Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? by James M. Boice

Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace: Discovering the Doctrines that Shook the World
Author: James Montgomery Boice
Publisher: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009.
ISBN: 9781433509629

Thanks to Crossway for this review copy.

This book calls the evangelical churches to return to its origins; that is, a return to the doctrines of the five solas: scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and glory to God alone. Author, James M. Boice, who was senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia for 30 years brings the reader a well-thought through analysis of the church’s need to return to the doctrines that made the church what it was.

His critique of the current state of the evangelical church can be sharp but it is warranted, given the state of the church. This book is like a prophetic cry calling the evangelical church to not be conformed to the pattern of this age but to be transformed by a renewal. Boice claims that evangelical churches have taken the misguided path of humanism, relativism, materialism, pragmatism, and mindlessness.

I am not sure if the entire evangelical church is in the sad state that Boice has described but I do agree with his assessment that describes parts of the evangelical church. His claims against the evangelical church is that it no longer believes the bible is adequate to meet the challenges of today.

His example is our need to develop lobby groups and elect Christian legislators to fulfill our need for power politics and money. In this sense, the evangelical church has also become like secular society and has followed the path of Christians who herald from established mainline churches. I feel that a more accurate diagnosis is that evangelicals have sought political power and money to effect more influence on the world around us. Why? Is it for the sake of power and money? No, I do not think so but I think this need arises from the feeling that evangelicals have not been effective in changing the world for Christ. Does this mean that we are in the beginning stages of the coming evangelical crisis? Not necessarily. Much of the church during the founding of the colonial nation had many people of Christian faith in political office. In fact, that was the norm. Personally, I think this is a good thing–even for today.

Contrary to Boice, I do not think there is anything wrong with this because, as Christians, we are called to be salt and light in a dark world. I agree with Boice in that we have put our trust and hope in power, wealth and influence. The emptiness in politics, and even the idolatry of religion and ecclesiastical power, are both equally temporary and fleeting when it is understood from a perspective in which we are depraved and separated from God. Christian leaders in every vocation are prone to falling into the trap of human sinfulness, and yes, including our seemingly faithful pastors, deacons, and church leaders.

Do we need faithful legislators, doctors, lawyers, teachers, truck drivers and local business owners? Yes, we do. My argument is that we make the mistake of putting our faith, trust and hope in them. Our own work in this world is open to corruption and human sinfulness. Boice says that:

The Good News is that sin has been dealt with, that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, and that all who believe in him can look forward confidently to heaven. Any ‘gospel’ that talks merely about the Christ-event, meaning the Incarnation without the Atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without showing that love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of his Son on the Cross, is a false gospel. The only true gospel is the gospel of the ‘one mediator’ who gave himself for us (1 Tim. 2:5,6). If our churches are not preaching this gospel, they are not preaching the gospel at all, and if they are not preaching the gospel, they are not true churches . Evangelicalism desperately needs to rediscover its roots and recover its essential biblical bearing at this point.” (p.105).

We must become more self-aware of our misplaced trust in our humanistic tendencies, which get played out in our self-esteem gospel, the health and wealth gospel, felt-need sermons or entertainment or ‘signs and wonders’. Moreover, our misguided humanism apart from God has led us to follow the wisdom, agendas, method and theology prevalent in our secular age. We have become humanistic, relativistic, and pragmatic, materialistic and this very visible in the way we do church. The author of this book says we see it in our church growth and building programs, and in our efforts toward defeating world hunger, racism, and ecology. This really hurts but I think it’s good prophetic medicine for a church that is sick.

Christ calls the church to repent and return to the Cross of Christ (or theology of the Cross). As the Holy Spirit of God opens our eyes, we may begin to see the offense of the cross and return to an understanding of why we need the cross. This is true Christianity, and without it, we are not being the true church. The author has challenged me to be true to Christ’s calling. This book will challenge you to think more deeply about one’s theology but the author has said more than what I have written here. It will challenge you to become more aware of our need for Christ and call you to the solas of the Reformation: sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), sola gratia (“grace alone”), sola fide (“faith alone”), solus Christus (“Christ alone”), and soli Deo Gloria (“glory to God alone”). May all glory be to God alone.

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