In For Calvinism, Michael Horton (Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and cohost of the White Horse Inn) reveals the rich Biblical and historical roots that exist beneath the doctrines of grace that are most commonly referred to as Calvinism. Published by Zondervan alongside Roger Olsen’s Against Calvinism, these two books speak to one of the theological trends that (according to Time magazine) is “changing the world.”
In chapter one, The Essence of Calvinism, the author seeks to dismantle stereotypes and caricatures, and in turn, show where Calvinism lands among various theological positions (Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, and Socianism).
In chapter two, Of Regents and Rebels: The Human Condition, Horton aspires to display that genuine Reformed theology does not begin with Total Depravity, but with the Creator God and His prize creation, man. Man was created with freedom of will, and chose sin, evil, and death, thereby shackling all of creation in sin. The result is that all of humanity now chooses sin freely, and – controlled by sin – cannot choose otherwise.
Chapter three, Loved Before Time (Election), the author builds a Biblical case for the doctrine of election and distinguishes and clarifies that doctrine from that of reprobation. For an extended section of this chapter, click here.
In chapter four, Mission Accomplished (Atonement), he tackles what is, without a doubt, the most debated and discussed aspect of Calvinism’s five points. He describes “Limited Atonement,” as an “unfortunate label,” and prefers “alternative terms such as ‘definite atonement’ or ‘particular redemption,’” as they clarify the position better.
All orthodox Christians maintain that the atonement is limited either in its extent or in its nature. Calvinists believe that it is limited (or definite) in its extent, but unlimited in its nature or efficacy: Christ’s death actually saved the elect. Arminians believe that it is unlimited in its extent, but limited in its nature or efficacy: Christ’s death makes possible the salvation of everyone, but does not actually save any.
Chapter five, titled Called and Kept (Effectual Calling and Perseverance), differentiates between perseverance and security, as well as providing another (better?) term for definition – “effectual calling” rather than “irresistible grace.”
In chapter six, Calvinism and the Christian Life, the author spends extensive time dispelling the notion that Calvinism hinders piety. He maintains that this is a caricature, and that election is a crucial impetus for the pursuit of godliness.
Chapter seven, Calvinism and Christian Missions, was perhaps my favorite chapter. In it, Horton probed the rich heritage of Calvinist missions, taking the accusation that Calvinism leads to a lack of passion for missions head-on.
For example, Southern Baptist church historian William R. Estep, a noted authority on Anabaptism, asserts that “logically, Calvinism is anti-missionary.” If election is true, he argues, “evangelism and missionary effort are exercises in futility.” The premises in Estep’s article do indeed follow logically to his conclusion. If election eliminates personal responsibility for responding to the gospel and the gospel itself is not to be proclaimed indiscriminately to every person, of course the missionary enterprise would be a fool’s errand. However, none of the premises is actually held by Calvinists. But they are widely assumed by non-Calvinists. It is a caricature of Calvinism that leads to the conclusion that, on logical grounds, it is inimical to missions.
He goes on to describe the rich history of Calvinist missions, from Calvin himself to William Carey to John Eliot to David Brainerd to David Livingstone to Karl F. A. Gutzlaff to Jonathan Goforth to Samuel Zwemer. Horton then goes beyond these men’s stories and gives a compelling Biblical argument for the logic of Calvinism in missions.
And in chapter eight, Calvinism Today: A SWOT Analysis, the author looks in-depth at the strengths and weaknesses of Calvinism, as well as it’s opportunities and threats. Listed among the strengths and weaknesses are: intellectual boldness and cold intellectualism, a love for truth and factionalism, respect for tradition and traditionalism.
In For Calvinism, Horton gives a strong, clear, Biblically-faithful witness that speaks to the tremendous strengths of the doctrines of grace. He encounters caricatures and stereotypes head-on – giving historical evidence through sermons, creeds, and catechisms – explaining that those who hold those certain positions stand on the fringes of Reformed theology, or are misunderstood assumptions by those outside of Calvinism about Calvinists.
The chapters on the rich heritage of Calvinism and Christian piety, and that of Calvinists and missions and evangelism are worth twice the price of the book in and of themselves. In my experience, these two issues are those most criticized by those outside of Calvinist circles. Concerns with Calvinism generally focus on a belief that election will hinder the believer’s efforts in sanctification, or that it would hinder the passionate resolve to share the gospel to all nations. These two chapters simply stop those arguments cold.
Sadly, For Calvinism will primarily be read by the already-convinced, or the will-not-be-convinced. This is not due to the author’s tone, as much as the topic. Few stumble upon books like For Calvinism without a predetermined position in mind. However, even those predisposed against Calvinism will find in Dr. Horton a gracious host, welcoming them to explore the vast richness of the Calvinist theology.
These doctrines of grace may be vilified or celebrated, but they are never boring or trivial. Throughout the history of the church their recovery has provoked debate, reformation, renewal, and mission.