(Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book, but was not asked to give a positive review.)
What I would love to do, is perhaps tackle some of these chapters individually, this was an incredibly packed book, but here is the general overview I submitted to Family Christian.
Part 1: Legalism
I recently completed “The Whole Christ” and I must warn you, it is a deep thoughtful read. While it appears to be tackling an esoteric bit of history from the Scottish Presbyterians from the 1700s, this book address issues that Christians have been struggling with for hundreds of years and we will continue to struggle. The struggle of legalism and antinomianism (against law being the strict definition). I must say I loved the first half of the book, Ferguson’s beautiful mapping of legalism, what it is, how it affects us, and the gospel. His dissection of legalism is a cool drink of water from the fountain of Grace. A favorite quote from the book is Ferguson quoting Boston “I do not offer Christ to you on the grounds that you have repented. Indeed I offer him to men and women who are dead in their trespasses and sins. This gospel offer of Jesus Christ himself is for you, whoever and whatever you are.”
A discourse in chapter 4 about Eve is eye opening in addressing the root of legalism towards God, “You never give me anything. You insist on me earning everything I am ever going to have.” Ferguson points out that the cure for legalism is not simply stripping away rules or laws, but the Gospel, the person and work of Christ.
Part 2: Antinomianism
Now the second half of the book is interesting as well, but for different reasons. (Disclosure: I am not Presbyterian although I have attended several reformed churches in my life. I suppose that according to Ferguson I hold to antinomianism although I do not consider myself to be as such.) Ferguson makes the usual reformed argument that the Old Testament Law is divided into 3 parts, civil, ceremonial, and moral and that as believers, we are still under the moral law. I am not convinced by his arguments that the law is divided into 3 parts, I find the Law is always referred to as THE Law in the New Testament and either we are subject to the whole law or we aren’t. Now I am NOT saying that the Christian is free to sin willy nilly and that God doesn’t care (“May it never be!” Romans 6), but I find that I don’t need to consider myself under the Old Testament Law in order to follow clear moral teaching in the New Testament.
But here is where I do agree with Ferguson, the response to a person in sin is not to throw more rules and legalism on them. The correct response is the same as to the legalist, the Gospel, the person and work of Christ. And although I don’t agree with Ferguson about our current status under the law, I do believe that we all need to keep our eyes on Christ and His death for us and His work in us.
Even though I don’t agree with Mr. Ferguson about everything (and who agrees with anybody about everything), I found this book to be encouraging in my spiritual life, thoughtful, and educational about some aspects of reformed theology I was unaware of.
Law, grace, and morality are issues that we as believers must struggle with, the struggle is part of the walk and I found this book to be an important addition to the conversation.