Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Denny Burk on Lordship Salvation

Denny Burk has recently commented on Alan Chambers' article in Christianity Today that suggests that a person claiming to be a Christian can lived unabashedly in sin without eternal consequence. Chambers, President of Exodus International, makes his comments in light of the brewing controversy over the issue of homosexuality in the church. While seemingly acknowledging that homosexuality is a sin, Chambers follows a "free grace" line of reasoning by positing that as long as a person believes in Jesus their salvation is secure regardless of whether or not they persist in willful, unrepentant sin.

Denny Burk rightly counters,
This is a dangerous and damning view of salvation—not just for homosexuals but for sinners in general. It’s why John MacArthur wrote The Gospel according to Jesus so many years ago. Jesus’ gospel warns all professing believers to beware of saying one thing while doing another. Jesus’ gospel has no place for the unrepentant. Jesus’ gospel transforms those it saves. Those who aren’t transformed aren’t saved—no matter what their profession of faith is. 

Burk's comments in his blog post are spot on and a good recent defense of Lordship Salvation. Read the rest of his post  Alan Chambers, Exodus International, and Lordship Salvation. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review of "The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon"

It has been a while since I lasted posted. I have been very busy with school and a new little baby boy! God has been kind, though, and I am grateful for all the blessings in my life. I recently carved out some time to review Dr. Steve Lawson's newest book entitled The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon. The review posted here should also soon be featured on Credo Magazine's blog.

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). Remember. Consider. Imitate. Perhaps no modern writer has better helped the church heed these words of exhortation than Dr. Steven J. Lawson. Through his Long Line of Godly Men Profiles, Lawson has masterfully demonstrated the important role that church history plays in the Christian life. In his most recent book, Lawson again brings to the fore a godly man from the halls of church history and gleans enduring lessons from his life. This time, Lawson spends some time looking at the life and legacy of “the Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon. He does this in three chief ways.
First, Lawson remembers Spurgeon. Following in the footsteps of Iain Murray, Lawson labors to bring the historical record to bear on Spurgeon’s life. Through an abundance of primary source quotations, Lawson allows Charles Spurgeon to speak for himself. What many are quick to forget, Lawson calls our attention to. He does not gloss over the unpopular elements of Spurgeon’s theology, since he knows that these were the most near and dear to Spurgeon’s heart. Indeed, to truly know Charles Spurgeon, one must understand the theology that drove his passion and fueled his preaching. In a word, Spurgeon was unquestionably committed to the Gospel of God’s sovereign grace in Jesus Christ freely offered to sinners. Unpacking this sentence will allow the flow of Lawson’s thesis to unfold.
To start with, Spurgeon was focused on the Gospel. Lawson writes,
Throughout his prolific ministry, Spurgeon was consumed with a gospel zeal. He made it his practice to isolate one or a few verses as a springboard to proclaim the gospel. He asserted, ‘I take my text and make a beeline to the cross.’ Every time Spurgeon stepped into the pulpit, he set his gaze intently on the salvation of sinners through the proclamation of the saving message of Jesus Christ” (2).
This Gospel focus consisted of, among other things, a full-orbed presentation of the biblical message of salvation—The person of Christ as the God-man, the substitutionary death of Christ as a payment for sin, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the exaltation of Christ as the sovereign Lord.
Tied into his understanding of the Gospel, Spurgeon was also unapologetically committed to the tenets of Calvinism. Lawson cites Spurgeon’s own words to set the record straight regarding his stance on this matter:
“There is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the Gospel and nothing else. I do not believe that we preach the Gospel unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah, nor do I think we can preach the Gospel unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend the Gospel which allows saints to fall away after they are called” (38-9).

