No Condemnation: A Theology of Assurance

ISBN 978 1903689 72 1
424 pages.
Published 28/2/2011

£7.99 - £18.00

Paperback, Kindle, Epub

This is a new, fully revised, edited and updated edition of Michael Eaton’s magisterial study of the biblical, theological, and historical dimensions of assurance in the life of a Christian believer. He challenges both traditional Arminian and Calvinist views, in which salvation and good works are too tightly bound together, by drawing a clear distinction between salvation and reward. Eaton expounds a robust and radical grace-through which salvation overflows in assurance-based on a survey of select portions of the Old and New Testaments, and in dialogue with relevant writings by others. In particular, this edition includes a new section of three chapters in which Eaton responds to the writings of Tom Wright on covenant.

MICHAEL A. EATON pastored pioneering, multi-ethnic churches in some of Africa’s biggest and most influential cities, including Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Lusaka, for 40 years. As a young man he sat under the teaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel, a church he maintained a long-standing relationship with throughout his life. Michael’s doctorate was on the Christian and the Mosaic law. He lectured in theological institutions and had a vibrant preaching ministry in India, the UK, the United States and across Africa. Michael went to be with the Lord in 2017, before ‘The Branch Exposition of the Bible’ reached publication.

M.Eaton covers a lot of ground in this book. He looks critically at Arminian theology as well as Calvinistic theology – identifies the weaknesses of them in relation to the Biblical evidence. He then proposes a less legalistic and introspective theology, which states that once saved always saved, yet recognises that this salvation is not dependent upon works at all. He draws on the example of Abraham to show this. Using Abraham and many other scriptures he illustrates that there is a difference between salvation and inheritance. Heaven is not our inheritance, our salvation is wholly based on God’s grace, nevertheless whether we have an inheritance in heaven depends upon how we walk with God here. He successfully challenges the traditional assumption that inheritance and heaven are synonymous. This is an important book, which addresses areas of vital concern to the body of Christ: liberation from the Mosaic law; eternal security; rewards. He truly offers a theology of encouragement as well as one of motivation and challenge – and it all seems thoroughly rooted in Scripture. Arminians and Calvinists need to have their views challenged by this thoroughly clear and scholarly work.

Finally, one of those rare theological books that would be of great benefit to anybody. In No Condemnation, Dr. Michael Eaton studies “the biblical, theological, and historical dimensions of assurance in the life of a Christian believer. He challenges both traditional Arminian and Calvinist views, in which salvation and good works are too tightly bound together, by drawing a clear distinction between salvation and reward.” (From backcover).

Eaton argues that the quest for assurance of salvation is impossible in the excessive introspection of traditional Calvinism and in the fear for loss of salvation in Arminianism. It must be found by faith alone in the Christ who died for you personally, apart from our works, apart from the Law of Moses.

I actually met Dr. Eaton at the Free Grace Alliance conference in Dallas. I was impressed with him as a person, preacher, theologian, and all-around authentically-living Christian. Dr. Eaton is from the UK but has pastored and remains heavily involved with the Chrisco Fellowship of Churches in Kenya. Eaton is not only a pastor but a heavy theologian and prolific author.

Pros:

~Exegesis of Scripture – What I loved most about this book is its focus on the biblical text. I did not agree with all of Eaton’s conclusions and interpretations, but his use of Scripture is far more than most other popular Christian books, even books I’ve read by proponents of strong exegesis (Al Mohler comes to mind. Mohler’s books look to Scripture, but not near the extent Eaton does here). Usually the only books you see like this are actual commentaries. Eaton goes through the entire Epistle to Galatians, Gospel of Matthew, and Epistle to Hebrews, selected portions of Genesis, John and Romans and many other passages.

~Honesty – Eaton became a Christian as a teenager, was discipled in the Calvinist/English Reformed tradition, and taught their doctrine of assurance based on works and a Limited Atonement (among other things). From pastoral experience and study of Scripture on his own, he went from a Limited Atonement to Unlimited Atonement position, and changed his mind to say that assurance is based on Christ’s work and promise, not works. His view of assurance and the atonement is very common in dispensationalist faith traditions, but Eaton is not a dispsenationalist, or even a pre-millennialist (as far as I understand). He broke rank with his tradition to stand alone in what the text taught in keeping with his conscience. He is still a Reformed Calvinist (he calls his view “Encouraging Calvinism” versus “Developed Calvinism” [341]), but has modified his theology by studying Scripture on his own.

~The section answering N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul” theology was the best critique I’ve seen of Wright in so few words. I have not seen Piper or Carson’s own superb critique’s handle Wright’s main problems so succinctly as Eaton. Eaton’s angle of attack using both Scripture and historical background literature is devastating to Wright’s view. The first edition did not have this, but I’m very glad it is included in the revised and expanded edition I have. For those of you familiar with the NPP, this alone is worth the price of the book.

~Background and research. He interacts well with a wide variety of commentators and theologians old and new, represents other viewpoints fairly and completely, works through the history and development of given ideas, and has significant historical background.

Good content on the concepts of oath, covenant, and Torah in the Old Testament text and times. Much of this was new ground for me and I learned valuable things through this study. I do not totally buy his conclusions on God’s oaths. But he makes a compelling and well-argued case that the Torah was a legal document for Israel more than a personal, moral one, and is now totally abrogated with the coming of Christ, though the whole moral character of the law is “fulfilled accidently” — and then some — through the working out of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life.

~Systematic and logical order – If Eaton has several points or conclusions to make, he numbers them so! (See examples in quotes below). This makes his book so much easier to follow and enable me to clearly agree/disagree with what he’s saying.

