Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Joy of Calvinism by Greg Forster

Foster reminds us of the command to rejoice without ceasing. He writes, ...if you want to understand the command to rejoice at all times, and still more if you want to obey it, of all places you might start looking for help with that problem, the best place to start is with Calvinism.” (14) More specifically, soteriology – the understanding of how sinners are saved – as developed from Calvin.
“Real Calvinism is all about joy.” (16) We Calvinists need to do a better job of communicating that. We need to be affirmative, expressing the joy of living in the truth of Calvinistic theology. Foster gives us a blueprint for that very task in this book.
His goal is, “to tell you what Calvinism says, especially what it says about your everyday walk with God and the purpose of the Christian life, and how you can have the joy of God even in spite of whatever trials and suffering the Lord has called you to endure.” (22)
Most people are badly mistaken about Calvinism (even Calvinists) so Foster takes a detour and clears up some mistaken thoughts about Calvinism. (As a Calvinist myself, I really appreciated this section.)
Foster tackles God's love for individuals (as opposed to God loving “humanity” in general), and what that means regarding salvation. (It is an excellent passage.) He also notes that Calvinism is not “all about predestination and God's sovereignty” though he does note Calvinists have a “high” view of those areas to preserve other important doctrines. He notes that a distinctive of Calvin's theology was a “high” view of the work of the Holy Spirit (supernatural regeneration). “For the Calvinist, the whole Christian life, individually and collectively – salvation, worship, discipleship, and mission – is not only from God and to God but also through God in the overwhelming, all-encompassing, miraculous power of the Spirit.” (43)
Forster reminds his readers that God loves us individually, intimately, completely. He explains how this affects salvation. He shows how traditions other than Calvinism depersonalize God's love and reduces the work of Christ. He also realizes that there is “no solution” to the problem of God's personal love and the fact that not everyone is saved. (66) The reason God chooses some for salvation is hidden within God. He covers the work of the Holy Spirit, transcending our nature. He also covers the work we must do in sanctification, most notably, endure suffering. Our salvation is secure so we have no fear.
Forster reminds us of a sermon he heard. “Joy is not an emotion. Joy is a settled certainty that God is in control.” (146) Therefore, there is joy in Calvinism because a Calvinist knows God is in control.

Calvinists are not off the hook, however. Forster is quick to point out where we have gone overboard or misrepresented the intent of Calvinism.

The Appendix has frequently asked questions covering the more technical aspects of Calvinism not covered in the main text. (For example: What is TULIP? Another: what about “four pointers”? And: Did God cause the Fall?) Forster also recommends several books for further reading.

Forster explains some aspects of Calvinism better than I have ever read before. Other areas he leaves in the realm of mystery. That's appropriate because, after all, we are talking about God whose thoughts are so much higher than ours. If we could understand it all, that would make us God.
I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand Calvinism on a conversational level. Technical this book is not. Readable it is. Forster wrote this book because he felt every Christian should be able to understand what Calvinism is. (196) He has done an excellent job.

Greg Forster (PhD, Yale University) is the author of five books and regular contributor to magazines and blogs. He is a program director at the Kern Family Foundation and a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation.

Crossway Books, 208 pages.

To read an excerpt from the book, go here.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.
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