Posted by: chuckbumgardner | November 25, 2011

Myron Houghton, Law and Grace

Myron Houghton, Law and Grace (Regular Baptist Press, 2011).

I met with my NT professor Jon Pratt to try to gain a better understanding of the role of the law (if any) in the believer’s life.  He recommended this book.  I’m glad he did.  Houghton’s extensive theological studies under Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran, and Dispensationalist teachers has put him in good stead to address the topic.  In this volume, he presents the Roman Catholic view of the law (mixes law and grace), the Reformed view of the law (presents the Law as a rule of life, Calvin’s “third use of the Law”), and finally his own Dispensationalist view of the law.  He spends a chapter or two on application of his theological work to several practical issues such as Sabbath-keeping, tongues-speaking, and stewardship.  I think it would be fair to characterize the book’s major thesis with this quote: “Believers today are not under the law, either as a way of salvation or as a rule of life” (157).

Houghton finds the typical “Law-Gospel” divide inadequate, in that it does not account for NT “demands” on the believer — the believer is not under the OT Law, and the Gospel does not make demands.  He therefore introduces the category of “Grace”, which includes (as an overarching category) “Gospel” and stands opposed to “Law”.  And Law-Grace is not to be understood as an OT-NT divide.  “… law, gospel, and grace can be found throughout the Bible” (12).  “Any passage that makes demands by causing the reader to be afraid of God, whether in the Old or New Testament, is to be considered law.  By the same token, any passage that offers God’s free forgiveness apart from demands, whether in the Old or New Testament, is to be considered gospel” (115).

Houghton demonstrates from the NT (especially Romans) that the believer is not under the OT law (Rom 6:14) in any sense or to any extent (not even the “moral law” of the Torah, or the summarizing Ten Commandments), but is dead to the law (Rom 7:4) and free from the law (Rom 8:2).  This is not to say that the believer is to live “lawlessly”, for grace makes demands on believers as we see in the NT (e.g., Tit. 2:11-14), and these are followed out of gratitude, not fear of God’s wrath.  To summarize Houghton’s summary (!) on the biblical teaching on Law and Grace, (1) The moral law should not be equated with the Ten Commandments; (2) Scripture indicates that the Mosaic Law was only in place for a certain period of time (Gal 3:18-19); (3) The function of the law is to make sin known to the unbeliever; (4) Law-giving is not a means of salvation or a means of living a godly life; (5) Though not under law, believers are under grace, which makes demands on believers.

I appreciate Houghton’s clarity of thought and writing.  I also appreciate his theological method: instead of proof-texting, he carefully works through the passage or two that he believes most directly and clearly addresses the issue at hand.

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