Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace: Recovering the Doctrines That Shook the World. By James Montgomery Boice. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001. 224 pp. (Cloth), $17.99.
During the first message presented at Ligonier’s Conference in Orlando last June, Dr. R. C. Sproul indicated that Dr. James Boice, a scheduled speaker at the conference, was dying in faith that very night.
Dr. Boice died that very night, June 15th. When this book, published posthumously, arrived at my office, I was understandably interested to see what he had to say about grace.
In one sense this book is merely a restatement of Reformed Lordship Salvation. However, in another sense it is quite a candid restatement. In reading this book one can get a clear idea of the type of mixed thinking that speaks of justification by faith alone and yet which warns believers that they must produce abundant and persevering good works in order to make it to heaven.
Let’s start with some positive observations.
Chapter 1 is entitled, “The New Pragmatism,” and is a fine chapter in which the author points out how the evangelical church today is following the example set by the liberal church 30 years ago, adopting the world’s agenda and methods.
Boice’s discussion of the dangers of television in chapter 2 (pp. 51-54) is superb. He clearly demonstrates how TV robs us of our ability to think.
Chapter 8 is on “Reforming Our Worship.” It too is outstanding. The author shows how modern worship has become light on meaningful content about God. The singing is often designed to merely make us feel better, with the choruses saying very little to or about God.
I also found much to like in chapters 3 and 4 on “Scripture Alone” and “Christ Alone.” Boice defends the primacy of Scripture and the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross.
It has been said that you can’t tell a book by its cover. But you can tell a lot about a book by what it doesn’t cover. A simple survey of the index reveals that Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Gracefails to even mention key texts like John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47; 11:25-27; 20:30-31. That is amazing. How one could write a book on the grace of God and not mention all or at least most of those verses is inexplicable.
Admittedly Eph 2:8-9 is discussed three separate times in the book (pp. 121, 137, 159). Sadly, the verse is never clearly explained. Twice the author uses the text to prove the Reformed notion that faith is the gift of God (pp. 137, 159). On the third occasion he merely indicates that we don’t understand what the grace spoken of in this passage truly means.
Also not covered are the following passages on the Judgment Seat of Christ: Rom 14:10-12; 1 Cor 3:10-15; 9:24-27; 2 Cor 5:9-10; 1 John 2:28; 4:17-19. Indeed, I could find no reference at all to the Bema (Judgment Seat) of Christ. Since the author does discuss the judgment of believers according to their works (see pp. 116-21), this is hard to explain as well.
The two most fascinating parts of the book to me occur in chapters 5 and 6 where Boice discusses the judgment of believers and saving faith.
First, Boice proposes the three-fold nature of saving faith: notitia, assensus, and fiducia (pp. 137-41). His discussion of the first two points is helpful. Notitia is knowledge or understanding. He correctly points out that one can understand the good news and yet not be convinced it is true. He defines assensus rightly as assent, or a conviction of the truth of the gospel.
Surprisingly he quotes Calvin as saying, “We do not obtain salvation either because we are prepared to embrace as true whatever the church has prescribed, or because we turn over to it the task of inquiring and knowing. But we do so when we know that God is our merciful Father, because of the reconciliation effected through Christ” (p. 139, italics added). Calvin is here articulating his teaching that assurance is of the essence of saving faith. Calvin is not saying, as Boice suggests, that embracing as true the gospel is merely one element of saving faith. Calvin is saying that is saving faith.
He defines the third element, fiducia, as “trust and commitment.” “The third element of faith, which Spurgeon calls trust and Lloyd-Jones calls commitment, is a real yielding of oneself to Christ which goes beyond knowledge, however full or accurate that knowledge may be, and even beyond agreeing with or being personally moved by the gospel” (p. 140, italics his). Notice that for him faith includes commitment/yieldedness.
Second, concerning the judgment of believers, he indicates that believers will be judged according to their works to determine whether or not they gain entrance into the kingdom. He fails to explain the meaning of “shall not come into judgment” in John 5:24, as he does not mention that verse. He speaks of one final judgment (p. 117), not separate judgments for believers (the Judgment Seat of Christ) and unbelievers (the Great White Throne Judgment).
Concerning this final judgment according to works he says, “This is a surprising point for Protestants especially. We have been taught that salvation is by grace through faith apart from works, and here [Matthew 25] the judgment is on the basis of what people have done or have not done…This seems wrong to Protestants because we have been taught that the judgment will be on the basis of whether or not we have believed on Jesus as Savior” (p. 118).
He then says, “The faith through which we are saved is not a dead faith. Saving faith must be active” (p. 118). After quoting Jas 2:14-17 he adds, “Does this mean we are saved by works after all? Were the Reformers wrong? No, but it is a statement of the necessity of works following faith—if we are truly regenerate. It means that there is an unbreakable link between what we think and what we do” (p. 119).
Boice makes a compelling case that Satan and demons believe the gospel (pp. 140-41). He says, “He [Satan] also believes the gospel in the sense that he knows that it is true; in this sense he has assensus. But Satan resists Christ. He is opposed to all he represents. He despises Christ. Therefore, Satan does not have faith in Jesus in a saving sense” (p. 141).
The problem with his argument is that there is no salvation for Satan or demons. Christ didn’t die for them. Thus even though they believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God in the biblical sense (John 20:31; compare 11:25-27), they are not saved. We need not change the nature of saving faith in order to keep Satan from getting into the kingdom! I recommend this book for the well-grounded believer. It shows clearly, as Dr. Earl Radmacher charged in 1989, that Reformed theology sometimes very closely approximates the theology of Rome.
Robert N. Wilkin
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society