For Calvinism PB Paperback – 1 Nov 2011
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About the Author
Michael Horton is the author of over 20 books and host of the White Horse Inn, a nationally syndicated radio program. He is the professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California and the editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. A popular blogger and sought-after lecturer, he resides in Escondido, California with his wife and children.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I would like to use Olson's own adjectives to give 4 reasons why Arminians, Calvinists, or the undecided should take the time to carefully read this book.
1) It is Informative - the author takes the time to clearly articulate the historical developments preceding the debates before the Reformation, and the resulting consequences leading to our very day. He concisely and cogently defines, describes, and exegetes the key figures, movements, and factors that brought about the distinct views that have come to be known (for better or worse) as Calvinism and Arminianism. The author does a fantastic of job of synthesizing the historical, philosophical, and biblical exegetical elements that make up what we call Calvinism today. Incidentally, Horton makes a great case for why we should call Calvinism the "doctrines of grace" and how this is really what the Bible, Calvin, and many reformers before and after him would prefer - because it isn't about articulating one man's "system," but more about what the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation regarding God, man, sin, salvation, and consummation. There is more to Calvinism than the acrostic Tulip.
2) It is engaging - from tackling misconceptions and misperceptions, Horton pulls the reader into the controversy, but does a fantastic job of disseminating the truth and dispelling the falsehoods of both Calvinism and Arminianism. He has great integrity in seeking to focus on the best of Calvinism and the best of Arminianism and then honing in one what the Bible has to say about the crucial doctrines and how they are interpreted in both camps. I love how Horton develops what he says early on in the book, "It has become a habit to speak of `the Reformed faith,' but properly speaking there is no such thing. There is only the Christian faith, which is founded on the teaching of the prophets, and apostles, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone. It is better, then, to speak of the Reformed Confession of the Christian Faith." In other words, Horton is seeking to articulate what the Bible teaches - the Christian faith - what all Christians believe - because it is merely the "faith delivered once and for all to the saints." He is more concerned about Christians having a biblical theology, than merely adhering to a system of theology.
3) It is clear - Horton deals with an incredibly wide expanse of material and synthesizes it all with great theological insight, exegetical precision, and practical wisdom. One of the most outstanding features of the book is when he writes about the missional impact that true Calvinists have made and are making because of their understanding of, and desire to obey the great commission.
4) It is self-critical - Especially in the last chapter of the book Horton dissects the strengths and weaknesses of Calvinism throughout history and today. He is humble, honest, bold, and courageous in his personal and corporate diagnosis of modern Calvinism, and in rebuking and exhorting all believers to be balanced in their love of God, truth, other believers, and the lost.
I highly recommend this book in that it will do several things: it will help you understand theology better, it's historical development, and it will help you to be a more careful interpreter of the Scriptures. I believe that it will be used to help Arminians, Calvinists, and the undecided to be careful students of the Word, of church history, and to be gracious toward one another in their pursuit of the truth as revealed in the Scriptures. It will help you to wrestle with doctrine and make you better equipped to know what you believe and why you believe it. It will help you to appreciate your salvation even more because of the heights and depths of a Holy God that has sought us, and bought us, with His redeeming blood. It will encourage you to share the good news with passionate precision of a Savior who has come to seek and to save the lost.
So, having stated that, from what I could see, Horton seems to depend upon scripture to a greater degree than Olson did to establish his arguments for Calvinism. While Olson found Calvinism logically inconceivable and morally reprehensible, Horton seeks to describe what Scripture says. I find this to be true of most Calvinists (e.g., John Piper, Charles Spurgeon)--they try to account for all of Scripture. Further, although Olson dealt almost exclusively with TULIP (a term Horton doesn't care for), Horton moves beyond to consider more broadly Reformed beliefs and doctrine. As a general defense of TULIP, I prefer Sproul's Chosen by God, yet this is a fine volume in that regard as well.
