I’ve come across one of those rare books that would be of great benefit to anybody. In No Condemnation, Dr. Michael Eaton studies “the biblical, theological, and historical dimensions of assurance in the life of a Christian believer. He challenges both traditional Arminian and Calvinist views, in which salvation and good works are too tightly bound together, by drawing a clear distinction between salvation and reward.” (From backcover). Eaton argues that the quest for assurance of salvation is impossible in the excessive introspection of traditional Calvinism and in the fear for loss of salvation in Arminianism. It must be found by faith alone in the Christ who died for you personally, apart from our works, apart from the Law of Moses.
I met Dr. Eaton at the Free Grace Alliance conference in Dallas (which I wrote about previously). I was impressed with him as a person, preacher, theologian, and all-around authentically-living Christian. He is very humble in person but a powerful preacher and speaker at the pulpit. His style is to combine Truth-proclamation with obvious joy and passion, a characteristic I’ve always liked in preachers (Similar to the style of John Piper and Chuck Swindoll, versus more reserved like Haddon Robbinson or aggressive like John MacArthur). Dr. Eaton is from the UK but has pastored and remains heavily involved with the Chrisco Fellowship of Churches in Kenya. Eaton is not only a pastor but a heavy theologian and prolific author.
- Exegesis of Scripture. What I loved most about this book is its focus on the biblical text. I did not agree with all of Eaton’s conclusions and interpretations, but his use of Scripture is far more than most other popular Christian books, even books I’ve read by proponents of strong exegesis (Al Mohler comes to mind. His books look to Scripture, but not near the extent Eaton does here). Usually the only books you see like this are actual commentaries. Eaton goes through the entire Epistle to Galatians, Gospel of Matthew, and Epistle to Hebrews, selected portions of Genesis, John and Romans and many other passages.
- Honesty. Eaton became a Christian as a teenager, was discipled in the Calvinist/English Reformed tradition, and taught their doctrine of assurance based on works and a Limited Atonement (among other things). From pastoral experience and study of Scripture on his own, he went from a Limited Atonement to Unlimited Atonement position, and changed his mind to say that assurance is based on Christ’s work and promise, not works. (He shares the story of his shift in an video interview HERE). His view of assurance and the atonement is very common in dispensationalist faith traditions, but Eaton is not a dispsenationalist, or even a pre-millennialist (as far as I understand). He broke rank with his tradition to stand alone in what the text taught in keeping with his conscience. He is still a Reformed Calvinist (he calls his view “Encouraging Calvinism” versus “Developed Calvinism” ), but has modified his theology by studying Scripture on his own.
- The section answering N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul” theology was the best critique I’ve seen of Wright in so few words. I have not seen Piper or Carson’s own superb critique’s handle Wright’s main problems so succinctly as Eaton. Eaton’s angle of attack using both Scripture and historical background literature is devastating to Wright’s view. The first edition did not have this, but I’m very glad it is included in the revised and expanded edition I have. For those of you familiar with the NPP, this alone is worth the price of the book.
- Background and research. He interacts well with a wide variety of commentators and theologians old and new, represents other viewpoints fairly and completely, works through the history and development of given ideas, and has significant historical background.
- Good content on the concepts of oath, covenant, and Torah in the Old Testament text and times. Much of this was new ground for me and I learned valuable things through this study. I do not totally buy his conclusions on God’s oaths. But he makes a compelling and well-argued case that the Torah was a legal document for Israel more than a personal, moral one, and is now totally abrogated with the coming of Christ, though the whole moral character of the law is “fulfilled accidently” — and then some — through the working out of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life.
- Systematic and logical order. If Eaton has several points or conclusions to make, he numbers them so! (See examples in quotes below). This makes his book so much easier to follow and enable me to clearly agree/disagree with what he’s saying.
- While Eaton holds to the inspiration of Scripture, his view on authorship is not as conservative. He talks of “Paul’s editor” and the like. I myself do not see how a letter claiming to be written by Paul can really be someone else and still be the inspired, infallible word of God. Eaton’s understanding is indeed a common view among Christians, but I found it unnecessary to see parentheses and phrases with “editor” in them.
