The Gospel for Real Life. By Jerry Bridges. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2002. 201 pp. Cloth. $19.00.
Bridges is the author of The Pursuit of Holiness, which has sold over one million copies. So when a best-selling author like this tackles the gospel, JOTGES readers are surely interested in what he has to say.
What we find in this book is fairly standard Reformed soteriology, but written in a very irenic style. Bridges says that regeneration precedes faith and that before we come to faith we are like Lazarus when he was in the grave, totally unable to even cry out for help (pp. 127-37). Concerning assurance, he points to the standard three means of assurance: the promises of God, the inner witness of the Spirit, and the works the Spirit does in and through us (pp. 149-59). Where he differs slightly is that when he speaks of times he goes through doubts, he says he focuses solely on the promise of Jesus in John 6:37 that He will never cast out those who come to Him.
He also tries to soften the idea of how we should respond to self-examination when we feel we fall short of the needed holiness to prove our regeneration. He says we should flee to the cross, not try harder (p. 158). Of course, since he says that all truly regenerate people are guaranteed to practice righteousness as a way of life (pp. 142, 156), and since those who are unregenerate can’t flee to the cross since they are like a dead man in the grave, his advice seems to be a bit contrary to his theological grid.
His personal testimony of how he came to faith in Christ is instructive. He says, “I remember the night I trusted Christ as an eighteen-year-old. Outwardly I was a model teenager but not a Christian, even though I knew the gospel message. One night alone in my bed I asked Christ to be my Savior. Immediately I had peace in my soul, brought to me by the Holy Spirit” (p. 108; see also p. 154). When he says, “I knew the gospel message,” does he mean that he believed the gospel before he became a Christian? That seems to be his point. Of course, if true faith is more than believing the facts, then his statement makes sense.
Bridges makes a startling revelation: “I don’t want to speculate on how much of the gospel a person must hear and understand in order to exercise faith, but as a minimum it will include the truth that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’ (1 Corinthians 15:3). At the same time it must be simple enough for a child to understand” (pp. 105-106). I find it remarkable that a person writing about the gospel indicates that he isn’t going to even try and say precisely what a person must believe in order to exercise saving faith. Even within a Reformed system this is amazing since presumably a person can’t exercise saving faith until he has been told the saving proposition. Note that Bridges isn’t saying that if one believes that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” that he has exercised saving faith. He is simply saying that this much is surely a part (note “it will include the truth…”) of what must be believed.
While this book is a bit thin on exegesis and detailed theological discussion, it is easy to read and candid in its approach. I recommend it.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Irving , TX