Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Book Review: Mere Calvinism

Mere Calvinism. Jim S. Orrick. 2019. P&R Publishing. 224 pages.

From the introduction: Early in the 1990s, I was reading a book of literary criticism by C. S. Lewis when I came across an entire page on which Lewis discusses the influence of Calvinism in the sixteenth century.

This book seeks to explain Calvinism to Calvinists. That's the book at its simplest. In the introduction he writes, "I fear that we pastors and teachers are making a serious mistake when we assume that our people and students understand Calvinism just because they call themselves Calvinists." In the first chapter he writes, "My goal in this book is to demonstrate to you, the reader, that the Bible teaches that God always does as he pleases, and that he initiates, sustains, and completes the salvation of everyone who goes to heaven."

But in the process of explaining Calvinism to Calvinists, there is an opportunity to explain it to others as well. Perhaps to those that have long misunderstood it. Perhaps to those that have feared it.

Anyone who carefully--prayerfully--reads Mere Calvinism would find it difficult to deny that Orrick's book is saturated with the Word of God. That his arguments for Calvinism are rooted deeply, oh-so-deeply, in the Word of God. Now mere human logic or reason will never get believers to switch teams from Arminianism to Calvinism. But perhaps with a little nudge, nudge from the Spirit, the book will do just that. Not because Orrick is super-persuasive and a charismatic teacher. But because his book rightly uses the Word of God.

The first chapter introduces Calvinism briefly. The last chapter plays a "what if" and "but in fact" game with Calvinism. In between, Orrick spends a chapter on each of the five points of Calvinism. T for Total Depravity. U for Unconditional Election. L for Limited Atonement. I for Irresistible Grace. P for Perseverance of the Saints. Usually he includes several illustrations per chapter to help readers understand abstract ideas.

I did not grow up a Calvinist. I was born into an Arminian church-going family. But as I began--as an adult--studying the Word, listening to biblically sound teachers on the radio, reading theology I had an epiphany of sorts. I became an enthusiastic Calvinist who LOVED talking the five points to anyone and everyone--whether they wanted to listen or not. I have read many books on the subject. This book is in some ways a basic beginner course in understanding the five points. I didn't precisely learn anything new, but it was a good opportunity to rejoice in these doctrines once again.

