Disclaimer: As part of the Sojourn Network, I readily acknowledge that my observations will not be without bias. I love the Network, and appreciate both of these brothers. While there are tremendous benefits to our church and my soul by being a part of the Network, I have received no compensation or benefit for the following review.
I’ve never met a single person who says, “I hate grace.” People generally like the concept of grace. However, people also like to define grace according to their own means. Some “say grace,” as a prayer before a meal. Others speak of Lynn Swan’s “grace” when receiving a pass from Terry Bradshaw. (Are you really that surprised to find a Steeler’s reference?) Others employ “grace” as a euphemism for excusing sin (see: “error to the side of grace”).
It’s not like the debate clears up in theological circles. Churches, denominations and even cults all claim to teach the message of grace. Even within Christian circles (those who are believing a Biblical gospel), there can be a great degree of confusion when we speak of grace. Systems are developed, historical theology is consulted and pastors and teachers are quoted…all in attempt to explain what we mean by grace. Montgomery and Jones’ book helps advance the cause of defining what many of us mean by grace. Together, they use the acrostic PROOF:
Planned Grace. Before time began, God mapped out the plan of salvation from first to last. God planned to adopt particular people as his own children; Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for these people’s sins and as their substitute to satisfy God’s just requirements (John 10:11-18; Ephesians 1:4-12)
Resurrecting Grace. Everyone is born spiritually dead. Left to ourselves, we will never choose God’s way. God enables people to respond freely to his grace by giving them spiritual life through the power of Christ’s resurrection (John 5:21; Ephesians 2:1-7)
Outrageous Grace. God chose people to be saved on the basis of his own sovereign will. He didn’t base his choice to give us grace on anything that we did or might do (John 15:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Overcoming Grace. God works in the lives of his chosen people to transform their rebellion into surrender so that they freely repent and recognize Christ as the risen King. (John 6:44, 65; Ephesians 2:4-10).
Forever Grace. God seals his people with his Holy Spirit so that they are preserved and persevere in faith until the final restoration of God’s kingdom on the earth (John 10:27-29; Ephesians 1:13-14, 4:30).
Generally, I really enjoyed the book. It’s theological, but quite accessible. It’s a personal and enjoyable read. (The account of Jones’ “disaster vacation experience” is worth the price of the book alone!) Yet, it doesn’t skirt around theological issues; being quite careful to clarify and quantify statements that are made. Specifically, I enjoyed the following elements:
Worship is the intention. Doctrine should lead to doxology! I appreciate that the authors are not simply trying to produce academic fruit, but are seeking to transform your relationship with your Savior. The language is faithful and emotive, yet is not manipulative or hyperbolic.
Grace is exalted. Rather than sticking with conventional theological discussions and labels, which tend to shift in focus from God and His sovereignty to man and his depravity, Jones and Montgomery choose to see all of the issues through the lens of grace. This allows for a more consistent approach, but also a more God-centered discussion.
History is recognized. While approaching the topic of grace in a fresh way, history is not ignored. It is clear from Scripture references and theologians quoted, that Montgomery and Jones have consulted history. In fact, Chapter 7 exposes that PROOF is not stating anything new, but is actually getting back to the original intention of those who sought to clarify grace at Dort.
Arguments are answered. The authors do a good job of anticipating objections and dealing with them. At times, significant sections are devoted to refuting a concern or objection. Other times, the reader is urged to check out a paragraph in the end notes. Either way, objections are addressed and objectors are vilified.
Anything I didn’t like?
The previous paragraph articulated one objection: end notes. I simply despise them. I know the authors’ intention. They desired that the book would not feel overwhelming or bogged down by references on page after page. However, I’m just too curious and can’t let a single end note pass…which meant a lot of page flipping for me.
Not quite as stealth as they assume. Calvinism isn’t named in the book until near the end. I understand the authors’ intention. One, their theological convictions are not tied to an allegiance to a specific man. Two, they are trying to keep conventional labels and names from clouding the discussion. This is probably just an issue of preference, however, it seems to me that if a person knows enough about the Calvinism/Arminianism discussion to be offended by the labels, they’ll see through the nature of the discussion. However, if a person isn’t familiar enough with the issue to spot it, it won’t turn them off from reading to hear the labels earlier in the book. I assumed I could give this book to a person who claims to hate Calvinism and win them over without resistance…probably an unfair expectation!
How would I use this book?
A month ago, a widow in her 60’s asked me for a good book to read on Calvinism. (Why? I’m not sure. I rarely, if ever, use that term.) This will be the book I recommend to her.
In our “Welcome to Grace Class” we exposit Ephesians 1. We press into issues of predestination and eternal security. We acknowledge that our teaching is considered “reformed” by some, but do not define a person’s theology as a “3-pointer, 4-pointer or 5-pointer.” (Some reading this know what I mean.) For the person who wants more information about grace, this is the book I will hand them.
I serve in a Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. When McClain chose the name “Grace,” he did so with the Doctrines of Grace in mind. Our Fellowship has largely drifted from these convictions, either redefining them, assuming them or rejecting them altogether. John Calvin’s name brings up great emotion and the word “reformed” seems to bring about confusion. This is the book I would hand a fellow pastor in our Fellowship if they asked how our understanding of the doctrine of salvation may be different than others.
Reading this book will do more than let you know better what others mean by the word “grace.” I believe reading this book will actually grow your understanding of grace.