FOR CALVINISM An Extended Book Review
Part One: Reasons for the Study
Over the past few weeks, I have been leading my church’s Sunday School in a study of For Calvinism by Michael Horton. What led to this study was several things. We finished our year-long study through the 1689 London Confession of Faith and were trying to figure out where to go next. We have always been a Calvinistic church, but there were some confusions on certain aspects of Calvinism.
Reason #1: Clarity
I don’t know how much confusion on the part of others in the church, but there certainly were some in my mind before we went through the study on the Confession. I read For Calvinism when it was released in 2011 and it made explicit what was already implicit in my understanding of Reformed Theology. Because Dr. Horton had conveyed these truths in a book, I thought it would be good for others to have it as a resource to help them clear things up and set down in words what they may already believe.
Reason #2: Good Works and the Confession
Another reason for our study of this book was that, while teaching through the 1689 London Confession, I noticed that its authors state, “…all persons that have lived upon the earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil” (1689 London Confession of Faith, 32.1). The authors cite Romans 14:10-12 and Matthew 25:31-46. These instruct us that our lives will evidence the reality as to whether or not we are God’s chosen people.
The setting in Matthew 25 is at the Final Judgment when the Lord Jesus Christ will separate the sheep and goats. The evidence to their difference is not just that they are separate. The evidence of their difference is twofold: first, Jesus Himself designates the difference and separates them and, second, He states that those who follow the Law are the ones who are truly His sheep. Those who neglect His law are truly not His sheep. The implication is that those who are not diligent about love and good works are not the elect people of God. I made the statement that anyone who does not possess good works cannot be saved.
Reason Three: A Multi-faceted Understanding of Salvation
This led to a third reason for our study of For Calvinism. Since the caricature of Calvinism is that the essence of Calvinism is predestination, then good works aren’t necessary for salvation. It had been a while since we made it through the chapter of good works in the London Confession and the idea of good works being necessary for our salvation was almost foreign.
There is some nuance to this teaching and Horton does well in helping his readers to think through all the aspects of salvation, what their unique contributions are, and why. We will cover those aspects in a later article. Suffice it to say that the third reason for our study of For Calvinism is that Calvinism is more than “predestination.” It isn’t less than predestination, but even for Calvin predestination wasn’t his primary concern. Our understanding of predestination definitely colors our view of the other points. As we will see, every point of doctrine is related to the other, which led us to a fourth reason to study For Calvinism.
Reason Four: The Interconnectedness of Christian Theology
The fourth reason to study For Calvinism is that theology matters and what we believe about one doctrine effects how we understand other doctrines. At the same time I was reading this book, I was also studying eschatology and my ecclesiology had been strengthened in a particular way. All of these doctrines I have struggled to understand in a coherent way and the London Confession and Horton helped me clarify this coherence.
What one believes the Scriptures to teach on soteriology (the study of salvation) necessarily affects one’s ecclesiology (the study of the Church) and eschatology (the study of last things). On page 26 of For Calvinism, Horton writes:
“Especially in an eclectic age, when people pick and choose the components of their faith cafeteria-style, it’s important to say not only, ‘This we believe,’ but also ‘therefore this we deny.’ We can’t just add sheets of paper to our three-ringed binder without realizing that when we add certain pages, others need to be pulled out. We need to think consistently about our faith and practice, in faithfulness to the self-consistent Lord who addresses us in Scripture.”
For me, and most likely for others reading this book, it will impact whether or not we follow a Federal (Covenant) Theology, a New Covenant Theology, or a Dispensational Theology. I will expound on this thought as I review the book.
Reason Five: Congregational Involvement
The final reason we studied the book is that I wanted the church to have input on what book to study next. The options were Covenant Theology by Earl Blackburn, Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves, and For Calvinism by Michael Horton. The church chose For Calvinism partly because of the preoccupation by some in the church on the 5 points. I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed that this book was chosen. I wanted to move on to studying the beauty of other points of doctrine. However, as I read through the book again in preparation for the study, the foundation of the fourth reason above to study this book manifested itself.
The Simplicity of Christian Doctrine
What one believes about the nature of man and the nature of the person and work of Christ affects one’s Federal (Covenant) or Representative Theology. What a person believes regarding predestination and election should evidence either his dispensationalism or his covenantalism and his particular type of covenantalism (paedobaptist or credobaptist). What one believes regarding election, the work of Christ, and effectual grace will evidence what one believes about the Trinity or even the necessity of the Trinitarian God regarding salvation and eternity. What one believes regarding perseverance and the Christian life will evidence one’s view regarding the Church and salvation, the means of grace, the Great Commission and host of other issues.
Horton helps us in this regard. He mines the riches of Scripture and lays it out in a coherent and consistent whole. He then lays it bare before us that we would see the grandeur of the gems in the crown of the Father’s electing grace of a fallen race of men in the Person of His Son by the work of His Holy Spirit.
In the next article, we will see Horton’s apologetic for the importance of discussing Calvinism or Arminianism and his understanding of the essence of Calvinism in his introduction and first chapter. In part 3, we will analyze what he teaches regarding the 5 points in Chapters 2-5. Then in part 4, we will interact with the effects of the 5 points on the Christian life and missions and take a look at Horton’s SWOT analysis of Calvinism.
As a word of wisdom, anytime you read a book you should be interacting with it and looking at its strengths, weaknesses, points of agreement/disagreement, etc. I disagree with Horton on a couple of topics: (1) Sanctification, and (2) Covenant Theology. Horton is a paedobaptist covenant theologian and his views of sanctification and baptism are different than mine. I will spell out what he believes and what I believe. They are not opposed to one another, but they are nuanced in a different way. Overall, this is a very helpful book. I want to encourage everyone to read it for themselves and I hope this review is a good entry point for many to consider this book and their own beliefs regarding Scripture.