Review – The Cross and Salvation by Bruce Demarest

The Cross and Salvation by Bruce Demarest is a comprehensive systematic treatment of the doctrine of salvation. Demarest divides his nearly 500-page book into six parts: 1) The Plan of Salvation 2) The Provision of Salvation 3) The Application of Salvation – Subjective Aspects 4) The Application of Salvation – Objective Aspects  5) The Progress of Salvation and 6) The Perfecting of Salvation. Demarest’s first two sections establish man’s need of salvation and the  roles of the Trinity in providing it; the 4 following sections roughly follow an ordo salutis.

All of the chapters follow the same four-part format: a brief introduction, a historical and comparative survey of positions, a positive biblical exposition of Demarest’s preferred view, and an enumeration of practical implications. The historical surveys cover a wide range of positions, including liberation theology, neo-orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, Arminianism, and Reformed theology, among others. Demarest is familiar with a great number of theologians, sprinkling his pages with men from various centuries, continents, and denominations. Despite this admirable breadth of knowledge, Demarest’s categorization of positions is sometimes questionable or confusing. For example, in his chapter on union with Christ, he groups neoplatonists and mystics together. In the same chapter, he lists one position as being held by “Reformed Covenant Theologians” and a different position as being held by “many evangelicals.” Interestingly enough, John Calvin, W.G.T. Shedd, Robert Dabney, and the Westminster Confession (all but Calvin undeniably Reformed and covenantal) appear in this latter section. What inference should the reader draw? Demarest also invokes the Calvin vs. the Calvinists quite frequently, portraying Beza and Turretin as bad guys who replaced Calvin’s warm existential Christianity with a priori logic and “rigid scholasticizing.” This historical viewpoint has received serious criticism in the last few decades from Richard Muller and others. As is often the case with authors rescuing Calvin from Calvinism, Demarest’s Calvin appears to be a 500-year old version of Demarest himself.

Demarest’s biblical expositions display a deep, holistic grasp of Scripture. Parenthetical verse reference account for a significant percentage of the total volume of these sections. Demarest likes to present multiple lines of argumentation, giving one or more proof-texts for each. Because of this, his expositions are multi-faceted, complete, and robust. He answers to some degree almost all the questions that have been asked concerning the issues. However, by the same token, his encyclopedic approach necessitates that he rarely examine any passage in depth. Only a few passages receive even a single paragraph throughout the book. Only occasionally does he address “problem passages” or the positive arguments of other views. So, a person already near Demarest’s position will find much Scriptural support and encouragement, but someone inclined to disagree with Demarest’s exegesis will probably not change his mind. He will at least, though, find a well-articulated presentation of a different view.

The practical implications are where The Cross and Salvation really shines. Demarest is the Professor of Christian Theology and Spiritual Formation at Denver Seminary, and his heart-searching insights demonstrate the power of theological meditation for holiness. These sections are significant contributions, not page-length afterthoughts, to their chapters. Readers from a wide variety of theological backgrounds will find enrichment and edification in these portions.

Demarest describes his own positions throughout the book as “moderately reformed” or “reformed evangelical.” His basic understanding of salvation is deliverance from sin, Satan and God’s wrath. He argues for a  monergistic understanding of grace,  unconditional yet single election, penal substitutionary atonement, a calling-faith-regeneration ordo, the joint necessity of faith and repentance, experiential union with Christ, sola fide forensic justification (no discussion of the new perspective on Paul), progressive sanctification, the duality of perseverance and preservation, and a final bodily glorification. He proposes that Old Testament saints, although saved by grace through faith, possessed neither regeneration nor union with Christ, and consequently had a lower level of spiritual experience. This doesn’t stop him, however, from using Solomon, David, and national Israel itself as examples proving that true believers can backslide. The theme of OT vs. NT salvation only occurs a few times and is not explored at any substantial length; on this issue I was left with more questions than answers.

I greatly enjoyed reading The Cross and Salvation and would gladly return to it for reference. In fact, this book probably serves best as a systematic textbook or a reference guide for pastors and teachers. Because of its length and the lack of integration between the historical surveys and the biblical exposition, I would probably not recommend to a layperson simply trying to get a better grasp of the doctrine of salvation. For that, I would probably suggest Complete In Him by Michael Barrett.

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Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 11:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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