Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ten Myths about Calvinism – Kenneth J. Stewart

Ten Myths About Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition
©2011 IVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL

In recent years the Calvinist theology has been seeing more than a modicum of attention among evangelical leaders (especially among some of the younger leaders). This fascination with what proponents prefer to call Reformed Theology is sweeping across denominational lines. It is also sparking quite a controversy among leaders of these denominations (including my own), whether that controversy is deserved or not. On one side of the argument are those who are buying into the teachings of Calvin as they have sifted down through the centuries. These adherents, including Calvinists of long standing and new converts to the theology, stand strong in their beliefs, ready to defend the theology as much as the Savior we all serve.

In the other corner we have those who do nothing except find fault with Calvinism. This is not to say that all of those who are dubious of this new interest in Calvinist theology land firmly in the full opposite extreme known as Arminianism, but the lines are drawn as to Calvinist and Not. And more often than not, each side is convinced that they have God’s mind figured out. I work diligently to foster my friendships and relationships with people of both sides because it is more our responsibility to show the love of God than to win arguments about our interpretation of His Word. I believe this is part of what Stewart is trying to accomplish with his historical sketch of Reformed Theology.

The book is an apologetic in defense of historical Calvinism. Stewart prefers the terminology “Reformed” to Calvinism, because the theology encompasses a greater span than simple John Calvin and Geneva in the 16th Century. In doing this, Stewart has identified four “myths” being spread by Calvinists and six that are being spread by non-Calvinists. All ten of which he says are historically inaccurate, and should not be spread any longer. He deals first with those myths spread by people in the Calvinist camp, and then moves to those supported by opponents of Calvinism:

  • One Man (Calvin) and One City (Geneva) Are Determinative
  • Calvin’s View of Predestination Must Be Ours
  • TULIP Is the Yardstick of the Truly Reformed
  • Calvinists Take a Dim View of Revival and Awakening
  • Calvinism Is Largely Antimissionary
  • Calvinism Promotes Antinomianism
  • Calvinism Leads to Theocracy
  • Calvinism Undermines the Creative Arts
  • Calvinism Resists Gender Equality
  • Calvinism Has Fostered Racial Inequality 
I must admit that I am familiar with about seven of the ten “myths” identified. Not being strongly steeped in Calvinist doctrine might attest to my lesser familiar stance with the others. I should also point out that when the author addresses the tenth of these myths that I found less defense of Calvinism than simple histrionics.

With a purpose to provide a defense for Presbyterian and Reformed churches both from errant thinking within and attack from without, Stewart does a fair job. What results though is less of an apologetic than a study of fifteenth to seventeenth century theology (other time periods are dealt with, but the major focus is in this window). Reading this book will not move most people from one camp to the other, but perhaps it will provide a better understanding of who the early Reformers are and what we should apply to their teaching.

The book will have limited appeal to those who are studying the church of the Reformation Era, those (like myself) who are trying to get a better handle on what Calvinists do and/or should believe and teach, and to those who are looking for solid defense for why they have landed in the camp of Calvinism.

As a history book, this is a good read. As a textbook, it is a fair resource. As a wealth of information helpful to the general reader, it falls rather flat. For anyone outside of the Presbyterian tradition, the book will not speak very loudly. For those (for instance) in the new movement of Calvinism in Baptist or Evangelical Free churches, will discover only a rare tidbit of helpful information. Because of this I rest the book in a balanced three of five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, January 1, 2013


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