Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What is Calvinism? A Book Review

What is Calvinism? everything you need to know about Calvinism...and then some, Peter Lumpkins, Carrollton, GA: Free Church Press, 2013, 1939283035, 42 pages.

This second booklet in the Free Church Press booklet series was released in March 2013. It is "part of...a series focusing on biblical, theological, and moral issues facing today's Christians." It seems quite provocative and attention-getting to subtitle a 42 page booklet "everything you need to know about Calvinism...and then some"! Yet it is a serious and honest title, reflecting what the author thinks one needs to know -- not everything one might want to know. To better understand this the reader should realize that the author believes Calvinism is a doctrinal system that has deviated from the truth. Therefore, what one needs to know is what it is and that it is wrong. Further, Lumpkins writes from his context within the Southern Baptist Convention.

What is Calvinism begins with the concerns of two modern Southern Baptist Convention presidents over the difficulties and dangers the future SBC may face over Calvinism. Quickly, Lumpkins moves to introduce Augustine and John Calvin, and then define "What is Calvinism." The author sums up Calvinism in T.U.L.I.P. soteriology, aka "the doctrines of grace" or "the five points of Calvinism". Some may take issue with the idea that T.U.L.I.P. = Calvinism. But in a Baptist belief system, surely (and hopefully) Calvinism never means much more than that. No doubt one would not argue against this being "what is the common theology among Calvinists (p. 5)." After defining each of the five petals of the T.U.L.I.P. ("the way Calvinists believe it"), the author remonstrates with five terms of doctrine to substitute for or prefer over the five points of Calvinism ("reservations Christian like myself profess").

In the end Lumpkins concludes that "Calvinism is a system of theology which contains some truth and some error (p. 34)." "And then some" finishes the book with a short essay by Z. T. Cody, "Are Baptists Calvinists?"

While some have complained that Lumpkins does not fairly represent Calvinism, I see no reason to agree with such a complaint. When one summarizes the general belief that is called Calvinism, one cannot include all that every Calvinist believes. One example of not including everything can be seen in the author's formula of "Limited Atonement = God didn't intend to save all even though He provided for all." It is a debate within Calvinism itself whether limited atonement "provides for all." In the belief of many God only intended to save AND only provided for His elect. The milder definition, though, is probably representative of most Southern Baptist Calvinists (what we might call "Fullerism" or "Amyraldism"). Of the five "formulas" (e.g. Total Depravity = Total Death) I felt that the fifth was the least helpful, on the perseverance of the saints. I prefer terminology for this doctrine other than what is commonly used with T.U.L.I.P. And, while I would agree that for the systematic Calvinist perseverance is a "logical deduction from unconditional election (p. 15)," I don't see that as the best formula for explaining it. It seemed more like finding something to disagree with in something the author agrees with.

In the midst of the Limited Atonement discussion, the author digresses into a story about Bob and Dan, "A Parable of Two Brothers and Two Endings." The story is well designed to do what it does -- to steer the reader to a sense of unfairness and moral outrage toward the doctrine. From the opposite direction this story does similarly to what Calvinists do. Calvinists move people along on the logic of their system to accept the the concept of Limited Atonement. Lumpkins moves people along on their feelings to reject the concept of Limited Atonement. What we need to know is whether, according to the revelation of Scripture, God can choose one and reject another. And if He can, did He or did He not choose one and reject another?

I didn't find Z. T. Cody's essay to be a particularly strong way to end the book. I found it interesting nonetheless, especially as he discussed the source of freedom being different from the "Baptist" and the "Calvinist" perspective. Overall I think the author accomplished what he intended to do -- to define Calvinism as he sees it and to tell you what he thinks you need to know about it. The book will be useful and helpful. If you're looking for support for the Calvinistic soteriology -- wrong book. The purchaser should be aware that this book will not tell you why to believe in the five points of Calvinism, but why not.

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...


Many believe that Ephesians 2:8 teaches that God arbitrarily bestows faith on a selected few so they can believe and be saved. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.(NKJV)

Salvation is the gift of God, not faith. The gift God gives is forgiveness from sin.

How do men receive faith?

Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God.(NKJV)

Faith comes from hearing the gospel preached. Faith is not arbitrarily dispatched to a chosen few.

Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greeks,

Salvation is attained by believing the gospel. Salvation is not predetermined by God and forced on a select few by forcing them to have faith and be saved.

1 Corinthians 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God , it pleased God through the foolishness of the messaged preached to save those who believe.(NKJV)

God saves men through preaching the gospel. God does not preselect men and the force them to have faith so they will be saved.

John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but that the wrath of God abides on him."(NKJV)

If God imputes faith to all who believe, why would those who do not believe receive the wrath of God. Non-believers would have no responsibility nor capability to believed and be saved.

1 John 3:20-23....And this is His commandment: that we we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.(NKJV)

Why would God command us to believe on His Son Jesus Christ if we are not capable of believing, unless He arbitrarily bestows that faith on non-believers?

Jesus said "He who believes and is baptized will be saved.."(Mark 16:16) Jesus did not say God will give you the gift of faith so you can believe, be baptized and be saved.

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