Grace Alone–Salvation as a Gift of God by Carl R. Trueman

Grace Alone--Salvation as a Gift of GodGrace Alone–Salvation as a Gift of God: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by Carl R. Trueman
Series: The 5 Solas Series
Paperback, 243 pg.
Zondervan, 2017
Read: October 8 – 22, 2017

After struggling through three books in this series, I will admit to some trepidation about this one — thankfully, Carl Trueman is an author I have a bit of experience with, so I figured it’d be worth the effort. Thankfully, there wasn’t that much effort, and the book was absolutely worth the time.

Trueman organizes this book differently than the others — in Part 1, he considers Sola Gratia in Scripture and Church History. Trueman surveys the idea of grace alone through both Testaments (it’s easier than some would lead you to think to find it in the Old Testament), looking at individual texts as well as themes throughout the books. I would have liked this to be a bit longer — but I really can’t complain about it. Following that, Trueman focuses on the teachings the Church throughout history about Grace — starting with the early church, focusing on Augustine and his Confessions as emblematic of the first centuries of the church. Then he continues to focus on Augustine, but shifts the focus to the controversies sparked by the Confessions with Pelagius and his followers as the prism through which the (Western) Church discusses and teaches Grace since those days. In the next chapter, Trueman focuses on Medieval theology about grace using Aquinas as the example. Following that we get chapters on Luther and Calvin (and those who’d be allied to Calvin’s branch of the Reformation), shaking off the accumulated tradition and misunderstandings to get back to the core of Scriptural and Augustininan teaching (with help from Aquinas). Would I have appreciated another chapter or two about post-Reformational history? Sure. But they weren’t necessary to fulfill Trueman’s aims, and we get a taste of what they’d offer in Part 2.

Part 2 is title “Sola Gratia in the Church.” Grace is communicated to Christians via The Church, Preaching, Sacraments and Prayer and so Trueman a. defends that idea and then proceeds to discuss how God goes that in chapters devoted to each of those. For those of the Reformed tradition, there is nothing ground-breaking or controversial here, although Protestants from other traditions might find some of the ideas challenging. These are solid chapters of the kind of teaching I expected from this series, and I appreciated them.

In the book’s Conclusion, Trueman attempts to address the questions: “What would a ‘grace alone’ church look like today? What would characterize its life as a church? How might we recognize such a church when we see it?” The answers to these questions are a mix of doctrinal and practical ideas that he lists in ten points showing the interconnections between them. This conclusion (in building on what came before) is worth at least half the price of the book — just fantastic stuff.

I still have one to go in the series, so I may have to modify this, but this one is by far the best of the bunch — accessible, pastoral and thorough without sacrificing depth. Trueman doesn’t seem to get distracted by pet details, nor to just beat the same obvious deceased equines on this topic. If you’re going to read just one of the five, let this be it. Alternatively, if the some of the others have left you wanting, give this one a shot, I think you’ll appreciate it.


4 Stars

God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture by Matthew Barrett

God's Word AloneGod’s Word Alone—The Authority of Scripture: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by Matthew Barrett
Series: The 5 Solas Series

Paperback, 374 pg.
Zondervan, 2016
Read: January 8 – 22, 2016

For this installment in The 5 Solas Series focuses on the material principle of the Reformation, Sola Scriptura. Despite being almost 200 pages longer than VanDrunen’s entry in this series (the benefit of being the series editor is that you get more space?), this book is too short for what it tries to accomplish. Which is really the long way around for me to say that this book tries to do too much — and ends up giving shallow presentations to things that deserve more.

Part 1 is an exploration of the understanding of — and challenges to — Biblical Authority around the time of the Reformation and through history since then. While Barrett gives a strong and competent explanation of these themes, I couldn’t help feeling that I’ve read them before — frequently — by other authors.

Part 2, an exploration of the doctrine of Scripture/The Word of God throughout Redemptive History, I thought was very promising. This could be the backbone of a very compelling study, and I hope someone takes Barrett’s work here and builds on, expands and deepens it (if someone has already written this book — please tell me!). It’s probably here most of all, that I noticed how much space forced Barrett to stick to the surface of this subject rather than exploring it in the depth it asks for.

Part 3 was a more polemical/apologetic focus — discussing challenges to the Authority of God’s Word. This was probably the strongest part of the book — in particular, I thought his chapter on Innerrancy was pure gold. Nothing new or particularly insightful was offered in this section, but there seemed to be a bit more passion, a bit more energy to this Part.

This is the second in The 5 Solas Series that I’ve read, and the second that I was underwhelmed by. It’s good, but does little to commend it above many other titles on the subject. Barrett knows the subject, explains it well, but doesn’t inspire the reader to anything. I don’t mean to suggest by my frequent notes that “there was nothing new” that I need novelty — I prefer a lack of novelty to my theology. But I do want something about a book to stand out in the way it discusses things before I can really get excited about/impressed with a book.


3 Stars

God’s Glory Alone—The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life by David VanDrunen

God's Glory Alone—The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and LifeGod’s Glory Alone—The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters

by David VanDrunen
Series: The 5 Solas Series

Paperback, 171 pg.
Zondervan, 2015
Read: March 6, 2016

VanDrunen begins by discussing the Reformers’ emphasis on the Glory of God and the way that impacted the movement, its concerns, goals and means. I don’t recall being struck by any particular insights here, but it was a pretty worthwhile overview.

The strongest section was Part 2, where VanDrunen considered the Biblical teachings on God’s glory. How God’s glory was manifested in the cloud during the Exodus and following, then how the Incarnation of the Son displayed His glory. Finally, he considered the glorification of God’s saints and how that leads to God being glorified. This part could have been more detailed and more extended to greater effect and use if you ask me, but it was a good start to one’s own investigation to the topic.

In Part 3, “Living for God’s Glory Today,” VanDrunen seeks to apply these thoughts to our daily lives — which sadly, was the weakest part of the book. He had a lot to say about the way that smartphones/social media/the Internet is affecting our minds/attention spans and therefore the way we act in worship/respond to the preached Word, etc. — and on the whole, his comments were probably sound, but the way he 1. presented his case, 2. dwelt on it, 3. kept beating this equine after it had expired made him seem like a cranky Luddite rather than a thoughtful teacher with pastoral concerns.

He did however, use Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s material on Vainglory from her book, Glittering Vices (and her book on Vainglory in particular) in a much more interesting way than she did — so that’s a plus.

In the end, it really didn’t do much for me, but was solid enough to recommend. A pretty easy, if sometimes dry, read (hard to imagine that this subject would lend itself to a dry book). I’m still planning on getting the rest of the series, hoping the other authors give something more engaging.


3 Stars