4 Stars Out Of 5
Great Explanation Of Calvinism
December 1, 2016
One of my book goals of the year was to read more books that will help me grow spiritually - and I realized in recent months that I have kind of neglected theological books in my reading plan this year. Time to catch up! I saw "What Is Reformed Theology?" by R.C. Sproul up for review, and I decided to request it. I have some friends who go to a Reformed Theology church, and I generally agree with them on doctrine, but I really didn't know what was meant by "reformed theology". I was hoping to learn more from this book.
It did not disappoint! The first half of this book goes through points of sound biblical doctrine that I think all Christians agree on, but the part I liked is that it also included the church history that involved each point - including past heresies, and biblically why some of the great theologians came to the conclusions they did.
A Few Negatives
This book got a little sticky here and there. The section on the different views of communion, while educational for distinguishing between different denominations, made the whole subject pretty confusing to me.
I feel like the author had a habit of lumping people together in groups, perhaps not always fairly. He used the term "dispensationalist" in a way that I have not heard before, and I don't agree with how he characterized this group. I have generally agreed with the (traditional) dispensationalist view of how to interpret Scripture, etc, but Sproul seemed to be picking on dispensationalism and contrasted dispensationalism with covenant theology. I have never heard these two terms put at odds with one another like this, and I don't think dispensationalism and covenant theology are mutually exclusive, as he seems to imply. He even says later that dispensationalists think that a person can be completely carnal and still a Christian because a new nature isn't necessarily given (in direct contradiction to Scripture) - I have never heard that and totally disagree. I may have to research more, but I grew up around people who described themselves as dispensationalists and I never heard anyone claim that, so I feel like he was being too rigid by lumping everyone together here. I have always just viewed dispensationalism as a way of interpreting Scripture literally that takes into account historical time periods; not as a complete theological system.
I also felt in reading this book that the author focused too much on intellectual arguments and quotes from the reformers - which were excellent - but I would have appreciated a greater focus on the Scriptures that back up these points as well. There was plenty of Scripture in this book, but I just wished he had connected some of the points he was making to Scripture a little more clearly.
This book addressed the "justice" concern of some who don't agree with Calvinism very well, better than any other piece I've read on the subject. I like this quote:
"The concept of justice incorporates all that is just. The concept of non-justice includes everything outside the concept of justice: injustice, which violates justice and is evil; and mercy, which does not violate justice and is not evil. God gives his mercy (non-justice) to some and leaves the rest to His justice. No one is treated with injustice. No one can charge that there is unrighteousness in God." pg. 187-188
I thought that explained really well why it is not correct to say God is not just when He chooses to save only some. Like I said, this book overall explains Calvinism (and Reformed Theology) better than any other book I've read. Whether you are a Calvinist, or have just been confused by any points of Calvinism in the past, I think this is a great resource if you really want to understand the beliefs of Calvinism clearly.
And as for Reformed Theology, the defining point touches on something I mentioned earlier - the distinction between unconditional election, and conditional election. Conditional election says that God calls those who He foresees will accept Him, and this is where that point gets sticky: who gives those people the ability to accept Jesus? Is it something good in themselves that allows people to accept Jesus? I'd have to say no - based on Scripture (many of the supporting Scriptures are shared in this book), it is the Holy Spirit who calls the believer and enables them to believe, and without the Holy Spirit working in us, none of us would believe. We'd go on choosing our sin. Unconditional election (which is what distinguishes Reformed Theology) says that it is nothing in ourselves that enables us to be saved, but it is by God's grace in working in us to enable us to seek Him and find Him.
In case you think that is a nit-picky distinction, you should be aware that this book is very intellectual and breaks each doctrine down to its elements, which I found very interesting, and very well done (though it perhaps falls into debating things that aren't as important here and there as well). If you have ever wanted to know more about the basics of Christian doctrine and how we get those basics, and what the Reformation was all about, pick up this book for the first half. If/when you want to learn more about where Calvinism gets it's five points, dive into the second half of this book.
I think I'll just wrap up this review with my favorite quote from this book:
"I cannot adequately explain why I came to faith in Christ, and some of my friends did not. I can only look to the glory of God's grace toward me, a grace I did not deserve then and do not deserve now." pg. 177
That's the bottom line, isn't it? For me, this book was a great reminder that it is not through any virtue of mine but only through His power and grace that I am saved, and that is a strikingly beautiful thing.
Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review. This is my honest opinion.