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Book Review: For Calvinism by Michael Horton

A Balanced and Cogent Defense of the Doctrines of Grace

Michael Horton according to Roger E. Olson (the author of “Against Calvinism”) in the forward of this book writes, “Anyone interested in reading the best case possible for Calvinism must read this book. It is informative, engaging, clear, and self-critical.”

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.

 

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Book Review: Historical Theology by Gregg R. Allison

*Dr. Gregg R. Allison has made a very useful and practical contribution to the study of historical theology – especially for those familiar with Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology.” Gregg writes clearly and cogently for those of us who desire to go deeper into the historical foundations, development, and significance of each major doctrine of the Bible.

 Allison gives us eight solid reasons for studying Historical Theology:

1)    “helping [those who study it to] distinguish orthodoxy from heresy.”

2)    “it provides sound biblical interpretations and theological formulations.”

3)    “it presents stellar examples of faith, love, courage, hope, obedience, and mercy.”

4)    “to protect against the individualism that is rampant today among Christians.”

5)    “it not only helps the church understand the historical development of its beliefs, but enables it to express those beliefs in contemporary form.”

6)    “it encourages the church to focus on the essentials, that is, to major on those areas that have been emphasized repeatedly throughout the history of the church.”

7)    “it gives the church hope by providing assurance that Jesus is fulfilling his promise to his people.”

8)    “finally, as beneficiaries of the heritage of doctrinal development sovereignly overseen by Jesus Christ, the church of today is privileged to enjoy a sense of belonging to the church of the past.”

This book is simply a marvelous plethora of useful information on the development of theology gathered in one place, synthesized masterfully by Allison for those who want to know how theology has come to us by the greatest theological minds in history. The author follows the same outline of Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology,” (also available from Zondervan), and thus it makes this resource an excellent companion of Grudem’s outstanding work. I highly recommend both of these resources to be used together for anyone who desires to know what we believe and how the greatest God-centered theologians of history have developed the sound theology needed to transform lives and culture today in the 21st century.

 

*Dr. Greg Allison in his own words: I am Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where, in addition to teaching the three core theology courses, I teach electives on the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrine of humanity (with a focus on human embodiment), the doctrine of the church, historical theology, and Roman Catholic theology. I do occasional teaching for the Institute of Biblical Studies and Re:train. I am also secretary for the Evangelical Theological Society and serve on the editorial committee as book review editor (in the areas of theology, history, philosophy, etc.) and referee (for articles).

I was born and raised in Chicago, which means I am a Bears fan, Bulls fan, Blackhawks fan, and Cubs fan (and hate the White Sox). I have a B.S. in biology, a M.Div., and the Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. Beside teaching and writing, I enjoy reading, sports, music, and the outdoors. I swim a mile five times a week to keep healthy.

My wife Nora and I were married in 1976 and have three grown children: Lauren is married to Troy, lives in the Seattle area, and has two kids (Caleb and Alia) with another on the way; Hanell is married to Mike, lives in Louisville, and has two kids (Annelie and Hudson); Luke is a senior at Union University majoring in math and secondary education with a minor in Church history.

Some unusual tidbits about me: while in high school I designed the offical seal of my city (Riverdale, Ill.); my wife and I had a private audience with Pope John Paul II (along with 9,998 other invited guests); we lived in Rome and the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland for a total of seven years.

 

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