Understanding Calvinism (A Book Review on: The Joy of Calvinism By Greg Forster)

Elect 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 favored 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.

Nevertheless, I am not actually here to discuss in-depth the differences and similarities between Calvinism and Arminianism since this is a subject I know relatively little about. Instead, I would like to briefly review 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 retaining 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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