I was recently asked what I thought about Millard Erickson’s book Christian Theology Third Edition. It is the textbook for a massive number of systematic theology classes in a vast array of evangelical schools. Obviously answering that question as a whole is difficult, so I chose to examine a specific topic in his book from a free grace mindset. So if you’re a free grace thinker, wondering if Erickson’s systematic theology is right for you, then read on.
Being that Erickson is a moderate Calvinist and I have most certainly tried that
Erickson presents good works as an evidence that one is saved. He says this:
works do not produce salvation…Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 890.
He then cites Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:17. Both of these references have numerous authors who have refuted his interpretation, though he does not handle his opponents on this subject, but simply moves on as if the case is closed. He then goes on to say:
If there are no good works, there has been neither real faith nor justification.Ibid.
What a contradictory statement! How can this be. Compare these two statements:
Works do not produce salvation BUT If there are no good works, there has been neither real faith nor justification.Ibid.
Therefore, in Erickson’s view works are REQUIRED for salvation as a necessary result. Under Erickson’s system a person MUST HAVE GOOD WORKS in order to be saved.
Trying to distinguish between the fact that justification results in good
The colossal problem with this view is that it erodes a person’s ability to have assurance of salvation. One in no way can have assurance of salvation if one must wait and see if his life will produce good works in order to confirm he is saved. Secondly, there is no indication what quantity of good works is required in order to prove one has salvation. Thus, under this assessment a person cannot “know” he or she is saved.
This is the massive problem that is plaguing the church. Calvinists have bought into a notion that robs genuine believers of their assurance. What a warped system.
To further prove this point Erickson goes on in his section about
He cites John 10:27-30 and compares it against Hebrews 6:4-6. He offers three basic options for harmonizing these two sets of verses. He acknowledges that John 10 offers full eternal security, though he walks back a bit when he looks at the Hebrews passage. His three options for harmonizing these two passages fully exclude an entire branch of scholarship on the subject. This is a huge oversight on his
We are now able to correlate John 10 and Hebrews 6. While Hebrews 6 indicates that genuine believers can fall away, John 10 teaches that they will not.Ibid., p. 921
This brings us directly back to the same problem as mentioned above. If there can be conclusive claims that a so-called “genuine” believer will never fall away, then this robs many believers of their assurance, since they cannot know for sure that they will not fall away. After all, Paul warned believers numerous times to be careful that they
Believers can fall away from fellowship and right living, but the promise of Jesus has nothing to do with good works and behavioral performance. If there is any attachment of Jesus’ salvation work to our good works, then assurance dissolves. Whether one claims that good works are prerequisite, or an automatic result of salvation, the same issue remains. One cannot have true assurance of salvation, if they must behave for the rest of their life in order to know they have salvation. Yet we know we are supposed to be able to have assurance. After all, John said,
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, (1 John 5:13)
If John is right, and I think he is, you can “know” you have eternal life. No amount of good works can bring that certainty since good works can always be misleading, or they can later dry up.
Even Dr. R.C. Sproul, famed preacher and Calvinist Bible expositor, admitted in a video sometime before his death that he was not sure he was going to heaven. He is not the only among the reformed movement to admit this. If the preachers and teachers of this theology don’t know for sure they have salvation, then how could anyone who sits under their teaching know? All this stands in stark contrast to what John said. It is possible to “know” you have eternal life.
It’s worth ending with this. Paul said that even when a believer wastes his time and produces no good works, he will still be saved. The following statement of Paul shows that the promise of Jesus is guaranteed even to those who don’t have good works.
If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.(1 Corinthians 3:15)