It is known as the “Marrow Controversy,” a theological dispute in the church in Scotland that took place in the early 1700s surrounding a book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which was published in 1645. What lessons could possibly be drawn from the Marrow Controversy that would apply to us today? Plenty, apparently. In his book The Whole Christ, Sinclair B. Ferguson uses this lesser-known episode in church history as a framing device for discussing a larger issue: the tension between legalism and antinomianism in the life of a believer.
The Whole Christ contains many jewels ready to be mined. Ferguson is quick to point out that legalism and antinomianism are not opposites, but rather both stand together in opposition to the grace of God in the person of Christ. As a manifesto of grace this book is powerful, shifting my mindset just slightly from hope in the work of Christ to hope in the person of Christ. This makes a world of difference. Also, his discussion of the Old Testament law and its current relevance to the New Testament believer is very well done. Finally, the chapter on assurance was full of great insights.
All said and done, this relatively short book manages to touch on justification, legalism, atonement, antinomianism, assurance, grace, incarnation, and more, all while keeping the framing narrative of the Marrow Controversy in view. Most importantly, Ferguson attempts to tie it all together by presenting the practical ministry implications of all his theological plate spinning.
This book came highly recommended by many of the heavy-hitters in the Reformed theologian circle. Names like Timothy Keller, Kevin DeYoung, and Alistair Begg added their praise. I recommend this book also, though I don’t presume to count myself among the ranks of those theological powerhouses. Ferguson is a great writer, but I found myself wishing for a little more of the “everyman” approach to theological issues demonstrated by writers like DeYoung and Keller. Ferguson is difficult to follow sometimes as he references unfamiliar characters, unfolds complicated sentences, and ultimately shorts the reader on the “practical ministry implications” promise. Long story short, I found myself wanting to turn off the audiobook version and pick up a print version, or else be constantly rewinding. This is solid stuff, but it occasionally comes across dry and uninspired.
At the end of the day, this is an important book even if it is somewhat unapproachable at times. A reader’s persistence is rewarded. I feel that I have a better grasp of many of the tensions facing those of us who claim the grace of God as our only hope and our only path. For that I am grateful.
The narration by Derek Perkins is top-notch.
Please Note: This audiobook was gifted as a part of the Christianaudio Reviewers Program in exchange for my unbiased review of this work. This has in no way influenced my opinion or review of this work. More information can be found about this and other Christian audiobooks at christianaudio.com.