[PhilThreeten] Book Review: Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport

Skip to first unread message


Apr 4, 2006, 12:11:50 PM4/4/06
to PhilThreeten...@googlegroups.com
Richard Mouw accomplishes exactly what he sets out to do in this book – a description of how best to be a Calvinist in the 21st century. I could almost entirely embrace Mouw’s form and approach to Calvinism – which is no small statement for those of you who are regular readers of this blog!!

Starting out with an overview description of TULIP, Mouw gives a fairly typical description of the five components of Calvinism. That’s where the ‘typical’ ends. Mouw jumps to Limited Atonement next, recognizing it as a strongly logical link between TU and IP with Biblical support.

But, refreshingly, Mouw acknowledges that the passages that speak of Jesus dying for all the world seem to really mean that He, in some sense or another, really did die for all humanity. Rather than trying to justify the L or remove L altogether, he simply lives with the tension! This allows him to offer a truly free invitation to all. He makes an astounding point that sums up his position well:

“The other four adjectives have a somewhat expansive feel to them: ‘total,’
‘unconditional,’ ‘irresistible,’ ‘persevering.’ And then right in the middle the
Calvinists plunk down the word ‘limited’…surely there is something wrong with
giving the impression that the one important thing we want to emphasize about
the atoning work of Jesus Christ is that it is ‘limited.’”
His next point is to discuss the sovereignty of God. While maintaining that God ordains/permits everything that comes to pass, he admits, that if we are going to follow Biblical examples, we don’t simply have to accept that fact. “We can complain to God rather vigorously about the things we have a hard time accepting.” Again, this is an energizing approach to the truth of Sovereignty since it avoids emphasizing God’s separateness from us to the detriment of His relationship with us. Mouw goes on to explain how we grow and understand God more through His sovereignty.

Mouw moves on to tackle election. While admitting that the Jewish concept of election is corporate, he holds to the traditional Calvinist teaching of individual election. This, unfortunately, would be the only part of Mouw’s Calvinism that I would still wrestle with since I am convinced that Scripture doesn’t teach an individual election (other than the individual election of Jesus). However, I do appreciate Mouw’s approach to election – rather than focusing on the exclusiveness of election he places strong emphasis on the purpose of election. For him, this means that “God elects us to participate in a covenant community that shows forth his sovereign rule over all areas of life.” Well put!

Mouw also wades through the quagmire of whether a majority or minority of humanity will be saved (or, are elect). He points to both A.A. Hodge and the Westminster Confession as examples of strongly Calvinist positions that held the possibility that a great majority of people would be saved. Most interesting for me was this point he makes from the Westminster Confession:

“’Elect infants, dying in infancy’ – and thus not having arrived at a conscious
understanding of the claims of the gospel, nonetheless – ‘are regenerated and
saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he
pleaseth’…but the Westminster writers refused to…limit their generosity to
‘elect infants.’ This makes it all the more intriguing when they add this
observation… ‘So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being
outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.’

He notes that this is a pretty wide door for writers of the Confession – not especially known for leaving gray areas in their writing – to leave wide open.

He finishes up by noting some of the weaknesses of Calvinism. This is especially a poignant section since Mouw considers himself to be a Calvinist. He notes the need for humility – not just in the personal approach to these matters but also in how Calvinists approach those who might disagree. He also convincingly shows that Calvinism is not the end all of theological systems. It is an important system in understanding the sovereignty of God. However, there are other areas of both orthodoxy and orthopraxy that Calvinism could learn from.

This book has been a blessing. Being raised in a Reformed family, I was eating TULIP before I was drinking milk! I’ve tried both on my own blog and on other blogs to work through the difficulties that I see within Calvinism. I’ve been met with a variety of responses:

  • Calvinism is the highest form of spiritual maturity, so when I become more mature, I will become more Calvinist (especially Garvis Cambpell’s 10:19 and 12:51 comments).
  • Calvinism = the Gospel, thus, if I am not a Calvinist, I am proclaiming an inferior or false gospel
  • If I hold to any other form of Christian theology other than Calvinism, I am at best a semi-heretic. Either of the examples above will suffice as the term semi-Pelagian is thrown around quite freely. Why aren’t those who disagree with some of Augustine’s teachings (and utterly disagree with Pelagius’ conclusions) instead called semi-Augustinians…?

None of this is found in Mouw’s book. Praise the Lord!!! I have only ever met one other Calvinist who I can sit with, have theological conversations with, and not feel as though it is an ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ battle. Instead, we both recognize our shared deep commitment to live our lives in faith to God. I wish I had more Calvinist friends like this.

I get the sense that Mouw is the type of person that I could sit down with and I would be impressed with his humility, spiritual maturity, humor, and flexibility. That would not only make me willing to listen to what he has to say about Calvinism – I might even be drawn to it!

I would highly recommend this book to anyone desiring to figure out a more embracing approach to Calvinism.

Categories: Readings, Reforming

Posted by PhilThreeten to PhilThreeten at 4/04/2006 12:07:00 PM
Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages