Greg Forster is to be commended for his effort to produce a work that aims to explain Reformed Christian doctrine for the layman apart from theological jargon. While there is a crying need for such a book, unfortunately, this is not the one. Admittedly not a theologian himself, Forster demonstrates a personal grappling with historical Calvinism and seeks to explain why it has been so badly misinterpreted and misunderstood by its critics. While not deviating from the essence of Reformed theology, he at times seems to confuse the issue further. He takes aim at the "TULIP" acronym with which Calvinism is most readily recognized and substitutes his own "WUPSI" position in its place. And while his justification for doing so may be well-intentioned, it does little to actually clarify the meaning of "the five points." There are some valuable parts of the book. As a pastor I was greatly helped by his charge to the preacher to be released from "the anxiety of persuasion" that sometimes places undue pressure on the messenger to "win" hearers to the Gospel and results in heavy guilt when it doesn't happen. I needed to be reminded of that! Such flashes of insight were rare, however. I found myself getting lost in many of his arguments, having a hard time determining whether he was advocating or opposing certain points. His rationale may have been valid, but he did not always demonstrate that clearly. If I put the book down and returned to it later, I consistently found it difficult picking up his train of thought. At times his discussion seemed contradictory, but that was probably due to the awkward manner in which he interwove his positions with opposing ones. At one place in the margin I wrote, "is this author really a Calvinist?" The most glaring weakness is Forster's lack of adequate biblical exposition. Given the fact that he was attempting to explain a theological system, one would expect to see more extensive discussion of the key passages. By the author's own admission, this is not a theological text, but it does tackle an important theological topic and does not deliver what it promises. In short, it did not show me "the joy of Calvinism" in a meaningful way. Therefore, this book probably would not be the one I would recommend to someone attempting to become familiar with a basic understanding of Calvinism. I would choose R.C. Sproule's "What is Reformed Theology" instead.
Greg Forster is program director for American History, Economics and Religion at the Kern Family Foundation. His program supports educational activities that equip future pastors and other evangelical leaders with a biblical understanding of work and economics. He is also the author of five books and has a doctorate in political philosophy from Yale.
For a long time I have been looking for a book that would help me understand the true mechanics behind the Calvinist theology. And pretty much every book I have read was about "something else" and Calvinism was merely the "setting" of the book. I approached Forster's book with some skepticism, secretly hoping that this book would be different.
For the most part, all that is known about Calvinism is the acrostic TULIP, or those in the world who have "said" they are Calvin's biggest fans. And so consequently what we are left with is a weak Calvinism or a misunderstood Calvinism. Forster rolls up his sleeves and breaks down the common misconceptions and fights for his faith like a lawyer in a courtroom.
The title: The Joy of Calvinism comes from Forster's chapters that are all arguments of God's love. Calvinism, Forster argues is about God's unconditional and personal love for his faithful. "God loves you so much that he will utterly demolish all obstacles in order to save you. He will smash right through the system of nature - without a second thought, if that's what it takes to save you."
This book was very helpful and powerfully packed with solid teaching. With each chapter, I was carefully taken by the author through the love of God and the extreme measures that God took to save me. Is this book easy to read? I wouldn't say that.. this isn't light bedtime drivel or "feel-good" theology. This book will challenge your preconceived ideas of Calvinism and ask where you stand. Did God set out to save the world_ and fail? Or did he set out to save you?
Thankfully this book is short and the author uses clear examples and has an easy to listen to voice. The back of the book is packed with answered questions and helpful tools to continue your own study.
I could not be more appreciate of this work and am highly thankful I have read this. I would certainly add this to the extremely short list of books I would read again. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Crossway Publishing for sending me the above mentioned product for review purposes. I was not monetarily compensated for this review. Please note that the review was not influenced by the Sponsor in any way. All opinions expressed here are only my own.