- Lack of depth on a certain passages. I understand the book only has so much space, but a few more pages on kingdom entrance/inheritance and gehenna would have been helpful. He suggests gehenna is not hell but the “fire” mentioned in 1Corinthins 3.15 burning up our works. He made some inconclusive statements on this that left me confused. Whether gehenna means hell or something else has a huge effect on how you interpret the Gospels, so I would have liked more on this.
… and not much else! This is among the best books I have ever read. He offers something very near the “Free Grace” view of salvation, assurance, and reward, and argues it with a compelling and certain force. I learned much from this book, and Eaton really gave me a joy and gratitude toward God, His Son and His grace. Read it!
On Galatians: “What are Paul’s governing principles here? (i) Faith in Jesus is adequate for the living of the Christian life without submission to Mosaism. (ii) Turning to the the law is really a form of panic. Abraham was momentarily fearful that merely trusting the promise concerning the seed, the seed would not come. Something similar happens when one turns to the law. It means turning away from a simple trust in Jesus to self-justification and self-sanctification by the flesh. (iii) To turn to the law can only produce bondage…” (170)
“The Spirit’s leading will always be along the pathway of love. His leading will not contradict the moral aspects of the Torah although it will go beyond them.” (176).
“We can profit from what Wright says positively (that justification needs presentation in light of wider issues, cosmic salvation, social relationships and the like) but in my view he must be repudiated on what he denies.” (242).
“In the New Testament, assurance of salvation is not a sign nor a duty, but a fact!” (256).
“Eternal life is more than justification-forgiveness. It is the experience of life, the ‘life of the age to come’, which is known even in this world.” (286).
“The ground of salvation is at one and the same time the ground for assurance. Faith is an assurance about Jesus. Its immediate consequence ought to be an assurance about oneself. To counsel the doubter will involve no more than drawing out what is implicit in their assurance concerning Jesus.” (310).
“We must not fear rewards – as if they will lead us back into justification by works. It is by mercy alone that God brings his people to salvation, but he asks for works of gratitude and he encourages us by the knowledge that they will be rewarded. . . they are largely a matter of receiving honour from Jesus, and being prepared to serve him yet more. Can it ever be wrong to want Jesus’ ‘Well done!’?” (326).
“I doubt however whether it is possible to practically hold the viewthat it both is and is not possible for the Christian to lose salvation. In practice the fear that it is possible will override the conviction that it is not.” (375).
“What paradoxes! Amazing grace and profound challenge; incredible assurance yet awe-inspiring responsibility; freedom to be myself yet the knowledge that Jesus achieves it all in me. Here is a theology that motivates but does not discourage – a theology of encouragement. But is this not the gospel? I believe it is.” (393).
Last night I went to an event at SDSU called “Islam 101” by a local Muslim leader and thinker. I thought it would be educational and maybe I could get a chance to talk about Christ with someone there, so I went. I guess a few other Christians had the same idea. Except not so much the educational part, and not talking about Christ like Christ would.
The lecturer was certainly biased toward Islam (big surprise right?), and in the process misrepresented several things about Christianity in the comparison. A few Christians in the audience interrupted him in the middle of his speech to correct it, ending up in a lot of shouting and arguments spurting up on and off throughout the lecture. In the end, the Christians looked like ignorant, rude wackos; the Muslim scholar looked like a kind, besieged genius.
I’m not judging the hearts of these Christians. But that’s how it looked. I could go on about the errors the lecturer made (he made many), but that’s expected. I don’t expect glaring behavioral error to come from followers of Christ.
How does this happen? That the message of love is said without love? That the most rational and logical message of all religions is made to look ridiculous in the mouths of its very representatives? How can representatives of the best message in the world make it look like the worst? I was very discouraged by the whole episode. I took away a few lessons though:
1. Christians must let the message of Christ permeate them with all the love that it is. God loved wretched people enough to die for them. For us. If we love God, turning all our affections on Him, then we must love others. And sorry but loving someone isn’t shouting at them, not listening, and trying to win an argument. The best way to love someone is to share Christ, but to do so in a way that isn’t Christ-like defeats the purpose.
