Holiness by Grace by Bryan Chapell

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In this overall excellent book Dr. Chapell, President of Covenant Theological Seminary, develops the thesis that it is on the basis of God’s grace and mercy that the believer is able to live out his life in holiness and obedience. Our good works do not in any way enhance God’s love for us. He loves us because of His grace; therefore, we serve Him because of our gratitude. God requires and blesses our obedience, but we do not secure our eternal relationship with Him by our actions.

Chapell’s writing has much of the feel and tone of John Piper. He occasionally makes Piper-like mistakes with Scriptures like, “Without this joy that is our strength, the new obedience that should be the fruit of true repentance is impossible” (p. 90). And, “The inevitable consequences of obedience without delight is the erosion of holiness” (p. 185). I know of no Scripture, which would support either of these statements. I was also disturbed by his strained view of praying in the Spirit and its relationship to the armor of God (pp. 145-146). Chapell ignores the fact that Paul tells us several times to put on the armor of God. Chapell tells us instead that it is the Christian’s duty to polish the armor. Quite strange.

On the other hand, he corrects at least two of Piper’s most prominent errors: 1) Piper’s debtor’s ethic in which he belittles obedience motivated by gratefulness (the major theme of his book, Future Grace). Chapell affirms on the fly leaf, “Obedience…a grateful response to God’s mercy (see also pp. 17, 31-35, 37). 2) Piper’s Christian hedonism (the theme of Delighting in God) in which we serve God because of the joy and benefits it brings to us. Chapell recognizes throughout that true service of God is a selfless act.

Chapell says much that is good and needed – especially for those attempting to win God’s favor through their own efforts. Still, I was disappointed that he did not interact more with passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:10-14; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; and 2 Corinthians 5:10 which speak of reward for service. But all books have holes in them, and this one has few.

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