The Body: Being Light in the Darkness. By Charles Colson with Ellen Santilli Vaughn. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992. 455 pp. Cloth, $19.99.
Colson and Vaughn have written a powerful and thought-provoking work about the Body of Christ, the Church. It has three parts: “Part 1: What Is the Church?,” which addresses the identity crisis within the Church today and examines both scriptural and contemporary examples of the Church in action; “Part 2: The Church Versus the World,” which examines the Church’s battle for truth in an age of accommodation; and “Part 3: The Church in the World,” which discusses the mission of the Church and how it can impact the world.
The authors write from a Reformed and Presbyterian perspective (p. 34) which manifests itself several times. For example, in their discussion of conversion they write: “For there is a great difference between a decision and a true conversion. Conversion is a process which begins with God’s regenerating work-an instant when the Spirit gives life-and continues as we grow in faith through the process of sanctification” (p. 85). They confuse the term conversion with the whole of the Christian life. Yet, in other places in the book they are precisely on target about the Gospel: “The Christian experience begins with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ made possible as men and women are declared righteous by their faith” (p. 163).
There are many good things about the book. The authors correctly dissect the current identity crisis of the Church today, which seems more interested in fitting into the culture than in changing the culture. The Church today measures itself more in quantitative terms (numbers in attendance and dollars) than in qualitative terms (changed lives and growth in holiness). The authors stress the primary role of the local church. The Christian life cannot be lived in isolation, but requires involvement in a local assembly. The congregation is God’s primary instrument for accomplishing His work. The real-life stories and anecdotes will provide a rich background for illustrations in preaching or teaching on the local church. The glimpses of the Church in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are particularly compelling and convicting.
The authors stress the need for unity among believers and give examples of how various churches have set aside differences to work together for some common causes. However, they seem to be overly optimistic about the outcome of Vatican Council II in suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church has given a clear signal that salvation can be found outside of her. Surely it is right to suggest that in many respects we have much in common with various denominations, and with the Catholic Church, in an increasingly post-Christian culture. But the issue of the Gospel by faith alone still rightly separates us.
Colson’s and Vaughn’s solution to the ills of the church is a renewed sense of the fear of the Lord, but they do not discuss how the Church is to develop this fear. There is no mention in the book of the judgment Seat of Christ, the future accountability of believers, and the motivation of rewards or loss of eternal reward. The NT points to the day of future accountability as a reason for the believer to conduct himself in holy fear during the course of his life (Rom 14:10–13; 2 Cor 5:9–11; 1 Pet 1:13–17). The inclusion of such references would have greatly strengthened their argument.
The book concludes with an example of the fear of God in a believer on death row. The story is gripping and moving, but short of a deathrow experience, what will move Christians out of complacency and contentment with this present world, since there is no mention of judgment of believers for their works?
Robert W. Oliver
Forked River Baptist Church
Lanoka Harbor, NJ