Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages. By Charles C. Bing. NP: Grace Theology Press, 2015. 290 pp. Cloth, $17.00.
Charlie Bing has written a book that is extremely helpful in explaining many difficult passages.
There is a Scripture Index, which is very helpful. It makes it easy to find what Bing says about a given passage.
There is no Subject Index, which is slightly disappointing. However, this is a minor drawback.
After an introduction to what he calls “Understanding the A Truth B Truth Distinction,” Bing walks through the NT, with chapters on the Synoptic Gospels, John’s Gospel, Acts, Paul’s epistles, Hebrews, the epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude, and Revelation. He concludes with a chapter entitled, “Making Biblical Distinctions Count.” This layout is helpful. He covers major tough texts in all NT books.
The “A Truth B Truth Distinction” got a bit old for me. I imagine the words A Truth and B Truth must occur over 500 times in the book. On many pages you’ll find those expressions four times or more. As an example, in Chapter 8 alone there are 17 pages out of 51 (that is, one in three) in which those expressions occur four or more times on one page (pp. 143, 146, 147, 148, 151, 158, 162, 163, 164, 171, 173, 177, 179, 181, 184, 187, 193).
Here is an example of the cumbersome expression, “The B Truth interpretation is an encouragement for us as believers to endure suffering…” (p. 180). It would be much clearer and less jarring if he simply mentioned the passage he was discussing: “Philippians 1:27-28 is an encouragement for us as believers to endure suffering.”
There are no footnotes or endnotes in this book. That is disappointing since the reader would be helped to see books by others which advocate the positions Bing takes. It would also be helpful if Bing indicated authors who influenced his thinking on various passages.
Here are just a few of his discussions of tough texts that I found to be outstanding: Matt 7:15-20 (pp. 67-68); Matt 7:21-23 (pp. 68-70); Matt 11:28-30 (pp. 73-74); Matt 16:25-26 (pp. 77-78); John 2:23-25 (pp. 116-17); John 3:36 (pp. 119-20); John 8:30-32 (pp. 124-26); John 12:42-43 (pp. 128-29); Acts 8:17-24 (pp. 137-39); Rom 6:17 (pp. 147-48); 1 Cor 9:27 (pp. 163-64); 2 Cor 13:5 (pp. 168-170); Gal 6:7-9 (pp. 173-75); Phil 2:12 (pp. 180-82); Col 1:21-23 (pp. 184-86); 2 Tim 4:7-8 (pp. 192-93); Heb 5:9 (pp. 200-201); Heb 6:4-8 (pp. 201-203); Jas 5:19-20 (pp. 217-18); 2 Pet 1:10-11 (pp. 222-24); 2 Pet 2:1-22 (pp. 224-27); 1 John 5:16 (pp. 236-38); Jude 24 (pp. 239-40); Rev 3:5 (pp. 244-46); Rev 3:20 (pp. 247-49); and Rev 20:11-15 (pp. 249-50).
The person who is looking for explanations of tough texts now has another helpful resource from a Free Grace perspective.
There are three areas of disagreement, however.
First, Bing says, “The present tense of ‘believing’ [pisteuō, in John 20:31] shows that sanctifying faith must continue [emphasis added] after initial justifying faith in order to experience [emphasis his] the new life that was received” (p. 115). He also has a heading entitled, “Keep on believing for eternal life” (p. 132), which he says means that “a person must keep on believing in order to experience the eternal life they received when they believed in Jesus as Savior” (p. 132).
However, John 20:31 uses an aorist tense of pisteuō (pisteusēte), not a present tense. See the discussion by John Niemelä on pp 77-86 of this issue. But even if John 20:31 used the present tense of pisteuō, it cannot both mean that one who believes at that moment has everlasting life and that one must continue to believe to experience that life. And it is not true that if one continues to believe in Christ, he is necessarily progressing in sanctification. One must not only believe, but also obey, to grow (cf. Jas 2:1-13, 14-26).
Second, Bing suggests that the purpose of John’s Gospel is both evangelism and discipleship (p. 115) and that the Synoptic Gospels have “an implicit and partial purpose” “to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ” (p. 115). This is a dangerous position in my estimation. If John’s Gospel is not the only evangelistic book in the Bible, then it makes it more difficult to counter Lordship Salvation since it derives its understanding of the condition of everlasting life from the Synoptics and the epistles.
Third, Bing argues that repentance is a change of mind and a change of heart and that it is sometimes a condition of everlasting life (pp. 51-52). Bing says, “While I believe that in the New Testament it [repentance] is sometimes used to describe the change of heart indicated by saving faith—for whenever one believes in Jesus Christ as Savior, he has changed his mind or heart about something—(e.g. Luke 5:32; 24:47; Acts 11:18; 17:30, 34; 2 Pet. 3:9), many times it is used as B Truth either applied to Israel…or to believers for their sanctification” (p. 52, emphasis added). To say that a change of heart is required to be born again opens the door to confusion. Does this mean that one must be willing to turn from his sins? What must he change his heart about? A change of heart is a vague concept and it tends to imply some sort of decision to change one’s behavior.
Finally, one thing missing from Bing’s excellent work is a statement or defense of assurance being of the essence of saving faith. While there are a number of statements where he says that one must believe in the person, provision, and promise of everlasting life (e.g., pp. 45, 145, 249), there is no explanation of what believing the promise of everlasting life means in terms of assurance.
I recommend this book for well-grounded believers. It is an excellent resource on tough texts. However, due to the three concerns mentioned above, I do not recommend it for new or poorly taught believers.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society