Far from being a hindrance to the Gospel, Spurgeon believed that the doctrines of sovereign grace serve as the very foundation of the Gospel. This belief led him to give radical appeals and invitations to the unsaved to come to Christ for salvation. Spurgeon believed, in perfect harmony with his robust Calvinism, in the freeness of the Gospel offer. Lawson explains, “In one hand, he firmly held the sovereignty of God in man’s salvation. With the other hand, he extended the free offer of the gospel to all. He preached straightforward Calvinistic doctrine, then, in the same sermon, fervently urged lost sinners to call on the name of the Lord.” (xix).
With so much misinformation going around today about Calvinism being anti-evangelism and anti-missions, the life of Spurgeon, recounted so eloquently by Lawson, shows that nothing could be further from the truth. My prayer is that the Gospel focus of Charles Spurgeon—seen especially in his commitment to the sovereignty of God in salvation and the freeness of the Gospel offer—will also be the Gospel focus of the modern evangelical church.
Not only does Lawson helpfully encourage us to remember the theology of Spurgeon, but he also wants us to consider his legacy. Why was Spurgeon’s preaching so impactful? What was it that gave his sermons such lasting power? Chapter six provides Lawson’s answers to these questions. The heading of this chapter, a quote from Iain Murray, says it all: “The true explanation of Spurgeon’s ministry, then, is to be found in the person and power of the Holy Spirit” (105). While he maintained a deep allegiance to God’s Word and the power of the Gospel message, Spurgeon knew that unless God moved by His Holy Spirit his efforts would be in vain. Charles Spurgeon knew nothing of a cold, calculated theology devoid of life. His theology was always closely wedded to his doxology.
In an age that so often separates orthodoxy from orthopraxy, Lawson’s consideration of Spurgeon is just what the doctor ordered. Too many pastors and teachers go around operating in the power of the flesh, rather than in the power of the Spirit. It is no wonder why our churches seem so lifeless. The legacy of Charles Spurgeon should convict the modern church and, Lord willing, incite us to rely solely on the power of the Holy Spirit for renewing grace.
Finally, Lawson not only remembers and considers the life and legacy of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, but he also seeks to imitate him. Lawson shares from his heart when he writes,
“As a result of reading his sermons, my life and ministry were set on a course from which I have not veered. From Spurgeon, arguably the preeminent preacher in the history of the church, I learned how the doctrines of grace and evangelistic passion intersect in preaching and ministry. Like the convergence of two mighty rivers, these twin truths become one powerful force in reaching lost sinners with the gospel of Jesus Christ” (125).
Having followed the ministry of Dr. Lawson for quite some time now, I can see how true this is. In fact, I would go so far as to say that were Spurgeon here today, he would be proud of his disciple. I am confident that one of the main reasons why Lawson “gets” Spurgeon so well is because he shares the same theological convictions, the same passion for preaching, and the same zeal for the salvation of those who are lost. I can only pray that others may learn to follow in the footsteps of Lawson by carefully imitating the faith of Charles Spurgeon.
Steve Lawson has given us an excellent treatment of C.H. Spurgeon’s life, theology, and ministry. I for one am thankful for his fair analysis of the historical evidence, his passionate and engaging writing style, and his practical exhortations throughout his book. Hopefully, Lawson’s series of profiles will be used by God to continue the unbroken chain of godly men even to the present hour.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review of "Real Marriage"

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. By Mark and Grace Driscoll. Thomas Nelson, 2012.

In only its third week of publication, Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage has already stirred an enormous amount of controversy in the evangelical world. Reviews and responses continue to flood the blogosphere, to the extent that even non-Christian publications have taken interest in the controversy (see, for example, CNN’s recent interview of Mark Driscoll). Curious as to what all of the hubbub was about, I decided to evaluate the book for myself.

Initially, I was pleasantly surprised by the book’s contents. The first half of the book offers many helpful pieces of advice and instruction for married couples. In fact, the Driscoll's chapter on marriage as friendship (chapter 2) is worth the price of the book. What I saw when I turned my attention to the second half of the book, however, was far less satisfying. While there are definitely some redeeming elements of this section (particularly the Driscoll’s case against pornography), there are a number of causes of concern as well. I will elaborate more on the pros and cons of Real Marriage presently, along with a brief synopsis of the book.

Real Marriage is divided into three sections: Marriage, Sex, and The Last Day. Because of the last section’s minimal size, this review is going to focus on only the first two parts of the book. The first portion, perhaps the most beneficial part of the book, discusses what life together looks like (or should look like) for a Christian married couple. While there are a number of aspects I could highlight here (and a few minor quibbles), let me mention two. First, I found chapter 2—“Friend with Benefits”—particularly noteworthy. The Driscolls offer a unique take on marriage as a relationship between two lifelong friends. As they point out, this is an oft-neglected theme in marriage manuals. The chapter begins with a sketch of Martin and Katherine von Bora Luther’s relationship, a fun and captivating couple that embody what friendship looks like in the context of marriage. The Driscolls then discuss what it means to be F-R-I-E-N-D-S in marriage: it means being fruitful in good works for God’s glory, reciprocal in conveying love, intimate, needed, devoted to each other, and sanctifying. The Driscolls rightly point out that the best application of all of the Bible’s teaching on friendship is the marriage relationship.

