Contributors: Robert N. Wilkin, Thomas R. Schreiner, James D. G. Dunn, and Michael P. Barber. Alan P. Stanley, general editor. Stanley N. Gundry, Counterpoints series editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. 234 pages.
What will be the basis of my entrance into heaven when I stand before Jesus on judgment day? What role will my works play? Do I have to stay faithful to the end? How assured of my salvation can I be if I don’t know if I’ll persevere to the end?
This book is a must read for anyone who wants to be abreast of the present debate over works, faith, and assurance of salvation. It reflects the developments over the past twenty years of the Lordship/Free Grace Salvation debate which began between Charles Hodge and Lewis Sperry Chafer in the 1920’s and continued between John MacArthur and Zane Hodges (now deceased) in recent years. Michael Barber’s essay is especially helpful for Protestants who want to understand the Catholic view on the relationship between faith and works as they relate to justification and eternal life.
Wilkin (Free Grace view) represents the view that no works will determine one’s destiny in eternity, but rather one’s rewards. Schreiner (Reformed Calvinist) argues that works are a necessary fruit of faith, which if absent, proves faith was not present, and so will determine one’s eternal destiny at the final judgment. Dunn (Arminian) considers works necessary for final justification, seeing Paul through the lens of first century Judaism’s covenant nomism (the new perspective on Paul as promoted by N. T. Wright). Barber explains the Catholic view that salvation is by faith in Christ who empowers the believer to do works that merit salvation.
The book was especially helpful for understanding the issues in the debate and the challenge before evangelicalism with regard to the gospel of salvation. Though all four views agree that initial justification is by grace through faith alone—Ephesians 2:8-9 was quoted by all—they are very different understandings of the relationship of works following initial justification to final salvation, whether one “goes to heaven” or not.
All four contributors tended toward a dogmatic hermeneutic in that they used verses, sometimes out of context, to define or defend their position. They all failed to address key passages that weakened their arguments. This has characterized much of theological debate in the past centuries and so is not surprising, not just on this topic, but on others a well. I was disappointed in both Wilkins and Schreiner in that both tended to force passages through their theological grids. Still, they are helpfully clear about the differences between their views. Additionally, in their defense, space was limited and all four clearly defined their views, both in their contributions and their responses to the other contributors.
It should be noted that the three views that require good works to be present for one to receive eternal life at the final judgment are Amillennial views with a single judgment, the Great White Throne, where everyone must appear. Wilkin alone has two judgments, one for the Saints at the Bema Seat of Christ prior to His millennial reign and one for unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment following the Millennial Kingdom of Christ.