Calvinism has always been viewed negatively among some evangelicals. Some Christians will look at Calvinism as a belief that God is mean and cruel while others embrace it saying it is the only theological system that works. There have been many books written on Calvinism, but all of them have seem to be geared toward more academic audiences. The Joy of Calvinism is geared toward all Christians who are wanting to know more about the teachings of Calvinism.
Forster begins to teach that Calvinism is about joy. The joy is knowing that our salvation is solely based on God and not ourselves. This book also addresses what what Calvinism does not teach:
1. Calvinism does not deny that we have free will
2. Calvinism does not say we are saved against our wills
3. Calvinism does not say we are totally depraved
4. Calvinism does not deny that God loves the lost
5. Calvinism is not primarily concerned with the sovereignty of God or predestination
The book addresses four teachings of Calvinism into four chapters:
1. God loves you personally
2. God loves you unconditionally
3. God loves you irresistibly
4. God loves you unbreakably
What amazed me about this book is the depth of the teaching of Calvinism presented in user friendly style so any Christian whether they are new to the faith or have been a Christian for years can pick up and read. The appendix of the book answers some basic questions on Calvinism including who is John Calvin. The Joy of Calvinism is a book that all reformed, and even non-reformed, reformed evangelicals can read and hopefully will come to embrace Calvinism because Calvinism teaches us to enjoy God.
I was very excited to read this book. I had the opportunity of obtaining a copy from Crossway through NetGalley for reviewing purposes; not in exchange of a good review, but in exchange of an honest review. As a reformed Christian, I was very happy to see a book like this being published. And I must say I was very pleased. Forster does a great job of almost reinventing the "5 points of Calvinism". Distancing himself from what Calvinism denies, he explains what Calvinism celebrates, the joy behind knowing and understanding that God is really, actually, and actively in control of everything; that all he has done and does has a purpose, a reason behind it; that nothing that ever happens is by chance.
Forster's take on the 5 points is refreshing, and uplifting, centering on God's personal love for His people and how this love defines everything else for Him and for those whom He calls. This book is mostly aimed at reformed Christian (or Calvinist, a term I really don't like), but it really is essential for every one who wants a better understanding on this small part of the reformed faith, as well as skeptics and naysayers.
Although I think it's a great book, it does have a few flaws: an Introduction that could've been (if edited correctly) the first chapter; a "Detour" that (again, if edited correctly) would've been a great Introduction; and a few times when, trying to explain something more simply, the author ends up confusing the reader, only to have one more paragraph where it all comes clear again.
Those few misses aside, this book is a great tool for new believers, Bible school teachers and church leaders in reformed or Calvinists churches.
Finally, a quote from the book that I thinks sums it up perfectly: "Joy is not an emotion. Joy is a settled certainty that God is in control." It really is.
Greg Foster has written a fascinating, helpful, and dense book for us in his The Joy of Calvinism. Right from the start - even from the introduction - I realized that this book was not going to go at all as I had anticipated it_and that was a good thing. Instead of a popular-level read on why Calvinism both makes sense and leads to joy, Foster has written a philosophical treatise on the merits of Calvinism as being the most straightforward manner to put the pieces of the Bible together and THAT should lead us to joy. Foster often does a "compare and contrast" between how a Calvinist would understand a passage and how those in other camps might see the passage - at times this is quite helpful though at other times I couldn't help but wonder if those in other camps would see Foster's characterization of them as accurate (note: I'm not saying that Foster is wrong, but rather I am saying that those whom Foster criticizes wouldn't necessarily agree with his understanding of their positions). That said, on to the review itself:
The challenge begins with the first chapter itself - "Detour" in which Foster challenges just about every preconception of Calvinism that there is and shows how Calvinism is often misunderstood both by its critics and its defenders. One of the most helpful sections in this chapter concerns the two understandings of free will: "Who is more free, the sober and self-controlled man or the addict? Who is more free, the man with nature and well-ordered desires or the pervert? In one sense, they are all equally free. That is, they are all free to act within the bounds of their capacities_and they are fully responsible for their actions. And yet, those whose capacities and powers give them a wider scope to exercise their freedom are, in another important sense, freer (p.33-34)." And again: "The addict is free, but the sober man is (in one sense) freer. The addict can freely struggle to overcome his addition or freely wallow in it, but the sober man is free to do many other things_that the addict isn't free to do because of his addiction (p.34)."
