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Book Review: Christian Theologies of Salvation

Christian Theologies of Salvation: A Comparative Introduction, edited by Justin Holcomb, is comprised of a collection covering the theories of salvation of significant theologians in church history. As stated by Holcomb in the introduction, the role of soteriology is to show how and why Jesus was and continues to be significant. Throughout Christian history there have been a variety of viewpoints and debates. This book will provide one with insight into those debates. Chapters fall into two categories. The book is arranged (mostly) chronologically, and as you reach each era of Christian history a brief treatment of that era is presented. Then you get a series of essays on major figures of that time period. Each of these essays contain some basic historical background on the subject to provide context for the summary of various key themes in their views regarding salvation. The individual essays are descriptive and contain very little evaluation of the viewpoints of the subject (with the exception of the chapter on Rahner and Balthasar). All of the heavy hitters are covered including, but not limited to, Irenaeus, Origen, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Wesley, Barth, and Gutierrez. In the remainder of this review I will provide an overview of one of the essays to give you a better sense of what to expect from the book.

R. Jared Staudt is the author of the chapter on Aquinas. He begins his essay with a brief overview of Aquinas' life before moving into a discussion of his soteriology. Staudt begins by stating that for Aquinas, "Salvation has a twofold aspect: the internal liberation from sin by which the soul is renewed and justified (that is, made just by grace), and the cause of that justification which is participation in the justice of Christ's own soul, effected by his work of salvation" (p. 144). Then he moves into specifics. Justification means causing justice, both in the interior state of the soul and in ones actions (p. 145). Another way to put it is a moving of man from a state of sin and bringing rectitude. Injustice is removed as the power of sin is broken (p. 147). This process culminates in deification, our union into the very life of God (p. 147). This deification effects worthiness, or enables us to merit eternal life (p. 149). The source of all of this is, of course, Christ. His mediation via his divine and human nature enables our justification and deification (p. 150). This mediation has five components, satisfaction, merit, atonement, sacrifice, and redemption and is necessitated by our bondage to sin (p. 152). In a nutshell, salvation for Aquinas is a necessarily cooperative effort between God and humanity (p. 153). Without grace, we cannot be saved, but we must cooperate and the new life of justice we live is our own (while again still being dependent upon grace).

Staudt's chapter is typical for what one can expect in this book. Chapters are well organized and highly synthetic, written by scholars who know the whole range of each theologian's writings well. They also are very even in quality with only one which I thought was a bit substandard. Overall, I think this is an excellent book and would be a great textbook in a college or seminary classroom for a class on salvation or in historical theology. I'd highly recommend picking it up.

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