by Thomas Haviland-Pabst
Evangelical Calvinism is a fascinating volume which seeks to capture a theological “mood” rather than a movement attached to a particular denomination, seminary, or “high profile media stars” (pp. 2-3). Thus, the purpose of this volume, which is a collection of essays from various authors, is to take “steps toward articulating what that mood might look like,” with the recognition that, as a mood, there will be diversity of expression in the attempt. But, by way of continuity of vision (or mood), Evangelical Calvinism seeks to place an accent on the evangelical of their chosen name, and, as such, proponents of it see themselves as in contrast to Federal Calvinism (p. 3).
The editors of the volume, who write the introduction to the same, see elements of their “mood” in such men as John Calvin, John Knox, The Marrow Men, T. F. and James Torrance, and Karl Barth, to name a few (p. 4). This claim is substantiated as Calvin, T. F. Torrance, and, (although less prominently) Barth feature strongly in the many essays contained within Evangelical Calvinism; as do some of the other names and schools mentioned by the editors. By taking up the “baton passed on by Torrance and others,” the editors seek to offer a “theological and spiritual ethos”; aligning more with confessional stance of “the Scots Confession (1560) than with the Westminster Confession (1647)” (p. 5) (with the latter representing Federal Calvinism). With this ethos in mind, the editors understand this volume as primarily an exercise in “constructive theology” (p. 7). Seeing their mood or project (the latter being our own description) as “true to … [the essence of] the Reformed faith,” their project seeks to explore “the adiaphora within their traditional commitments” (p. 10; cf. p. 8).
Moving to the main body of the volume, it is divided in to four sections: (1) Prolegomena/Historical Theology; (2) Systematic Theology; (3) Applied Theology; and (4) Prospect. Because of the length of the volume and the lack of length of blog posts (even our own), we will give attention to some basic contours of the volume, leaving space for some strengths and weaknesses of the volume.
Already in the first division or part of this volume, one gets a sense of the ways in which Evangelical Calvinism sets itself apart from that of the Federal variety. Charles Partee, in the second chapter, relates three types of Calvinism—conservative, liberal, and evangelical (represented by Charles Hodge, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Karl Barth, respectively)—to three distinctives of Reformed Protestant theology, namely, sola Scriptura, sola fide, and solus Christus/solo Christo, respectively. That is to say, by and large, each type or version of Calvinism gives priority to an aspect of Reformed theology in a way that the others do not. Although we will relegate our comments regarding this essay to a later point, suffice it to say, Partee effectively highlight some ways in which, at the very least, these forms of Calvinism see themselves as set against the others.
The third chapter, by Adam Nigh, explicates T. F. Torrance’s teaching on the depth dimension of Scripture, which “differentiates the divine Word and human words while yet refusing to divorce Scripture from th economy of God’s self-revelation” (p. 67), in order to offer a prolegomenon to the “mood” under question. Here, we see a clear distancing from fundamentalism, biblical and traditionalism. Bobby Grow, in the fourth chapter, argues that Evangelical Calvinism, in line with Barth, grounds its approach to theology in the analogy of faith rather than the analogy of being, with the latter as indicative of classical theists (and, consequently, classical or federal Calvinists), following Thomas Aquinas. He then compares how these two different approached “play out” confessionally, looking at “The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Belgic Confession of the Faith, The Scots Confession of Faith [and] The Heidelberg Catechism” (pp. 105-106). Without commenting on Andrew Purves contribution to this part of the volume, it must be noted that it is in this part of the volume that we find the strongest polemic against Federal (or Classical) Calvinism, albeit each essay reflects this to different degrees.
The second part of this volume deals with such topics as our knowledge of God (chapter 6), election (chapter 7), original sin (chapter 8), union with Christ (chapter 9), Christ’s vicarious ministry (chapter 10), and the destiny of infants and the severely mentally disabled (chapter 11). Throughout we see a concern for a personal God, for the evangel of Christianity, and a continual eye toward the centrality of Christ’s person and work. Also, we see some ways in which this mood distinguishes itself from Federal/Classical Calvinism. Most notably, we see a rejection of so-called limited atonement (pp. 185-186) and the eschewal of a rigid adherence to logic thinking (p. 191), especially concerning election/reprobation, and a move away from a distinctly federal schema of original sin (chapters 8, 11).
The third part contains sophisticated essays on applied theology. Chapter 12 is a beautiful look at how Calvin’s Institutes provide much in the way of material for the Christian life. Chapter 13 is a sophisticated, theologically-nuanced look at prayer, with much attention given to Calvin’s understandings of prayer. Chapter 14, taking an existential slant, looks at worship, with some attention given to the Eucharist and baptism. In the fourth and last part of the volume, the editors offer fifteen theses which helpfully and clearly demonstrate some of the major distinctives of Evangelical Calvinism, concluding this part and thus the volume with a “Post-Reformation Lament.” Continue reading “A Book Review Article on Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church. Eds. Myk Habets and Bobby Grow. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Pub., 2012. Xxii + 458 pp.”