A second strength I want to mention is the Driscoll’s strong commitment to complementarianism. Chapters three and four—“Men and Marriage” and “The Respectful Wife”—respectively call Christian husbands to love and lead their wives and urge wives to respect and submit to their husbands. Rather than taking their cues from culture, the Driscoll’s develop their understanding of the distinct and unique roles of the husband and wife from Scripture. Mark pulls no punches with men as he challenges them to sacrificially serve their wives and put them before themselves. Men in our culture, he says, have refused to grow up and are more akin to boys than to men. “Today adolescence starts somewhere in the teen years and, in many cases, continues indefinitely” (42). But the Scripture calls upon husbands to “act like men” (1 Cor. 16:13) and to “put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). Some practical ways that Christian men can do this is by getting involved in a Bible teaching church, leading their wives theologically, and initiating and facilitating family worship at home. These are just a few of the ways godly men can lead their wives well, but they are definitely good places to start.

Grace Driscoll also takes a no holds barred approach in addressing Christian wives. She argues that the role of the wife is fundamentally carried out with an attitude of respect towards her husband. Godly women need to “see that [they] respect [their] husbands” (Eph. 5:33). This means not only outwardly manifesting a respectful demeanor, but also cultivating an inward heart of respect and submission for their husbands as their God ordained authority.

The Driscolls are at their best in the first section of this book. I am genuinely convinced (and pray) that God will use their words to convict, challenge, and encourage many husbands and wives to fulfill the roles that God has called them to. I wish I could stop my review here and end on a positive note. Unfortunately, the second section of the book prevents me from doing so. Although I certainly do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater (as there are some beneficial elements in part two), the downsides of the second section significantly taint the rest of the book.

Let me start with the highlights first. Chapter six makes a good case for viewing sex as a gift from God to be used in the confines of marriage for pleasure, procreation, oneness, knowledge, protection, and comfort. Such a perception is a refreshing contrast to the unbiblical views offered by some who serve sex as a god and others who avoid it because they think it is gross. The Driscolls say, “Sex is a powerful gift that God gives to married couples. Furthermore, it provides…good and glorious benefits” (118).

Chapters seven and eight are stunningly candid chapters. The Driscolls write from personal experience about the pain and difficulty that can come from sexual abuse and pornography. Through their testimonies—displaying at once the horrors of sin and the magnificence of the Gospel—they warn readers about the dangers of sexual sin. Grace provides comfort and direction for those readers who may have been (or are currently) the victims of sexual assault. She also gives practical advice to parents on how to protect their children from sexual predators. Her words are spoken with frankness but tenderness, and end with a Christ focused perspective.

Adding to Grace’s counsel, Mark addresses the issue of pornography in a gripping way. He provides cutting edge research on the effects of pornography on the male brain, as well as exposes the detrimental fallout that pornography has had on both those inside and outside of the industry. Although at times he is too unguarded with the level of detail he gives, he definitely gets his point across about the dangers of pornography. The Driscolls admit, “We have sought to sand the varnish off porn and sinful lust so as to see it for what it truly is—a horrific evil with no redeeming value.” But they quickly add, “As horrific as these evils are, people enslaved by them are not beyond the redeeming grace of God made available through Jesus Christ” (152).

For the sake of time, let me jump over chapter nine (which is a fine chapter that uses the book of Song of Solomon to encourage couples to selflessly serve one another) and move into discussing chapter ten (which is a less satisfying look at what is and isn’t permissible in a married couple’s sexual relationship). After reading chapter ten, I was not at all surprised by the various negative and critical responses that have been issued against this chapter. The Driscolls, despite their honest attempt to bring the Word of God to bear on a difficult topic, cross the line at a number of points in their discussion.

