Volume 13, Issue 3: Stauron
Outlines of Grace
An outline of theology is a condensation of a more detailed subject, similar to the way that
a kindergartner's stick-figure drawing of his family is a simplified rendition of
In a sense, the creeds and catechisms can be seen as distillations or outlines of vast
theological truths. Christ spoke of the two greatest commandments. While those commandments were
not exhaustive in detail, they were wholly comprehensive in scope; not only of the Ten, but of
the entire Law of God.
We live in a time of marked spiritual regression. Many churches have abandoned these
outlines of God's grace and in the process have seriously dumbed down the theology understood by
their congregations. Thus we take our spiritual inheritance for granted and depend upon the
doctrinal capital of earlier generations.
Of course this is unsatisfactory for many reasons. But one
problem that is almost sure to follow is a high level of susceptibility to false doctrine. Many heresies that
the Church fought and vanquished in ages past now easily dupe modern
Christians. An afternoon of listening to some of the sad fare on a
typical Christian radio station proves the point.
Consider caricatures. These are distortions or undue emphases
of certain features, normally of a politician's face in editorial
cartoons. But in theology, this can be the way heresies begin. The balance of
the full counsel of Scripture is abandoned, and a single truth is emphasized
to the exclusion of other teachings of Scripture. And as odd as it
may sound, part of the problem here is an aversion to
outlines. Nowhere is this more serious than with respect to soteriology, and the very gospel
Soteriology is one of those $64 terms meaning "the word of
deliverance." It simply refers to the doctrine of salvation. In short, what, exactly, is the nature of the
reconciliation effected by Christ? It is easy to take our present-day understanding of this doctrine for granted,
and live unaware of the distorted teachings that once crept into the Church. Instead, we are simply content
to contrast the Christian gospel to something more clearly distinct, like Hinduism or jungle idol worship.
But those pagan religions are not the wolves at the door of the modern church. In our
de-Christianized culture, doctrinal caricatures that are nursed within church pulpits and pews become full-blown
heresies akin to the false teachings that both Peter and Paul warned would arise from
within the Church (2 Pet. 2:1_3; Acts 20:27_30). One of the more useful places to begin in taking "heed to yourselves," as Paul
admonished, is the use of these outlines.
Outlines, whether they be the catechisms, the creeds, or some of the more extensive
works1 available, should never be viewed as a substitute for study of Scripture, but employed as a supplemental tool
toward understanding the sense and scope of the Scripture's teaching (Neh. 8:8).
Let us return to the question posed earlier: How did Christ save His people? Articles XX and XXI of
the Belgic Confession are a wonderful place to refer in answering this question. "The Westminster Confession
of Faith" (ch.VIII sec.V; ch.XI sec.III) also provides a summary of salvation. "The Heidelberg
Catechism" also addresses the question (questions 12_18; 40). But valuable discussion can also be found in a work
like A.A. Hodge's Outlines2
where he poses the question; "In what sense and on what grounds was the
satisfaction rendered by Christ necessary? and how does the true answer to this question confirm the
orthodox doctrine as to its nature?" Hodge then surveys not only the Reformed answer but also key
soteriological "caricatures" and heresies.
Certain of those views held in both ancient and recent times include theories that Christ reconciled
us, not by His sacrificial death, but by His
incarnation. Another view states that it was not necessary to
reconcile God to man, but only man to God by way of the "moral influence" of the cross. Yet another
view known as the "governmental theory" holds that Christ's
example of suffering was not truly
punishment designed to satisfy divine justice but only to impress upon man God's intolerance of sin and to thus
deter his sinning. (Hodge notes that Jonathan Edwards, Jr.
[1745_1801] held to this theory.) Hodge goes on to clearly but briefly explain both any bits of truth as well as the fallacies or distortions found in the
details of that theory. Finally, Hodge reviews the orthodox view known as the "Satisfaction Theory." He notes
its history, beginning with the revival of this truth by an eleventh-century Italian, Anselm of Canterbury.
These examples are not meant to plug Hodge's book so much as an exhortation to study books
like these. To study the history and answer questions like these by exploring the Scripture proofs helps us
to comprehend with all the saints (both present and past) what is the width and length and depth and
height of Christ's love, and the richness of the Lord's salvation for His people.