Truthspeak: The True Meaning of Five Key Christian Words Distorted Through Religious Newspeak. By Michael D. Halsey. Milwaukee, WI: Grace Gospel Press, 2010. 106 pp. Paper, $8.95.
In Truthspeak, Michael D. Halsey aims to rescue the Biblical meaning of certain theological terms from widespread misunderstanding. As he describes the purpose of the book: “I want to show you that five important words in Christianity…have been ripped from their biblical meanings, and been dressed so that biblically alien concepts have been loaded into them…” (p. 11). The terms he addresses are grace, finished, repentance, believe, and justified.
Halsey correctly identifies what these words popularly, but erroneously, have come to mean. And he effectively shows how, more often than not, they have been redefined to smuggle in works as a requirement for eternal salvation. But the book surprisingly fails in its main intent. Halsey fails to establish his definitions through Biblical exegesis. Rather, he simply asserts that his definitions are Biblical, and sometimes quotes an authority as proof.
For instance, Halsey begins with the word grace, and laments that it so early came to be confused with works. “How did they miss it?” Halsey wonders about the Church Fathers, who, practically to a man, mixed grace and works: “Their misunderstanding came because, although they read the word grace, they didn’t understand that word with its Bible definition. The content they put into grace was not a biblical one…” (p. 21). Halsey tells us that the true Biblical definition of the term is unmerited favor or undeserved favor, and quotes Lewis Sperry Chafer to that effect (without providing a reference). But Halsey never actually bothers to defend his definitions via a grammatical-historical exegesis of the relevant Biblical texts. This is troubling, given the fact that he paints people in the darkest Orwellian terms for ignoring a term’s Biblical meaning.
This defect is compounded by a polemical style that is quick to lay blame on his opponents (often dubiously), but reluctant to calmly explain the edifying truth. For instance, his treatment of grace would have benefited by helping his readers distinguish between the different senses of salvation, explaining how most of these do not refer to eternal salvation from hell, but salvation from tribulation and wrath in the here and now.
Even more crucially, Halsey could have distinguished between eternal salvation, the life of discipleship, and the race for rewards. This would have helped his readers understand why grace and works must never be mixed where eternal salvation is concerned, but ought to be mixed where the life of discipleship and rewards are concerned. Had he done so, instead of just blaming the Apostolic Fathers for missing the true understanding of grace, he could have explained why and how they missed it. They confused the condition for receiving the gift of eternal life with the condition for enjoying abiding fellowship with God, and so confused the unconditional grace of eternal salvation with the conditional grace needed for salvation from tribulation in this life. Whereas the former is a gift, the latter takes much striving, faithfulness, and humble responsiveness to the prodding of the Spirit (Phil 2:12; Jas 2:14-17; Gal 5:16-26, 6:6-10).
Similar distinctions would have improved the chapter on justification, which, like the chapter on grace, contained no effort to define the term exegetically, and failed to properly answer the apparent confusion of Church Fathers like Clement, who vacillated on the question of whether justification was by works or by faith. A proper Biblical perspective would have responded by distinguishing between justification before God, which comes only by faith in Christ’s promise apart from works (Rom 3:28), and justification (or vindication) before men, which, as Paul and James both remind us (Rom 4:2; Jas 2:21), depends on our works.
Although I am deeply sympathetic to the aims of Truthspeak, and agree that, given current theological nomenclature, this kind of apologetic is sorely needed, I cannot recommend this book. It seems hastily written, treats Church history in a cursory manner, and most puzzling of all (given the author’s stated intent, and his position as a Professor of Biblical Exposition), it fails to Biblically define the terms it addresses. A second edition would benefit from a curtailed use of the Orwellian motif, careful exegesis of the relevant texts, and a more constructive application of Free Grace theology to the faults he identifies in others.
Director of Publications
Grace Evangelical Society