50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith. By Gregg R. Allison. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018. 426 pp. Paper, $29.99.
This is a condensed book on systematic theology. Its purpose is to guide in teaching theology to others. Each chapter contains an outline to help in that goal. The audience in mind is the layman. There are eight parts to the book: the Word of God, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, God’s creatures, salvation, the Church, and future things.
Allison takes a high view of the Scriptures. He says that the inspiration of the Bible extends to the very words. The Bible is authoritative and infallible (pp. 9-61).
In some parts of the book, Allison does not take a firm position on the topics he discusses. He gives the different views. It is clear that he envisions the book’s being taught that way. The “teacher” will present both (or multiple views) on an issue so that the students can know the issues and understand why different people take different positions.
A good example of this is on the issue of the spiritual sign gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing. Allison says that a frank discussion should be had in the church, but it should be done in love. The church should concentrate on more important things and not get “caught up in the controversy” (p. 198). Allison says that cessationists should not be afraid to talk about the Spirit simply because they see “excesses” on the other side. He gives arguments both for and against cessationsim (pp. 196-97).
The readers of the JOTGES will probably be most interested in what Allison has to say about eternal salvation. He does not address the Free Grace view. He presents the Arminian and Reformed views. Once again, he gives the arguments for and against both views (pp. 211-17). As with the spiritual sign gifts, Allison says that each side needs to be gracious towards the other. Even though he believes in predestination and takes the Reformed view, he acknowledges that the Bible can be used to argue that men and women have the ability to believe the gospel. He adds that Arminians also believe that God’s grace is needed for eternal salvation.
Allison follows the same pattern when discussing regeneration. Does it happen before or after conversion/faith? He gives both sides of the argument (pp. 234-39).
As can be seen in these examples, even though Allison is firmly on one side of these issues, he does not believe they should divide Christians to the point of causing divisions or the loss of fellowship. Repentance is a case in point. Even though Arminians and Reformed theologians differ on eternal salvation in many areas, both believe repentance from sin is necessary for conversion to take place (p. 239).
This reviewer found Allison’s discussion on perseverance and assurance of salvation interesting. Once again, he does not discuss the Free Grace position but deals with the Arminian and Reformed views. He says the Reformed position is that God “protects Christians from temptation, trial, demonic attack, and overwhelming sin.” They cannot lose their salvation, and God “guards” His people. But this only applies to genuine believers. They will persist in exercising faith and engaging in good works, even if they temporarily fall into sin. People who profess Christ but do not walk by faith are not true believers (pp. 274-75).
Arminians maintain that true believers can indeed lose their salvation. Obedient believers can have assurance that they belong to Christ in the present, but not necessarily in the future. The way Allison presents the Reformed view of assurance is informative. He says that the assurance of salvation means that genuine Christians can have confidence that all genuine believers will continue being believers throughout their lives and go to heaven when they die (p. 275). It is clear to this reviewer, however, that since we cannot know for sure if we are genuine believers, this does not equate to personal assurance at all. It only means that we can be sure that genuine believers will not lose their salvation. We can only hope that we are genuine believers.
Even on this important topic, Allison says Arminians have good arguments. He admits that the Bible does indeed speak of human responsibility. As a result, he concludes that in some cases it is difficult to determine whether some people are genuinely saved or not (p. 276). Arminians and Reformed believers have common ground in the area of assurance. If you don’t live a life of obedience, both camps say you will not be in the kingdom of God. Therefore, both also agree that we should not promote assurance of salvation to the point where it leads to “complacency.” Doing good works plays a role in our assurance, as both Arminian and Reformed theologians teach (p. 277).
When talking about future things, Allison says that all views on the millennial kingdom of Revelation 20 have merit. When teaching on this topic, the teacher should present all of these views fairly. Allison does mention that there will be rewards in the kingdom, but he does not go into any detail. He says that the Great White Throne Judgment will be the final judgment for all people, both believers and unbelievers (p. 390).
As this review points out, this is not a book in which one will find a dogmatic position on all the theological issues Allison addresses. Free Grace people will not find their views presented in the matters of eternal salvation, rewards, and assurance. For example, Allison says that perseverance in good works is the foundation for the subjective assurance of salvation (p. 279). For him, clearly, the promise of eternal life by faith in Christ alone is not enough for one to have assurance of his or her eternal salvation.
I recommend this book for the purpose for which Allison wrote it. It is a conservative evangelical work on eight topics of theology. If a layman is interested in giving the views on these topics as taught by the two major Protestant systems of belief, then this book will be of help. However, if a person rejects the soteriology of both Arminianism and Reformed theology, much of this book will not be of any help.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society