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An attractive defence of contemporary Calvinism
Date:August 3, 2012
In this little volume, Michael Horton offers a passionate and eirenical defence of the Calvinist pole of contemporary evangelicalism.
His opening chapter outlines the essence of Calvinism in terms of the various ‘sola’s of the Reformation: ‘Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is the source and norm of Christian faith and practice, and this Word proclaims a salvation that is by God’s grace alone (sola gratia), in Christ alone (solo Christo), through faith alone (sola fide). Consequently, all of the glory goes to God alone (soli Deo gloria)’ (p. 27). Thus salvation is entirely and exclusively the work of God (monergism). This is contrasted with Arminianism, which proclaims the free gift of grace to all humankind coupled with an element of synergism (a degree of human cooperation in the work of salvation).
The bulk of the book is given over to an exposition of the so called five points of Calvinism (a.k.a. the doctrines of grace). In the first of these chapters, Horton makes the point that ‘Reformed theology never starts with the fall, but with God’s good creation’ (p. 35) and with the notion that humans are made in the image of God. Thus the first of the five points, total depravity, refers to a distortion of that original goodness. He also reminds us that the ‘total’ in this phrase is extensive rather than intensive; it implies that the distortion applies to every aspect of our being rather than that we are in some particular respect totally depraved.
Moving on to the doctrine of election, Horton insists that the Calvinist insistence on its unconditionality does not imply that it is somehow arbitrary. Rather, the point is that it is entirely a matter of God’s love for us and has nothing to do with our capacity for faith. Some Christians complain that this is not fair and Horton agrees: if God’s response to human sin were rooted exclusively in divine justice, we would all be justly condemned. Election is a matter of divine mercy rather than justice. This is an attractive presentation, but I’m not sure it really answers the most serious criticism of Calvinism, namely that it is inescapably and unacceptably deterministic.
The next chapter explores the doctrine of atonement. Horton summarizes six theories that have been proposed over the centuries to make sense of Christ’s atoning work. He points out that no one theory adequately accounts for the reality. However, in his view, two aspects are essential for any theory to reflect adequately the New Testament witness: redemption must be particular and objective. While no evangelical would dispute the second of these, it is questionable whether the New Testament really does imply that Christ died only for the sins of the elect. Horton marshals the most persuasive Calvinist arguments in favour of this view, but I confess I remain unconvinced.
Finally he combines effectual calling (his preferred term for irresistible grace) and perseverance into a single chapter. These he maintains are implications of the monergism that is fundamental to Calvinist theology.
Having given an outline of the intellectual dimension of Calvinism, Horton turns to its implications for Christian life and practice. Calvinism is variously criticized as either antinomian or legalistic. By contrast, Horton presents a Reformed spirituality in which we work out our sanctification in fear and trembling knowing that it is all by the grace of God. It is a spirituality rooted firmly in the means of grace and virtually opposite in direction to that of much contemporary Christianity. Much contemporary Christianity concentrates on the seeker after God and is directed Godwards; Calvinism is a spirituality for those who have been (perhaps unexpectedly) found by God – it is directed from God to humankind.
Another common criticism of Calvinism is that is has been or is indifferent or antipathetic to Christian mission. Horton admits that there have been hyper-Calvinistic distortions of which this would be true. However, he denies that this was ever true of mainstream Calvinist thinking and demonstrates his point by outlining the Calvinist contribution to Christian missionary activity.
In summary, this is a clearly written and carefully argued defence of Calvinism. It makes an excellent introduction to a major theological and spiritual root of contemporary evangelicalism.
(Perhaps I should add that I received this book free from Zondervan as part of their blogger review programme.)
Michael Horton has written a proficient defence of a vital Christian doctrine. Horton treats Arminianism graciously while clearly detailing why this view is an inadequate understanding of the scriptural evidences. This is a great book for those who are curious about what true Calvinism teaches, and are wanting to go past "TULIP."
Michael Horton in For Calvinism defends the reformed tradition over against Roger E. Olsen’s Against Calvinism. The book begins by explaining the TULIP. Horton devotes a chapter to each letter of the acronym. After explaining and defending the doctrines of grace, Horton then discusses issues which may be affected by holding the reformed prospective. Horton explains the Calvinistic understanding over against the Arminian position. I thought Horton's clarification of the distinction between the Arminian and Reformed understanding of sanctification was very helpful. Horton says, "Instead of one act of faith receiving a complete justification and sanctification that is partial in this life, there are two acts of faith (Horton, 146).” Horton argues that election is the foundation of godliness. Another section within the book that I thought was very helpful was Horton’s defense of Calvinism over against the caricature that Calvinism makes missions pointless. Horton explains how missions would be pointless without election. Horton then explains historically that those who have had the greatest impact upon missions have been Calvinist (John Ryland Jr., Hudson Taylor, William Carey, David Livingstone, David Brainerd, ect). One of my favorite quotes from the book comes when Horton Critiques the individualistic tendencies found within Arminianism. Horton says, “Disciples are made in the church, not in conferences, movements, or para-church ministries. We are not self-feeders but sheep to whom the good shepherd has provided under-shepherds for our lifelong growth (Horton, 141)." I thoroughly enjoyed Horton’s defense of Calvinism. Horton language is simple. Horton does a great job at explaining both positions fairly. I did not see any caricature’s of the Arminian position. Horton uses several primary sources in arguing the historicity of both positions. Horton spends more time critiquing the primary sources and direct sources of those who hold those positions now. I would highly recommend this book to both the scholar and the layman. If you are struggling with the issue of Calvinism or Arminianism, read these books and hear two great arguments.
