Book review: Sinclair B. Ferguson, “The Whole Christ”

[I received a kindle copy for review from the publisher, Crossway.]

Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

Brother Ferguson does an excellent job unpacking a fairly complex internecine controversy within 18th century Scottish Presbyterianism. As a Scottish born Presbyterian preacher and theology professor at various Reformed seminary campuses, he is well-suited for understanding and unpacking the historical and theological niceties of the “Marrow Controversy” – so named because it centered around Edward Fisher’s The Marrow Of Modern Divinity. The basic issue dealt with legalism, antinomianism, the biblical balance between faith and obedience. Ferguson explains it this way:

“On the surface the Marrow Controversy was about how we preach the gospel; what role, if any, God’s law and our obedience play in the Christian life; and what it means to have assurance of salvation. But those issues are always, at bottom, about the gospel itself. While these themes have taken center stage at particular periods in the church’s history, that is only the tip of the iceberg. They are perennially relevant because underneath them lies the most fundamental question of all: Who is the God whom we come to know in Jesus Christ (John 17:3)? What is he really like, truly like—deep down, through and through? The atmosphere that characterizes my Christian life will reflect my answer to these questions. That was the issue that lay deeply embedded in the Marrow Controversy. To that extent, reflecting on it can never be merely an antiquarian hobby or an academic exercise.” Kindle Loc. 241-47.

The implications of this debate touches on the nature of a believer’s assurance of salvation. In my estimation, brother Ferguson is at his best when unpacking biblical reasons for Christian assurance in contrast to the counterfeit assurance of legalism and antinomianism. I am not an adherent to Covenant Theology or Five Point Calvinism, so I could not agree with those views in this book. Nevertheless, I appreciate brother Ferguson’s clear prose and his careful exposition of the Scriptures. This is not a dry tome of church history; rather it is warmly pastoral, and aims to encourage true believers to grow in the true Christian life.