Bewitched: The Rise of Neo-Galatianism. By David R. Anderson. N.P.: Grace Theology Press, 2015. 384 pp. Paper, $15.95.
The back cover of the book says that this book “proposes that all serious Christians struggle with legalism in one form or another, although they may not be aware of it. Whether Catholic, Arminian, Calvinistic, or otherwise, legalism is a daily struggle” (emphases added). Then he adds, “The same problems plaguing the new Christians in Galatia can be found in every Christian group today” (emphasis added). Anderson is addressing his book to Roman Catholics, Arminians, Calvinists, and all flavors within Christendom. Evidently by “all serious Christians” Anderson means all serious professing Christians. He does not indicate anywhere in the book that he considers Catholics and Arminians to be born again (though he does say, “I suspect there are believers…from most groups who name the name of Christ,” p. 162).
Anderson makes it clear that the sole condition of justification before God is faith in Christ, not faith plus works (see, for example, pp. 49–74, 87–100, 162). However, as we shall see below, the author is unclear as to what faith is, and he fails to clearly explain precisely what someone must believe about Jesus in order to be justified.
The emphasis of this devotional commentary on Galatians is on the deadly effects of legalism in terms of sanctification, not legalism in terms of justification.
JOTGES readers will appreciate his rejection of perseverance as a condition of regeneration (pp. 67, 73), his statement that “the salvation of James 2:14–26 is not justification salvation” (p. 99), his comment that Rom 1:16–18 concerns sanctification (p. 163), his distinguishing between the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment (p. 161), his indicating that inheriting the kingdom in Gal 5:19–21 refers not to entering the kingdom but “to our rewards in the kingdom” (p. 204), and his explanation that “reaping everlasting life” (Gal 6:8–9) refers to reaping a more abundant life now and in the life to come (pp. 234–41).
Now for an area of concern.
JOTGES readers will be especially interested in how Anderson defines faith. He says, “most scholars recognize that faith involves the entire psyche of a person, his mind, his emotions, and his will” (p. 90). That is contrary to Gordon Clark’s Faith and Saving Faith. Many Free Grace people, for example, Zane Hodges, have argued with Clark that faith is merely intellectual, with no necessary emotional or willful component. Anderson may be alluding to Clark, Hodges, and others like them when he says, “Some don’t want to go this far. They would say that faith is just a matter of the mind” (p. 90).
Anderson’s view raises questions. What sort of emotions do I need to tell me that I believe that George Washington was the first President of the United States? What is the willful component in believing that two plus two equals four? Or, in terms of the new birth, what sort of emotional component and what sort of willful element do we need to be born again?
The author also argues that believing in Jesus is a choice. Speaking about “the justification equation,” Anderson indicates that “when we take conscious choice away, we also excise love from the process” (p. 91). This is confusing on multiple levels. Is justification a process? Is love for God a condition of justification? Is belief in Christ a choice?
Explaining the supposed willful component of saving faith, Anderson says, “with our will we make a commitment to the claims of Christ” (p. 91, emphasis his). What does he mean by commitment? What sort of commitment? And what does he mean by “the claims of Christ”? What claims, plural, does he have in mind? He does not elaborate, other than he goes on to say that this commitment is not a commitment “to follow all the commands of Christ” (p. 91), which he rightly says is a commitment which no one can fulfill. No one follows all the commands of Christ.
There is a bit of help a page later when the author says, “faith is simply a commitment to trust the claims of Christ” (p. 92). But even that is vague. What claims are in mind? And what does he mean when he speaks of a commitment to trust those claims? Clearly that is different than simply intellectually believing the claims. So how is it different?
In an appendix on faith Anderson discusses the issue of whether assurance is of the essence of saving faith.
Anderson indicates that one need not believe in the doctrine of eternal security in order to be born again (p. 344–45, note 171). Indeed, he says that “by making faith something subjective, now the person must examine his faith to see if he had the right kind of faith. Did you have assurance when you believed? If not, you did not have the right kind of faith. More self-doubt and introspection ensues” (p. 345, note 171).
Yet Anderson is confusing categories. The issue is not the right kind of faith. The issue is the right object of faith. If a person believes in works salvation, he lacks belief in eternal security. That is, he lacks belief in what the Lord Jesus Christ promises, everlasting life that can never be lost (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 39; 11:26). Such a person would answer the Lord’s question, “Do you believe this? (John 11:26), with a resounding No, since he does not believe that the believer “will never die [spiritually].”
In addition, the issue is not “Did you have assurance when you believed?” Believed what? The issue is do you have assurance of your eternal destiny right now? Regardless of what someone believed in the past, assurance of everlasting life is based only on what one believes right now.
Nor is believing Jesus’ promise of everlasting life in order to have that life somehow “subjective.” It is objective as John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35; and 11:26 all show.
In that appendix Anderson also gives a bit more explanation on his view of faith. He says, “Biblical faith is operative at the purest level when we cannot see our way. If we can see it, we don’t need faith, by definition” (p. 345). So if your eyes are open in a room with lights on, don’t you believe the lights are on? You can see they are on. And you believe they are on.
When Thomas saw the risen Lord and spoke with Him, he believed that He had risen. His seeing did not mean he did not believe. It is what led him to believe.
Anderson’s statement that “faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see” (p. 345) is confusing. So if I can see the stars and the sky and that leads me to believe that God exists, is that not really belief?
I checked on amazon.com and there are four glowing reviews of this book. I’m sure there are many who will find it to be well worth having.
If you are looking for a commentary which gives detailed discussion on the text of Galatians, this book is probably not for you. The author is like a pilot in a small plane who is flying over a large ranch. You get to see glimpses of the whole ranch. But you don’t really get much in terms of details.
In light of what Anderson says about faith, I would only recommend this book for well-grounded believers.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society