The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians

By Erwin Lutzer
Grand Rapids : Kregel (1998). 247 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
11.1 (Spring 2000) : 131-132

The author, long-time pastor of the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, has put together a thoroughly readable examination of nine controversial doctrinal issues within Christianity. The subjects covered are infant baptism, the deity and humanity of Christ, the sacraments, the worship of Mary, predestination or free will, justification by faith or works, the canon of Scripture, eternal security, and the sovereignty of God.

The author identifies as a key problem in the modern church the lack of theological conviction, knowledge, and accuracy (14). In the introduction the author states, “In days gone by, many believers were tortured, eaten by wild beasts, or burned at the stake because of their doctrinal controversies. Theology was appropriately called ‘the Queen of Sciences’ because men believed that one’s relationship with God dwarfed all other considerations” (13). Since most of the distinctions between denominations and associations within Protestantism originated because of basic doctrinal issues, a clear understanding of those issues is vital in these days when “some of God’s sheep cannot tell the difference between grass and Astroturf” (14).

The book is well documented, and the author has included a brief but helpful annotated bibliography of key resources. The book lacks indexes, which this reviewer always views as a deficiency. The four chapters chronicling the debate on “Predestination or Free Will” (chapter 9: Augustine v. Pelagius; chapter 10: Luther v. Erasmus; chapter 11: Calvin v. Arminius; and chapter 12: Whitefield v. Wesley) are the highlight of the book and accurately deal with the strengths and weaknesses of each position. All these are important issues which cannot simply be swept aside by a sort of benign neglect. “Today tolerance is regarded much more highly than doctrinal accuracy. We have grown accustomed to Christian talk shows that are rich in experience but devoid of serious doctrinal content. Indeed, one of the cardinal rules of the Christian media is that all doctrinal content, if there is any, must be reduced to the lowest common denominator” (241).

This is a serious book dealing with some of the “heavy” issues in doctrine. However, the author’s clear writing style, his pastoral heart, and passion for doctrinal clarity, make it a must for any Christian concerned with spiritual growth. His work would serve well as the basis for adult Sunday School classes or home Bible studies. This reviewer cannot recommend it highly enough.