Monday, February 22, 2016

Book Review: The Whole Christ

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance--Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Sinclair B. Ferguson. 2016. Crossway. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Can republishing a book cause a theological storm--a huge controversy? It can if the book in question is The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher. For that is exactly what happened in Scotland in the eighteenth century in a law versus gospel showdown. Though that might be slightly unfair to both sides. It was, however, "us" versus "them." And the labels being tossed around were "legalist" and "antinomian."

In The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson addresses the dangers of both legalism and antinomianism and reveals how they share a surprising connection: a failure to believe in God's love and grace, or to fully believe it in any case. Also both are more attitudes about the gospel than solid doctrines--at least such is the case in the Marrow Controversy. Both sides held most of the same doctrines--creeds, confessions, catechisms--in common. Both confessed these doctrines to be true. But the arguments were fierce.

If there is a main point in The Whole Christ, it is this: THE GOSPEL IS THE CURE. The gospel is the cure for legalists. The gospel is the cure for antinomians. The gospel is the cure no matter your error. Whether you've strayed a few steps or a lot of steps from the purity of the gospel--the whole truth of the gospel. The gospel as revealed in the Word of God will cure you, straighten you out.

It is essential that believers know the gospel, are firmly rooted in the gospel, and keep that vital connection with the gospel, for God is the gospel. Christ cannot be separated into "his works" and "his person." One should not say, "I am saved by Christ's work on the cross." Instead, one should proclaim, "I am saved by Christ--by my union with Christ!"

Ferguson does present the gospel in The Whole Christ. The book is more than a history lesson, though a history lesson is there! The book is about how no matter the century, believers--and preachers--can fall into either error, that of legalism or antinomianism, one extreme or the other. Often it is a case of over-reacting, over-correcting to perceived error. So he defines both terms, and discusses them in depth, giving readers a lot to think about. What are the signs of legalism? of antinomianism? What do I believe about justification? about sanctification? Have I divided Christ in my theology? Do I live in light of what I say I believe about God?

I would recommend this one. I will admit that at times it is a heavy read. Any book that goes into in-depth discussion about justification and sanctification, about law and gospel, about how the two are connected, IF the two are connected, is prone to being heavy in places. Also, the history of this one is a little weighty--who said what when and what so-and-so said in response, etc. But overall it is a good book and worth reading.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction
  • How A Marrow Grew
  • Grace in the Gospel
  • Preparation, Distortion, Poison
  • Danger! Legalism
  • The Order of Grace
  • Suspicious Symptoms
  • Faces of Antinomianism
  • Causes and Cures
  • The Marrow of Assurance
  • How Assurances of Christ Becomes Assurance of Salvation
  • Hindrances Strew All the Way
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix: Thomas Boston on Faith

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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