We are quickly approaching the 500-year anniversary of the event that people often date the Reformation back to — Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 thesis to the doors of Wittenberg. As we approach this anniversary, there are certain to be many books and articles written on the importance of and reflections about the Reformation and its impact on our theology today. And rightfully so.
A New Series
One such books comes to us as the fifth, and final volume, in a series from Zondervan. The series is called “The 5 Solas Series: What the Reformers Taught … and Why It Still Matters.” I reviewed the four previous volumes in this series here, here, here, and here
Now, allow me to introduce to you the fifth and final volume in the series, written by WTS professor and pastor, Carl Trueman — Grace Alone: Salvation As A Gift of God. In the introduction to this volume, Trueman sums up the primacy of grace in the Christian’s life and his hope for this book:
“Grace is the heart of the Christian gospel. It is a doctrine that touches the very depths of human existence because it not only reveals to us the very heart of God but draws us back into that precious communion with him that was so tragically lost at the fall. It is my hope that this little book will help guide you not only into a better doctrinal understanding of the issue but also give you a more glorious vision of the God whom you worship” (19).
The Necessity of Clarity
Grace is one of those things that everyone is willing and eager to talk about, but often with very different definitions and understandings. As long as we keep the concept of grace in the abstract, almost all people and all religions will jump on board. However, when we define grace biblically — God’s favor shown to us through the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Jesus on our behalf — now that’s a different story.
In this book, Carl Trueman does anything but keep the concept of grace in the abstract. In fact, he says in the introduction: “To talk about grace is to talk about Christ” (18). Biblically and theologically defined and understood, you cannot have one without the other.
The Reformers understood this, and therefore flew the banner of sola gratia (by grace alone) as one of their five solas of the Reformation. The truth that salvation comes to us by grace alone was no small matter to the Reformers 500 years ago, and it should be no small matter to us today.
In order to help us better understand what the Reformers taught by sola gratia, and why that matters for us today, Carl Trueman has written this new book, which is composed of two parts.
In the first part, he looks at the biblical understanding of grace, in the Old and New Testaments, followed by a brief look at the historical development of understanding grace from Augustine through the Reformation. After giving a brief biblical theology of grace in chapter 1, the next two chapters focus on Augustine’s understanding of grace, including his debates with Pelagius. In chapter 4, we are introduced to “an unexpected ally” in Thomas Aquinas, demonstrating that a robustly biblical understanding of grace was alive and well even in the middle ages. The final two chapters of this first part look at how two of the most influential Reformers — Luther and Calvin — understood grace.
Regarding the pervasiveness of the word and concept of grace in Scripture, Trueman notes:
“No theology that credibly claims to be biblical can avoid addressing it. From the fall of Adam and Eve and God’s decision to spare them from immediate destruction, the story of God’s relationship to human beings is the story of grace. It relates the historical outworking of his unmerited favor toward humanity as he restrains evil and actively works to save his people from consequences of their sinful rebellion” (48).
In the second part of the book, Trueman looks at the practical implications of a Reformation understanding of grace. In chapter 7, he looks at the church itself as a means of grace towards us. Then, in chapter 8 he deals with God’s Word preached as a means of grace to His people, and in chapter 9 he looks at the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper as another means of grace. Finally, in chapter 10, he explains why prayer should also be considered a means of grace. Trueman says: “Prayer, like the church, is not something that is first of all ‘done’ by us. It is done by God and given to us as a means of realizing God’s purposes in our lives” (234).
For some readers, the inclusion of these final 4 chapters seems a bit odd in a book focusing on the Reformation understanding of grace. Trueman comments:
“The reader might be surprised to find the culmination of this volume to be chapters on the church, on preaching, on the sacraments, and on prayer. But this makes perfect sense, for these are the means by which God acts in the here and now in grace toward us, and these are things in and through which we encounter God’s grace and by which God’s grace should seize hold of us. To think of grace is not to think of the theological equivalent of a quadratic equation or a chemical formula. To think of grace is to be personally confronted with God, and thus no account of grace can omit discussion of the place, ways, and means of that confrontation” (157).
This series by Zondervan has been an excellent look at the Reformation’s understanding of the five solas and why those are still important for us as believers today. And Carl Trueman’s volume ending the series on grace is an excellent capstone to this important series. In this volume, as in the other four, you will walk away with a much more thorough biblical, systematic, and historic understanding of the doctrine of grace and its vital important to the local church. I am thankful for this volume, and this series, and would wholeheartedly encourage you to buy a copy for yourself.
In accordance with FTC regulations, I would like to thank Zondervan publishers for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.