Images of Salvation in the New Testament. By Brenda B. Colijn. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2010. 335 pp. Paper, $25.00.
Having seen and been impressed by an article I had read by her previously, I was very interested to see what Colijn would have to say about images of salvation in the NT. I was not disappointed.
She is professor of Biblical interpretation and theology at Ashland (OH) Theological Seminary, an Arminian school. She says she is a member of an Anabaptist Brethren church (pp. 24, 288).
In the book she clearly and repeatedly indicates a position most all Arminians hold, that everlasting life can be lost by failure to persevere in faith and good works. Commenting on the sealing of the Holy Spirit Colijn says, “The seal of ownership is not an unconditional guarantee of final redemption, however” (p. 152). When discussing apostasy the author indicates, “Final salvation is conditional upon the exercise of an obedient faith that trusts in God’s promise to the very end” (p. 308). Speaking of believers in the Book of Revelation she writes, “For believers in Revelation, salvation entails martyrdom. The narrative of Revelation unpacks Jesus’ teaching that one must lose one’s life to save it (Mk 10:35 and parallels). Receiving eternal life may require sacrifice of mortal life. As in the Synoptic apocalypses, it is the one who endures to the end who will be saved (Mk 13:13 and parallels)” (p. 290).
The author begins the chapter entitled “Call to Endurance” with a quip about a sign she saw in the parking lot of a Catholic Church. It read “St. Peter’s Park & Ride.” Commenting on that sign she says, “Some of us may wish that salvation were that easy. We could get our ticket at conversion and get on the bus. Then, to borrow from the old Greyhound commercials, we could sit back, relax and leave the driving to Jesus” (p. 288).
For further examples of statements denying eternal security, see pp. 23, 129 (“loss of eternal life”), 136, 289, 291, 304.
Note, however, this comment about salvation in Paul, “Believers’ good works will be evaluated at the judgment, but those works by themselves [emphasis added] will not determine their salvation…Enduring contributions to the church [1 Cor 3:14-15] will be rewarded, but the lack of such contributions is not grounds for condemnation” (p. 135). What precisely Colijn means by that is not clear. Telling are the italicized words by themselves. In her view works play a role in what she calls final salvation, but they are not the only factor. For example, martyrdom for Jesus’ sake would seemingly cause God to overlook a dearth of good works (see quote above). On the very next page after Colijn makes this statement about works by themselves not determining one’s final salvation, she says, “Although God’s provision of future salvation is assured, believers must persevere in order to enter it” (p. 136). Evidently the provision for everlasting life, but not the life itself, is assured.
Frankly I find clear and unambiguous statements by authors to be very refreshing. That is what I like about the writing of Colijn. For the most part, her statements are clear and easy to follow.
Additionally, since she holds to the Arminian position, she actually understands many texts and images just as JOTGES readers do, except, of course, for the fact that what she sees at stake is eternal destiny, not eternal reward. But she can be read through a Free Grace lens to great benefit.
I guarantee that I will borrow this clever saying from Colijn: “We do not invite Jesus in our lives; he invites us into his” (p. 314). Of course, what she means is that Jesus invites us into His life of obedience and following Him on the path of suffering. But her statement itself is beautiful and it wonderfully captures verses like John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35, 37, 39, 47; 11:25-26; 14:6.
Concerning Eph 2:8-9 Colijn says that salvation, not faith, is the gift of God (p. 140).
Her discussion of election (chap. 10) is outstanding. I particularly appreciated her discussion of Acts 13:46, 48. She writes, “The context of Acts 13:48 seems to militate against reading tetagmenoi [typically translated, “as many as been appointed”] as a divine passive…A clear contrast is drawn between the Jews who ‘reject’ the word and the Gentiles who ‘were glad and praised the word of the Lord’ (Acts 13:48)…The emphasis on human volition for both Jews and Gentiles makes it unlikely that the narrator would say in Acts 13:48 that God had predetermined who would believe. The best translation of Acts 13:48 might be something like ‘as many as were positioned for eternal life became believers.’ This rendering opts for the passive (suggested by esan tetagmenoi) but makes room for the confluence of divine and human agency (the preaching of the gospel and the receptivity of the audience) that is suggested by the context” (p. 225).
Interestingly Colijn comments on the Free Grace position, saying in a footnote, “The position advocated by some evangelicals in the 1990s that one can be saved by believing in Jesus as savior without submitting to Jesus as Lord is an example of straining out gnats and swallowing camels. While it is important to defend the centrality of faith in conversion, we must not do so at the expense of the nature of salvation itself” (p. 314 fn 2).
She comments that “the predominant tense of sozo in Paul’s letters is future” (p. 134). She fails to defend this with a statement of how many times sozo is used by Paul in the present, past, and future. Her first example is a place where the verb is not found at all. She mentions Rom 13:11, “salvation [soteria, a noun] is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (p. 134). Of course, she doesn’t see that as referring to the Rapture. She also cites 1 Thess 1:10, “Paul tells the Thessalonians that Jesus, who himself was rescued from death, will rescue them from ‘the wrath that is coming’” (p. 134). Since she doesn’t see that as referring to the Rapture either, it fuels her Lordship Salvation position.
I highly recommend this book in spite of the author’s Lordship Salvation stance.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society