By Faith Alone, part 1

Rev. Dr. Gary Johnson kindly asked me if I would like to review a pre-publication copy of the book By Faith Alone. It is being published by Crossway later this month, cost $17.99 list. I had initially thought to review the book in one post, the book being only about 208 pages of material (not including the indices). However, there is way too much meat here to do that. So I will post an entire entry on each article. Dr. Gary Johnson and Dr. Guy Waters are the editors. My summing up of the book is that it is one of two recent knock-out punches by orthodoxy for the sake of truth regarding the NPP/NS/FV (the other is the one edited by R. Scott Clark entitled Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry). What is so great about this book (the one under review) is that it does not merely destroy the aberrant theologies (the same can be said about the Clark book). It also puts in its place a well-balanced confessional alternative (which just happens to be historic Reformed orthodoxy). After all, one cannot merely say that one ought to avoid heresy. One can only really dispute error by telling the truth. And that is precisely what the contributors to this volume have done. I commend the authors and the editors for their very fine work.

The forword is by David F. Wells, a well-known analyst of modern culture, evangelicalism, postmodernism, etc. At first I was puzzled by the analysis of modern evangelicalism presented in this foreword. It is an excellent and thought-provoking piece. However, I wondered what it had to do with defending sola fide. I didn’t get my question answered until I read the afterword by Al Mohler: the audience needs to be defined. When the audience for this doctrine is defined, then we discover that it is a different audience. That has ramifications for how we present our case, as well as the material presented in the case itself. One preaches to an emergent church the doctrines of grace in a different way than one presents it to an historic Reformed congregation.

Wells divides “evangelicalism” into three groups: historic, Reformation orthodoxy (which is in the minority), reaction to historic, Reformed orthodoxy (baby-boomer pragmatists, who live like parasites off the first group; see pg. 16), and reaction to both of the previous groups (the emergent phenomenon). The basic question, then, is the one raised by D.G. Hart: should the Reformation descendents retain their position under the great tent of modern evangelicalism, or should we repudiate it? We hitched up the evangelicals in the modernist debate associated with Machen, and the forming of WTS and the OPC. However, do we still belong with them? Does it mean anything to say that one is evangelical? If modern pragmatists and emergent phenomena are selling the Gospel short, then the conclusion seems obvious: we should abandon the term evangelical as a term that describes the Reformation descendents. Here is a great quotation on this:

When all is said and done, Christianity is about truth and at the heart of that truth is the gospel, sola gratia, sola fide, in solo Christo. If Christianity is not about what is enduringly, eternally true, in all places of the world, in every culture, in the same way, in every time, then there is no reason to strive to find the most accurate ways of stating what it is, nor in other parts of the world would there be any reason to face persecution for it. But across time people have struggled to know it, because in knowing it they have come to know the God whose truth it is and some have had to die for it.

One last point that Wells makes that is worth noting is that the church, while often dealing with aberrant views in her past, has not often had to deal with aberrant views that are defined as being part of the evangelical world as some would define it. Here are his words, “What is different, when compared with our more recent history, is that these aberrant views on matters so central and fundamental are not outside the evangelical church but inside it.” Indeed.


  1. theologian said,

    February 2, 2007 at 9:57 am

    I look forward to getting that book!

  2. February 27, 2007 at 11:03 am

    […] part 1 (Forword by David Wells), part 2 (Introduction by Guy Waters), part 3 (Cornelis Venema on NTW), part 4 (T. David Gordon on NTW), part 5 (Richard Phillips on imputed righteousness), part 6 (FitzSimons Allison on imputation), part 7 (T. David Gordon on FV), part 8 (David VanDrunen on the active obedience of Christ), part 9 (Fowler White and Cal Beisner on the covenants), part 10 (John Bolt on the CoW), part 11 (Gary Johnson on evangelicalism and Mohler’s afterword on audience) […]

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