Monday, September 5, 2016
"The Whole Christ" by Sinclair Ferguson. A Review
The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters
Sinclair B. Ferguson
1300 Crescent Street
Wheaton, IL 60187
ISBN: 978-1-4335-4800-0; $24.99; January 2016
5 of 5 Stars
“But, pastor, how can I know that I’m saved?” In one form or another I have been asked this question by many godly people whose faces are twisted with fear or stained with tears. On the other hand, I have been told forcefully and flippantly by others whose lives are marred by some form of immorality (hooking up, abortion, unbiblical divorce, etc.) “God will forgive me anyway.” Both scenes break my heart. And every pastor knows that how they respond to the one or the other may get thrown back into their face with charges of “antinomian!” or “legalist!” That’s what makes “The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters” by Sinclair Ferguson, professor of Systematic Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas and teaching fellow of Ligonier Ministries, so helpful and important. In this 256 page hardback Ferguson neatly weaves together historical theology, biblical theology and systematic theology. His style, tenor and approach makes this manuscript digestible for pastors, parishioners and professors.
In “The Whole Christ” Sinclair Ferguson launches from, and cycles back to, an arcane moment in Protestant and Presbyterian history that speaks to many sub-currents stirring in the present Reformed pool. All along the author pours in Scripture in its historical-redemptive flow as well as the classic ordo salutis. Though the main chronological episode the book covers may feel far detached from the cutting edge of the 21st Century, nevertheless Ferguson follows out its lines like a power company service rep marking the power lines running under your backyard before you dig.
“The Whole Christ” simply moves along the course mapped out in its subtitle, “Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matter.” The author rehearses the Marrow Controversy of the early 18th Century, showing the concerns, worries, purposes and reasons burbling up in that debate. He then moves forward and tackles what legalism is and how it works out both explicitly and implicitly. Next, he takes on antinomianism, defining it and exhibiting several ways it surfaces in the lives of people. Finally, Ferguson spends the last three chapters addressing what might not seem so obvious: the end result of the Marrow Controversy, of legalism and antinomianism, affects everyday believers in the area of assurance of salvation.
“The Whole Christ” brings out that legalism and antinomianism are flip sides of the same coin, “It cannot be too strongly emphasized, therefore, that everyone is a legalist at heart. Indeed, if anything, that is more evident in antinomians” (86). And again, “for antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace” (156). Therefore the remedy to both is the same, “understanding and tasting union with Jesus Christ himself…alone breaks the bonds of legalism (the law is no longer divorced from the person of Christ) and antinomianism (we are not divorced from the law, which now comes to us from the hand of Christ and in the empowerment of the Spirit, who writes it on our hearts)” (157). The manner in which the author handles law and grace throughout the entire volume are delightfully supportive, and beautifully sensitive.
With regard to assurance of salvation Ferguson addresses the head and heart. He notes that there is an assurance that is direct; that is that it is an assurance about Christ, a trustful confidence that Christ alone is able to save us. But the remainder of the book examines the assurance that is experienced or perceived, the self-awareness that I am one “among those whom he saves” (196). Like a good physician of the soul, the author scrutinizes the many reasons one may not experience this assurance, while being confident that Christ is their Savior. He correctly emphasizes that “assurance of salvation is the fruit of faith in Christ” (197). Our salvation is not built on the quality, strength, or muscularity of our faith and experience of assurance, but on the fidelity and ability of the One in whom we believe; and assurance, then, can bloom and blossom out of that soil. The author then examines the many reasons, nine to be exact, that assurance may be lacking. Chapters 10 and 11 are very compassionate, pastoral and insightful.
“The Whole Christ” is a handy volume for pastors, elders, and Christians who are looking for a guide to help them navigate the present stormy seas caused by the clashing and accusatory winds of “legalism” and “antinomianism” being hurled from lofty perches from on high. It will strengthen one’s discernment; but it will also comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. In classic Fergusonian style, it is a gentle and kindhearted read. I highly recommend it.
You have my permission to republish or re-post this review; but as always, please give credit where credit is due. Mike