When TIME magazine described the "New Calvinism" as one of the top ten world-changing ideas in 2009, it posited the perception of Calvinism as a stale system of reactionary theology with "an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity." While the title "Calvinism" can be argued as not the ideal title given to Reformed theology (Calvin himself would certainly object), the legacy of his theological thought approaches readers afresh in PROOF: Finding Freedom through the Intoxicating Joy of Irresistible Grace. Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones team up to provide readers with a 21st century helping of Reformed theology that is sure to invigorate minds and awaken souls to the precious doctrines of grace hammered out in the Reformation and it's immediate progeny.
PROOF stands for Planned Grace, Resurrecting Grace, Outrageous Grace, Overcoming Grace and Forever Grace. This acronym, argue Montgomery and Jones, more accurately reflects the thought of Reformed theology, particularly stemming from the Synod of Dort. Unfortunately, the not always helpful acronym TULIP paints Reformed theology in a negative light, focusing more on the things it is not than what it is. Portrayed in contrast to the Five Articles of Remonstrance (the formal declaration of Arminianism in the 17th century), the Canons of Dort shaped and formed the doctrines of Reformed theology which would later be summarized as the acronym TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the saints). It is these five points which most people associate with Calvinism. PROOF attempts to set the record straight and give readers a breath of fresh grace while upholding the life-giving doctrines forged in the fires of the Reformation.
In their wake-up call to grace the authors state, "The untamed God gives underserved, unwarranted, unearned mercy. God shows grace, not due to any human deed or desire, but because He has a merciful plan - a plan that began before time and requires no contribution from any of us" (14). Montgomery and Jones, describing humanity as spiritual zombies in need of a resurrection, assert, "If God waited to give the gift of salvation until one of us made the right response, we would all be damned. That's because, left to ourselves, none of us will ever desire what Jesus requires" (54). Encouraging the faithful in their perseverance the authors proclaim, "Grace is free and it is forever, but when God lavishes his grace on you, it changes you. It enables and inspires you to live out your faith openly, in a way that produces far more goodness than when we try to earn our salvation by good works, apart from grace" (pg. 114-115).
Readers of all sorts will find PROOF satisfying. To the interested lay reader, PROOF provides a mix of winsome prose and academic footing. To the novice, PROOF will gently hold your hand while pointing to the stirring truth of God's word attesting to the breathtaking doctrines of grace. To the scholastic among us, PROOF will furnish you with a stout helping of theological reflection. Regardless of your entry point, PROOF will supply you with some hard-hitting grace which will likely leave you staggering at the wonderful love and awesome power of the Triune God.
For those of us on the fence of Reformed theology (or firmly on the other side), PROOF will be a helpful read if for nothing else than to gain an accurate perspective of what Calvinism really stands for. I recommend those who would not own the label "Calvinist" to give PROOF a chance and let Montgomery and Jones walk you through the biblical and historical understanding of the Reformed doctrines of grace. For those who would more readily own the label "Calvinist," I invite you to take PROOF and let it re-orient you back to what is the most precious point about Calvinism-not the man for which it is named but the grace-filled God to whom it so passionately praises.
Jones and Montgomery have provided a way to discuss the doctrines of grace which ought to encourage and foster productive conversations regarding biblical truths rather than perpetuate conflict between the schools of thought known as Arminianism and Calvinism. Their writing is clear and compelling. I imagine most people, like myself, will find it difficult to put the book down. I wouldn't say this about most theological writing.
I approached this book as a primer on new Calvinism written for those who might like to understand distinctive Calvinistic beliefs, but have grown tired of the polemic nature of this age-old discussion. In other words, being a recent seminary graduate, I didn't expect to learn anything from PROOF. Thankfully, I was wrong.
Regardless of your held beliefs and amount of formal theological training (or lack thereof), you will benefit from reading this book. The authors simply desire to discuss God's grace with the reader as they have come to understand it in light of Scripture. It's as if they've extended to us an invitation to hangout with them in a coffee shop and talk about our passions and convictions. If you wouldn't turn down such an invitation in "the real world," you ought to read this book.