The Doctrine of Salvation brings much debate and confusion, even amongst evangelical Christians who seek to align their understanding of truth and salvation with the Word of God. More broadly, Christendom as a whole represents widely differing views. In his work The Cross and Salvation, Bruce Demarest contributes to the discussion with his clear, but detailed, work on soteriology. The goal of this work is to provide a comprehensive treatment of soteriology in a way that “will be historically perceptive, biblically faithful, culturally relevant, and experientially viable” (xx). The outcome of the work is intended to “inform minds, inflame hearts, and motivate hands to practical Christian living” (xx). The work treats theology with both scholarly and practical considerations, weaving the application with the explanation in a way that provides deep theological meditations resulting in worship and understanding. Despite the difficulty of the topic, Demarest’s work provides the information with an accessible, intelligible method.
The book is divided into six parts with twelve chapters. Part one addresses the plan of salvation divided into the categories of grace and election. In this section, chapter one introduces the doctrine of salvation, providing an overview of the book and categories of understanding to have when entering into the discussion on soteriology. Chapter two begins the study of soteriology in earnest with The Doctrine of Grace. He then moves to The Doctrine of Election in chapter three, providing an examination of Ephesians 1. Part two addresses the provision of salvation, containing one chapter on The Doctrine of the Atonement.
Parts three and four build on the foundational doctrines of salvation to focus on the application of salvation. Chapters five through seven address The Doctrine of Divine Calling, The Doctrine of Conversion, and The Doctrine of Regeneration. Then the book turns to more objective categories in the application of salvation in chapters 8-9 to teach on The Doctrine of Union with Christ and The Doctrine of Justification.
He then brings the discussion to the current, daily activities of the Christian life in part five to elaborate on The Doctrine of Sanctification and The Doctrine of Preservation & Perseverance. Finally, he looks to the future in part six to teach The Doctrine of Glorification as the perfecting of salvation.
The chapter layout, in general, provides an intuitive path to discerning the minutiae involved in each topic by categorizing the information into four main sections: initial concerns, historical interpretations, exposition of the doctrine, and practical implications of the doctrine in question. The breakdown of the doctrines allows the readers to know what the general questions are regarding the doctrine, what different veins of Christianity have believed and taught about the doctrine, what he believes the Scriptures reveal about the doctrine, and what the doctrine means for believers who are seeking to be faithful to Christ. This breakdown allows readers to follow think through each doctrine systematically without struggling to follow the discussion.
Developing a summary of this work while giving each segment a fair treatment would be impossible due to the length and comprehensive nature of the book. However, there are three significant sections that deserve recognition as especially helpful: his exposition of Ephesians 1 to explain the doctrine of election, and his applications of the doctrine of justification. These two sections are a microcosm of the quality and helpfulness of the rest of the book.
First, the exposition of Ephesians 1 to explain the doctrine of election: He begins the exposition of the doctrine of election by demonstrating that the theme of election is not a New Testament theme or belief alone, but that the theme and reality of election were present in the Old Testament as well. He delineates corporate and personal election, presenting corporate election as a main theme in the Old Testament and personal election as a minor theme in the Old Testament. He goes on to demonstrate that these of corporate election are both prevalent in the New Testament. “In sum, the OT teaches the corporate election of Israel to privilege, which is not a guarantee of salvation . . . On the other hand, the NT teaches the corporate election of the church (universal), and this election is to salvation” (121)
Although personal election stands as a minor theme in the Old Testament, with examples like Adam and Eve, Noah, and Abraham as the objects of God’s personal election, the New Testament reveals personal election as a major theme, even in Jesus’ own teaching. “In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16), the Lord taught that God is not obliged to deal with everyone in the same way . . . Jesus inferred that none get less than they deserve (justice), but some get more than they deserve (grace)” (124-5). This teaching indicates that personal election is unconditional—unconditional in the sense that the objects of election do not do anything to make themselves worthy of election.
