By Bob Wilkin
The author is an assistant professor of New Testament and Greek at Bethlehem College and Seminary. John Piper is the chancellor. In the Acknowledgements, Bruno says that John Piper “provided valuable feedback on the manuscript” (p. 149). Piper is also cited in an endnote for Chap. 9 (p. 154).
The theology in this book is consistent with New Calvinism.
You probably will understand Bruno’s viewpoint if you have attended Bible college or seminary in the past thirty years. If not, you will likely be confused. Very confused.
The author suggests that justification and regeneration are by faith alone. He says this repeatedly in this book.
He also says that one must persevere in good works to be justified and born again.
He often says both in the same paragraph.
Bruno rightly says, “Any time someone demands more than faith in Jesus alone in order to be declared right with God or to be a full, equal member of His new-covenant community, justification by faith alone is denied” (p. 130). Without pausing, his next words are, “Yet justifying faith cannot remain alone. It requires transformation and good works” (p. 130, emphasis added).
“Faith without works is phony faith” (p. 143).
“The people of God have always been justified by faith alone, but this faith could never remain alone” (p. 147, emphasis added).
In his chapter on James 2:14-26, under the heading, “Phony Faith,” Bruno writes, “James emphasiz[es] the necessary works that flow from faith” (p. 80, emphasis added).
“Paul [in Romans 4] saw [that Abraham] was counted righteous because he had true faith, the kind of faith that grows and is demonstrated by good works” (p. 97, emphasis added).
Those statements are not paradoxes. They are contradictions. Justification can’t be by faith alone and also by faith and works. If justification is by faith alone, then the moment one believes, he is justified once and for all. If justification is by faith and works, one is not justified until he breathes his last breath, having persevered in good works till death.
The author misrepresents the faith-alone-apart-from-works position: “When you talk to your kids or people in your church about what it means to follow Jesus, you never talk about obedience. Instead, you emphasize making a decision, praying a prayer, or signing a card. Saving faith begins and ends in a single moment” (p. 12). The faith-alone position is not decisionism. And why is Bruno talking about “what it means to follow Jesus.” Isn’t believing in Him the issue? Where do we find following Him in John 3:16? 5:24? 6:35-40? 11:25-27?
His position is that Paul and James are coming at the faith and works issue from different directions, but they agree (see, for example, p. 109). Paul is saying that justification is by faith alone. But he does not deny the necessity of perseverance in good works to be justified by God. James says that the genuinely justified persevere in good works. But he does not deny justification by faith alone.
If he is correct, both Paul and James contradict the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g., John 5:39-40; 6:28-29). But Bruno does not discuss how his understanding aligns with the Gospel of John. I found no references to any of the evangelistic texts in the Fourth Gospel. The author only uses John’s Gospel to get a perspective on James before he came to faith (pp. 24, 33).
“In Genesis, Abraham really was justified by his faith alone. It is necessary for us to emphasize this truth as we read Genesis. It is also right and necessary to see that the nature of this faith also means that it is impossible to be truly justified without works of obedience that flow from this faith” (p. 74, emphasis added).
Bruno then has a chart in which he says that “faith working through love” is illustrated in the experience of Abraham. He says that in Genesis 15, “Abraham believed,” and in Genesis 22, “Abraham obeyed” (p. 80; cf. pp. 85, 92). This is confusing. Didn’t Abraham obey before and after Genesis 22? In Bruno’s view, didn’t Abraham need to persevere in obedience until death to gain final justification? Don’t we all? No matter how great Abraham’s obedience in Genesis 22, it would do him no good if he later fell away and failed to persevere. If we do some great work for God, does that mean that we no longer need to persevere? Or does that guarantee that we will persevere?
If one is not justified “in a single moment” (p. 12), when can a person be sure that he is justified? Like most holding to Lordship Salvation, the author never explains how many works one must do for how long. He never shows how one can be sure of his eternal destiny.
I only found the word assurance once in the book (p. 154, endnote 2). Bruno is there favorably citing the book by Schreiner and Caneday entitled, The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance. Like Bruno, those authors say, “The race track represents salvation. If one abandons the race one will not receive the prize. The prize is salvation, eternal life” (The Race Set Before Us, p. 40).
Under this system of thought, assurance of everlasting life is impossible. You can never be sure that you will persevere to the end. If you abandon the race, you will not receive the prize of eternal life.
The author sounds like a nice guy. But his theology is a return to Rome. People who hold to Lordship Salvation should love this book. So should those who believe in works salvation.
I recommend this book to pastors, parachurch workers, and missionaries. I only recommend it for those well-grounded in the faith. If anyone lacks assurance of his eternal destiny, this book will scare them. Anyone who has recently gained assurance could quickly lose assurance by reading this book.
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He and Sharon live in Highland Village, TX. He has racewalked ten marathons.