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  • Writer's pictureScott Carr, Jr.

Review: "Called To Be Saints" by Gordon T. Smith

IVP Academic has been a faithful publisher, continuing to promote materials that teach the full breadth of our Gospel hope and promote a reformation of evangelicalism for the past century. Gordon Smith's recent volume on Christian maturity certainly does not disappoint in continuing that tradition. Smith wrote Call To Be Saints to address a concern he found in evangelicalism; a deficient view of sanctification.

It does not require a convincing argument for anyone familiar with evangelicalism to realize he is correct. In a post-Great Awakening world, the evangelical church is interested in quick conversions, mere professions of faith. While most leaders are saddened when those converted under their ministry do not produce the good works of salvation, they still feel relieved, thinking their converts are still "saved". The popular adage is "You can be a Christian and not have a relationship with Christ." Is it, then, any wonder that the statistics on matters like divorce and sexual activity are no different in the Church than they are in society? While most evangelicals would like to see more change in the lives of their congregants than "just saying a prayer", no matter what, those who "just said the prayer" are still "in". Such shallow definitions of salvation have earned the laughter of Rome, Constantinople, Canterbury, and even the Protestant Reformers, on the majority of American spirituality.

No one denies there is a problem, and there have been attempts to fix them. Smith, in his book, points out that there has been a greater interest in spiritual disciplines throughout evangelicalism in recent years, thanks to the hard work of teachers like Dallas Willard. Such teaching has even led to recovering some of the benefits of Catholic and Orthodox practices that too many Protestants (sadly) threw away after the Reformation. While such efforts are worth commending, Smith believes such a response is jumping the gun at this point. So far, says Smith, we have only asked how we grow in grace, without asking what the end goal is. If we are to begin the journey these disciplines take us on, we need to know the destination. And that is where his book comes in.

Smith, of course, begins his book by explaining the need for this particular book and its subject matter, and he makes some excellent points, similar to the ones made in the beginning of this review. The meat of the book is in chapter 2. Before we can understand the use of spiritual disciplines or even describe the holiness we are called to as believers, we have to know how we become holy, and that is by union with Christ. Smith provides rich exegesis of the pertinent passages (namely, Ephesians 1), and interacts with historical and modern treatments of the subject. Such a view of salvation is very different from the one found in evangelicalism, and will lead to the deeper view of salvation the movement so desperately needs. The theological content of this chapter alone is of monumental benefit for the Church.

Once he has established the theological framework for how we become holy, Smith spends the remainder of his book describing what that holiness looks like. He sees holiness as fourfold; it is wise, produces good works, shows love, and is joyful. The four chapters in which he expounds these facets of holiness show the same depth as the chapter on union with Christ. To have a modern treatment on what the Christian life is to look like is refreshing. Too often, evangelicals have a few shallow behaviors they utilize to judge the faith of others, rather than look at the actual content of the holiness we are called to.

Throughout the entire book, Smith goes to great effort to ground his work in the doctrines of the Trinity, the person of Christ, salvation and creation, sin and faith, and finally, the role of the Church. Framing the discussion in this context is illuminating, and is necessary to keep in mind if we are to understand the work of God in our lives. It is very difficult to find places to disagree with Smith on. If there are, they are very minor and have little bearing on the crux of his argument. I am sure there were details I differed with him on, but once completing the book, they were forgotten. Once the book is closed, the reader is only left with a feeling of great hope as they look towards the grand, beautiful calling God has for us. And Smith makes it a point to show just how possible it is for us to attain this high calling through our union with Christ.

The fact that the the word "academic" is on the spine of the book might make some potential readers assume this book is inaccessible, but they would be greatly mistaken. Smith is very careful in his explanations and is easy to understand. It does not require a sharp intellect to follow him through this book. And he also includes suggestions on how the ideas of his book can be practical. He points out ways the fourfold holiness he is describing can shape our practice, both individually and corporately. While the book might not be as practical as some would like it to be, Smith gives enough in his book for readers to start with, and he has laid a foundation for others to build on.

In the end, this book is extremely edyfing for all who read it, and it provides a vital call to the evangelical Church, one that has been ignored in recent years. May the Church heed Smith's words and find the full wisdom, work, love, and joy that is provided by our union in Christ.

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