by John G. Stackhouse Jr.
What Does it Mean to be Saved is a collection of essays which were inspired by a conference held at Regent College in October 2001.
Baker Academic, P. O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 2002, 203 pages, $21.99
—Reviewed by Mike McDowell, mission pastor, Christ Community Church, Zion, Ill.; adjunct faculty, Moody Graduate School, Chicago, Ill. and Asian Theological Seminary, Manila, Philippines.
This book shouldn’t be necessary.” This is how John Stackhouse introduces what he hopes will be a new way of thinking about salvation among evangelicals. What Does it Mean to be Saved is a collection of essays which were inspired by a conference held at Regent College in October 2001. The conference explored what the contributors think is a broader, less individualistic view of evangelical soteriology. Stackhouse is quick to point out, however, that the book is not meant to be a coherent and comprehensive doctrine of salvation. Instead, what is presented is what John Webster called occasional theology: that is, a specific circumstance (a conference held at Regent College) which addresses certain issues (evangelical soteriology) with the intent of reinforcing, criticizing, or changing theological trends. In this case the emphasis is on criticizing and changing theological trends.
Since these are a collection of essays it’s hard to identify any progression of thought from one essay to the next. All begin at the same point: the mainstream of evangelical soteriology is too narrow and needs to be broader. The narrow to broad argument takes different forms. There are arguments from exegesis, historical analysis, social responsibility, cultural context, philosophy, and pagan religion. The common denominator of each essay is that there is a certain narrowness in evangelical thought when it does not move beyond getting saved into what it means to be saved. The authors contend that there are a host of things which are restored by God through Christ’s salvific work, the soul of an individual being just one of those things.
The essays fail to say exactly what it is about the salvation of an individual that is narrow. The reader is just forced to assume that it is, in fact, narrow. This, no doubt, is partly due to the occasional nature of these essays. It would have been better to include some more background regarding the conference at Regent College. Another issue worth noting is the ever so slight leaning toward universalism.
This may just be the consequence of occasional theology but Stackhouse did not define adequately what he meant in the introduction to the essays about how others could perhaps be saved by the work of Christ but not know about him in this life. These issues aside, this collection of essays is thought provoking for anyone involved in proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Rick Watts probably said it best in his essay: “I encourage you, therefore, to reserve judgment until the entire picture emerges, allowing the coherence of the whole to make its own case.” What Does it Mean to be Saved makes a case for how Christians should live in the present.
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