Saturday, January 12, 2013

Knew Review: For Calvinism

Thanks to a generous gift (in the form of an Amazon gift card), I recently purchased a bunch of books, including Michael Horton’s “For Calvinism” (a companion book to Roger Olson’s “Against Calvinism”). I’m not a Calvinist, but I think it is good for non-Calvinists to learn Calvinism from Calvinists (and not from caricatures created by other non-Calvinists). I thought I’d share my response to Horton’s Calvinism in a series of blog posts. The book includes an introduction followed by 8 chapters… so this will likely come in 9 installments.

I’d begin by saying I’m glad ‘companion’ books are written. I think Michael Horton and Roger Olson are excellent choices for this ‘for’ and ‘against’ approach to the Calvinism/Arminianism debate.

On the very first page of the introduction, Horton admits the existence of a ‘hyper-Calvinism’ that sometimes proves the caricatures of critics (13). Later, though, Horton calls Norman Geisler’s moderate Calvinism ‘basically Arminian’ (204). Thus, Horton would place himself between hyper-Calvinism and moderate Calvinism. He aims to present Calvinism as a theology that avoids any hint of either antinomianism or Arminianism.

In this book Horton has been asked to use the famous T.U.L.I.P. acronym as a basic outline. He reluctantly does so, insisting throughout that there are better ways to communicate the core truths of Calvinism.

Indeed, I found his succinct summaries of each of the 5 points more agreeable than the standard T.U.L.I.P. statements. I would, for example, wholly endorse his statement on total depravity. I could interpret his statement on unconditional election in a way that I’d support. Even on limited atonement, his re-worded ‘particular redemption’ is summarized in such a way that I would find acceptable. Of course, the devil is in the details. In the chapters he adds nuance that I wouldn’t support. And even his succinct statements on irresistible grace (which he calls ‘effectual grace) and perseverance of the saints are objectionable from my perspective. Nevertheless, I found his T.U.P.E.P. an improvement in content over T.U.L.I.P. (though clearly not as catchy!).

I was glad to see Horton state that differences of opinion between Calvinism and Arminianism do not amount to different Gospels. Clearly, “we are justified through faith and Christ, not through doctrinal precision.” This is an obvious point (I hope), but clearly needs to be said in these debates (given the history of rhetoric on these issues).

He’s also right in stating that much of the debate comes down to an issue between monergism and synergism, but he might be surprised to find that I (and I would expect most Arminians) would have no problem with his definition of monergism (“God’s grace as the effectual source of election, redemption, faith, and perseverance”). The key is the word ‘source.’ I totally agree that God’s grace is the source of every aspect of salvation. God is the initiator and I depend on God’s presence for each step along the way. The big question is whether there is any individual step of salvation that God resources and completes without any response (or cooperation) to grace from me.

Horton thinks it’s lazy to simply decide that these issues are irresolvable. I agree. We can’t just say that each side has its own verses of support in Scripture. One side, at least, is interpreting ‘their’ passages wrong. Horton thinks his interpretations are right, of course, and this book is a defense of those interpretations and ‘Calvinism’ is general. He prefers, though, the label ‘doctrines of grace’ (rather than Calvinism), but I see this as an attempt to take the high ground in the debate (Arminians obviously think they take grace most seriously, at least I do).

And so we begin. The next installment will cover Horton’s first chapter: The Essence of Calvinism.

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