Publisher: Zondervan Pages: 207 Binding Type: Paperback Book Grade: A
Mention the word “Calvinism” and you’re likely to get some strong negative responses. Most of these responses sadly will be a caricature of the position based on misunderstandings that people have about Calvinism. In For Calvinism by Dr. Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California seeks to deal with these caricatures by exploring the teachings of Calvinism itself by showing how it is biblical and God-centered, leading God’s people to live their lives for the glory of God. As Horton does this he explores the historical roots of Calvinism, walking readers through the Five Points of TULIP and encouraging his readers to consider its rich resources for faith and practice in the twenty-first century.
The biggest contribution For Calvinism contributes to the many books on Reformed theology is the depth of biblical and theological insight. One of the greatest weaknesses of the companion volume Against Calvinism is that Dr. Olson didn’t engage the Word of God. In this book, Dr. Horton avoids the pitfall of not engaging the Word of God by faithfully engaging what the Bible teaches. The chapters I appreciated the most were chapter seven “Calvinism and Christian missions” and the final chapter “Calvinism Today: A SWOT Analysis”.
In chapter seven Dr. Horton answers the all too common charge that Calvinists do not believe in evangelism. In his response he demonstrates how Calvinists have played a prominent role in modern missions and evangelism because of their biblical and theological convictions (Horton, 152). At the heart of his comments in chapter seven is this statement, “Election reminds us that God is the original missionary and that God’s people have the privilege of serving alongside him in his execution of that plan. The Church is God’s creation, not ours” (Horton, 165).
Several other quotes from this chapter are noteworthy and help to address this issue: “Election affords assurance not only of our assurance but of God’s ability to overcome the unbelief of friends and loved ones, no matter how hard their hearts” (Horton, 166). “Only because God is soveriegnly gracious missionary are God’s people able to take u our responsibility and privilege of witness to his gospel. And only because he alone is the Savior can we bear that responsibility with humility and freedom rather than slavish guilt or self-righteous pride” (Horton, 168).
Ultimately election reminds God’s people that it isn’t about them but all about Jesus. The biblical teaching on election ought to drive the people of God to their knees in submission to the One- Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection secured their salvation. This teaching gives the Christian confidence that God will use His Gospel and His people in the lives of others to bring them to the Chief Shepherd-- the Lord Jesus Christ. Rather than doing away with missions, Calvinism provides a basis upon which the Christian doesn’t need to rely upon themselves, but upon God who transfers sinners from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the final chapter Dr. Horton identifies three strengths and weaknesses: First, intellectual boldness/cold intellectualism; second, love for Truth/Factionalism, and finally, respect for tradition/traditionalism. Dr. Horton identifies two opportunities/threats. The first is revived interest in the Doctrines of Grace/Replacing the church with a movement, and a new interest/a new fundamentalism. The author concludes by calling his readers toward a new reformation.
Dr. Horton in the final chapter “Calvinism Today: A SWOT Analysis” warns his readers, “Without a confessional consciousness and a confessing heart, the disintegration of a clear common enemy gives way to sectarian rivalry” (Horton, 190). At the root of this statement is the fact according to Dr. Horton that, “Evangelicalism in the United States is plagued by ignorance of Scripture and confusion concerning the nature of the human plight and its solution in the gospel” (Horton, 191). The message that Dr. Horton is trying to get through here is that sound doctrine ought to affect all of our lives.
The greatest strength of Calvinism can also become its greatest weakness when Calvinists become so focused on doctrine that they aren’t concerned at all with how that doctrine affects their lives. The Reformed tradition has a long history of teaching sound doctrine rooted in the fact that the Gospel is for all of life. The Reformed tradition has always sought to match knowledge of the head that affects how one lives. This teaching addresses the common charge that Calvinists know a lot about the Bible but do not love people. Calvinism as a theological system addresses the whole person just as the Gospel does by challenging them to not only know the right doctrine but for that doctrine to affect all of one’s life.
Believing the right things about God is good, but if that theology doesn’t affect our lives then our theology is only in our heads. The Reformed tradition has a long history of calling its adherents to the Gospel—the power of God to save and to sanctify people. At the heart of the Reformed tradition is the conviction that its theology is calling people to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ in all of life.
For Calvinism is a good introductory book on what TULIP is. By dealing with the misunderstandings and caricatures of Calvinism from the Word of God and church history, Dr. Horton has given the Church a great resource on what TULIP is. By calling his readers to live out what they believe Dr. Horton is calling those in the Reformed community back to the Gospel for all of life.
For Calvinism by Dr. Horton is a book I highly recommend everyone read especially those who think they understand Calvinism but misunderstand what Calvinism teaches, and or mislead others by promoting caricatures of Calvinism. Reading this book will inform your mind and warm your heart both of which the Reformers were concerned to do in order to draw people to back to the Gospel—the power of God to save and to sanctify the people of God.
Title: For Calvinism
Author: Michael Horton
Publisher: Zondervan (2011)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”