First of all, their lack of discretion throughout this chapter (as well as other chapters) is glaring. The Driscolls discuss many things in a public forum (i.e. a published book) that are better suited for a more private setting (i.e. a pastoral counseling situation). In my estimation, Driscoll oversteps his bounds as a pastor. He is not America’s pastor. He should not provide sensitive counsel to Christians not specifically under his pastoral care. Moreover, the kind of advice he gives should be delivered with discretion and dignity. Some information (especially very detailed sexual counsel) could be a cause of stumbling to readers. Other pieces of information are simply unnecessary. Either way, the subject matter the Driscolls deal with requires a certain level of pastoral sensitivity and maturity that is lacking in their book.

A second area of concern worth mentioning is the Driscoll’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:12 which says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” The Driscolls claim that this verse provides a rubric for dealing with any kind of sexual question in marriage. But it is doubtful that they have accurately understood the intention of Scripture here. For starters, rather than being the Apostle Paul’s statement, it is more likely that the phrase “all things are lawful for me” was actually what sinful members of the Corinthian congregation uttered to justify their sin. A mere perusal of standard commentaries of this verse will amply verify this. Secondly, even granting the Driscolls their interpretation, they still leave out critical pieces of information that Paul supplies. For instance, Paul did not just reduce his counsel on non-moral issues (the “gray areas” of Scripture) to three simple principles, as the Driscolls do. Not only did Paul ask whether or not something was lawful, helpful, or enslaving, but he also asked a more fundamental question of whether it glorified God (1 Cor. 6:20). Thirdly, some of the sexual acts the Driscolls discuss are not even conceivably “gray areas” at all. Their discussion of anal sex, for example, does not consider the Apostle’s Paul teaching in Romans 1:18-32 that suggests that such an action is “unnatural.” While I certainly understand that Paul has in mind the actions of homosexuals, his whole reasoning behind his argument—that God has designed sex to be performed in a certain way—definitely applies to the marital relationship. More could be said here, but what I have mentioned is sufficient to demonstrate the problematic nature of the Driscolls discussion.

I have not given a comprehensive evaluation of this book, nor have I needed to. Many other reviewers beat me to the punch, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of Real Marriage in a much fuller and much more eloquent fashion. Some readers of the Driscoll’s book will be in substantial agreement with it (finding it to be very helpful), while others will be greatly put off by it (finding it to be harmful). For myself, I think that there is a lot of commendable material in this book, but also a lot of disagreeable aspects. Overall, my advice to those who pick up this book is to it read with discernment and caution.

By the way, there have been a number of reviews that I have found insightful. Here are two superior ones that I found particularly helpful:

Jeremy Pierre's Review in the January issue of Credo Magazine.

Denny Burk's Review posted on his blog.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Ten Books Ever Read

I was recently asked for a list of the top books I have ever read. It did not take me long to compile a list. Out of the hundreds of books I have read over the years, there have been some that have made a particular impression on me more than others. Although I am young and still have many more years of reading to do, the following list encompasses the best books I have read up to this point in my life.

1. The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin.

Standing at the top of my list is an influential and profound classic by one of the greatest theologians of the Christian church. I have been reading through Calvin’s Institutes this past year and I am absolutely amazed at the profundity of his insight into the biblical text and the precision of his theological formulation. On top of this, I have found Calvin’s tome to be devotional and edifying. There is no wonder in my mind why The Institutes makes so many modern theologians’ top ten lists. I really cannot say enough about it. Highly, highly recommended.

2. Redemption: Accomplished and Applied by John Murray.

This book helped me formulate a biblical perspective of salvation. It presents one of the best (and convincing!) treatments of the doctrine of definite atonement that I have ever read. No Christian should go through life without reading this book at least once.

3. Saved by Grace by Anthony Hoekema.

After I first read this book by Hoekema, I was absolutely stunned that I had never heard of it before. It was that good! Similar to Murray’s book in content, it convincingly offers a systematic treatment of soteriology in brief compass.

4. Knowing God by J.I. Packer.

My theology professor in college assigned this book to his students every year. He informed us that when we came to the last page of this book we would be utterly disappointed that we were finished with it! After reading this book twice since then, I can testify to the truthfulness of that sentiment. Packer’s book is concise, clear, and extremely deep. No believer can afford to miss out on this one!

5. The Cross of Christ by John Stott.

In light of Stott’s death this past year, it is fitting that his weighty book makes my list. I found his book to be extremely helpful in centering my mind on the core of the Christian message—the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no doubt in my mind that Stott’s book will go down in the annals of church history.

