Salvation: Contours of Adventist Soteriology, ed. Martin F. Hanna, Darius W. Jankiewicz, and John W. Reeve; Andrews University Press, Berrien Springs, Michigan, 2018, 464 pages. Soft cover, US$29.99. Reviewed by Roy Adams, former associate editor, Adventist Review.
Seventh-day Adventism did not fall from the sky. However divinely guided, its roots trace back across centuries of Christian thought and experience. And in Adventism’s articulation of the central theme of the gospel—how God saves people—one hears echoes of a multitude of voices that came before. Contours aims to identify some of these voices, show the extent to which Adventist soteriology comports with them, and highlight Adventism’s distinctive contribution.
The book is divided into five sections, each introduced by a summary of the particular issues tackled in the segment, a feature that, indirectly, increases the entry points into the book. The introduction to section three, for example, highlights some of the unresolved salvation issues tackled there: “exactly how [was] the atonement . . . accomplished?” “Was the incarnation necessary?” “What exactly happened on the cross?” “Did Christ have to die?” (p. 173).
Targeted to the college-educated reader, the book assumes a basic level of theological curiosity. Curiosity about subjects such as sin; total depravity; the role of the will in human salvation; the function of grace and faith; the meaning of Christian perfection. Centuries of debate underlie each of these, and the various authors attempt to rise above the noise and bring clarity. Sometimes such clarity jumps out at the reader in the freshest light, as in the discussion on the thorny issue of predestination in a chapter by Hans LaRondelle and John McVay. Paul’s references to predestination, the authors suggest, should be heard not primarily from the standpoint of “individualism and self-determination, which are so valued in modern democratic societies,” but from the standpoint of Paul’s first-century readers and hearers. “Under the thrall of astral religion,” these folk believed that “through the powers of the stars and planets their destinies had already been fixed.” So the message “that God has chosen [our] destiny . . . through Jesus Christ” would have come to them “as very good news indeed” (p. 86). It casts the issue in a totally new light.
As I read some sections of the book, however, I saw the need to guard against what I would call the “scientification” of theology—the temptation to define and classify every last detail of how salvation works. We face the constant danger of overthinking the process, of forgetting that ultimately salvation is a divine wonder of which we are privileged recipients, and whose outward manifestation, spelled out by the ancient prophet, is “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8).
Contours is a needed work. It demonstrates that Adventism is no fly-by-night offshoot of the Christian church, but an authentic representation of solid biblical faith.
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