Pros: *Insightful, informative
Cons: *Words to the max
There is a race set before all of us; that much we know for certain. However, beyond this simple fact, everyone diverges into denominations and exegesis and argumentation until nobody clearly understands the whole mess. Rather than worrying about the race, we're all too busy fighting with each other about whether or not it's possible to trip up.
The race I'm speaking of is life, and The Race Set Before Us focuses directly on the idea of perseverance. Almost anyone in contact with the church has encountered the whole "once saved, always saved" debate. This somehow expands into the ideas of Calvinists and Arminians and the elect and this whole other realm that I don't understand at all. If you have no idea what I'm talking about...well, neither do I. =) Here's the basic principle: The Bible talks about salvation, which is essentially being saved from the punishment of sins. However, some believe that if people are saved, they will remain that way forever, even if they make no attempt to follow Christ after their conversion. Others say that people must persevere in their faith, because their lifestyle shows their true beliefs, so it's possible for people to say they've been saved and actually "fall away" from the faith. And on and on and on...
This issue has caused a huge debate in many churches, and not many people seem to know their stance. As an elementary schooler, I believed that there were three denominations of churches: Lutheran, Catholic, and Presbyterian. Obviously, I realized that there are tons of other churches out there once I got older, but I never got involved in the whole Calvinist vs. Arminian vs. Open Theist vs. Really Confused thing. And now that I'm attending a Christian college, surrounded by people with vast knowledge bases and experiences, I've become even more confused. I'm sure I'm not alone.
The Race Set Before Us is an attempt to erase that confusion. Caneday and Schreiner lay out all possible options with regard to Scripture, providing a thorough answer for the "once saved, always saved" debate. After wading through 337 pages, I discovered that this book is very solid and thorough. Extremely thorough. Maybe a little too thorough.
Divided into eight chapters, The Race Set Before Us addresses the issue of perseverance: namely, is it required of those who call themselves Christians? Schreiner and Caneday lay the chapters out in a good order, each building on the previous one. This format is helpful because readers get the basics right away, so they have at least something to aid their understanding as the book goes on. However, since The Race contains so much information, it can be overwhelming at times. The authors often refer back to the "already/not yet" theory mentioned in chapter two. Readers may be lost if they don't catch certain concepts right away.
The first chapter delves into the general issue, highlighting key points of disagreement. The authors show four main approaches and add their own view. Chapter two discusses the idea of salvation and how it has historically been divided into certain categories. They argue that salvation is not merely a point in life where someone prays a prayer and BAM! heaven; it is instead a process. Here they also showcase the "already, but not yet" theory, which is predominant throughout the rest of the book.
Chapter three moves into different territory, defining "faith" with various metaphors. Chapter four is the hugest chunk of the book, a section dedicated to biblical warnings about "falling away" and how God uses them to secure salvation. Chapter five gives biblical examples of "fallen" ones, distinguishing between permanent apostasy and temporary failings.
Chapter six talks about the role of God's grace in perseverance and reasons for believers to persevere. Chapter seven discusses God's promises and their connection to salvation. Finally, chapter eight dives into the dangerous subject of election.
So how did I end up with this book, anyway? Well, Dr. Caneday happens to be one of my professors, and teachers always require their own work, right? Since I personally know one of the authors, I have come to respect his wisdom and deep understanding of spiritual things. The main thing I will note about Dr. Caneday, though, is his massive vocabulary. He is well-educated and has admitted to reading the dictionary, so his diction is quite sophisticated. While this serves him well in saying exactly what he wants to say, it also can be overwhelming.
Here, I have to differentiate between Christianese and theological jargon. Christianese is comprised of overused, often cliched phrases tossed around within the church, like "lost in darkness" and "ask Him into your heart." I feel like I have to provide a disclaimer that these phrases aren't worthless since they obviously have scriptural basis, but many people just say them without understanding what they mean. And I digress. Theological jargon is stuff like "overrealized eschatology," which I have encountered numerous times and still don't really understand. Caneday and Schreiner try to veer away from Christianese, but The Race is definitely bogged down in theological jargon. While they try to explain most of the terminology, some of it is simply too complicated. Therefore, reading this might require at least a basic relationship with some hardcore church vocabulary. And you'll probably need a good understanding of big words in general. I consider myself a good reader, but I've spent many an hour digesting this book. Each chapter takes awhile first to read and then to process.
Besides being packed with words, The Race is filled to the brim with content. Caneday and Schreiner are very deliberate about explaining each viewpoint carefully to avoid misunderstanding. In doing so, however, they create pages and pages of information that just cause brain overload. I think the book's main points could be condensed into a simpler version, but the authors apparently wanted to cover the subject as painstakingly as possible. Again, good for those who want the full depth of understanding, but confusing for those who want simpler answers.
The book is also complex (in a good way) because it draws upon several Bible passages and connects them to the larger theme. This is encouraging to me, since all the arguments aren't based solely on logic and opinion, though those things do come into play. The Race is scripturally solid, in that it doesn't distort Bible verses to support the main points. Rather, the authors introduce the Bible as the focal point, adapting their understanding of perseverance to what the Bible is really saying.
So would I recommend this book to you? As leisure reading, no. But if you are truly searching for answers to the age-old debate, you'll find some good insights here. Also, don't despair if you begin the book unsure of your stance on the issue. It will likely give you something to think about so you can make well-informed decisions. And as I've repeated over and over, "thorough" is the key adjective for The Race. A variety of viewpoints are laid out, so many of your questions will probably be answered before you've even thought of them.
Don't expect to breeze through the chapters in a few nights. And don't expect to skim the main information and skip to the conclusion, for you'll be missing some pertinent background information. Finally, don't be discouraged if the writing style isn't your flavor; that's just Dr. Caneday being Dr. Caneday (he speaks like that, too).
Final Verdict: 4 stars for strength of support, logic, and organization, along with in-depth exploration of various options. No fifth star because I feel that the reading level exceeds the fog index.