The Bema: A Story about the Judgment Seat of Christ. By Tim Stevenson. Gainesville, TX: Fair Haven Publications, 2000. 260 pp. (Cloth), $18.99.
The cover of this book is a beautiful painting of one believer in the midst of a multitude appearing before the Lord Jesus Christ in all His glory. There is much I like about this book besides its cover. It presents a much-neglected truth: that the Lord Jesus will judge believers for how they lived.
Dan Mathewson, the leading figure in this novel, becomes a man of prayer after dreaming about the Judgment Seat of Christ. He faces hard choices at work the very day after the dream. And he repeatedly prays, asking God to show him what to do and say. Dan’s decision that pleasing the Lord mattered more than earthly success built on dishonesty and sham ultimately leads him to give up a lucrative job.
This book is well written and enjoyable to read. The narrative flows well, especially after Dan wakes up from his dream. (The dream covers pages 29-200). Throughout the narrative Stevenson powerfully promotes the need for humility in light of our coming judgment.
There is also a touching call to see people from a different perspective. Janitors might be leading rulers in the coming kingdom. CEOs might not rule at all.
Though Stevenson does not clearly present what we must do to be saved in this book, he does make it clear that salvation is a gift and that works cannot save us.
That said, I did, however, have some reservations.
The author expresses uncertainty about the fate of those “whose only exposure to Christianity was of a degraded, twisted, or hypocritical type. More than ever before, I know God’s love, mercy, and justice, and I am sure whatever God does will be consistent and in harmony with those attributes. Still I remain in the dark on this issue” (p. 118). He seems to be suggesting that people can get into the kingdom without believing in Christ. If that is what he means, that is a major departure from the biblical position (compare Acts 4:12 and 16:30-31). In addition, it makes missions and evangelism of questionable value since we may make people accountable to believe in Christ who otherwise could have been saved in some other way.
Stevenson also introduces some confusion about how Old Testament people were saved when, after realizing that only New Testament believers are present at the bema in his dream, he asks a leading angel, “What…of all the millions who were surely faithful in Old Testament times?” (p. 119, italics added). Yet a few sentences later the angel says, “Believing Israelites who lived before our Lord’s death and resurrection will be raised to live again to join in the kingdom” (p. 119, italics added). This is better, and hopefully the author’s true position.
There is an anti-intellectual feel throughout the narrative. Many of the most highly rewarded saints seem to have little knowledge of the Word of God. Yet the Scriptures link spiritual growth to feeding on and heeding the Word (1 Cor 2:14–3:3; Heb 5:12-14).
In spite of these reservations, I like this book. I came away with a desire to be more caring, generous, and sensitive. It is profitable reading for well-grounded Christians. However, I would not recommend this book for new or untaught believers.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society