Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review: The Joy of Calvinism

The Joy of Calvinism. Greg Forster. 2012. Crossway Books. 208 pages.

From the introduction: The Bible commands us to rejoice all the time. 

Greg Forster attempts to clarify more than a few things about Calvinism in his book, The Joy of Calvinism. He seems almost embarrassed by "the five points of Calvinism" the organizational system that many other authors have used in the past hundred years when discussing or writing about the doctrines of grace. He urges Calvinists to try different tactics, though methods might be the better word, if they want to really clear up some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings. He argues that it would be much, much better for Calvinists to redefine their beliefs positively. That is by stating what they do believe instead of focusing on what they don't believe. (In other words, often it's presented as a defense. You say this and that. We don't agree with that at all. Instead we believe this and this and a little bit of that. And we've got hundreds if not thousands of verses to back it up. Or to be more upfront, let's say that Catholics believe this. Arminians believe that. Lutherans believe this-and-that. We don't agree. This is what we think.) He also believes that Calvinism has often been thought of too narrowly. That is that people see Calvinism as only applying to election and predestination. They don't see how Calvinism covers so much more than that. That it is a world view that covers the big picture; it's comprehensive and complex. And it would take a whole alphabet not just five little letters--TULIP--to understand it. To see it merely in terms of "five points" doesn't do anyone any good at all.

Is The Joy of Calvinism as clear as it could be? I'm not sure that it is. I think he makes a good effort to move past the five points of Calvinism. To talk about the five points without actually using the traditional words often associated with the five points. But if you're familiar with the five points at all, then you'll recognize the ideas, beliefs, and doctrines even if they're not clearly presented as such--as belonging to the T, the U, the L, the I, the P. If you're unfamiliar with Calvinism, well, the ideas may be so new to you, so challenging to the beliefs you hold--whether you hold them loosely or tightly--that it may take a couple of careful readings to figure it all out. I won't lie. The ideas themselves are complex. They take time to comprehend. And there are parts you may never comprehend or understand completely or fully, but, reading Scripture clearly states. Again and again and again. I personally don't have a problem with the five points. I like having TULIP and R.C. Sproul's RULEP. While I can see that maybe having those "five" points may seem limiting or narrowing or restrictive, I also see that each idea represented is deep and complex and expansive. Yes, you have to know more, grow more...but it's a good place to start, in my opinion.

As for people misunderstanding Calvinists, well, I'm not sure what to say about that really. I think it works both ways. I think part of it is stubbornness and refusing to listen (hearing what you want to hear or thinking ahead to what you'll say or argue next). And I think part of it is vocabulary or terminology. While it's true Calvinists could use different approaches, different words, etc., I don't think that would completely solve the problem. Because if a person is approaching Calvinism with doubt or hate or skepticism. If their mind is already made up, if they already have a prejudice against what it is, a narrow concept of what it is all about, it's not going to be easy to clarify or untangle things. They may not want to take all the time it would take to sort through things, to study and research. After all, it is a lot easier to just jump to conclusions and let your mind come up with its own associations.

Is Joy of Calvinism my favorite, favorite book on Calvinism or Reformed theology? No. I've read better. Greg Forster even lists some of those books that I've read and adored. I think it's a complex book with a great premise. But it is a good book.

  • Introduction: Rejoice....Always?
  • Detour: Five Points About Calvinism
  • 1. God Loves You Personally: When Jesus Died and Rose Again, He Saved You.
  • 2. God Loves You Unconditionally: Nothing is more important to your heavenly Father than saving you.
  • 3. God Loves You Irresistably: The "new birth" in the Holy Spirit is a radical, supernatural transformation
  • 4. God Loves You Unbreakably: You can do all things, persevere through all trials, and rejoice in all circumstances
  • Conclusion: The Joy of Calvinism
  • Appendix: Questions and Answers

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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