Christian Theology by Millard Erickson
Reviewed by Chuck Todd
Millard Erickson, newly appointed Research Professor of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has performed a great service for Evangelicals in writing this systematic theology text. As he states in the preface, "While the textbooks written by Charles Hodge, Augustus Strong, Louis Berkhof, and others served admirably for their day, there was no way they could anticipate and respond to the recent developments in theology and other disciplines. Christian Theology represents an attempt to fill that need for our day." It is in this spirit that he proceeds to develop this work, remaining true to orthodoxy while addressing contemporary matters of theology.
The Author shows vast knowledge in numerous areas throughout the book. His basic approach is to provide summaries of significant positions held in the past and present, and then to state his own position by way of critique. Erickson capably engages much of the modern thought which is influencing the Church today. Neo-orthodoxy and process theology are two schools which he critiques from an orthodox perspective. His treatment of aberrant and heretical ideas is not mean-spirited but graciously frank and to the point, following the Apostolic injunction (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
The first chapter, "What is Theology", a well-rounded introduction is given. Theology is biblical, systematic, and relates to the issues of general cultureand learning. It must be contemporary (meaning timeless truths being stated in an intelligible way for today's reader), and practical. Theology is not solely an intellectual enterprise; it is the foundation for a God-glorifying life.
What is evident throughout is clearly stated in Part Two: Erickson is firmly convinced of the inerrancy of Scripture. He labels his view, "full inerrancy," and positions it between "absolute" and "limited" inerrancy. This means that the Bible is "fully truthful in all that it affirms" when it is "correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given" (233-34).
The glory of God is the evident theme throughout this work. Erickson's treatment of the doctrine of God certainly reveals his high view of divine sovereignty. Creation and providence are carried out according to the decrees of God which Erickson calls the "plan of God". God's plan is not contingent upon creature cooperation. Rather, it is the blueprint for their free actions. The author writes: "We may define the plan of God as his eternal decision rendering certain all things which shall come to pass" (346). "Despite difficulties in relating divine sovereignty to human freedom, we nonetheless come to the conclusion on biblical grounds that the plan of God is unconditional rather than conditional upon man's choice. There is simply nothing in the Bible to suggest that God chooses humans because of what they are going to do on their own" (356). Erickson identifies his view with that which Warfield called Calvinistic "congruism."
While avowedly Calvinistic in his soteriology, holding firmly to total depravity, unconditional election, and perseverance of the saints, at two points Erickson deviates from the Dortian stream. He makes a stark distinction between effectual calling and regeneration, placing conversion between them in the application of salvation. This ties in with a universal atonement which is effectual to none except those who receive it by faith. He admits that thisview is also espoused by Arminians but, nevertheless, believes it to be biblical. A reading of Chapter 28 in J. P. Boyce's Abstract of Systematic Theology will provide a helpful critique of the position he espouses.
In light of the modern Lordship controversy, Erickson's views on perseverance deserve to be quoted: "Our understanding of the doctrine of perseverance allows no room for indolence or laxity. It is questionable whether anyone who reasons, 'Now that I am a Christian, I can live as I please,' has really been converted and regenerated. Genuine faith issues instead, in the fruit of the Spirit. Assurance of salvation results from the Holy Spirit's giving evidence that He is at work in the life of the individual. And wherever the Spirit's work results in conviction that one's commitment to Christ is genuine, there is also the certainty on biblical grounds that God will enable the Christian to persist in that relationship" (996-7).
Well-rounded discussion on the nature of the church, ordinances, and last things finish out this volume, leaving the student an overview of Christianity which is both stimulating and thought-provoking. I highly recommend the purchase and use of this volume by pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, and laymen alike.
This review was used with permission. The reviewer, Chuck Todd, is associated with Founders Ministries a ministry of teaching and encouragement that seeks to promote both doctrine and devotion expressed in the Doctrines of Grace and their experiential application to the local church, particularly in the areas of worship and witness. Founders Ministries takes as its theological framework the first recognized confession of faith that Southern Baptists produced, The Abstract of Principles. They desire to encourage the return to and promulgation of the biblical gospel that the Southern Baptist forefathers held dear.
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