Foundations: No.80 Spring 2021

Book Review

Sin and Grace: Evangelical Soteriology in Historical Perspective

Tony Lane, Apollos, 2020, 347pp, £15.99 (Amazon)

Tony Lane is Professor of Historical Theology at the London School of Theology. His book is very easy to read but he “has a remarkable depth and breadth of knowledge” (Robert Letham).

He begins by explaining the framework of theology, the familiar fourfold structure that can be summarised in four words: Creation – Sin – Grace – Glory. “Sin and Grace” are the focus of this book; “Creation and Glory” are briefly mentioned.

Part one: “The need: Sin” (9-66)

  • “As a result of the fall, our desires have been affected by sin. This means that to a greater or lesser extent they have become inordinate and disordered” (14). And again, “Sin starts as orientation of our lives, as a disposition of the heart, which leads to sinful desires, which lead to sinful thoughts, which lead to sinful deeds” (20).
  • He also highlights “two different truths taught in Scripture”, the one is that “we are all sinners” and the other is the distinction between “the righteous and the sinners”. “It is important to maintain both sides of this tension”.
  • In regard to the bondage of the will, he writes that while, “we can do what we desire (within limits), we cannot control what we desire”.
  • He discusses original sin and the debate between Pelagius and Augustine as well as the Enlightenment’s rejection of the doctrine of fallen human nature. Liberal theology followed enlightenment thinking on this, and “Neo-Orthodox theologians reaffirmed and expounded the doctrine of original sin, but most of them did not see this as being the result of a fall.”
  • He also deals with the issue of guilt and of the wrath of God.

Part two: “Becoming a Christian”, (67-160)

First, he deals with the necessity of salvation by grace and of prevenient and efficacious grace, including the doctrines of election and predestination:

  • “Classic Arminianism is not Semi-Pelagianism since Arminius agreed with Augustine that we cannot make the first move towards God. It is more accurate to call Arminianism Semi-Augustinianism, because it shares with Augustinianism the belief that we can do no spiritual good without God’s prevenient grace” (79).
  • In this section he discusses the teaching of Augustine, Calvin and Barth. “For Barth the gospel message is not that we shall be accepted by God if we repent and believe, but that we are already accepted and just need to recognize that fact.” “Barth’s message appears to point clearly to universalism” (89).
  • He summarises TULIP briefly. On “limited atonement” he states, “This doctrine was not taught by Calvin but was developed after him” (92). “It must not be equated with the oft repeated statement of Peter Lombard that Christ’s death is sufficient for all but efficient for the elect alone.”

Second, his next six chapters deal with “Baptism and initiation”. Four of the chapters deal with baptism.

  • He identifies a fourfold Christian initiation; Repentance, Faith, Baptism, Receiving the Holy Spirit. He has researched evangelical evangelistic resources and notes that most do emphasis the first two aspects – repentance and faith – although often “this is reduced to an unbiblical phrase such as ‘invite Jesus into your heart’” (96). However, the other two aspects are often missing.
  • Regarding baptism: “According to the New Testament, one becomes a Christian at least in part by baptism”. “Faith and baptism are the proverbial two sides of the coin” (98).
  • Regarding reception of the Spirit: “There is a lot of sense in making the laying on of hands to receive the Spirit part of the ceremony of baptism” (102).
  • Regarding repentance: “Repentance involves total commitment in principle” (109); “we cannot have Christ as Saviour without having him as Lord. There is no forgiveness of sins without repentance” (110). “Calvin argued strongly that repentance comes after faith and forgiveness of sins.” But “he was totally against the idea, taught by some today, that it is possible to have faith and the forgiveness of sins without repentance and discipleship” (112).
  • “Today we have a polarization between the belief that salvation is by baptism (Roman Catholics) and the belief that it is by faith (evangelicals). The New Testament takes no sides here, because conversion and baptism are always held together, so we must resist the false dichotomy” (117).
  • He supports the “dual practice” of Baptists and Paedobaptists, by arguing that “For those raised in a Christian home, both infant baptism and adult baptism are not isolated events but simply one stage in a lengthy process” (147).

Part Three: “Being put right with God: Justification” (210-274)

Here are six chapters, the first four mainly deal with the Roman Catholic and Protestant disagreement on justification and the more recent ecumenical agreements.

  • He summarises Augustine’s view, “which is not about God’s putting us right with himself through the work of Christ on the cross, but about God’s changing us within by the work of the Holy Spirit” (162).
  • He defines Justification as “…acquittal, as the not guilty verdict in a law court. This is a legal or ‘forensic’ definition of justification.” In contrast to Sanctification: “Justification refers to our standing before God; sanctification refers to God’s work in renewing and transforming us into the image of Christ… Justification is about God’s accepting me; sanctification is about God’s changing me” (165).
  • “The essence of the Protestant doctrine is that justification and sanctification can be distinguished, but not separated” (166).
  • “According to the New Testament we are justified by faith, but the final judgement is according to works” (173).
  • He calls us to be faithful to two teachings: “The promise of acceptance to the worst of sinners does not rule out the demand for total commitment from all believers.” “Being faithful to this tension is a challenge for Christian theology… There are two opposite dangers that threaten us and that we need to avoid. One danger is antinomianism, which says it doesn’t matter how we live. The other danger is legalism, which says that we need to earn God’s acceptance by our works.” (174) “Cheap grace breaks our tension by offering forgiveness without repentance” (175).
  • On Assurance: Calvin defines it “implicitly part of saving faith”. However, Bullinger taught “assurance is something separate from saving faith” (201).
  • He talks through the Regensburg Colloquy of 1541, the Council of Trent of 1547, Hans Kung on Justification 1957, and the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” of 1999, signed by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican.
  • “Through my own studies of this subject I have been made more aware of the valid concerns underlying Catholic theology. This has not led me to abandon a protestant doctrine of justification, but has made me more sensitive to ways in which that doctrine can be abused” (241).

Part Four: “Living the Christian Life: Sanctification” (275-316)

His closing four chapters deal with: Sanctification, Perseverance, Simple lifestyle, Perfection:

  • “The heart of sanctification is being transformed into the likeness of Christ, becoming more like him.” This process requires discipleship, following Christ, denying self, taking up one’s cross. “It means saying ‘No’ to ourselves, to our own desires, and saying ‘Yes’ to God’s will” (278).
  • “Another major aspect of sanctification is that we should ‘become what we are’.”
  • On perseverance: “is it necessary for salvation not just to start the Christian life, not just to become a Christian, but also to continue in it to the end, to remain a Christian? The consensus of the New Testament is that such perseverance is necessary. Final salvation is not unconditional, contrary to the claims of many today.”
  • “The New Testament teaches three different things: perseverance is necessary for salvation; there is a real danger of falling away and losing our salvation; and yet God will keep those who are his.” He shows how four popular views fail to balance these three teachings in their synthesis; the Catholic tradition, the Reformed tradition, the Arminian tradition, and the new view of “Once Saved, Always Saved”.
  • On the simple lifestyle he builds on the 1974 Lausanne Covenant: “An evangelical commitment to simple lifestyle”. Calling us to avoid “affluent materialism” as well as “ascetic legalism”, he outlines five principles from Calvin to help us: Detachment from the world (“It flows from biblical eschatology, not Greek dualism” 300), Use without enslavement, Moderation, Stewardship, Generosity.
  • On Perfectionism: “I think that Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection is mistaken, but that we can also learn from it. First, Wesley’s focus on entire sanctification is on love, on sin being expelled from the heart by perfect love” (313).

Summary

The book is written in clear and easy sentences, there are many helpful summaries of complex theological issues, and plenty I could affirm and learn from – and just a few areas where I would disagree. This is a beneficial and edifying book.

Nathan Pomeroy
Pastor, Arnold Road Evangelical Church, Nottingham

 

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