Helpfully, Foster continues to show the differences between Calvinism and other theological systems by saying that "When we discuss the differences between theological traditions, these are the differences we tend to focus on. What is the salvation system we need to use? Is it the sacraments? Belief? The â€˜means of grace'? Yet the most important issue is usually overlooked. Are you saved by a salvation system or by Jesus himself? That is the difference between Calvinism and all other systems. (p.54)"
As one might imagine, Foster continues throughout the book in this manner - dismantling false understandings and rebuilding them according to a robust understanding of what the Scriptures actually teach. On one level, I would expect this book to ruffle a great number of theological feathers both for those who do not subscribe to some sort of Calvinism as well as for some of those who do. At the same time, I found Foster to be thought-provoking and helpful in the ways that he sums up his arguments. One example that he used a few times is that of what one of my theology professors called "embracing the tension" - the idea that we simply don't have every answer that we want and we need to be ok with that. "There is a very edifying Scripture in the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses is announcing the renewed covenant between God and his people at Moab. He says, â€˜The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.' This is a balance that we must maintain. On the one hand, we must not speculate about the secret things God has not chosen to reveal to us. On the other hand, we must not deny or neglect any of the truth God has chosen to reveal (p.87)."
Another false assumption that Foster ably tackles is found on page 89: "But sin is not misfortune. It's something we do. It's a crime, not an accident. We need not only to be healed but also to be pardoned." Or to clarify, Foster speaks of a judge with a courtroom of convicts: nobody would ask why the judge doesn't pardon them all. Instead, people are amazed that the judge pardons any. This is the right and true understanding of God choosing some for salvation and not others.
There is much that is helpful in this book, so let me give but two more quotations, this time about personal choice, arguing against the idea that we ourselves determine our eternal destinies: "When people are told that they determine their own eternal destinies, they can't help but picture God as coming to them, wooing them, asking for permission to work in their lives. This conception puts people in the driver's seat with God. That obviously creates difficulties getting people to conceive of God as sovereign Lord (p.97)." And the follow-up thought? "Incidentally, the arrogance of choice also involves the anxiety of choice. Did I really give myself over to Jesus? Or am I self-deceived? I still sin. I know that sinful hearts are deceptive and above all self-deceptive. So how can I know I truly choose Jesus? When the ultimate issue of eternal life or death is determined by my own choice, there will always be this element of self-doubt (p.99)." Of course the answer is that the surety for our salvation resides with God, and that topic is broached in the chapter entitled "God Loves You Unbreakably" (which, I would add, I found to be the best in the entire book), but that's a discussion for another time.
In this book I found very little to disagree with, though oftentimes I would have to re-read a sentence or paragraph multiple times to truly understand the point that the author was making. Of course, standard disclaimers would apply - there is a mention of the version of the Apostle's Creed which speaks of Christ "descending into Hell" and there is at least one mention of infant baptism, though both of these are given in examples and not the main point or argument - however I found very little that wasn't carefully thought out and argued. Even when I disagreed at points (which were always minor), I still found the author to have offered a candid and solid defense of his view.
In summary, I found this to be a great book. Not because it's an easy read (it isn't, though it is mercifully short). Not because the concepts were easy to grasp (they weren't). Rather, I found this to be a great book because it got me thinking. The author did this through numerous means - logic, direct appeal to the Scriptures, creative metaphors. In short, it carved Biblical ruts in my mind, and there's no better place to be than trundling along in the paths that Christ carved for us.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I wish to note that the publisher of this book, Crossway, provided it to me at no cost as a review sample. That said, my review is in no way influenced or controlled by them and thus I write my review of this book with honesty and integrity.)