Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Book Review: Grace Defined and Defended

Grace Defined and Defended: What a 400 Year Old Confession Teaches Us About Sin, Salvation, And the Sovereignty of God. Kevin DeYoung. 2019. Crossway. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The first car I owned was a 1995 Dodge Neon, and it was a lemon.

The 400-Year-Old Confession of which DeYoung speaks is none other than the Canons of Dort. If you're thinking...didn't you just review a book about the Canons of Dort?'d be right. I did. That book was by Robert Godfrey and titled  Saving the Reformation. (It was published by Reformation Trust.)

Both books stress that Calvinism is MORE than the acronym TULIP. Both books stress the relevance of the Canons of Dort to the Christian faith and the importance of holding to doctrinal truth. Both books include the text of the Canons of Dort and provide commentaries for the articles. (DeYoung's book does not provide exposition of the rejections however.) Both books provide a history lesson. DeYoung's book provides a glossary of key terms, key people, key writings BEFORE the history lesson. (I thought this was a nice touch).
  • Reformed : the Christians and churches in sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Europe that held to one of more of the Reformed confessions. In the Netherlands this meant the Belgic Confession (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563).
  • Arminian: Initially, these were the followers of Jacob Arminius, but Arminian theology continued to develop after his death in 1609. Later Arminians like John and Charles Wesley (or your Methodist or Free Will Baptist friend next door) probably bear some theological resemblance to the Arminians at Dort, but we should not assume a one-to-one correspondence.
  • Remonstrants: The Arminian party in the Netherlands, so called because of the protest document they issued called the Remonstrance of 1610.
  • CounterRemonstrants : The Reformed party in the Netherlands opposed to the Arminians.
  • Opinions of the Remonstrants (1618): The opinions (sometimes called the Sententia) offered by the Arminians at the Synod of Dort.
  • Canons of Dort (1619): The doctrinal pronouncements from the Synod of Dort, organized under five main points of doctrine.
I loved how DeYoung's book was filled with I-didn't-know-that facts. For example, "Before the Synod of Dort conducted its business, each member took a solemn oath saying that “I will only aim at the glory of God, the peace of the Church, and especially the preservation of the purity of doctrine.” They ended with a prayer: “So help me, my Savior, Jesus Christ! I beseech him to assist me by his Holy Spirit.”

Wouldn't it be wonderful if believers today were as passionate and zealous for doctrinal truth?! Can their be true [genuine, authentic] unity without purity or truth?

Most of this book focuses on the Canons of Dort. As I mentioned earlier, it includes the ARTICLES of the Canons of Dort within the text itself. These are broken down, of course, into their five main points. DeYoung provides exposition or commentary for these articles. It does include the rejections for each of the five main points, but only as an appendix. He does not provide commentary for the rejections.

Here are DeYoung's summary of the Five Points Held by the Arminians:
  • Point 1 affirms that God “determined before the foundation of the world to save out of the fallen sinful human race those in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ who by the grace of the Holy Spirit shall believe in this his Son Jesus Christ.” That sounds like Ephesians 1, except that it’s not clear on what basis God determines the elect. Does God choose the elect so that they might believe in Jesus Christ, or does he choose the elect based on foreseen knowledge that they shall believe in Jesus Christ? We know from the arguments at the Synod of Dort that the Arminians clearly meant the latter.
  • According to point 2, Jesus Christ “died for all men and for every man, so that he merited reconciliation and forgiveness of sins for all through the death of the cross; yet so that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer.” Here we can see the conflict with what Dort would teach concerning “limited atonement.” The Arminians believed that Christ merited forgiveness for every human being, but that this procured salvation is only effective in those who believe.
  • At first glance, point 3 sounds a lot like Total Depravity, with the Arminians affirming that “man does not have saving faith of himself nor by the power of his own free will.” Moreover, they teach that we cannot do anything truly good without first being regenerated through the Holy Spirit and renewed in all powers. The rub is that the Remonstrance does not make clear whether this spiritual inability is a death or a sickness and whether the remedy is a monergistic (one-work-working) resurrection or a gracefilled, cooperative empowerment.
  • We see in point 4 that Arminian grace was not sovereign grace as traditional Reformed theology had understood it, but rather a “prevenient or assisting, awakening, consequent and cooperating grace.” The Remonstrants certainly believed in grace. They affirmed that all our good works must be “ascribed to the grace of God in Christ.” But this was a coming-alongside grace instead of a unilaterallybring-you-back-from-the-dead grace. Prevenient grace is the grace that comes before human decision and makes it possible (but not certain) for men and woman to choose God. For this reason, the Arminians denied that saving grace is “irresistible.”
  • Point 5 teaches that “that those who are incorporated into Jesus Christ” have “abundant strength to strive against Satan, sin, and the world,” and that in this struggle the believers are helped by Christ and by “the assistance of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” But there is an “if” to this perseverance. Jesus Christ assists believers through his Spirit “if only they are prepared for warfare and desire his help and are not negligent.” In the end, the Remonstrance of 1610 left the door open that believers might “through negligence fall away from the principle of their life in Christ” and “again embrace the present world.”
Here are some of my favorite quotes from his commentary:
The question is not simply, “Why do some people get passed over?” but, “Why should anyone be saved?” We are all deserving of punishment and death. It is only by God’s grace that any of us receive eternal life.
Although the Canons of Dort are rigorously careful and theologically precise, this does not mean they are pastorally irrelevant. In fact, the driving force behind all their definition and all their defending was a desire to help struggling Christians.
The caricature is that Calvinists believe that God capriciously chooses to create innocent people so that he might damn them for his glory. If this what Arminians think that Calvinists believe, they should be embarrassed. And if this is what Calvinists think they ought to believe, they should be ashamed.
God doesn’t condemn people for being reprobate. He condemns people for sin and unbelief, from which God, according to his good pleasure and sovereign grace, has purposed to rescue only the elect.
The doctrine of predestination should never be taught so that people conclude, in despair, that they cannot come; the doctrine must be articulated so people conclude that by God’s grace they can come.
The doctrine of definite atonement is massively important for our theology and for our worship. In fact, I’d argue that definite atonement is so integral to the biblical system taught by Dort that without the L in the TULIP, the whole flower withers.
Bad theology leads to despair, and proud theology leads to disdain. But humble, heartfelt Reformed theology should always lead to doxology.
We often think of free will as being the opposite, in some sense, of God’s sovereignty. But strictly speaking, the freedom of the will has to do with whether the will is in bondage to sin. Prior to the fall, human beings had free will (in this sense), but now our wills, apart from regeneration, are bound to sin. What was holy and pure has become dark, futile, and distorted. Every part of us—mind, will, heart, and emotions—has been corrupted by the fall.
Sin is not just something we do when we follow bad examples; it’s who we are in our very nature.
The doctrine of perseverance does not negate repentance; it leads us to repentance. The grace that saves a wretch like me is also the grace that will lead us home.
You cannot be unjustified. You cannot be un-born again. You cannot be lost a second time once you have been found. We will not lose what God has chosen us for in eternity. We will not forfeit what Christ has perfectly accomplished and infallibly applied. We will not, in the end, resist the grace that first entered our lives irresistibly.
I would definitely recommend this one. It was a great read. I am glad I read both books, and I'm glad that I did so within a week of each other--even if I didn't set out to do so!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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