Law and Grace (and Gospel)
A Review by Kevin T. Bauder
Myron Houghton. Law and Grace. Schaumburg, Ill.: Regular Baptist Press, 2011. 215 pp. with index.
Fundamentalism possesses few systematic theologians. Of the few, none is better read or more widely known than Myron Houghton. Conversations in a variety of theological contexts have taught him the arts of careful listening, accurate representation, and thoughtful response.
For years, Houghton’s friends and students have encouraged him to put his theology into print. The present volume, Law and Grace represents one of his core interests. For Houghton, the relationship between law, gospel, and grace acts as a foundation for the entire system of faith.
Houghton uses Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity as a starting point, then refers to Fisher’s arguments throughout the volume. Houghton develops his theory of law and grace by contrasting it with Catholic, Reformed, and (to a lesser extent) Lutheran understandings. While he identifies himself as a dispensationalist, Houghton also critiques certain versions of dispensationalism. For example, he opines that Lewis Sperry Chafer entered “into the same murky waters” as C. I. Scofied when distinguishing Old Testament justification from New Testament justification.
The key to Houghton’s system lies in a three-fold distinction between law, gospel, and grace. He believes that a simple law-gospel contrast is too simplistic, as is a simple law-grace contrast. For Houghton, both grace and gospel may be contrasted with law, but they are not interchangeable terms. Gospel is an aspect of grace, and gospel makes no demands. It refers sinners to the finished work of Christ. Grace, however, is more than simply the gospel. It is also a rule of life, and as a rule, grace does make demands. It may cause believers to fear the consequences of disobedience or produce sorrow for failure, though in general grace appeals to love as a motivation for obedience.
Discussions of this sort can too easily resort to caricatures of opposing positions. Houghton is scrupulously careful to represent alternative views fairly, even using extended quotations where possible. This actually becomes one of the weaknesses of the book. Long quotations are sometimes introduced into the text that could have been included as appendices for those who wanted to use them. Still, the presence of these detailed citations removes all doubt about the accuracy of Houghton’s treatment.
This work will be controversial in some circles. Houghton is not afraid to draw conclusions that he knows will provoke disagreement. Invariably, however, he states his conclusions graciously and he provides potential interlocutors with specific considerations for conversation. The book provides theological students with a good model for considering and engaging alternative viewpoints.
The book is not aimed at academic theologians. It could be read with profit by an informed church member, a college student, a seminarian, or a pastor. I found it personally intriguing, informative, and instructive. While I disagree with one or two of Houghton’s conclusions (would life be interesting otherwise?), I intend to make it required reading for my soteriology class.