to this kind of thinking. It reminds us that Christianity is not easy, and if we expect to produce robust Christian character we must get back to what former generations of Christians knew and what we have all but forgotten--discipline.
In his forward, J.I. Packer warns us to prepare for a workout in Whitney's book. And a workout it is! After his opening chapter that tells us why spiritual disciplines are essential, the author takes us through a wide range of disciplines--Bible study, Bible memorization, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.
Each of these chapters features a comprehensive treatment of the biblical teaching on these subjects. Application if carefully made throughout the course of each chapter, but just to make sure he has the hook securely fastened in the reader's jaw, the author concludes each chapter with a very helpful section entitled "More Application."
Because we all have the tendency to start and not finish, Whitney concludes the workout with a chapter on perseverance in the disciplines.
The whole book is a delight to read. It is done in a warm-hearted, winsome fashion that makes us want to practice these disciplines--not out of legalistic obligation but out of love for Christ and out of the desire to be the very best we can be for His glory.
Millard Erickson, newly appointed Research Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has performed a great service for Evangelicals in writing this systematic theology text. As he states in the preface, "While the textbooks written by Charles Hodge, Augustus Strong, Louis Berkhof, and others served admirably for their day, there was no way they could anticipate and respond to the recent developments in theology and other disciplines. Christian Theology represents an attempt to fill that need for our day." It is in this spirit that he proceeds to develop this work, remaining true to orthodoxy while addressing contemporary matters of theology.
The Author shows vast knowledge in numerous areas throughout the book. His basic approach is to provide summaries of significant positions held in the past and present, and then to state his own position by way of critique. Erickson capably engages much of the modern thought which is influencing the Church today. Neo-orthodoxy and process theology are two schools which he critiques from an orthodox perspective. His treatment of aberrant and heretical ideas is not mean-spirited but graciously frank and to the point, following the Apostolic injunction (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
The first chapter, "What is Theology", a well-rounded introduction is given. Theology is biblical, systematic, and relates to the issues of general culture and learning. It must be contemporary (meaning timeless truths being stated in an intelligible way for today's reader), and practical. Theology is not solely an intellectual enterprise; it is the foundation for a God-glorifying life.
What is evident throughout is clearly stated in Part Two: Erickson is firmly convinced of the inerrancy of Scripture. He labels his view, "full inerrancy," and positions it between "absolute" and "limited" inerrancy. This means that the Bible is "fully truthful in all that it affirms" when it is "correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given" (233-34).
The glory of God is the evident theme throughout this work. Erickson's treatment of the doctrine of God certainly reveals his high view of divine sovereignty. Creation and providence are carried out according to the decrees of God which Erickson calls the "plan of God". God's plan is not contingent upon creature cooperation. Rather, it is the blueprint for their free actions. The author writes: "We may define the plan of God as his eternal decision rendering certain all things which shall come to pass" (346). "Despite difficulties in relating divine sovereignty to human freedom, we nonetheless come to the conclusion on biblical grounds that the plan of God is unconditional rather than conditional upon man's choice. There is simply nothing in the Bible to suggest that God chooses humans because of what they are going to do on their own" (356). Erickson identifies his view with that which Warfield called Calvinistic "congruism."
While avowedly Calvinistic in his soteriology, holding firmly to total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance of the saints, at two points Erickson deviates from the Dortian stream. He makes a stark distinction between effectual calling and regeneration, placing conversion between them in the application of salvation. This ties in with a universal atonement which is effectual to none except those who receive it by faith. He admits that this view is also espoused by Arminians but, nevertheless, believes it to be biblical. A reading of Chapter 28 in J. P. Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology will provide a helpful critique of the position he espouses.
In light of the modern Lordship controversy, Erickson's views on perseverance deserve to be quoted: "Our understanding of the doctrine of perseverance allows no room for indolence or laxity. It is questionable whether anyone who reasons, 'Now that I am a Christian, I can live as I please,' has really been converted and regenerated. Genuine faith issues instead, in the fruit of the Spirit. Assurance of salvation results from the Holy Spirit's giving evidence that He is at work in the life of the individual. And wherever the Spirit's work results in conviction that one's commitment to Christ is genuine, there is also the certainty on biblical grounds that God will enable the Christian to persist in that relationship" (996-7).
Well-rounded discussion on the nature of the church, ordinances, and last things finish out this volume, leaving the student an overview of Christianity which is both stimulating and thought-provoking. I highly recommend the purchase and use of this volume by pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and laymen alike.