Exploring John Calvin By Reading “The Joy Of Calvinism” By: Greg Forster (A Book Review)

MTE5NTU2MzE2MTcyNDg2MTU1Elect or not elect, that is the question. For several years, the question of Calvinism and Arminianism has plagued my mind. By way of introduction, Calvinism is the Christian reformed belief system that God has predestined those who will be saved and Arminianism is the belief that humanity can freely choose to accept Christ or not.  On the one hand, I grew up in an Arminian household. I was taught that we can choose to become a Christian or not and that everyone has the potential to be saved. On the other hand, the longer I spend in the academy and the more time I spend reading the Scriptures, I find Calvinism to be at the core of what much of the Bible is saying. There are numerous examples of God choosing certain individuals over others (He favoured the nation of Israel after all, did He not?). Several English translations also include the words “predestined” or “foreknown” which when spoken out loud seem to follow in a similar vein to “election.” Due to my inability to choose which one of these two positions I favour and because I find merit in both, I describe myself as “a Calvinist with a soft Arminian underbelly” – a phrase that angers Calvinists and makes Arminians roll their eyes.

facebook_the-joy-of-calvinismNevertheless, I am not actually here to discuss in-depth the differences and similarities between Calvinism and Arminiansm since this is a subject I know relatively little about. Instead, I would like to spend some time reviewing a book that I find instrumental to anyone trying to understand the Calvinist position: The Joy of Calvinism by: Greg Forster.

In this book, Forster describes in great depth while still remaining a conversational tone what Calvinism is and what being a Calvinist implies. He shares how Calvninists have unfortunately portrayed their theology in a confusing light resulting in Arminians not knowing exactly what they believe or why. He makes the case that Calvinism should not simply be confined to the five point TULIP system (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election,, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). He even makes the bold assertion that Calvinism truly has little to do with predestination and more to do with understanding God’s sovereignty, His control over the world, and seeing God move even despite our sufferings. According to Forster, true Calvinism neither rejects the concept of free will nor does it disparage evangelism – instead it commands its followers to share the Gospel truth with others and yet at the same time, to rest in the assurance that Christ has the ultimate responsibility of saving another – not us.

Coming from an Arminian background, I felt that Forster took great care in explaining his viewpoints and laying out logical arguments. Although coming across as cocky at times due to his insistence that Christianity only really has a place for Calvinism, I still found his book to be gripping, powerful, and inspiring. It certainly cleared up a lot of misconceptions for me and although I still would not classify myself as a Calvinist, helped move me to a deeper understanding of who John Calvin was and why his work remains so vital to the church today. An addicting book that I couldn’t put down, I’d give The Joy of Calvinism an astonishing 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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6 thoughts on “Exploring John Calvin By Reading “The Joy Of Calvinism” By: Greg Forster (A Book Review)

  1. I have many reasons to reject TULIP Calvinism, but I’m just going to mention one. Jesus didn’t believe in anything remotely resembling Calvinism. Jesus indeed believed in election, but not in unconditional predestination or in irresistible grace. He believed in the sinfulness of humankind but not in total depravity. I don’t think he had in mind what would be the limit of the atonement achieved by his death on the cross. In summary, Jesus didn’t believe nor taught any of the five points of Calvinism.

    I’m closer to Arminianism but I’m not an Arminian.

    • Hi Nelsonct,

      Thank you for your response to this post and for sharing your belief in what Jesus taught and did. Indeed, I also find this particular aspect of Calvinism hard to understand…but as I mentioned in my post, what I am learning is that TRUE Calvinism does not confine itself to the TULIP box. Also, many true Calvinists will admit that Calvinism today is so far removed from what John Calvin originally taught in his institutes. That being said, I am not a Calvinist myself, so I may not be the best one to defend their position. In the end of the day, I believe that Jesus is the One we should revere and John Calvin definitely would agree with that. Whether or not someone believes in election or not does not disparage the fact that Jesus gave all of us free will and we can still choose what to do with that free will.

      • Well, TULIP is the defining feature of Calvinism. Of course, Calvinism isn’t just TULIP, but it’s the 5 points that makes Calvinism what it is. And John Calvin taught in his Institutes many of the things that came to be defined as the 5 points. He believed in what he called God’s “horrible decree” (decretum quidem horribile, John Calvin, Institutes III.xxiii.7) of eternal damnation. He believed God created some people with the only purpose of damning them, which in Calvin’s mind meant sending them to a fiery hell to be tormented for eternity.

  2. I’m by no means a Calvanist but I have read a lot of Spurgeon. He doesn’t seem like a pure Calvinist like they claim. His preaching is very different from the preachers Iv’e heard. Also i don’t know any Calvinist that doesn’t hold tightly the TULIP.

    • Thanks, Brian. It is not that Calvinists don’t hold to TULIP, but rather that a true Calvinist would see something more than just TULIP. See TULIP is like this neat little box, but I have been studying theology and taking courses on the Reformed Movement and Calvinism for a few years and while they don’t disagree with TULIP, they believe there is just a little something more. But again, I’m not a Calvinist, so thus I’m probably not the best person to defend their theology.

      • I agree with what you’re saying. I misunderstood what you had said. I too have been studying Calvinism for sometime. It helped me understand how they present the gospel. For example why they don’t give gospel invitations at the end of the service. Where I live, S.C., Calvanism is becoming more popular. That is one of the reasons why your article was of great interest to me. Thanks for responding.

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