Spiritual Maturity: The Road to Wonderland. By Bruce Baker. Larkspur, CO: Grace Acres Press, 2009. 376 pp. Paper, $27.95.
Prior to each of the seven parts of the book, there appears a fictional story highlighting struggles faced by Christians today, serving to illustrate concepts presented in the book. And prior to each chapter, we find a one to two-page excerpt from a Lewis Carroll work (either Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandor Through the Looking-Glass: And What Alice Found There), presented to connect the reader with the opening of the chapter. The book concludes with a glossary, endnotes (few in number), Scripture index, and an extensive index of terms found within the discussion.
The intent of the book appears to be three-fold: 1) to present to the reader the three kinds of people, in spiritual terms (the natural man [unbeliever], the carnal [immature] Christian, and the mature believer in Christ); 2) to show how to obtain spiritual maturity; and 3) to present what spiritual maturity looks like.
One of the strengths of the book is to recognize there are at least three types of people in the spiritual realm: unbelievers, carnal Christians, and mature believers (though some might posit another type—an apostatized believer). Those in the GES camp will appreciate that approach as it is consistent with a Free Grace understanding of the message of eternal life. However, this seems to be where the association with a consistent Free Grace theology ends. Let’s look at some examples.
For example, Baker states as the gospel that “a sinner places his faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.” Many JOTGES readers would object to this presentation, as the issue in the Gospel of John (the one book of the Bible written to show readers how to receive eternal life) is believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life, not faith in the cross (p. 102). But the author does not seem to be satisfied with the addition of the cross, as he later mentions, “I’m sure the essential facts required for salvation would fit within the pages of an average magazine” (p. 202)! One wonders how long it would take to present the gospel if there are that many “essential facts required for salvation”!
Yet, for JOTGES readers, there is further room to be dismayed at the author’s comments on the gospel. For example, Baker states that “before there can be saving faith, an intellectual awareness must take place” (p. 262); then “there must be an acceptance of that body of knowledge as true” (p. 262). In addition, he claims “there must be a trust or reliance upon the knowledge known and regarded as true. This involves an act of the will” (p. 263). However, it seems that a consistent Free Grace advocate would say that if the “intellectual awareness” is that Jesus gives eternal life to anyone who believes Him for it, then saving faith has already occurred at that point; there is no need for two more steps in the equation.
According to the author, “This trust includes the desire for the truths of the gospel, specifically the cleansing from sin it provides, to be personally applied. It is unfortunate but true that many people profess belief in the message of Scripture but, in reality, have no desire for the essential element of the gospel—namely, the cleansing from sin—to affect their lives” (p. 263) [emphasis by the author].
This statement is even more disturbing. Now, in addition to a necessary three-step process of saving faith, Baker claims that one must desire to be cleansed from sin. Fortunately—or unfortunately, as we will see—the author gives an illustration to help the reader understand what he means.
To illustrate, the author describes someone whose life was a wreck and who, “with tears streaming down his face,” announced “his desire to be saved” (265). However, because the man didn’t want to give up the practice of a certain sin, the author indicated to him that he could not get cleansing from that sin. Thus, the man apparently left his office without believing in Christ for eternal life! The author’s assessment of this situation is: “Intellectually, he accepted as true the message of the gospel, but his will was tied to the fleeting pleasures of the world.” He gave “intellectual assent to the truths of the gospel,” but he “didn’t want” those truths (266).
The ramifications are horrifying! Which sins must one desire to give up before one can receive eternal life—every sin he has ever committed, every sin he has committed within the recent past—and how recent?—or just certain “big” sins, and what might those be? In addition, how much desire does one need to be rid of sin in one’s life in order to receive eternal life? Does one actually need to quit doing the sin first, and if so, for how long, before the person can be saved?
This view of the message of eternal life naturally moves the author to discuss individuals who make a “profession” but give “no evidence of new life” (pages 263-66), indicating they probably have not truly had a saving experience. The perceptive reader can see that this author has moved into a works-based salvation in the worst case scenario; at the very least, he has removed any kind of assurance that one may hope to attain.
In addition, the author seems to associate repentance with the gospel, as he mentions the Holy Spirit drawing “the lost” “to repentance” (p. 299). Also, on page 329, the Christine character, who appears to represent the author’s illustration of one growing toward maturity, prays that another character in the story “would repent and be saved”.
This reviewer sees other weaknesses of this book as well. For example, the book seems to lack a specific identity, and it is difficult to peg the intended audience of the book.
Moreover, there is too much rambling detail. (For example, he states in chap. 16 that living by the Spirit produces love—one of seven ministries to the believer on which he elaborates—then he wanders off into seven pages on love.) Also, the tone of the book varies, as sometimes it is conversational and at other times it carries a teaching/lecture tone.
But aside from the author’s view of the gospel, perhaps the greatest flaw of the book is that it does not attain clarity on the very thesis of the book—showing the reader how to attain spiritual maturity. This becomes telling on page 179 where the author states it is possible to know if we have attained maturity, “at least to some extent.” Had this reviewer paid for the book, this is the point at which he would have tried to get a refund.
I have other disagreements with the author’s presentation; however, I would be remiss if I did not mention some plusses of the book. The author points out that a relationship with God “thrives best when rigid sets of rules are discarded” (p. 318). In addition, he does not believe in sinless perfectionism in this life (p. 319); he sees the book of Hebrews as written to believers in Christ (pp. 134-36), he believes in eternal security (pp. 136-39), and the book comes with a great index (pp. 343-57).
However, these plusses are not enough to compensate for the theological flaws in Spiritual Maturity. Thus, I cannot recommend this book.
Cypress Valley Bible Church