2. We need to learn how to have wisdom in evangelism. Jesus said, “Be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mat. 1016). Yes people must know, but there is appropriate times, places, and ways. You don’t go into Wal-Mart and stand on a shopping cart shouting the Gospel even if they don’t know Jesus, and you don’t rudely interrupt a lecturer telling him he’s wrong, even if he is. In wisdom, you can look for a truly opportune time; as in this case, for the Q & A at the end, at least, or come up with another lecture event to address the issue.
3. Ignorance of Christianity. The way they defended the Bible was bizzare. The lecturer said that Lot was a prophet yet slept with his daughters, while in Islam, prophets are always moral. They answered by saying “Lot wasn’t a prophet” and emphasized that (which may be true, the Bible never calls Lot a prophet). But, honestly there were other prophets and men of God in the Bible who did mess up. It’s more forthright to admit it and say the Bible is simply honest with people’s failures; it doesn’t condone evil, but reports it honestly as an example; it also often includes God’s judgment and their repentance.
4. Ignorance of other faiths. They also made some attacks on the Quran and Islam that were easily answered by the speaker. They were left with a “just so” argument as the speaker went into Arabic and linguistics. I don’t know who’s right, but we have got to be better informed than that if we want to dispute with a Muslim expert over his own religion. Is attacking a religion even the way to get anything done? Paul didn’t go attacking polytheism in Acts 17, but used to to proclaim the excellencies and greatness of Christ. I wish more Christians took their faith seriously enough to study it. Many have never read the entire Bible, much less memorize it as many Muslims have for the Quran.
But ultimately grace sums it all up. If Christians cannot remain gracious when speaking of God’s grace, it turns into hypocrisy.
“Let your speech always be graciousness, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” – Colossians 4.6
I left for Dallas (Texas) Saturday night, the second of October and returned Saturday morning, October 9th. I took a greyhound bus line there and back, both trips taking two nights and a day each. That in itself was an experience! I was hoping to only take the bus there and just find a ride back, but couldn’t find anyone at the conference and hitch-hiking wasn’t really working and I began to doubt I would get back to San Diego on time if I kept it up.
There are a lot of interesting people who take buses. Good conversations. Bad ones too. From toothless Texans to Las Vegas gangstas to cultist “Jehovah Witnesses.” I also spent a night wandering around downtown Dallas and sleeping at the East city transit station, meeting all kinds of interesting characters. I love people.
But my main purpose in going was to attend the Free Grace Alliance annual conference and visit Dallas Theological Seminary as a grad school prospect. Visiting Dallas Seminary was good. I’m not sure if I’ll end up there or not, but I was impressed! It’s a beautiful campus and a huge library – I’ve never seen a religious library that big. Everyone I met there was extremely nice too.
The conference was fantastic and encouraging. The theme this year was “getting the gospel out.” You can see the speaker schedule on the brochure on Free Grace Alliance website. They should have mp3 available for sale soon, which I highly recommend. Dr. Jody Dillow gave a talk on the Sermon on the Mount, or better called, “discourse on discipleship.” Larry Moyer gave an inspiring message on things to remember in our relationships to nonbelievers – pray properly, live properly, speak properly! Dave Anderson gave an exegesis the first several verses of Hebrews 1 exalting the superiority of Christ and His grace to allow us to have a part with Him. My favorite talk was from Dr. Michael Eaton about assurance. Dr. Eaton is a pastor-scholar from the UK who lives in Kenya and pastors there. He is such a humble man but Spirit-filled and powerful in his preaching. He noted that every great revival of the Christian faith was begun with a revival of assurance and came from the great joy of knowing that you belonged to God and were saved forever.
He had a breakout session on interpretations in Galatians and had some very perceptive remarks on the Law and Grace… by the way, if I’m being a little vague, it’s to encourage you to get the messages yourself! I attended a session by missionaries from India, Africa, and the Philippines who talked about how the message of God’s grace was spreading widely to overcome the harsh legalism that holds so many pastors and churches in bondage in these countries. I came away with more motivation than ever to believe and live and tell of the good news about Jesus Christ – the most important and joyful message in the world!