Bruce A. Demarest, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation. Foundations of Evangelical Theology, ed. John S. Feinberg. Wheaton: Crossway, 1997. 544 pp. [Amazon | Google Books | Logos | WTSBooks]
This volume is the first in a series on the various doctrines of systematic theology (Foundations of Evangelical Theology) edited by John S. Feinberg. Two more volumes in the series have since been released: No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God by John S. Feinberg1 and To Know and Love God: Method for Theology by David K. Clark. Demarest has produced a magnificent soteriological work. It is extremely well organized and meticulously thorough. It is written on a technical level, and it would function quite well as a textbook or supplemental reading for seminary studies in soteriology.
Each chapter is composed of four parts: (1) introductory considerations, which poses important questions to be addressed, (2) historical interpretations, which outlines the primary positions held throughout church history, (3) exposition of the biblical data, which surveys the OT and NT teaching, and (4) a section on the practical implications, which shows how each doctrine should influence the Christian’s daily life. The book is divided into six main sections reflecting a logical ordo salutis: (1) the plan of salvation, (2) the provision of salvation, (3) the application of salvation—subjective elements, (4) the application of salvation—objective elements, (5) the progress of salvation, and (6) the perfecting of salvation. In these sections he deals with (1) introductory matters, (2) grace and depravity, (3) election, (4) the atonement, (5) calling, (6) conversion, (7) regeneration, (8) union with Christ, (9) justification, (10) sanctification, (11) preservation and perseverance, and (12) glorification.
God’s plan of salvation began in eternity with election. This has been one of the most disputed doctrines in the history of the church. Some aver that election is only to service, not to salvation. Those who have acknowledged election to salvation have debated the basis of God’s choice. Some have suggested a corporate election, denying that God has chosen any specific individuals. Historic Arminians have argued for an individual election to salvation based on God’s prescience of human choices (99). Many modern day Arminians hold to a corporate, non-individual election (104). Most of the Reformers held to a double unconditional predestination of the elect to life and the reprobate to damnation (107). This view sees God as very active in selecting men to perdition. In recent days some, following Barth, have suggested a universal election (111). The last position is an unconditional election along with a conditional reprobation (113). From the biblical data it becomes clear that election is both to service and salvation, both corporate and individual—the former being predominant in the OT and the latter being more developed in the NT. An unconditional election of individuals as part of the corporate whole seems to be the best view that accords with all the Scriptural teaching. There does seem to be asymmetry between election and reprobation (135). Election is an immensely practical doctrine; it brings joy and confident to the believer (138), encouragement to preach and pray (139), and incentive to be holy (141).
The cross is the central focus of soteriology and of the Bible as a whole. How man in his sinfulness and God in His holiness can be brought into harmonious relations is the “fundamental issue of human existence” (148). The only resolution is to be found in the cross of Christ. Throughout history there have been many different positions on the nature of the atonement. The view held by many early Fathers was the ransom theory (149). Anselm is a well-known proponent of the satisfaction theory (151). Abelard defended a subjective view of the atonement in which Christ was merely a “great teacher and example” (153). Grotius, along with many Arminians, regarded the atonement as God’s act of upholding “the moral governance of the universe” (154). Consistent with Barth’s view of election is his view of the atonement—that of universal reconciliation (157). The best view, however, is the penal substitution theory defended by most Reformed thinkers. Christ lived and died in the place of sinners, earning for them a righteousness that they could not earn and bearing for them the guilt that they had to pay. God actually punished Christ as a substitute for sinners (158–59). Although not a necessary consequence, consistent Arminians who hold to an unlimited atonement have rejected the notion of a substitutionary atonement in exchange for the governmental theory. Substitutionary atonement most naturally results in a limited atonemen—at least that is the argument of both Calvinists and Arminians. However, Demarest ends up essentially arguing for a position very similar to Amyraut (165–66).
God’s preservation of believers by means of their perseverance is the natural connection between initial salvation and final salvation (431). At the heart of this is the relationship between faith and continuance in good works and the possibility of apostasy. This issue has been debated nearly as much as the controversy over election. Roman Catholics, Arminians, and many Lutherans believe in the possibility of a genuinely converted individual losing his salvation. But the Reformed faith has always argued for the impossibility of a truly regenerate individual totally or finally falling from grace (439).
This work is an extremely helpful and valuable study. The well-developed organization coupled with the thorough and systematic presentation of material provides for an excellent analysis of the doctrines of salvation. Most will find the overview of the various positions held throughout the history of the church to be of great value. The emphasis on exegesis and biblical theology is also a great asset of the book. It provides the reader not just with conclusions, but with the underlying process of arriving there. While not everyone will agree with all the conclusions of the author, his fair-minded analysis will likely gain the reader’s respect. The section closing each chapter showing the practical value of the doctrine under consideration is a nice touch for what can sometimes become an academic exercise disconnected from everyday Christian experience. I heartily recommend this book.