For and Against Calvinism 11

For and Against Calvinism 11 November 29, 2011

Michael Horton’s question in his new book, For Calvinism, is to sketch and argue for Calvinism, including how Calvinism understands the Christian life.

Horton shows how Calvinism is neither antinomian nor legalistic, and it has been accused of both and it should not be. For Calvinism the Christian life is a downward movement from God to us and out into the world. It’s a work of grace, and sanctification is to be kept separate from justification; to be sure, the latter leads to the former but they are not to be confused.

Furthermore, for Horton there is an emphasis on the Christian life as ecclesially shaped and not just individualistically, and here he pushes against populist evangelicalism (rightly, I think). Election does not minimize godliness; justification leads to sanctification. The means of grace are the Word, baptism, Lord’s Supper, church membership … the Word flows into the home and into individuals, the home into the community.

Horton’s sketch says good and admirable things about the Christian life if one restricts one’s evidence to post-Jesus New Testament and to Reformed teachings, and much of what he says I’d agree with. It’s what he doesn’t cover that concerns me most. There is insufficient attention to the teachings of Jesus and to the Holy Spirit, to love, to self-denial and the cost of discipleship, to the Sermon on the Mount, to the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, and to the Lord’s Prayer.

OK, for our Calvinist readers, if you were asked to sketch the Christian life according to Calvinism, What would be your top three points? [Other than, it’s all of grace; got that. Other than, it’s for the glory of God; got that, too.]

But, against Horton, I would want to argue that the Christian life includes the Gospels and not just Paul’s letters; and the church begins with Jesus (or Pentecost, or Abraham), not with nails on the door of the church in Wittenberg; and Jesus taught us how to live, he didn’t just die and rise for us.

This is the first chp in this book where I though Michael’s polemical edge got the best of the chp: it is a combination of a diatribe against populist evangelicalism and Keswick higher life Arminian theories of the second blessing. I’d like to have seen much more focus on how Calvinists frame the Christian life and a whole lot less on what’s wrong with other views.

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