The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation
Wheaton: Crossway, 1996
Reviewed by Michael J. Vlach
With his book, The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation, Bruce Demarest, Professor of Theology at Denver Seminary, attempts to give a comprehensive summary of the doctrine of salvation from an evangelical Christian standpoint. This work is part of the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series that is published by Crossway Books and edited by John S. Feinberg.
In this review/summary of Demarest’s book, we will focus on the following: (1) Demarest’s purpose in writing the book; (2) the format of the book; (3) methodology of the book; (4) key issues and major figures that Demarest mentions; (5) key positions that Demarest promotes; (6) strengths of the work; and (7) other points worth noting.
Purpose of Book
Demarest says he wrote The Cross and Salvation because he “sensed the need for a clear and comprehensive treatment of the doctrines of the cross and salvation from sin” (xix). His desire was to make plain and relevant God’s glorious plan of salvation (xix). Demarest acknowledges that many volumes on soteriology have already been offered, but he also believes that “the Gospel needs to be redirected in fresh and compelling ways to each generation” (xx). The Cross and Salvation is his attempt at a fresh explanation and application of the doctrine of soteriology to this present generation.
Format Demarest’s book has twelve chapters that fall into six parts. Part 1 is called “The Plan of Salvation” and has three chapters—“Introduction to the Doctrine of Salvation” (ch. 1), “The Doctrine of Grace” (ch. 2), and “The Doctrine of Election” (ch. 3). Part 2 is “The Provision of Salvation” and is comprised of one chapter—“The Doctrine of the Atonement” (ch. 4). Part 3 is “The Application of Salvation” and is comprised of three chapters—“The Doctrine of Divine Calling” (ch. 5), “The Doctrine of Conversion” (ch. 6), and “The Doctrine of Regeneration” (ch. 7). Part 4 has two chapters—“The Doctrine of Union With Christ” (ch. 8), and “The Doctrine of Justification” (ch. 9). Part 5 is “The Progress of Salvation” and has two chapters—“The Doctrine of Sanctification” (ch. 10), and “The Doctrine of Preservation and Perseverance” (ch. 11). Part 6, “The Perfecting of Salvation,” has one chapter—“The Doctrine of Glorification” (ch. 12). Each chapter also has a key scriptural statement and reference. For example, chapter 7, the section on Regeneration, has the title “Unless a Man is Born Again,” a verse based on John 3:3.
Except for the introduction (chap. 1) and the conclusion (chap. 12), the ten chapters that comprise the heart of the book follow a common format. Each chapter has four sections. The first titled “Introductory Concerns” is an attempt to define the topic or problem at hand and identify the most important issues that need to be addressed. This is usually the shortest section of each chapter and often includes several questions that stimulate the reader to contemplate the specific soteriological issue at hand.
The second section is “Historical Interpretations.” This section examines how a particular soteriological issue has been understood by different theological traditions throughout church history. The primary theological traditions include: (1) Roman Catholicism; (2) theological liberalism; (3) liberation theology; (4) Barthian neoorthodoxy; (5) Arminianism; (6) Pelagianism; and (7) reformed theology. Other groups mentioned include existentialists, remonstrants, mystics, Pentecostals, hyper-Calvinists, covenantal reformed, Anglicans, Lutherans, and others. These categories do not always stand alone in Demarest’s book. For example, Pelagians and liberals are put together in the category of “Grace” (50). Roman Catholics and Lutherans are put together on the issue of “Sacramental Union” (317).
The third section of each chapter is “Exposition.” It is here that Demarest attempts to “interpret the data of biblical revelation and construct a statement of the doctrine that is factually accurate and rationally coherent” (xx). In short, Demarest offers scriptural support for what he believes to be the correct view concerning the topic at hand. These discussions are concise and well-reasoned. The survey-like nature of the book, though, does not allow for detailed discussion of issues. Nor does it allow for Demarest to interact with other views or arguments against his positions.
The fourth section is “Practical Implications.” Here Demarest attempts to show the reader how the discussed theological topics relate in a practical way to the believer’s life. Practical application is often missing in theological discussions. Its presence here is welcomed.
As one works through Demarest’s book his methodology becomes clear. In this systematic survey of soteriology, Demarest places heavy emphasis on historical theology. In fact, he usually presents several pages of historical information before he actually begins to deal directly with biblical texts. As a result the book is basically an equal combination between historical and biblical theology. In his historical sections, Demarest usually presents the views he disagrees with first and then ends up with the view that he agrees with, which is usually the reformed view.
Major Issues and Key Figures
The major issues in The Cross and Salvation are easy to identify. As the chapter titles indicate, these issues are grace, election, atonement, calling, conversion, regeneration, union with Christ, justification, sanctification, preservation and perseverance, and glorification. Perhaps because of their controversial nature, the two largest chapters are the ones on election and the atonement. Taking a moderate reformed view, Demarest argues for a single election to life and an atonement that is universal in scope although limited to the elect in application. He also tackles the issue of Lordship salvation, siding with the Reformed tradition and John MacArthur that acceptance of Christ’s lordship is part of saving faith. In addition to specific issues mentioned above, Demarest also addresses the ordo salutis of the various theological traditions.