6. The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur.

What can I say about this book? MacArthur’s work had a profound impact on my life when I first read it. He crystalizes what it means to truly believe in Jesus Christ. All of his books on the Gospel since then—The Gospel According the Apostles, Hard to Believe, and Slave, among others—have reemphasized this same theme. Anyone who desires to know what salvation is all about—an active and submissive trust in the Lord Jesus Christ—should read this now classic work.

7. We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry by G.K. Beale

Although this book is fairly recent (being written in 2008), I include it here because it was somewhat paradigm shifting for me. It was my first introduction to the discipline of biblical theology and really advanced a compelling thesis. Since reading it, I have never read the Bible (particularly its statements on idolatry) the same.

8. The Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle

Since becoming a father almost two years ago, I have read several parenting books. None of them have been as penetrating as J.C. Ryle’s classic. In fact, I would say that many of the modern parenting books have simply rehashed and reproduced the substance of Ryle’s book. Every Christian parent needs to read this book. It is a book you can read in one sitting and it will shape your understanding of the role of a parent more than any other book.

9. Paradise Restored by David Chilton

I need to qualify this book right from the get-go lest I be mistaken for a Reconstructionist. I greatly disagree with many of Chilton’s other works—especially those on theonomy—and I do not see eye to eye with him on everything. I include this book, however, because it had an unusual impact on my life when I was younger. I first read this book after high school and it shook the foundations of my dispensationalism (the reverberations of which are still in effect!). Chilton writes from a partial-preterist/postmillennial perspective (which I entertained for a number of years after reading it). Although I disagree with him now, I still look back on this book as formative and influential.

10. The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink

I had a professor in college tell me that this book made him a Calvinist overnight. After reading it, I can see why. Pink’s approach to God’s sovereignty is thoroughly biblical and organized in such a way that makes it difficult to deny God’s exhaustive, intricate, detailed, and all-encompassing sovereignty in all things—including the salvation of some and the damnation of others. If someone asks me for a good introduction to the doctrines of sovereign grace, I usually first recommend this book by Pink.

What are your favorite, most impacting books?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Fred Lybrand responds to my review

My recent review of Dr. Fred Lybrand's Back to Faith has been posted over on Fred's website. You can see it here. He is planning on posting a series of articles that respond to some of the objections I made in my review. His comment thread has also been lively, as others have responded to some of my comments.

I am glad to spark some conversation over these things and look forward to Lybrand's replies. I am also eager to defend the truth of the Reformed understanding of salvation, including Lordship salvation. In the coming days, I may also offer responses to some of the discussions that take place over at his blog. My prayer is that Christ will be honored through brotherly exchange and that the truth of the Word of God will be upheld.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review of Fred Lybrand's "Back to Faith"

Back to Faith: Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence. By Fred R. Lybrand. Xulon Press, 2009.

Thirty or so years after the “Lordship salvation” controversy overtook the evangelical world, the debate still continues. While the issue no longer is at the center of theological conversation, the two sides in the debate—typically identified as “Lordship salvation” and “free grace theology”—continue to produce books. Representing the free grace camp, Fred R. Lybrand has recently contributed to the discussion with his book entitled Back to Faith: Reclaiming Gospel Clarity in an Age of Incongruence. Right off the bat Lyband’s readers are prepared for the book’s thesis through his provocative dedication to both John MacArthur and Zane Hodges, veteran players in the lordship debate. It quickly becomes apparent which person had the greater influence upon Lybrand.

The purpose of Lybrand’s book is to call his readers back to an understanding of the Gospel that is free from any inconsistencies. While many evangelical Christians hold firmly to the doctrine of sola fide—believing that salvation is granted by grace alone through faith alone—they also unconsciously undermine the power of this doctrine by maintaining that good works should necessarily and inevitably flow from faith. This incongruity is concisely seen in the popular cliché, coined during the Reformation, “it is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.” Although it is trite, Lybrand argues that this cliché is not true. He explains,

Does faith guarantee works? In the final analysis the best we may be able to say with certainty is, ‘God alone knows.’ However, there is a strong case to be made for the possibility that works are not guaranteed in the life of the believer, and so may be described as ‘normal but not necessary.’ If this distinction is not kept in mind and the cliché is given too much room, then…works inevitably invade the gospel of ‘faith alone in Christ alone’ and works will undermine assurance because of the confidence rested on them (from the preface, x).

