Monday, March 31, 2008

Review: What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?

I recently received a pre-release copy of a forthcoming book from Reformation Trust. The title is What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace?, by Rev. Rick Phillips. It's a relatively small book, only about 100 pages. But what I found in those few pages was one of the most concise and readable explanations of the major points of Reformed doctrine that I have ever seen.

The book isn't intended to be a deep theological examination of all the nuances of Calvinist doctrine, but Phillips does a very adequate job of outlining the essentials of each of the five points. But what each chapter does best is look at the implications of each of these doctrines and examine why those of us that hold these truths dear find them so great. The first chapter addresses the underlying principle of the doctrines of grace, that being the sovereignty of God. Phillips then looks at each of the five points and asks the question, what's so great about them?

I particularly was struck by the chapter asking what's so great about total depravity. Here's a paragraph that sums up the flavor of this chapter, and the book as a whole, very well:

It is the distinction of adherents to Reformed theology in general and to the doctrines of grace in particular that, following the Scriptures, we hold to the worst possible view of man—and therefore, we exercise the highest possible reliance on God’s grace. If the question is “How bad am I really?” we answer, “Much, much worse than you have dared to think.” It is against the backdrop of this terrible news about man in sin that we see the good news of the gospel as something far more wonderful than we have ever imagined.

Phillips' intended audience for the book is the unconvinced, those who view Calvinist doctrines as objectionable or arrogant. And as I read each chapter I found myself thinking of particular people who I have discussed Reformed theology with, some even recently, who would benefit from reading this book. Most people's objections to Calvinism is a result of their not understanding the doctrines properly, and the outlines and defenses of these doctrines in this book are very clear and concise. But the best parts of each chapter are Phillips' exploration of what makes these great doctrines so great. For example, when examining what's so great about limited atonement, Phillips makes the following points:

I am writing to praise the doctrine of limited atonement because it so exalts the cross of Jesus Christ, which gained a full redemption for all those appointed by God to eternal life. But what is the cash value of this doctrine? Does it offer something to my Christian experience or is it just abstract theology? What’s so great about the doctrine of limited atonement? First, whenever a doctrine receives the prominence the Bible gives to Christ’s atonement, it must be significant to our lives. The solemnity of the subject matter of Christ’s atonement urges us to consider it of great significance and to think carefully about it, in conformity with the Scriptures. In this respect, limited atonement should be received as a great doctrine simply because of its importance to Jesus and His saving work. Second, if we grasp how personal in its application and how efficacious in its effects is the cross of Christ, we will find solid ground for our assurance of salvation. There can be no assurance if the ultimate cause of our redemption is found in ourselves. The Arminian concept of a universal atonement, Packer remarks, “destroys the Scriptural ground of assurance altogether. . . . My salvation, on this view, depends not on what Christ did for me, but on what I subsequently do for myself.” This is why assurance of salvation is a field of theology and Christian experience plowed only by the Reformed.

Do you know of others who have struggled with understanding rightly and appreciating the sovereignty of God in the Doctrines of Grace? I would eagerly recommend this book to them as a concise introduction to the truths of these Biblical truths and the reasons why we hold them so dear. The book is scheduled for release in April. Go see the folks at Reformation Trust and get your copy.

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