Depending on one’s theological point of view, the terms salvation, election, and grace have different connotations. For example, of an individual leans toward reformed theology, most commonly known as Calvinism, there is a belief that God’s sovereignty crowds out man’s God-given free will. As a result, He chooses who will be saved and they have no choice either way because God’s grace is irresistible. One of the functions of grace that reformers hold to is the Puritan belief in “preparatory grace”. This is the focus of Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley’s new book, “Prepared by Grace, for Grace; The Puritans on God’s Ordinary Way of Leading Sinners to Christ”. The authors point out that the Puritans believed and taught that God was working grace in the lives of individuals before they accepted the call of salvation. Simply put, the Puritans believed that the grace that was necessary for their salvation is applied to the believer even before the moment they are saved.
The authors state that this doctrine preparation addresses the question as to the manner in which God “ordinarily” brings a person to a saving knowledge of Christ. Not all questions are answered. In their own words, “Specifically, is conversion an event or a process? If a process, how does the work of conversion begin? There may be exceptional cases, but in general, is there a pattern to conversion? They take the position that it is a process. They write, “Many Puritans of England and New England answered these questions with the doctrine of preparation. People must be prepared to believe in Christ before they exercise such faith. Such preparation of the heart may be viewed as a part of the process that leads to conversion.” Even here, questions remain. The remainder of the book is dedicated to explaining this pre-working of God’s grace.
This book is full of quotes from Puritan authors and modern day reformed scholars. This book is well researched and has the feel of a collection of essays that don’t quite fit together. It also has a textbook feel to it. There are so many quotes and footnotes that is becomes distracting. The authors, in an attempt to elaborate their point, bring in too much peripheral work. For example, while saying what preparatory grace is, many times they give extensive examples of what it is not. Thus muddying the water. There is too much inclusion of unnecessary thought. Far too much time is given to trying to figure out God’s mind in terms of a human process.
I have to be honest here. I do not embrace Reformed Theology. I have a difficult time with the subject, not intellectually but practically. I am quickly offended by the pride and arrogance with which a number of reformed authors write. That being said, “Prepared by Grace, for Grace” has some excellent content with the covers and there is much to be gleaned here. I took away some great things from this book. It is however not a book that I can recommend.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”