After addressing Romans 9-11, Demarest turns to Ephesians 1 as an important text explaining the doctrine of election. He breaks the passage down, essentially, as follows (132-133):
• The source of election – a mongergistic operation of God (3)
• The fact of election – a choice founded in God’s sovereign purpose (11, 4-5, 9)
• The time of election – eternity past (4)
• The objects of election – corporate and individual (3-6, 8-9)
• The sphere of election – in Christ (3-7, 9, 11, 3:11)
• The motive of election – love (4-5)
• The impartiality of election – his good will (5)
• The goal of election – righteousness of life and glorification of God (4, 6)
This text provides significant data for considering the doctrine of election and demonstrates that election is unconditional, personal, and sourced in God’s goodness and love. These conclusions should give believers a joyful humility in being personally elected by God, a catalyst for personal holiness, and confidence in declaring God’s Word in a genuine offer of salvation for unbelievers.
Demarest’s teaching on election is prefaced with the understanding that the doctrine of election is not to be viewed through the lens of doubt or speculation (i.e. Are African natives from the 1200s elect?). Instead, he highlights election as “a comfort for the Lord’s saints. In his view, election is not a doctrine that is to be taught to someone who has not accepted the gospel. “The doctrine of election is to be discussed after the person has come to faith in Christ, not before” (138). This approach allows election to have its proper effect on the saints—joy, humility, confidence, etc.—rather than distract from the gospel message of “whosoever will may come.” These two propositions (God elected the saints and whosoever will may come) are not diametrically opposed or tangential, rather they are true and work themselves out in the doctrine of the Scriptures as uncompromisingly true. God’s election of the saints does not detract from the offer of salvation, for all who come will receive it.
Second, the application of the doctrine of justification: this doctrine touches on three important aspects of the believer’s life—assurance of standing before God, guilt, and the burden of perfectionism. The believer can have assurance of his or her standing before God when they recognize and understand the doctrine of justification.
Believers should “possess reasonable assurance of their acceptance by God and new standing in the family of the redeemed” (378). This is because Christ completed a work on the cross that brings the sinner into a new permanent position before Christ. The Scriptures go to great length to affirm the doctrine of justification, at least in part to impart confidence to the believer. This doctrine addresses the spiritual confusion that can manifest itself in the heart of the believer, and is certainly present in the world surrounding the believer.
However, because of the doctrine of justification, “Believers ought not be shaken by the presence of honest doubts in their lives. They should be encouraged, however, that assurance of justification and salvation can be strong . . . “ (379). The doctrine of justification provides stable ground for the believer to stand on when the winds of doubt and false teaching call their position before God into question.
The doctrine of justification also delivers the believer from feelings of guilt. When the believer understands that Jesus Christ bore the guilt of sin, they can recognize that they are freed from guilt objectively in Christ. Despite being objectively free from guilt because of justification, it is clear that believers can and do experience subjective guilt. Whatever the reason for the subjective guilt, confession and repentance can remove that guilt because the objective guilt has already been removed through the cross-work of justification.
Not only does the doctrine of justification remove guilt, but it also recognizes that the Christian life is a process of sanctification, not a destination of perfection before glorification. The doctrine of justification teaches that it is okay not to be okay because Christ supplies righteousness to remedy sinfulness. “In the present the saints are, as Luther insisted, ‘both righteous and a sinner.’ Perfect conformity to Christ will be realized at the resurrection and in the life to come” (382). This realization, combined with the freedom from objective guilt, provides great assurance for the believer.
The Cross and Salvation provides a comprehensive treatment of Soteriology that engages in academic, scholarly components, but presents the information in a way that lends itself to personal application. Demarest certainly reaches his goal to “inform minds, inflame hearts, and motivate hands to practical Christian living” (xx). If you desire to pursue a deeper understanding of what the Bible says about salvation, and if you desire to allow that understanding to be a catalyst for worship, then picking up The Cross and Salvation will help you accomplish those goals.