The key figures in The Cross and Salvation become most apparent in the second section of each chapter called “Historical Interpretations.” Certain key figures from the early church appear often. Pelagius, who is viewed as the founder of the Pelagian view, promoted the idea that every person is born essentially good, free from the taint of inherited sin. Pelagius also held that man’s will is absolutely free. Also mentioned frequently is Augustine who argues the opposite views of Pelagius. For Augustine, all men are born with inherited sin and are in need of God’s intervention and grace in order to be saved. It should be noted, though, that Augustine does not always fit into one theological category in Demarest’s book. For instance, Augustine is mentioned as being in the “Infusion of Righteousness” camp with the Roman Catholics (350). Yet, he is placed with the reformed tradition when it comes to belief in “A General Call That May Be Resisted and a Special Call Effectual for Salvation” (211). The many references to Augustine in Demarest’s book rightfully show the extraordinary impact of Augustine on doctrine throughout church history.
Demarest mentions Karl Rahner, Hans Küng, Richard P. McBrien and the findings of the Second Vatican Council as representatives of modern Catholic views. Thomas Aquinas and the findings of the Council of Trent are used to represent the traditional Catholic views. In the Arminian camp, Demarest often refers to James Arminius, John Wesley, and Charles Finney. Other theologians of the Arminian, Wesleyan, and Holiness traditions are also mentioned. The neoorthodox view is represented by Karl Barth. Modern liberalism is associated with men such as Albrecht Ritschl, Lyman Abbott, Walter Rauschenbusch and Adolf von Harnack. Process theologians are also included in the category of liberalism. Gustavo Gutierrez, Leonardo Boff (a Brazilian priest), and James Cone represent liberation theology. In the area of existentialists, Demarest refers to Soren Kierkegaard, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich. For the reformed/evangelical view, Demarest often mentions Martin Luther and John Calvin, C. H. Spurgeon, A. H. Strong, and J. I. Packer. The Westminster Confession of 1647 is also mentioned several times in regard to the reformed tradition.
At times, Demarest points out differences between Luther and Calvin as well as differences between Lutherans and Reformed theologians. For example, Demarest points out that Luther and Calvin agreed on double predestination, yet the two men disagreed on the issue of baptismal regeneration. Luther and Lutheranism, thus, are put into the “Baptismal Regeneration” camp while Calvin and covenant reformed theologians are placed in the “Presumptive and Promissory Regeneration” position.
Key positions of Demarest
Since The Cross and Salvation is partly an attempt to present a biblical view of key soteriological positions, Demarest states what he believes to be the correct view on certain issues. These include:
- Saving grace is found only in Christianity not in the non-Christian religions.
- There is a single unconditional election to life.
- By divine intention, the atonement, associated with Christ’s death, is universal in scope although limited to the elect in its application.
- The Holy Spirit’s effectual call always results in salvation.
- Repentance is part of saving faith.
- For conversion to be authentic a person must submit to Christ’s lordship.
- Water baptism does not lead to regeneration.
- Old Testament believers were saved but not regenerated.
- Those who die before conscious sin may have the universal atonement of Christ applied to them.
- The means of justification is faith alone.
- Sanctification is gradual and progressive rather than sudden or instantaneous.
- Sinless perfection is this life is not possible.
- Some aspects of the Mosaic Law for today have been dropped; others have been kept while some have been transformed.
- True believers will persevere and not fall away.
- Apostasy is an indicator that one was never saved.
- The believer will experience full glorification at the return of Jesus Christ
- As mentioned, most of these positions are in line with a moderate reformed viewpoint.
Strengths of Demarest’s book
In this reviewer’s opinion, Demarest’s book, The Cross and Salvation, is an excellent work. First, it is a good summary of the key historical and biblical issues relating to soteriology. Because of the nature of the work, it is not possible for Demarest to go into great detail on specific issues but he does appear to touch on most of the key issues and figures. Second, the structure of the work is easy to follow. The four sections to each chapter—introductory matters, historical issues, biblical issues, and practical issues—allow the reader to easily follow the work. Third, Demarest appears to be fair and objective in his analysis of positions that he personally does not agree with. This gives him more credibility as he promotes his own views on matters. Fourth, and most importantly, Demarest’s views appear to be solid and biblically based.
The strengths of Demarest’s work far outweigh the negatives. Two other points, though, are worth noting. First, Demarest’s methodology of placing historical information before biblical discussion may be questioned by some. Some may wonder if he is giving undue importance to historical matters when the biblical data should be the priority. This reviewer, though, sees Demarest’s chronology as effective. Putting forth the different views on an issue and then funneling down to the correct view has been an accepted way of explaining matters. It appears to work here as well.
The near equal space given to historical and biblical matters, though, may leave the reader wondering if this is a systematic theology or a historical theology. Perhaps an explanation in the introduction concerning methodology would have been helpful to the reader. It may have also helped if Demarest would have spent a little less time on historical issues, devoting more space to discussion of key biblical texts.
Second in a work that is mostly fair and objective, Demarest takes appears to take a surprising slap at Jerry Falwell on the issue of God’s love for people on page 124. Whether Demarest is correct or not about Falwell’s view, his criticism of Falwell appears to come from nowhere. There is no context, not even a footnote for this criticism.
The Cross and Salvation by Demarest is a book worthy of recommendation. It is biblical, well-crafted, and does address contemporary issues effectively. This book will be beneficial to college students, seminary students, and educated laymen looking for a work beyond discussions of soteriology in most one-volume systematic theologies.
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