The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians. By Erwin Lutzer. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998. 247 pp. Paper, $15.99.
I saw this book in a catalog, not realizing it was written twelve years ago. Yet I’m glad I ordered it. Lutzer discusses a few issues that are crucial to Free Grace people and the book covers timeless topics so the copyright date is insignificant.
Lutzer discusses a number of topics that will be only be of mild interest to the Free Grace reader including a discussion of whether Jesus is truly God and truly man, whether Mary is the mother of God and Peter the first pope, and four chapters on predestination and free will looking at the subject through the eyes of eight theologians, four on each side.
The two chapters which should be of real interest to JOTGES readers are Chap 5, dealing with the justification by faith question, and Chap 13, examining eternal security.
Lutzer adopts a typical Calvinist stand on most of the issues, including the nature of saving faith. He suggests that believing in Jesus is more than “assent to the truths of salvation” (p. 99). Lutzer suggests one must also trust Christ, which he explains means “the transferring of all of our confidence to Christ alone.” But then he gives a modified form of the chair illustration that muddies the waters.
A man falls off a cliff and as he is falling to his certain death, he grabs a branch that is miraculously growing out of the wall of the cliff. His grip won’t last long, but another miracle occurs when an angel appears. “Do you believe I can save you?”
“Yes,” says the man.
“Do you believe I will save you?”
“Yes,” the man replies.
“Then let go [of the branch]!”
Lutzer then adds this confusing explanation: “The ‘letting go’ is faith. Christ wants us to rest our full intellectual, emotional, and spiritual weight on him alone. That is saving faith in Christ, who alone is qualified to reconcile us to God” (p. 99).
Note the man already believes the angel both can and will save him. But that isn’t belief, even though in the illustration both are called belief. Now to believe he must add not a new conviction/persuasion, but rather an action, he must release his hands from the branch.
While the illustration is clever, it is not found in Scripture and it is confusing. We do not choose to believe in Jesus, as the illustration surely implies. (Indeed, later Lutzer speaks of making a decision to be born again [p. 225]). And there is no letting go. Once a person believes that Jesus gives eternal life to all who simply believe in Him for it, there is no additional step. What would “letting go” be if believing in Jesus is not enough? How does a person who already believes in Jesus let go of the branch?
Lutzer disagrees with the notion held by both Calvinists and Arminians that perseverance in obedience is required to make it into the kingdom (pp. 231-32). JOTGES readers will be encouraged by this discussion, though Lutzer does confuse things a bit when he says “Those who say they have believed but exhibit no fruit of the Spirit and no appetite for prayer and God’s Word have ample reason to doubt whether they were truly saved” (p. 232), though he does go on to add this helpful comment, “but then again they might be true believers. Christians have been known to fall into doctrinal and moral failure. Some have rebelled against God and have been taken away in death (1 Cor 11:30).”
Lutzer also has a funny story about the Arminian pastor who got tired of a drunk coming forward every week to get saved again. He pastor said, “Next week I ought to shoot you right after you get saved, so that you’d be sure of heaven!” (p. 227).
Lutzer has the typical Calvinist understanding of assurance as being based on the promises of Christ plus the inner witness of the Holy Spirit plus the fruit of the new life (pp. 237-38).
As the subtitle and the words of the text suggest, Lutzer gives the impression that both Calvinists and Arminians are born again, despite the fact that both believe, according to Lutzer, “that continual obedience is necessary for salvation” (p. 231). This too is puzzling and is not explained.
While there is much that JOTGES readers will find fault with, there is much here worth reading. Lutzers style is clear and personable. I recommend this book.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society