Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure? By Charles Stanley. Nashville: Oliver Nelson, 1990. 195 pp. Cloth, $14.95.
The year 1990 was a vintage literary year for the Free Grace Movement!
In the previous review, Pastor Ed Underwood justly praises Dr. Charles Swindol for the clear stand he has taken in The Grace Awakening. But equally commendable for his forthright commitment to grace is the author of this book, Dr. Charles Stanley. Both books appeared in 1990.
Like Swindol, Stanley is a high-profile Christian leader. Currently, Dr. Stanley serves as the senior pastor of the 12,000-member First Baptist Church of Atlanta. He is also a past President of the Southern Baptist Convention and a nationally known TV and radio speaker. His courage in writing this book must be commended most highly.
No one who reads Eternal Security can doubt for a moment the writer’s deep conviction that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. For example, Stanley writes: “Look at that verse [John 3:18] and answer this question: According to Jesus, what must a person do to keep from being judged for sin? Must he stop doing something? Must he promise to stop doing something? Must he have never done something? The answer is so simple that many stumble all over it without ever seeing it. All Jesus requires is that the individual ‘believe in’ Him” (p. 67). It would be hard to put it more plainly than that!
It is clear from the statement quoted above that Stanley is as far from Lordship Salvation as it is possible to get. Many, many other comments in this book show the same thing. Yet as far as this reviewer has noticed, Stanley refers to Lordship Salvation directly only once. This occurs in a footnote on p. 111, where a view that the author has rejected in his text is linked with “some who hold to…Lordship salvation.” Stanley’s minimal reference to this issue is a prudent choice since his book has a much larger question in mind: eternal security itself. But no Lordship theologian will find even a trace of comfort in this author’s theology.
Among the most impressive sections in the book is the chapter entitled, “For Those Who Stop Believing” (chapter 8). Here Stanley clearly says some things which should have often been said before. For example, he writes: “The Bible clearly teaches that God’s love for His people is of such magnitude that even those who walk away from the faith have not the slightest chance of slipping from His hand” (p. 74). This is beautifully put. Equally lucid is this striking paragraph: “Faith is simply the way we say yes to God’s free gift of eternal life. Faith and salvation are not one and the same anymore than a gift and the hand that receives it are the same. Salvation or justification or adoption-whatever you wish to call it-stands independently of faith. Consequently, God does not require a constant attitude of faith in order to be saved-only an act of faith” (p. 80). A little later, Stanley also writes: “You and I are not saved because we have an enduring faith. We are saved because at a moment in time we expressed faith in our enduring Lord” (p. 80).
This is critical and important truth that Stanley is stating. If only it were proclaimed more widely, many believers would be delivered from their distressing absorption as to whether or not they have an “enduring faith.” It is Christ who endures, not necessarily our faith, as Stanley points out so clearly. “If we are faithless,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:13).
But just as this author is unmistakeably clear in his doctrine of salvation, he is equally clear in another widely neglected area: the doctrine of rewards! Few (if any!) contemporary writers are more insistent on the role that this doctrine should play as a motivation for godly Christian living. This reviewer particularly enjoyed this crisp paragraph: “Does our behavior matter once we are assured of our salvation? You bet it does. Are there any eternal consequences when a believer sins? Absolutely. Will eternity be the same for those who follow Christ faithfully and those who live for themselves? Not a chance” (p. 118). Shortly afterwards, he states: “Keep in mind we are not talking about heaven and hell. That is a different issue altogether. Our works have nothing to do with where we spend eternity. But they have a lot to do with what we can expect once we get there” (p. 118). The GES reader is urged to study Dr. Stanley’s entire discussion of this subject in chapters 12–14. These chapters are an effective response to the tired old argument that if we are secure, we no longer have reasons for living a godly life.
A forthright author like this will not be expected to dodge any of the tough questions. Dr. Stanley does not. For example, he faces the problems for security which are often surfaced from the Epistle to the Hebrews. In fact, five consecutive chapters (17–21) are given to a discussion of the issues raised from that book. His solution is utterly satisfactory to grace-oriented people. Applying the warnings of Hebrews to believers, he frankly states about Heb 6:4–6: “It seems to me … the writer bends over backward to make sure the reader understands that the persons he is describing are genuine, born-again believers” (p. 163). For this author, the bottom line in Hebrews is its warning to believers today. Hebrews can teach us that “every moment and every decision count. Nothing goes unnoticed. And for those who think that they are getting by with something, recall these words: ‘It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God”‘ (pp. 176–77).
But the Book of Hebrews is not the only nettlesome issue that is squarely faced by this author. He also confronts the unpardonable sin (it cannot be committed today: p. 132); Rev 3:5 (God does not have an eraser!, see pp. 178–83); and even the question of “the outer darkness.” On this latter issue, Stanley states: “To be in the ‘outer darkness’ is to be in the kingdom of God but outside the circle of men and women whose faithfulness on this earth earned them a special rank or position of authority” (p. 126; italics in the original). Thus, for Stanley, “the outer darkness” is not a literal place, but a metaphor. In this reviewer’s judgment, the words quoted above are the very best definition of that metaphor in print today!
Dr. Stanley opens his final chapter (“Conclusion”) with the words: “I have never met a Christian who had lost his salvation. However, I have met plenty who have lost their assurance” (p. 192). But the likely result of this excellent volume is that many who have lost that assurance will regain it when confronted with the biblical testimony to their security in Christ. It has given this reviewer great pleasure to note that Eternal Security has found its way onto the Bookstore Journal’s list of Christian hardback best sellers. As this review is being written, Dr. Stanley’s book stands ninth on the March list of the twenty top clothbound volumes.
No matter how many people read this book, however, it will not be enough. Its message is crisp, clear, and uncompromisingly scriptural. It is precisely such a book as is urgently needed in our day and time.
This reviewer is aware that GES readers are among the most theologically discriminating readers anywhere. That is why it is unthinkable that any of them should fail to read this volume. To this readership, the reviewer can only say:
Read and enjoy!
Zane C. Hodges
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society