A drawback of the book, and of reformed theology in general, seems to be an overreliance upon the creeds and confessions. Although I generally agree with early creeds and much of reformed confessions (Heidelberg, Westminster), they are not to be the grounding for our belief. God's word is.
On the whole, I would commend these two volumes. Although I still think Calvinism is the best explanation for all of Scripture, Olson argues his point well. Horton, as always, is a humble, wise, and articulate defender of confessional Calvinism.
(I also wrote the following after listening to a debate/discussion between Olson and Horton)
Michael Horton and Roger Olson have recently put out a pair of books, For Calvinism (Horton) and Against Calvinism (Olson). I have appreciated Horton's ministry through the White Horse Inn for a few years and he has, in some ways, shaped my thinking. I know less of Olson, a theology professor at Baylor University, except to say that I am familiar that he is one of the most vocal advocates for Arminianism today.
I recently listened to a 2 part "conversation" between Horton and Olson regarding the topic, "For or Against Calvinism." It was encouraging to listen to these two brothers in the faith discussing their dissenting views on this issue. I wish more theological conversations would happen in this way. Here were a few brief takeaways.
There is much overlap between them. They appear to agree on the majors.
Olson was a gracious, intelligent advocate of Arminianism. I have read his blog in the past, but I found him more endearing and less adversarial in this setting.
Horton seemed to rely upon the biblical evidence more than Olson, who seemed rather to make his arguments based more upon his belief in what, or Who, God should be. For example, he cited John Wesley, who claimed that Romans 9 cannot be saying what it appears to say and so there must be another explanation.
Both men seem to agree that there is a lack of Arminian theologians throughout history. At one point, Horton mentioned Jacob Arminius and John Wesley and Olson quipped, are there any others, showing his hand that "his team" may lack a strong, or at least visible, tradition.
In the end, I have a deeper appreciation for Arminianism, but a continued confidence in Calvinism.
It was with some trepidation that I first picked up this, the first of two books commissioned by Zondervan, evaluating Calvinism. As an established Arminian trained in a Calvinist seminary, I have been disappointed over the years at both Wesleyan and Calvinist who tend to set straw men to define those who have followed alternative opinion. Michael Horton attempts in this book to clearly state a traditional Calvinist position - he is not defending TUPIP, but a clearly stated version of the Reformed position as articulated by Calvin and his heirs. When he does choose to compare Calvinism to Arminianism, he chooses from both classical theologians (e.g. Richard Watson) and more modern spokesman (e.g. Clark Pinnock).
I found the book readable and enjoyable - even as I disagreed with some of the conclusions to which the author arrives. Regardless of whether the reader comes as a Calvinist, an Arminian, or if the reader is searching, the book is a good introduction to the Reformed faith.
I will look forward to reading the other Zondervan title being published in parallel with Horton' text, Against Calvinism by Roger Olson.
This review is based on an electronic copy of the book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating an unbiased review.
He quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying that, "I have no own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism...it is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel and nothing else." This really gets to the heart of what I object to about Calvinism. The fact that many Calvinists seem unable to distinguish that their understanding of the gospel (a gospel focused on Salvation, Justification and Grace), is only one aspect of the gospel. Scot McKnight has a very good book (King Jesus Gospel) about the problem with focusing on salvation instead of Jesus Christ as the gospel. I want to affirm with Michael Horton, that in the vast majority of theological issues and beliefs, Christians agree. The discussion about Calvinism is not about whether each side is Christian, but rather the discussion about relatively minor issues within Christianity (important, but minor).
So much of this discussion is about definition. For instance, Horton discusses the difference between foreknowledge and foreordination of events. He argues that in reality these are basically the same thing, but saying they are the same does not make them the same. To some, the difference is great, to others like Horton, the difference between the two is so meaningless as to be indistinguishable. On both sides (Calvinism and Arminianism), there are many of the same concepts that are being discussed, but the definitions and understanding are vastly different, which makes it hard not to talk past one another. Both Horton and Olson really do try hard not to talk past one another, but I just do not think it is possible.
