Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: History, Law and Christianity

In his book History, Law and Christianity, John Warwick Montgomery includes two publications: 'Historical Evidence' which answers the question, Who is Jesus Christ?, and 'Legal Evidence' which shows how Christianity is juridically defended.  These two publications are put together to "represent complementary ways of investigating the critical question of Jesus' historicity," (p. xiv).  This book is academic in nature, difficult to read at times, and not very enjoyable.  The author appeals to the intellect to prove that Jesus Christ is not only a real historical figure, but also God.

In the first publication, Mr. Montgomery argues that Jesus is the Son of God.  He then asks how we react to Jesus' claim of divinity and answers:  "We come to the point of acknowledging that the ultimate problems of our existence, such as death and the self-centeredness that gives death its sting, can only be solved in his presence.  We look away from ourselves to his death and resurrection for the answers to our deepest needs. We put ourselves into his hands," (p. 44).  

This not the Gospel.  The author never address every individual's inherent sin nature which deserves the wrath and punishment of God.  The only way of escape is through faith in Jesus Christ and repentance (turning away from our sin).  The Apostle Paul clearly states the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15:3-4: "For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

According to Mr. Montgomery, faith is achieved when an individual can positively affirm (1) that the historical records of Jesus is solid enough to rely upon, (2) that the testimony in the records concerning Jesus' life and ministry is sufficiently reliable to know what he claimed about himself, (3) that the accounts of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, offered as proof of his divine claims, establishes those claims, and (4) that Jesus' deity places a divine stamp of approval on the Bible so as to render its pronouncements apodictically certain, (p. 51).

However, "[t]he grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word," (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 14, para. 1).  We are justified by faith, not because of faith, (Eph. 2:8-9).  In other words, faith is the means of our salvation, not the cause.

Saving faith is more than just intellectual assent; it also grasps the heart and the will, (Rom. 10:10).  Sandemanianism is the heretical belief that all you need to do to be saved is to give intellectual assent to the Gospel.  However, the Bible teaches that salvation is not merely a matter of the mind and of the tongue, but of the heart and of the will.  We should give intellectual assent to the Gospel, but we should also have a change of heart and of the will. [1]

In his second publication, Mr. Montgomery states that "Jesus' deity in itself establishes the truth of the Christian message," (p. 74).  The affirmation of the historicity of Jesus and even the belief that He is God is commendable, but it won't save anyone.  The Bible tells us that "[t]hou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble," (Jam. 2:19).  Therefore, I cannot recommend this book for the average Christian, but it may be beneficial for academic research and writing.  Because of the faulty premise of how salvation is achieved, I do not recommend History, Law and Christianity as an apologetic resource.

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

[1] Pastor Jeff Riddle of Christ Reformed Baptist Church from his March 23, 2014, teaching on Spurgeon's Catechism Question #69, 'What is Faith in Jesus Christ?'