Favorite quotes from chapter one:
  • If the Bible asserts something about God to be true, and it could not possibly be true of your God, then you have the wrong god.
  • Persistent reluctance to submit to the plain teaching of the Scripture is a sure indication that you have not repented of your sinful resolve to determine for yourself what is good and evil. You still have the forbidden fruit in your mouth.
  • [Calvinism] is a way of looking at everything in the world. It is a way of thinking about everything. The Calvinistic way of thinking is rooted in the confidence that God is in control of everything and everyone and that he is controlling everything according to his good and perfect purpose.
Favorite quotes from chapter two:
  • Our Lord summarizes the doctrine of total depravity in one sentence: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” ( John 6:44).
  • Sin has so corrupted and disordered the human race that unless God intervenes in a person’s life, he or she will never repent of sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Human nature became corrupted and disordered. Human understanding was darkened, our affections were polluted, and our will became captivated by sin. Humans’ primary question was no longer “What does God say is true?” but became “What do I want?” Instead of following God-loving reason, the will began to follow sinloving affection.
  • Since we remain spiritual beings and long for what God alone can supply, in our sinful state we sometimes fabricate a god who has a character that suits us in our sin. We may even call our god “Jesus.” We want to remain in control of our lives and keep enjoying our sin, but we also want the benefits of having a god. Therefore we construct a god who approves of our sinful choices, and we delude ourselves into thinking that we are worshiping the true God. This allows us to dispense with whatever the Bible says about God.
Favorite quotes from chapter three:
  • We need to revise our understanding of what constitutes fairness. Fairness does not consist in treating everyone equally; fairness consists in giving everyone what he deserves.
  • One of the fundamental principles of Scripture is that God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone. And if he is not obligated to show mercy to anyone, then he cannot be unfair if he shows mercy to no one.
  • I suspect that many of those who assert that God has chosen everyone to be saved are trying to protect God from accusations of being unfair.
  • Unconditional election presents us with a God who plans; conditional election presents us with a God who reacts.
  • Election says that our salvation is not in our hands. This is something we do not hear from the preachers who tell us that Jesus is patiently waiting to see whether we will allow him into our hearts. The doctrine of unconditional election reveals a God who is strong and in control—a God who does as he pleases. Election teaches us that we are completely at the mercy of a God whom we have offended.
  • God does not send anyone to hell because that person is non-elect; he sends them to hell because they are sinners who willingly rebel against him. Every human deserves God’s wrath, and God would be just to send all humans to hell. Is it wrong for God to send rebellious sinners to hell? Then why would it be wrong for him to plan to do so?
  • When we first see these doctrines in the Bible and embrace them, they are transformative. It is almost like being born again—again! Naturally, we are excited to share with others the truth that has been such a blessing to us. Be wise. Not everything that needs to be said needs to be said right now.
Favorite quotes from chapter four: 
  • “At what point in Pilgrim’s Progress does Christian get saved?” When I ask this question to my students who have just finished reading the book, they nearly always respond with a variety of answers.
  • Most students conclude that Christian got saved at the cross, but this is, in fact, the wrong answer.
  • Christian got saved when he entered through the Wicket Gate. Students get the answer wrong because they misunderstand three critical elements of Bunyan’s allegory: they misunderstand the Wicket Gate, they misunderstand Christian’s burden, and they misunderstand the proper object of saving faith.
  • A wicket gate is a small or narrow gate, and in the Bible Jesus identifies himself as the narrow gate; so in Pilgrim’s Progress the Wicket Gate represents Christ. When Christian asks Evangelist, “Whither must I fly?” Evangelist directs Christian to the Wicket Gate, or to Christ, and not to the cross. The Wicket Gate represents Christ.
  • My students usually misunderstand what the burden on Christian’s back represents. When we meet him, Christian has an enormous burden on his back, and Christian’s burden represents not sin per se but the shame and doubt that he feels because of his sin. Christian’s sins are forgiven, and he is justified, when he receives Christ—which is represented by his entering the Wicket Gate. But Christian does not yet understand the basis of his forgiveness, so his conscience continues to bother or burden him. Put in more technical terms (which is always a welcome means of clarification), the burden represents psychological guilt, not forensic guilt.
  • A person is saved not when he believes in right doctrine (substitutionary, penal atonement, in this case) but when he believes in the right person—namely, Christ. So the object of saving faith is not a doctrine but a Savior.
  • If you love God and point sinners to seek salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, then you and I will be friends.
  • I maintain that the Bible teaches that Christ’s death on the cross was a substitutionary, penal atonement, and everything that follows in this chapter is based on this understanding of Christ’s death.
  • It was substitutionary—that is, Jesus was taking someone’s or some group’s place. It was penal—that is, Christ was suffering a penalty, and that penalty was the punishment due to the sins committed by those for whom he was standing as substitute. It provided atonement. Christ did what the Father required of him, and God was satisfied with him and the sacrifice that he offered. God was reconciled to sinners because of Christ’s sacrifice.
  • Present the gospel the way that it is presented in the Bible. Not once in the Bible do we read of someone saying, “Christ died for you, therefore you ought to receive him.” And we saw earlier that Christ himself, and not some part of his work, is the object of saving faith. The Bible does not say that if a person believes that Jesus died for him, he will be saved. If the Bible does not say it, then neither should we.
Favorite quotes from chapter five:
  • By God’s grace, heaven is in our future—but by nature, hell is in our hearts. If the Lord were to leave us in this sinful condition, even if we were to go to heaven we would not be happy there.
  • So the Lord changes us, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit. On the cross of his suffering, Jesus purchased salvation for us; now, from the throne of his glory, he applies salvation to us by his Holy Spirit.
  • God must do something to make a difference in the mind of anyone who comes to Jesus. Somehow, God so manages things that the elect always hear and obey his call. The sinner hears his call, welcomes his call, and obeys his call.
Favorite quotes from chapter six:
  • The Bible teaches the eternal security of the believer, not the eternal security of the hypocrite.
  • The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is rooted in the astounding teaching of the Bible that the kind of secure eternal life that everyone has in heaven commences on earth in every person who receives Christ as Lord and Savior. The saints in heaven may be happier than are the saints on earth, but they are not more secure.
  • Regrettably, some of the one-pointers—not all, but some—who say that they believe in Once Saved, Always Saved have woefully deficient ideas of what it means for a person to be saved. For them, a person may “get saved” when he or she merely repeats “The Sinner’s Prayer” (a prayer, by the way, that is not in the Bible). Or a person may “get saved” when he “walks down the aisle” (not in the Bible) or “asks Jesus into his heart” (also not in the Bible) or when she gets baptized. In brief, the person who “gets saved” has not necessarily repented. Perhaps the person has been told that all she need do is admit that she is a sinner—but merely admitting one’s sin is not repentance.
  • Christ executes the office of a prophet in revealing to us, by his Word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation. Are you willing to receive Jesus as your prophet? Will you take his Word to be absolute truth and reject any ideas and philosophies that contradict his Word?
  • Christ executed the office of a priest in his offering up himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God, and he continues to execute it in making continual intercession for us. Are you willing to receive Jesus as your priest? It means that you must abandon any idea of saving yourself by your own good works. If you take Jesus to be your priest, then you will rely on him to represent you before God the Father and will trust him to do all that is necessary to make you right with God.
  • Christ executes the office of a king in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all of his and our enemies. Will you receive Jesus as your king? Will you lay down your arms of rebellion, submit to his absolute rule, and look to him as your champion to deliver you from all your spiritual foes?
  • True believers have stopped walking in the darkness of sin, and they are walking in the light of God.
  • True believers keep Christ’s commandments and practice righteousness.
  • True believers love other believers.
  • True believers do not love the world—the system that finds its joy outside of God.
  • True believers do not keep practicing a lifestyle of sin.
  • True believers believe that Jesus is the Christ.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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