I really struggled through this book. I worked on it for nearly three weeks before I finished it. And I did a decent bit of skimming toward the end. I was frankly fairly tired of the conversation. But I also spent more time praying about the content of this book than any I have read in recent memory. I am increasingly aware of my frustration with this discussion. At some point it seems that both sides need to admit that neither side adequately can account for the whole of scripture. I am incapable of conceiving of a God that would intentionally construct TULIP. I do not say this lightly. I very well may be wrong about this. But my understanding of scripture says that while neither Calvinism nor Arminianism can account for all of scripture, Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace (Horton prefers Effective Grace for good reason), seem to violate my understanding of the nature of God. God is whom God is, my understanding does not change him. And God is a big God, that I am sure will convict me of my poor understanding and move me toward a better understanding in this life, and will reveal much more in the next. But I still cannot conceive that God only came to earth to die for some.
In the end, I think these books are helpful in understanding the positions. But I think that the whole framing of the question is distorting the answer. Our focus should be on Christ and his Kingdom and the role that we are permitted to play in God's grand narrative. Instead this discussion gets us bogged down in details that are just not adequately revealed in Scripture and focuses us on our own salvation instead of the person of Christ.
By the way, until I looked at the cover of For Calvinism, I did not realize that both books had an image of Tulips. For Calvinism, has three healthy full tulips (and a bright green background), Against Calvinism has three tulips with dried up petals that are about to fall (and a bright red background). Clever and subtle, a nice design element.
An ebook was provided by the publisher through Netgalley for purposes of review. This review was originally posted on my blog Bookwi.se
At sometime after Calvin lived and developed his theology and ministry, people began to refer to themselves as "Calvinists". As "Calvinism" developed, it came to be defined with five certain viewpoints most clearly articulated by the Synod of Dordt in response to the rise of Armenianism. These five viewpoints are commonly summarized with the acronym TULIP, which stands for total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistable grace, and perseverance of the saints.
Michael Horton, in his book For Calvinism does a great job of defending what has been labeled as Calvinist beliefs (although he would say Calvinist beliefs should be associated with orthodox Christianity before they are associated with a sect of Christianity called "Calvinism"). Horton spends the first half of the book defending what was articulated in the Synod of Dordt, although he prefers other language than what the TULIP acronym necessitates. He spends the second half of his defense of Calvinism addresssing particular concerns with how Calvinist belief is practiced in the church and in the lives of individual believers.
Calvinist belief is often unfairly caricatured. In addition to this, many of Calvinism's strongest proponents come across as very stern and angry. The strength of For Calvinism is Horton's ability to articulate Calvinist thought in a kinder, gentler manner without compromising the convictions he is representing.
Horton commends Calvinist thought by highlighting parts of Calvinist doctrine that other people ignore. For example, in regard to total depravity, Horton says, "Reformed theology never starts with the fall, but God's good creation" (p. 38). When Horton commends creation in this way, he at one time corrects a stereotype about Calvinism (that God made persons to sin), and describes how "free will" fits into a theology of complete divine sovereignty.
Over and over again, Horton continues to address stereotypes against Calvinism without compromising Calvinist doctrine. In relationship to unconditional election, he says that God does not arbitrarily "drag some people into heaven kicking and screaming, while telling others who want to be saved that they are simply not on the list" (p. 57). He discusses the doctrine of limited atonement in terms it "extent" and "nature" (p.80ff). Also, Horton's chapters about living the Calvinist faith defend Calvinism against many erroneous ideas. Many say that a Calvinist cannot believe in missions or evangelism. For Calvinism takes a whole chapter to destroy this myth.
For Calvism is a very informative book. As is its partner book Against Calvinism by Roger Olson. And with the rise of "New Calvinism" in American Christianity, it will be more and more important for Christians and church leaders to be conversant on issues of Reformed and Armenian theology. Horton may be one of Calvinism's best advocates, and one of its more clear communicators to everyday lay persons. For these reasons, I cannot commend this book more highly for anyone interested in such theological concerns.