Amazing Grace: God's Initiative, Our Response, by Timothy George (Lifeway, 2000), 126 pp.
Reviewed by Thomas Ascol
Timothy George has given us a wonderful treatment of the doctrine of grace. A combination of biblical, systematic, historical and pastoral theology make this a helpful tool in teaching church members more about the grace of God in salvation. It is published by Lifeway Press, which is the former Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and contains on the back cover glowing commendations from David Dockery, Ken Keathley and Paige Patterson.
In his characteristically irenic style, Dr. George directly addresses the "hot issues" surrounding the sovereignty of God's grace. He accurately defines the TULIP acrostic and offers his own alternative: ROSES--Radical depravity, Overcoming grace, Sovereign election, Eternal life, Singular Redemption (72). The Calvinistic-Arminian debate is outlined in its historical context as well as biblically and theologically.
The author makes quite clear his own theological convictions while calling on those from both sides of the debate to recognize that we have much on which to agree despite our differences. Throughout the book Dr. George shows that the enemies of biblical Calvinism are Arminianism on the one hand and the "quagmire" of hyper-Calvinism on the other. Though one would expect no less from this author it is nevertheless refreshing to see the distinction between evangelical Calvinism and fatalism clearly and forcefully stated in various places.
In response to the question, "Are Baptists Calvinists?", George acknowledges that, historically, Baptists have been "all over the map" on this issue. "What can be said without dispute, however, is that there is a strong Calvinistic or Reformed stream within the Baptist tradition and that this perspective has been held by some of the most notable shapers of Baptist life and thought" (70).
One final observation before making some recommendations: Dr. George puts the lie to the unfounded yet resilient accusation that "where Calvinism has taken hold, missions and evangelism has died out." His historical examples of Spurgeon, Fuller, Carey and others show the foolishness of such a claim. Also, his own careful arguments for evangelism and missions, showing how a grace-filled theology gives a passion for such work, is a fine example of biblical reasoning from a Reformed perspective on the subject.
This is a "Christian Growth Study Plan" (formerly Church Study Course) book, which means that it is the text for a course on Baptist Doctrine in that series of courses. Consequently, it has sprinkled throughout "Personal Learning Activity" questions. While that may be a distraction to some readers, it hardly discounts the value of the book. In fact, the format and purpose of this book make it an excellent resource to use in Southern Baptist churches. It could be taught in Sunday School or any other small group setting, and can be recommended to church members as a profitable individual study.
The British Particular Baptists, 1638-1910, Volume 1, edited by Michael A. G. Haykin (Particular Baptist Press, 1998), 249 pp.
Reviewed by Thomas Ascol
Those interested in Baptist history and not familiar with Particular Baptist Press would do well to get on their mailing list (phone them at 417/883-0342). PBP is committed to reacquainting modern Baptists with those on whose shoulders we stand. This is being done by reprinting works of long-forgotten Calvinistic Baptist leaders, as they have done with Joseph Kinghorn (1766-1832), and by publishing contemporary writings about our Baptist heritage, as contained in the volume under review.
Michael Haykin is an excellent historian who teaches in Cambridge, Ontario. His love for Baptist history has led to be involved in several efforts which bring to light earlier generations of Baptist churchmen. This first volume of a proposed two volume treatment of British Particular Baptists is a helpful introduction to the lives and ministries of such men. Individual chapters are devoted to John Spilsbury, Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, John Bunyan, Benjamin Keach, four generations of Stennetts (Edward, Joseph, Joseph, Jr. and Samuel), John Gill, Benjamin Beddome, J.C. Ryland, Robert Hall, Sr., Caleb Evans and Samuel Medley. Along with the editor, contributors include James Renihan, Barry Howson, Paul Wilson, Allen E. Smith, Tom Nettles, B. A. Ramsbottom, Robert Oliver, Peter Naylor and Kirk Wellum.
As with any collection of essays, some chapters make a greater impression on the reader than others. Ramsbottom's treatment of four generations of Stennetts is a succinct testimony to God's grace mediated to and through an unusual family. I am also indebted to Ramsbottom's other chapter on Samuel Medley for introducing me to this hard-hearted sailor turned pastor and hymn-writer. The story of Medley's conversion through the reading of an Isaac Watts' sermon by his godly grandfather is fascinating.
My favorite chapter is the longest and most creative. After outlining Benjamin Keach's life, writings and major theological emphases (salvation, covenant, Trinity, Christ, justification, assurance and evangelism), Tom Nettles brings Keach into our contemporary Baptist setting and allows him to evaluate the life and practices of our churches. The critique is searching, convicting and beneficial. We need to hear and apply the insights of those whom God raised up as teachers in the church in earlier generations. Not only Nettles' chapter but also the others in this book help us do that.
This hardbound volume printed on acid-free paper is highly recommended.