Sinners in the Hands of a Good God by David Clotfelter
Clotfelter, in a book slightly fewer than 300 pages, has chosen to tackle some of the thorniest issues in Christian theology—and does an excellent job of it. In addressing these matters Clotfelter has chosen to interact with George McDonald’s theological positions—positions he once accepted but has since recognized to be unbiblical.
Sinners in the Hands of a Good God is developed in three distinct but interrelated sections, all dealing with soteriology in one form or another. Section One is concerned with divine judgment. Here we are given a marvelous overview of the doctrine of Hell and related subjects. Universalism, annihilationism, and Barthian concepts are all presented and analyzed.
Section Two moves into the Calvinistic/Arminian debate. Both sides are fairly described even though the author is not shy about his personal commitment to Calvinism. His arguments are convincing but gracious. He details the five points of Calvinism and, as is usual, the case for limited atonement is most problematic, admitting “my own judgment is that some of them [Scriptures] can be reconciled to an Arminian interpretation, but none compels us to adopt that interpretation” (p. 168).
In the final section Clotfelter writes of the great themes: atonement, expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, regeneration, sanctification and more. He also offers a very helpful discussion of why God seeks His own glory (pp. 235-243).
I believe his weakest chapter was actually the Appendix, entitled “A Letter to Seekers.” Here he is presenting the gospel and does a respectable job; however, I have two concerns. First, he used no Scripture to support his message. Not only is this surprising but it also leads to conjecture. For example, he gives a number of evidences of genuine faith, some which leave us scratching our heads (e.g., “a Christian has no desire to deny or rebel against that truth”— p.69 — on what scriptural basis does he support this?)
More concerning is his “invitation” for seekers to receive Christ. He offers a sample prayer that is unlike any “conversion prayer” found in Scripture, and then tells us, “I cannot guarantee that if you do these things, God will grant you faith and repentance” (p. 273). On the contrary Romans 10:13 promises all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. I find Clotfelter’s comments here to be the Calvinistic tail wagging the biblical dog. He is right that faith and repentance are granted by God. But nowhere in Scripture are we told to beg for salvation with the real possibility that God might reject our request.
With this caveat, and a few others, aside, Sinners in the Hands of a Good God is an excellent book. Thoroughly researched, graciously written, challenging yet clear and highly readable for a book of such depth.