Calvinism. In the circles that I’ve grown up in, to say that name brings a measure of concern to most people. It’s as if a popular not-quite-heresy has just been named. Or as if someone has just desired to kill all decent conversation just by saying the word. This rubbed off on me for many years, until such a time that I began to understand more thoroughly the doctrines of grace.
The interesting thing is that so many who think they know what Calvinism is simply don’t have any clue. Maybe a preacher has caricatured the doctrines commonly referred to as “Calvinistic” as being deadening to someone’s spiritual life. Or an individual or group of individuals has sown division among Christian believers, all while claiming the name “Calvinism.” Or a man has burst out in frustration, telling a friend that God just is playing a “game” and that such a God could never be loving just ordering around robots. The list goes on and on.
But is this really Calvinism? Or do some Calvinists exemplify humility? Is it all erudite theological sophistication? Or do some of those who call themselves Calvinists have a passion to see the lost saved? Are they all undermined by their theology, and just “aren’t being true” to what they believe? It appears not to be so. Two springs ago, TIME Magazine came out with this cover story… where they declared that the “New Calvinism” was one of the major factors shaping the world today. Each of the three men mentioned as spearheading this resurgance (John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler) have an evangelistic zeal that is entrenched in the reality of God’s sovereignty.
I’ve benefitted greatly from each of their ministries, and especially in the case of Piper, I learned to believe not all caricatures are true. In continuing to read the Scriptures, I myself have come to espouse the soteriological (i.e. salvation) side of Calvinism. God gets all the credit for saving a sinner, but those who reject Him get all the blame. This is my cry in evangelism, along with many of my Calvinistic brothers.
So, in picking up this book on Calvinism, I was looking for what might properly represent the beliefs and attitudes of the better side of Calvinism. And I found it in abundance. I’ve not been familiar with Joel Beeke’s writings or preaching prior to reading Living For God’s Glory, but what I’ve read leaves me impressed. He’s fairly precise in his language, and not as much a wordsmith as some, but he conveys with passion what the truths of Scripture are that Calvinism trumpets, with little of the excess mentioned above.
1) Beeke doesn’t just write about theological Calvinism; he writes about Calvinism as a worldview. Or, to phrase it another way, what a Christian’s worldview would look like if God was considered sovereign in every area of life. As such, there is something here for everyone, it seems. Philosophy, history, ethics, practical issues… just about every area is touched on and examined from a Calvinistic point-of-view.
2) He doesn’t write as a strict Presbyterian. There is much here for Reformed Baptists, too, and the inclusion of the discussion concerning historic Reformed roots is enlightening for the uninformed. Having taken a few courses on church history here, and studying on my own, it’s surprising for many to find how Calvinistic our Baptist roots are. To be a Baptist at one point in history meant almost without exception to be a Calvinist.
That being said, I would like to see how Calvinistic theology affects the different strains of Christian thought when it comes to Baptism. The idea is scarely mentioned throughout the pages of the book, and I wonder if (considering the thoroughness of the book overall) if Beeke didn’t write about it to keep his reading base as wide as possible.
3) He includes a large section at the end about the Puritans, the English Calvinists who many consider to exemplify the best of what came out of the Reformation. Beeke and others take us through the effect that Calvinism had on the family, the political world, and the work force with great personal anecdotes from the lives of those who were there, living it out.
4) All of the five points are examined in great detail, and it is rightly discerned that Calvinism (and I would argue Christianity as a whole) has claims upon one’s mind before it has claims upon one’s affections or will. The arguments against each point are examined and dealt with both from Scripture and from systematic theology. For instance, the different arguments for or against Limited Atonement (the doctrine that Christ died for only some) are examined in the light of Scripture, and the breadth of the Calvinistic positions are at least mentioned.
One thing to note is that the infralapsarian/supralapsarian debate that is common among Calvinists isn’t mentioned at all here. I would have liked to have seen a clarification of these two positions, as well as Beeke’s own thoughts on the matter.
5) In doing all of this, Beeke makes it abundantly, thoroughly clear that there aren’t three options in salvific history. You don’t have Arminianism vs. Calvinism vs. Biblicism. There is an Arminian way of looking at it: man chooses God which results in God choosing man, or a Calvinistic way of looking at it: God chooses man which results in man choosing God. The myth of the “Biblicist” position is abundantly clear after reading through these pages; I’m grateful for the clarification.
There are ways to transcend the sometimes petty bickering that marks Calvinist/Arminian debates (note that I did not say all the time… some of that is more than bickering, and is needed!), but claiming a third option as if the other two sides weren’t trying to be Biblical is really a cop out. It’s sad that positions on salvation are now characterized by their most popular proponants (John Calvin and Jacob Arminius), but it doesn’t detract from the fact that throughout the history of Christendom that there have only been two ways of looking at salvation. There are degrees of gray in between, but they fall in one of two camps ultimately.
I would detract one star for one thing that I am very wary of: the trumpeting of men in place of Scripture. Earlier in the book, I thought Beeke was doing this as he exalted how the Reformers did certain things. I very much got a “because so-and-so did it, we should too” vibe numerous times. Regardless of whether or not this is able to be corrobrated, I’m very much on guard for this. He does a good job of making Scripture king, but sometimes lapses into exalting men without consideration to Scripture. A contributor writing later in the book directly disavows any attempt to do this, and makes a deliberate swing from mentioning the Reformer’s practice to what Scripture has to say about the matter. It was refreshing, to say the least.
Calvinism has its excesses, and its not for no reason that it is so often caricatured. But if you want to understand what Calvinists really believe, I suggest you pick up a book like this and keep a Bible nearby to see the truths of the Scripture. I genuinely believe that God saves sinners despite the sinner’s inability, and am praying that if you are suspicious or deny these things that God will reveal to you all His character in the Gospel… and the doctrines of grace.