ONE’s heart can sink when sent a symposium of essays for review. It is sometimes hard to see what and whom the book is for. At best, a roster of qualified contributors provide a round-up of the best current scholarship relating to a specific topic. At worst, a sequence of more or less discrete essays allows contributors to indulge their latest academic affectation, but with little overall coherence or sense of editorial control.
This series of explorations in human salvation by what is described as “a new generation of Reformed dogmaticians” seems to fall about mid-way along that spectrum. Indeed, Michael Horton’s foreword indicates that he expected “closer kinship of perspective” in a volume focusing on what “being saved” is all about.
But, in the event, diversity is the prevailing characteristic, which has its merits when it comes to creating a kaleidoscope of current theological thinking, but risks fragmentation and an unfortunate lack of focus.
The editorial intention is to explore, first, the relationship between anthropology and soteriology, given that the two have tended to drift apart in modern times, and, second, to prioritise the interaction of philosophy and theology, so that, in the case of soteriology, the latter informs the former more often than not.
The four-part structure does give the symposium a forward trajectory. First of all, salvation is explored in the context of sin and evil. Second, it is the nature of salvation which is addressed; and, third, specific aspects of the outworking of salvation are considered. Finally, four chapters explore a miscellany of related topics essentially focusing on how body, mind, and spirit are interrelated in the economy of salvation.
Highlights include: John Rutledge rejecting retributivism; Joshua Farris and Mark Hamilton bravely challenging the primacy of penal-substitution theory within their own Evangelical tradition; Kate Kirkpatrick using St Augustine’s ontology to affirm the distinction between knowing about salvation and being saved; Benjamin Arbour using theology to inform epistemology and affirm salvation as sanctification — a process of transformation from corruption to holiness; John Fesko’s challenging and brilliantly argued defence of the priority of justification in relation to sanctification; Madison Grace on Bonhoeffer’s hidden depths; Carl Mosser showing how technological transhumanism (see Yuval Harari’s Sapiens and Homo Deus) pales into insignificance when compared with the deiform beings whom we are destined to become on being saved; Hans Madueme on salvation and mental illness; and Joanna Leidenhag rehabilitating panpsychism as a viable, or even necessary, ontology in the service of soteriology.
But, of all the contributions, R. T. Mullins’s opening chapter on what it means for human beings to retain an identity through time and on into eternity is of crucial importance if the Christian hope for personal salvation is to be philosophically sustainable and theologically secure.
Adam Johnson writes that “To be atoned for, to be saved, to be reconciled to God — these are profound matters, and difficult to understand. At times, this can feel like a burden, but it is likewise the delight of the church: to grow in understanding of our Lord and his saving work.”
This is undoubtedly true, but, on finishing this extensive and intellectually challenging series of explorations, we can understand, and readily appreciate, why our credal formularies decline to promulgate a definitive account of atonement and what “being saved” might mean.
The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.
Being Saved: Explorations in human salvation
Marc Cortez, Joshua R. Farris and S. Mark Hamilton, editors
SCM Press £35
Church Times Bookshop £31.50