Michael Horton, For Calvinism. Zondervan, 2011. 208 pages. ISBN 978-0-310-32465-2
I wrote an earlier review on Roger Olson's Against Calvinism. I thought it would be good to write a companion piece that showed the other side. Michael Horton, professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, seeks to defend Tulip theology in this book. He, however, changes some of the traditional presentation of this acronym. For example, he changes the "L" to particular redemption and the "I" to effectual grace. He states that For Calvinism "will focus on explaining, defending, and clarifying these five points as distinctive elements of the Calvinist doctrinal position" (15). He prefers to call the acronym "the doctrines of Grace." Though this is his main purpose, he believes that Calvinism is broader than the five points. This shows in how he covers this broader aspect in part of the book.
Olson wrote the foreword to the book. He notes, "I have always found Mike to be a generous and yet devoted adherent of what he calls the 'doctrines of grace.' Don't get me wrong: I still strongly disagree with some of his characterizations of Arminianism and especially with the 'five point' Calvinist system he espouses. . . However, I regard Mike as one of the kindest, gentlest true Calvinist around" (9). Olson biggest disagreement with the Calvinism "espoused" by Horton is its "inconsistency." I think what Olson means is how sometimes when Horton is defending the five point system is changing the points to mean something else. For example, in the chapter on effectual grace, he argues that the relationship between God and the human is not omni-causality. This seems to be what is implied in the concept of Irresistible grace/effectual grace. One wonders have we changed the meaning when we changed the term. It seems one needs to define these terms when using them because they can mean different things. So I agree with Olson's charge of inconsistency. Sometimes, I thought Horton was saying one thing in one part of the book and saying something else in the book.
I am quite confused by the whole Calvinism or Reformed/Arminian divide. Must one accept the five points to be a Calvinist. How is Reformed different from Calvinism. Was Jacob Arminius an Arminian or was he reformed? Is Calvinism's views of predestination the same of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas? Horton argues that "properly speaking there is no such thing as 'the Reformed faith.' There is only the Christian faith." He thinks it is "better. . . to speak of the Reformed confession of the Christian faith." He even says that predestination is not even the "heart of the Reformed faith."
Horton defends total depravity in chapter two. This is a doctrine that is accepted by many non-Calvinists. Horton states, "Calvinism teaches that human beings are basically good in their intrinsic nature, endowed with free will, beauty of body and soul, reason, and moral excellence." We are created in God's image. Reformed theology does not begin with the fall, but creation. In addition he states that Calvin "rejects the body-soul dualism that tends to identify sin with the former" (37). I do like this emphasis in Calvin's thought. The idea that both body and soul were created by God and are good.
Horton thinks the doctrine of total depravity is "misunderstood." He states, "It does not mean that we are as bad as we can possibly be, but that we are all guilty and corrupt to such an extent that there is no hope of pulling ourselves together, brushing ourselves off, and striving (with the help of grace) to overcome God's judgement and our won rebellion." It also means that no part of us has not been affected by the Fall.
Chapter three argues for unconditional election. He seeks to answer several questions in this section: "Does the Bible Teach election?" "Is Election Unconditional?" "Is Election Individual or Corporate?" Is Election Fair?" He looks at particular passages in Romans and Ephesians. He makes the following statement about .mis-representations of Calvinist views of election: "Pinnock stacks the deck with terms like 'omnicausality,' as if Calvinism teaches that God directly causes everything that happens, never acknowledging that Reformed theologians have always explicitly rejected this view" (65). I was surprised by this statement because I thought that is what Tulip theology taught. Irresistible grace? In other parts of the book, he states that God regenerated without us and that faith and repentance is a result of this regeneration. That sounds like omni-causality.
