God the Redeemer

Written by James Montgomery Boice Reviewed By Wayne Grudem

This is the second volume in Dr Boice’s projected four-volume introduction to Christian doctrine for laymen. Like the first volume, it is a masterful exposition of several great doctrines of the Christian faith, remarkable both for its clarity of presentation and for its directness of personal application.

This volume treats the doctrines of the fall of the human race (three chapters), law and grace (five chapters, including an excellent exposition of the meaning of the Ten Commandments for Christians today), the person of Christ (three chapters), and the work of Christ (seven chapters). Boice is unashamed to speak of doctrinal questions; in fact, he decries the fact that we ‘live in a shallow age in which doctrine is little appreciated and in which man rather than God becomes the chief measure of reality’. That, he says, ‘leads to instability and folly’. By contrast, ‘Strength comes when Christian people again delve into the Scriptures’ (p. 10), and that he does repeatedly to support his treatment of each point of doctrine.

Yet Boice manages to avoid most of the shortcomings people might expect from a book on doctrine. Readers will not find the book too abstract; rather, they may squirm in their chairs when Boice reminds them, ‘We steal from an employer when we do not give him the best work of which we are capable or when we over extend our coffee breaks or leave work early,’ and, ‘We steal from our employees if their work environment harms their health or if we do not pay them enough to maintain a healthy, adequate standard of living … we steal when we borrow but do not repay a loan on time or at all’ (p. 86).

Neither is the book dull. It is filled with personal examples, such as the moving description of the death of Dwight L. Moody as an illustration of the victory which is ours through Christ’s resurrection (pp. 229–230).

Nor is the book vague or timid. Boice does not hide from difficult objections or dodge sensitive issues with confusing, paradoxical statements. He clearly explains his positions and regularly shows how they differ from other commonly held views. He defends historic Protestant (Reformed) orthodoxy at virtually every point, arguing, for example, that ‘God holds the entire race to be guilty because of Adam’s transgression’ (p. 35), and siding with Augustine, Luther and Calvin against Pelagius and Erasmus on the bondage of the will (pp. 42–51), while nevertheless admitting, ‘Today probably the majority of Christians from all denominations and many theological traditions are Pelagian, though they would not recognize their beliefs by that word’ (p. 45). He also defends the propitiatory nature of the atonement (pp. 183–194), the necessity of salvation by grace through faith in Christ in the Old Testament as well as the New (pp. 107–117), and the continuing relevance of the Ten Commandments for New Covenant Christians (pp. 58–91).

Boice is at his best when defending doctrines which (sadly) many evangelicals will find unfamiliar. He sees in the imputation of Adam’s sin an explanation of how God could allow Christ to earn our salvation (pp. 38–39), and uses the Scriptural teaching on the bondage of the will to point us to the totally unmerited gift of salvation in Christ (p. 51). When he interviews Abraham, Jacob, David and Isaiah concerning the nature of their faith in Christ (pp. 116–117), no reader will remain far from tears of wonder and joy at the beauty of God’s plan of salvation.

The persuasiveness of this volume lies not in its clarity of expression or appropriateness of application, however. Rather, its persuasiveness comes appropriately from its regular appeal to Scripture as the source of all doctrinal truth. Chapter 9, ‘The Deity of Christ,’ is particularly excellent in this regard, containing both extensive citation and skillful exposition of many Scripture passages.

My criticisms of the book are minor ones. At a few points readers may wish for a fuller explanation of relevant Bible passages, such as in the section about Sunday on pages 74–78 (aren’t Col. 2:16 and Heb. 3–4 relevant?), or the section on the imputation of Adam’s guilt on page 35 (doesn’t Rom. 5:12–21 require more exposition for the ordinary reader?). And there were at least three doctrines which Boice treated only incidentally if at all: the ultimate origin of sin (see pp. 36–37), the relationship between the human and divine natures in the one person of Christ, and the extent of the atonement (pp. 217–218 seem to advocate particular redemption, but not too clearly). I do not say these are easy doctrines, but Boice has done such an admirable job on other difficult doctrines that I would have liked to watch him tackle these as well.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent volume. I suspect and hope that it will be used by thousands of Christians as a means of growing toward maturity in understanding ‘the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3).

Wayne Grudem

Wayne Grudem is research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona.