Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel by Boice & Ryken

The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel
by James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken, Crossway, 2009, 240pp
The basic thesis of this book is that Evangelicalism needs a good dose of Calvinism. Evangelicalism has been at its best in those periods when it has been in the grip of Calvinistic theology. That is because Calvinistic theology is the theology of the Holy Scripture. Contemporary Evangelicalism has largely abandoned the doctrines of grace and is the worse for it. Despite apparent numerical success, the movement seems to be imploding and is often characterised by theological confusion, worldliness and lack of effectiveness in reaching the masses for Christ.

But if at least part of the answer to the present malaise is a recovery of the doctrines of grace, then what are those vital doctrines? Boice and Ryken describe what they mean in terms of the “Five Points of Calvinism”, popularly summarised under the mnemonic TULIP, Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints. The authors quibble a little about the appropriateness of some of the traditional TULIP terminology and make a few adjustments in wording. For example, they rightly prefer ‘Particular Redemption’ to ‘Limited Atonement’. But all the same, the writers follow the familiar five-point schema in their exposition of the doctrines of grace. What they have to say is helpful and well argued, but I can’t help thinking that reducing Calvinism to the stereotypical five points is slightly reductionistic. The “five points of Calvinism” were never intended to be a handy summary of Reformed teaching as a whole. As the book says, they were simply the Reformed response to the Arminian five point Remonstrance at the Synod of Dort in 1618. Calvinistic teaching certainly includes a commitment to TULIP theology, but it is much bigger in scope than that. Greater breadth and creativity is needed in commending the riches of Reformed theology to the wider Evangelical world.

With the above thoughts in mind, last couple of chapters are probably the best in the book. In The True Calvinist, Boice and Ryken devote attention to a Calvinistic view of the Christian life. They show that when properly understood the doctrines of grace will lead to God-centred holy living. The Calvinist will seek to bring every area of human existence under the authority of the sovereign God of all grace. Just how this comprehensive vision of life plays out in practise is detailed in Calvinism at Work. The writers demonstrate that the Calvinistic vision of God’s sovereignty has a positive impact on the mission of the Church and has powerful implications for the relationship of the Christian to the wider culture.

The book is dual-authored because it was completed by Philip Graham Ryken, as James Montgomery Boice died in June 2000, leaving the work unfinished. Their joint-effort offers a convincing introductory argument that Evangelicalism needs Calvinistic theology and a gripping conclusion on the practical implications of Calvinism. But it is marred by a slightly stodgy and unimaginative middle section. Let's stop using TULIP as shorthand for the doctrines of grace in their totality.
* An edited version of this review will appear in a forthcoming edition of Protestant Truth.


James Miller said...

Hello Guy. I wrote on TULIP recently on my blog. I also think the flower maybe needs re-named.

Exiled Preacher said...

I like Geoff Thomas' redefinition of TULIP at a recent Leicester Conference. He said that we are TULIP Ministers: