An Ember Still Glowing: Humankind as the Image of God.Harry R. Boer. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. 187 pp. Paper, $14.95.
This book is a direct but friendly attack on the bedrock doctrines of Reformed theology by one who is himself a Reformed theologian. Boer writes boldly in an effort to salvage the spirituality of the Reformed community, which he thinks has suffered from the traditional views of total depravity, common and special grace, predestination, election, and reprobation.
His starting point is man in the image of God. He argues that this concept should not be thought of in the individual sense, but in the sense of mankind as a whole. The human race still retains a remnant of God’s image-“an ember still glowing”-thus the term “total depravity” is theologically incorrect. Whether or not one agrees with Boer’s collective meaning for the imago Del, the reader will be impressed with how he argues persuasively that all people, not just a select few, are spiritually capable of responding to God’s revelation in faith. This is quite a departure from Reformed thought, which teaches that man can only believe as enabled through divine regeneration!
One can easily see how Boer’s central premise erodes other Reformed doctrines. In succession he also denounces those doctrines which are more or less necessitated by the teaching of total depravity, such as the distinction between special and common grace, and double predestination. In doing so, he shows limited reverence for the sacred Reformed confessions and even crosses swords briefly with Calvin. Commendably, his premier concern is the biblical data tempered by sound logic and practicality.
Evidently, Boer does not reflect the more conservative side of Reformed theology. Concessions to some unacceptable views are apparent (the Documentary Hypothesis; salvation apart from the Gospel; corporate election). One should read Boer carefully and discern his excesses. However, in the main, I found his thinking refreshing and very beneficial. Not only is he willing to poke a bloated sacred cow, but he makes sense in his central point. For too long, much of the conservative Protestant Church has assumed the Reformed position of total depravity and allowed it to shape her soteriology, only to result in the birth of some ugly stepchildren: limited atonement, double predestination, and Lordship Salvation.
This book is provocative and potentially revolutionary. It will be interesting to observe the reaction from Reformed quarters. Students of theology will want to get this book and let it inform, but not mold, their thinking on the doctrines of sin and salvation.
Charles C. Bing
Review Editor, JOTGES
Pastor, Burleson Bible Church