For any Calvinists out there who were upset by the previous recommendation, here is the book for you. For any Arminianists out there that thought Olson’s book provided a conclusive rebuttal, here is a new challenge for you. And for anyone seeking to better understand this long-standing debate in Protestant theology, this is the useful companion volume to Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism.
Horton is clear that a major problem in the 21st Century, particularly in evangelical circles, is a lack of knowledge about both the Bible and the orthodox doctrines of the Christian Church. Christians who have more zeal than knowledge have misrepresented both the Reformed Calvinist as well as the Arminianist positions in this disagreement, with extreme positions veering off into heresy on both sides. This had led to hurtful division and negative caricatures that not only increase animosity within the Church, but also harms our witness to the world.
In this book, Horton invites us to get over negative caricatures in order to explore the rich Biblical depth of historic Calvinism, a theological system also known as Reformed Theology. Horton acknowledges that ‘hyper-Calvinism’ is indeed a problem, and encourages the reader not to reject the “doctrines of grace” just because some people misrepresent them. He goes on to point out that mainstream Calvinism and Reformed piety have been associated with both personal renewal and doctrinal reform throughout the past 500 years, and that Reformed Calvinism has been the theological foundation for some of the greatest revival movements in history.
Every Christian who is part of the Western protestant tradition would benefit from reading Horton’s exploration of the doctrines of grace. He provides comments on where the distinctives of Calvinism agree and disagree with other theological and philosophical systems, including secular western culture. For example,
In our romantic and sentimentalized era, it is not the mind as much as the heart that is the locus of purity. The unbiblical idea is that the deeper you go, the better people are. They may be foul on the outside, but they’re good on the inside. Jesus challenges this as hypocrisy. (p.73)
Horton explores the Augustinian roots and historic development of Reformed Calvinism, emphasizing that every distinct feature of this theological system exists to clarify and defend the evangelical (Luther’s term) core of Christianity: sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola Christo, sola fide, and soli Deo gloria. He provides a helpful summary of the cultural context out of which Calvin and subsequent Calvinism arose, including when and why Arminius spoke out when he did.
It may come as somewhat of a surprise for some to discover that Horton is not a fan of the TULIP acronym. He considers it to be a misleading oversimplification of the five distinctive points of Calvinism. He takes particular issue with the use of terminology such as “limited atonement” and “irresistible grace,” preferring instead the terms “particular redemption” and “effectual grace.” To find out why, you need to read the book!
Horton’s five points of Calvinism, which he firmly connects with their scriptural foundations, are total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, effectual grace, and perseverance of the saints. He further explores how these doctrines become an integral part of living out the full life of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives. He concludes with a “SWOT” analysis of Calvinism today – and while he is speaking from an American context, his analysis is useful not only for everyone who is part of the Reformed Calvinist position today, but for all of us who are part of the protestant evangelical church.
If you would like to hear Michael Horton and Roger Olson (who are in fact good friends) provide a good example of how followers of Jesus can agree to disagree, you can hear a recording of a debate at Biola University here: https://youtu.be/1D2SWKbZSIU.