Cons

~While Eaton holds to the inspiration of Scripture, his view on authorship is not as conservative. He talks of “Paul’s editor” and the like. I myself do not see how a letter claiming to be written by Paul can really be someone else and still be the inspired, infallible word of God. Eaton’s understanding is indeed a common view among Christians, but I found it unnecessary to see parentheses and phrases with “editor” in them.

~Lack of depth on a certain passages. I understand the book only has so much space, but a few more pages on kingdom entrance/inheritance and gehenna would have been helpful. He suggests gehenna is not hell but the “fire” mentioned in 1Corinthins 3.15 burning up our works. He made some inconclusive statements on this that left me confused. Whether gehenna means hell or something else has a huge effect on how you interpret the Gospels, so I would have liked more on this.

… and not much else! This is among the best books I have ever read. He offers something very near the “Free Grace” view of salvation, assurance, and reward, and argues it with a compelling and certain force. I learned much from this book, and Eaton really gave me a joy and gratitude toward God, His Son and His grace.

Foreword by Dr R.T. Kendall xi

Preface xiii

Abbreviations xvii

PART 1 A THEOLOGICAL PROBLEM 1

1 The Quest for an Encouraging Theology 3

A personal experience 5

Developed Calvinism and evangelical Arminianism 10

‘The law’ 11

‘Antinomianism’ 15

2 Developed Calvinism 21

Limited atonement 22

Assurance of salvation 27

Godly living 30

Warnings of failure 30

Introspection 33

3 Evangelical Arminianism 37

Universal atonement 37

Assurance of (present) salvation 39

Godliness 40

Wesley and Fletcher 40

Legalism 42

Arminian exposition 43

4 A Challenge to Tradition 47

Hermeneutical pre-understanding 48

vi No Condemnation

PART 2 TOWARDS A DEEPER APPRECIATION OF

GRACE 53

5 A Fresh Approach to Grace 55

‘Shall we continue in sin?’ 56

A theology of motivation 57

‘Encouraging Calvinism’ 58

6 Objective and Universal Atonement 61

Synoptic gospels 62

John 63

Paul 63

Hebrews 65

2 Peter 66

The ground of assurance 67

7 Freedom from the Law (The Abraham Stories) 69

Structure of the Pentateuch 70

Law in the Pentateuch 71

The first presentation of the law 73

The law in Deuteronomy 74

Abraham 75

Defining ‘law’ 77

Faith in Genesis 15:6 78

‘God reckoned it’ 79

The purpose of Abraham’s call 80

Covenant, grace, promise, law 81

Genesis 17 84

El Shaddai 84

Obedience 85

Circumcision 89

Genesis 22 93

God’s oath 94

Covenant and oath 97

8 The Law of the Mosaic Covenant 101

Law and the covenant 102

Legal vocabulary in Genesis 102

Legal language after Sinai 104

The nature of the covenant 105

Biblical usage 108

The Abrahamic and Sinai covenants contrasted 116

Defects of the Sinai covenant 117

The sanctity of the law 128

Old Testament criticisms of the law 130

Keeping the law 131

The tenth commandment 132

The covenants contrasted 135

9 Freedom from the Law in the Epistle to the

Galatians 137

An overview of Galatians 142

‘The law’ 159

Galatians 5:13 – 6:10 173

Conclusion: the law in Galatians 177

Paul, the law and legalism 180

Some objections considered 183

10 The Faith of Christ 191

PART 3 JUSTIFICATION AS COVENANT-MEMBERSHIP? 199

11 Justification and Covenant Theology 201

Some comments on ‘covenant’ 208

A true ‘covenant theology’ 218

12 Justification and Exegetical Method 223

A far-reaching debate 236

13 Some Lessons to be Learned 241

Points of appreciation 241

An appeal that we can agree with 250

PART 4 JAMES, JOHN, MATTHEW—AND PAUL 253

14 Matthew’s Gospel and the Mosaic Law 255

James? 1 John? Matthew? 255

Approaching Matthew 257

Matthew 1:1 – 4:11 258

Matthew 4:12 – 9:34 259

Not to destroy but to fulfil (5:17–20) 261

The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees 269

‘… but I say’ (5:21–48) 272

Matthew 8:2 – 9:34 276

Matthew 9:35 – 16:12 276

Matthew 16:13 – 20:28 281

The temple-tax (17:24–27) 282

Divorce (19:3–12) 282

The rich young man (19:16–26) 284

Matthew 20:29 – 25:46 289

The greatest commandment (22:34–40) 290

Obeying the scribes and Pharisees (23:3) 295

Fulfilment and the eschaton 297

Matthew 26:1 – 28:20 299

Conclusion 300

15 Justification in a Non-Legalistic Theology 307

Implications of non-legalism 309

The accusation of licentiousness 311

Justification and sanctification 313

PART 5 MOTIVATION: INHERITANCE AND ADMONITION 321

16 Inheritance in the Old Testament 323

‘Inheritance’ in the Old Testament—Genesis 327

‘Inheritance’ under Mosaic law 328

17 Inheritance in the New Testament 331

Romans 4 336

Loss of inheritance 340

18 Security and the Interpretation of Warnings 343

Security in Romans 344

Security in John 351

John 6:37–48 352

Security in John 10 354

Security in John 15 356

Security in John 17 357

‘Ei mē’, ‘except’ and ‘however’ 358

Lovingkindness will not fail 359

Conditionality, reward and loss 360

Interpreting the warnings 362

Guidelines for interpretation 363

19 ‘Falling Away’ in the Epistle to the Hebrews 369

Some interpretations of Hebrews 6:4–6 369

A holistic approach 376

Inheritance in Hebrews 377

The warnings and inheritance 380

PART 6 CONCLUSION 387

20 Prospects for a Non-Legalistic Theology 389

A law-centred soteriology 389

A biblical doctrine of salvation 390

The Christian life 392

Index of Main Biblical References 395

Index of Names 397

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