Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Journey in Grace

by Richard P. Belcher
Crown Publications,
1990 / 154 pages

This is both a really bad book, and a great one.

On the one hand it is one of the very worst pieces of fiction I have ever read. On the other, it is one of the most accessible theological texts I have ever come across. And that also makes it a rather unique piece of writing.

Pastor Belcher's protagonist is Ira Pointer, a seminary student forced to contend with Calvinism. He doesn't know anything about it, so in chapter after chapter he investigates and questions Calvinism's basics, trying to find out what Calvin believed and taught, and whether he was right. There is also a romantic element to the book - Ira has his eye on a pretty young lass named Terry - but this too is used to teach theology. As soon as Terry and Ira start dating he tells her about these new doctrines he is investigating, so in each of their conversations and on each of their dates readers learn just a bit more about Calvinism.

Even though this is not a book you would ever read for the story it is a very enjoyable way to learn about the basics of Calvinism, and to see these basics cross-examined by Ira, and his fiancee, and tested against Scripture. A lousy novel, it is a fantastic theological text.

Discernment label
(For more on this, see "Discernment labels" in our article section)

CONTENT: The cover describes this as a “theological novel.” Seminary student Ira Fife Pointer, is forced into a spiritual journey when he’s asked a question he’s never heard before: “Young man – are you a Calvinist?” Ira doesn’t know, but he’s definitely going to find out. The plot centers around Ira’s quest to find out what Calvinism is, and what the Bible says about depravity, election, atonement, grace, and perseverance.

CAUTION: The author is a Reformed Baptist, who understands both baptism and the covenant in a markedly different way than other Calvinists, but these issues are only incidental in this volume. Also incidental, but, as reviewer Rev. P. H. Holvluwer put it, running "in a different direction than the line of Reformed thinking" is the understanding of conversion in a Christian's life occurring at a specific identifiable moment (which it need not be). Additionally, again as Rev. Holtvluwer has pointed out (in a July/August 2001 review in Reformed Perspective), there is a mistaken emphasis on how we are to go about seeking God's will for our life - here the emphasis is put on waiting for and following the Holy Spirit's inner leading. For a more biblical approach, see Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something. But these are not major points of focus, and so only incidental matters.

CONCLUSION: Journey in Grace doesn’t really measure up as a novel, but as a theological text, this “novel” approach to teaching Calvinism is nothing short of brilliant.

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