He lists five key points in the section on "Election and Human Responsibility." First, he thinks that the Calvinist-Arminian divide "reflects deeper differences concerning the God-world relationship, especially the relation between divine and human agency." He thinks that Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists falsely view the divine-human relationship as one piece a pie that is divided up among the two. He views it as a 'double agency.' "God wills and work as we will and work." I interpret this to mean that God is willing and working as we are willing and working. The second point is that "God cannot will or do anything inconsistent with his whole nature" (67). I was pleased to hear Horton to state this point. One often hears Calvinists saying that God can do anything, even the exact opposite of the moral law. For example, is something right just because God commands it. Many would argue that it is even if it is against the moral law. The fourth point was quite interesting. In this point, Horton states, "we must distinguish carefully the decree in eternity from its execution in history" (70). What does Horton mean by this statement. This seems to be a rebuttal of Calvinists who say that the people elected in eternity will be saved no matter what they do. Horton seems to be arguing in contrast, that a person must repent and believe in order to be part of the elect. I found this idea comforting. He states that we are "justified by faith, yet even this act of faith was graciously determined by the triune God before the creation of the world." This seems to imply that one must believe to be saved. Another important ponts he makes is that God works through secondary causes. This has bothered me when some Calvinists have basically eliminated secondary causes. God causes everything, even evil. I cannot accept the idea that God causes evil or that God predestines people to hell. The reason is because the Bible teaches that God loves the world and sent his son for the whole world. It also says that God desires that all people become Christians.Horton states, "God's decree not only determines that the act will occur, but that it will be freely done by the agent" (70). He also argues that Martin Luther stood against fatalism. He ends the chapter by stating that election is a mystery. He also states that Calvin taught that election was meant to be a comfort to the elect.
Other chapters speak of particular atonement, effectual calling and perseverance. Horton argues that effectual grace is not coercion of the human will. Horton writes, "Traditionally, Reformed theology has referred to this inward work of the Spirit through the gospel as effectual calling, not as irresistible grace. "Irresistible' suggests coercion, the sort of causal impact that is exercised when force is applied to someone or something. As we will see, Calvinism denies in explicit terms that God coerces people against their will, either toward belief or unbelief" (105). Horton is saying that people who come to Christ come willingly. He states that God's will can be resisted, that it is always resisted in the evil heart. Does this mean that God provides grace to some and not to others. Would a God of love do this? In addition, Horton states that effectual grace is "more than moral persuasion. . .; on the other hand, they deny that this work is coercive" (107).
The last three chapters of the book addresses the broader aspects of Calvinism. In chapter six he discusses "Calvinism and the Christian life." I enjoyed reading this chapter. He successfully shows how the Reformed faith connects with Christian practice. He argues against both antinomianism and legalism in this chapter. He also states that "there is no justification without sanctification; although we are justified through faith alone, that faith that clings to Christ immediately begins to bear the fruit of the Spirit" (124-125). However, our obedience is never perfect. He argues against perfectionism, the idea that we can live without sin in this life. He thinks legalism is "a serious error. Whether at the beginning, middle, or the end of the Christian life, we never bring our works to God as that which could satisfy his holiness. Rather, we cling to Christ alone through faith" (125). Horton also argues for the corporate life of the church, especially the concept of the church as people of the covenant.
Chapter seven argues against the idea that Calvinism logically entails being against evangelism and mission. He first argues against this idea by showing how the reformed faith has been evangelistic and missional throughout its history. For example, William Carey, a Calvinist Baptist was the founder of the Modern Missionary movement. In the last part of the chapter he shows how Calvinism gives confidence in spreading the gospel. He reminds the reader that God works through means. He states, "It is not God's secret predestination but the revealed gospel that is the province of the church's proclamation" (166). People come to faith through the proclamation of the gospe.
The last chapter does a SWOT analysis of Calvinism: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Under strengths and weaknesses, he contrasts "intellectual boldness/Cold intellectualism." He discusses how the Reformed faith has pursued higher education and emphasized the importance of the mind. Because of their success in the intellectual arena, he thinks "Reformed Christians must always be on guard against intellectual pride and the reduction of faith to sound doctrine" (172). Other strengths and weaknesses are: "Love for Truth/Factionalism" and "Respect for Tradition/Traditionalism." In regards to opportunities and threats, he pinpoints "Revived interest in the doctrines of Grace/Replacing the church with a movement." It has been much in the media about the "New Calvinists." We also have a very popular Calvinist movement in the Southern Baptist Convention. Another area of both opportunity and threat : "A New interest in sound doctrine/A new fundamentalism." In this section he contrasts conservatism and progressivism. He emphasizes that Calvinists must not be in either camp, but faithful to the Scriptures, seeking to reform church and society on the basis of its teachings.
Horton does a good job in presenting the "doctrines of grace," in his book, For Calvinism. He does not seem to argue in a polemical way, but presents high Calvinism positively. He does not put Arminianism in a heretical framework as considers them his brothers and sisters in Christ. There does seem to be some inconsistencies in this work as already noted. He does a good job in looking at the scriptures and what they say about the doctrines discussed in this volume. There does seem to be an emphasis on proof texts, like the exegesis of Romans 9. This book is a fair presentation of what is known as Tulip theology.