Lybrand subjects the cliché—and the theology that stands behind it—to a rigorous critique. While he does point out the logical, theological, and practical problems inherent in the cliché, his most incisive critique comes at the level of the exegetical. He writes, “The cliché, ‘it is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone, is incessantly promoted on the basis of one supreme passage: James 2:14-26” (63). Lybrand attempts to show that despite the popular approaches to this passage—especially those perpetuated by the Reformed tradition—the central message of this passage does not support the theological assumptions codified by the cliché. Lybrand explains,

James is concerned with dead faith; however this faith is a true faith that can die, rather than a false faith that never existed…James is addressing brethren and beloved brethren (James 2:5) and establishing concern for dead faith. Therefore, James 2:13 speaks of ‘judgment being without mercy’ as directed, not to the lost or unsaved which occurs at the Great White Throne of Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15), but rather at the Bema Seat judgment where believers are evaluated according to their works (Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:9-10)” (101).

Thus, contrary to popular opinion, James has in mind very temporal, rather than eternal matters in this text. Viewed in this light, the cliché has very little to stand upon. Indeed, Lybrand notes, “The cliché…lives or dies by James 2” (108).

What can be made of Lybrand’s thesis? Before offering a brief response to his arguments, I want to first note a few positive aspects of his book. First, although his work stands in line with typical free grace material, it does offer a fresh and extensive exegetical section on James 2:14-26. Out of all of the free grace treatments I have read, Lybrand’s is one of the most formidable. Secondly, Lybrand does a good job keeping his thesis in mind throughout the book. He does not chase rabbit trails, but sticks tightly to his arguments pertaining to the cliché. A last strength I will mention is that Lybrand evinces a definite zeal for the Gospel. Although I do not agree with his conclusions, I am so grateful for his concern and sensitivity to proclaiming a clear, biblical Gospel message. His passionate love for the doctrine of sola fide is evident all throughout the book and I am confident that readers will be challenged by the appeals he offers.

Having stated the strengths of the book, let me now turn to the weaknesses. As I see it, Lybrand’s book suffers from a number of significant problems. Space prevents me from adequately responding to his accusations that the cliché—and the theology that undergirds it—is logically, theologically, and pragmatically invalid. In my estimation, Lybrand fails to convince in all three of these areas. But, then again, these are not his most powerful objections to the theology of the cliché. It is his exegetical critiques—centered mainly on James 2:14-26—that have the most teeth. These teeth, though, are crooked and in dire need of straightening.

In response to Lybrand’s exegetical objections, I offer the following brief defense of James 2:14-26. If what Lybrand said about the cliché is true—that it “lives or dies by James 2”—then by defending the Reformed interpretation of James 2 I will both vindicate the theology of the cliché and undermine Lybrand’s thesis with one fell swoop. To that end, I offer the ensuing four exegetical arguments

First, a bird’s eye view of James 2:14-26 suggests that it concerns something other than temporal salvation. The collective terms used by James throughout this passage such as “faith,” “save,” “works,” and “justify” are found in other NT texts that clearly deal with salvific issues. For instance, Romans 4:1-5:11 is a section of Scripture in which similar terms are found—“works” (4:1), “justified” (4:1; 5:1), “faith” (5:1), and “saved” (5:9-10). On top of this, both sections use Abraham as an example of faith and reference the same OT text for support (Gen. 15:6). These parallels suggest that James 2:14-23 has similar concerns in mind—issues relating to eternal salvation.

Secondly, both the immediate and wider contexts of James 2:14-26 lead to this conclusion as well. The passage is sandwiched between two statements concerning the judgment (2:13; 3:1). While it is possible that these may refer to the bema seat judgment in which Christians will be rewarded, it seems better to take these as a reference to the judgment unbelievers will undergo. James suggests that his readers can avoid this judgment if they have the right kind of faith: “can that faith save him?” (2:14). Save him from what? Since this follows on the heels of 2:13, it seems that true faith delivers a person from some kind of judgment. Because Paul declares that all believers must appear before the judgment (bema) seat (2 Cor. 5:10), there is no way that James can have this particular judgment in mind since he clearly indicates that those who have faith will be delivered from this tribunal.

Thirdly, the word “save” (sozo) is used five times by James (1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:15; 5:20). Although Lybrand claims “each reference deals with temporal deliverance and not salvation from hell to heaven” (79), a closer reading of the data yields a different statistic. In my reading, at least four out of five times James uses the term “save” in reference to eternal salvation. In James 1:21 he says, “…in humility receive the implanted word which is able to save your souls.” When this verse is viewed next to 1:18, it becomes clear that the same word that brings about a believer’s regeneration also results in his salvation. In 4:12, the word “save” has even clearer connotations: “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.” It is hard to see this in reference to anything other than eternal salvation. James also seems to use the word “save” in a similar way in 5:20 when he writes, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” These references demonstrate, at the very least, that Lybrand’s claim is not as cut and dry as it appears to be. Of course, even if James used the word “save” in a temporal sense in every text outside of 2:14, he still could have used the term in its technical salvific sense in 2:14. But a brief survey of his work does seem to yield the conclusion that the majority of the uses of “save” in James refer to eternal salvation. Before moving on from this point, it is worth mentioning that Moo notes that “of the 30 occurrences of ‘save’ outside of James in the NT epistles, 29 clearly refer to eschatological deliverance, the possible exception being Heb. 5:7” (The Letter of James, 124).

A final point to make in regards to James 2:14-26 is that there seem to be direct parallels between Jesus’ teaching and James’ writing. Of particular importance are the similarities between the parable of the sheep and the goats recorded in Matt. 25:31-46 and James 2:14-26. In both accounts, the illustration is used of a person who is lacking in sufficient clothing (Matt. 25:36, 43; Js. 2:15-16). In the parable, those who did not help the person in need wind up in “eternal punishment” (v. 46), and in James’ account those who fail to meet the practical needs of the destitute are said to have a “dead” faith (v. 17). It is hard not to see the connection between these two passages. What Jesus recognized in the “goats” is the same thing James recognized in those with “dead faith.” Surely the judgment the goats were in danger of is the same judgment those with dead faith were in danger of.

There is no doubt that Lybrand and his free grace counterparts will fail to be impressed by these arguments. It is telling, though, that the vast majority of Christian commentators—from the patristic era to the present—have been persuaded by the evidence presented above, as a perusal of the literature on James will amply demonstrate. Indeed, as far as I can tell, no one outside of the free grace camp understands James 2:14-26 the way Lybrand does.

One can certainly appreciate Lybrand’s concern for the Gospel of grace and his zeal to defend the doctrine of sola fide. In the end, though, it seems to me that his understanding of this doctrine is diminished. Lybrand’s thesis notwithstanding, the historical and biblical doctrine of sola fide is accurately represented in the cliché, “it is therefore faith alone which justifies, but the faith that justifies in never alone.”

I would like to express my thanks to Dr. Lybrand for a gracious and generous review copy of his book.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


It is has been a while since I posted. I am just finishing up my fall semester at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and it kept me extremely busy. I am very glad for all that I learned this semester. My Puritanism class was excellent and I learned to appreciate the body of literature they left behind and continue to pursue their literature. I wrote a paper for that class on "the Father of Puritanism," William Perkins and attempted to show how his theology is very much in line with John Calvin's. Some scholars have suggested that there is a great chasm separating Puritan theology from Calvin's theology, but I think the historical record indicates the exact opposite. The true heirs of Calvin's teaching were the Puritans and those in the Reformed tradition.

I also learned much from my class on leadership with Dr. R. Albert Mohler. He shared many personal stories from his time here at Southern and all of them were fascinating. He also gave many practical insights applicable to the ministry of Christian leadership. I know I will be fishing out of the stream of his thought for years to come.

As the winter approaches, my family and I look forward to the holidays. Lord willing we will be making a trip up to Oregon in December to spend the Christmas with my parents. I will also be writing a few reviews for Credo Magazine. I am reviewing and briefly responding to a free grace book written by Fred Lybrand (who, incidentally, I actually had the pleasure of interacting with via email). I also am slated to review a book by Dr. David Jeremiah entitled "I Never Though I'd See the Day." I have always had the utmost respect for Dr. Jeremiah and, though I do disagree with him at times, am happy to review his book.

Other than that, I will provide another update soon. Be looking for my reviews!