Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Living for God's Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel R. Beeke

Living for God's Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism,
Joel R. Beeke, Reformation Trust, 2008, 416pp.

When Joel Beeke gave the main addresses at the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Aberystwyth Conference a few years ago, he was asked which of his many books he would most like people to read. He opted for this one. I've profited from Beeke's ministry on number of occasions and I've frequently found his writings helpful, so with his commendation in mind I toddled off to the conference bookshop and invested in this tome.

Despite its size (a hefty 400-pager) and title, the book isn't at all heavy going. I read it through on Sunday evenings, when I'm often feeling a little weary and brain dead.

Beeke's aim is to show that Calvinism isn't simply a set of doctrines. As the title shows, it is all about living for God's glory. The writer devotes a chapter to the history of Calvinism and then endeavours to define what he calls "Calvinism in the Mind",  by which he means Calvinistic theology. Somewhat stereotypically he defines Calvinistic theology in terms of the good ol' "Five Points of Calvinism". Now, I'm all in favour "TULIP" theology, but as Beeke himself acknowlages, the "Five Points" were never meant to be a handy summary of Calvinistic teaching in the round. They were simply the Reformed response to the Arminian five point Remonstrance at the Synod of Dort. So, why allow Arminians to set the agenda? It makes Calvinists seem defensive and obsessively polemical. Besides, it is reductionistic to discuss "Calvinism in the Mind" mainly in terms of the Five Points. Whence Calvin's emphasis on divine self-revelation, or union with Christ, or justification by faith alone? Beeke's treatment of the Five Points is helpful enough, but we really do need to be more imaginative in our attempts to commend Calvinism in all its breadth and depth to the wider Evangelical movement.

However we define it, Calvinism isn't all in the mind. In the next section Beeke turns to "Calvinism in the Heart". This is better, especially Michel Haykin's chapter on Cultivating the Spirit. Beeke's own explorations of Calvin's God-exalting piety and sanctification in Puritan thought and practice give a real insight into the Reformed faith's robustly biblical and deeply practical teaching on the Christian life. Beeke's essays are informed by his wide reading of Puritan authors, but on pursuing the chapter endnotes I was a little disappointed that some of his choice quotes had been culled from books of quotations like John Blanchard's Gathered Gold. I might be getting overly fussy and cantankerous in my old age, and this is a meant to be a popular rather than scholarly work, but please!

The Reformation was all about the re-formation of the church along scriptural lines so it is good that a major part of the book is devoted to "Calvinism in the Church". Useful material here on church government and discpline by Derek Thomas, worship by Ray Lanning and preaching by Robert Oliver and Beeke. Essays on Calvin's evangelism and Puritan evangelism are a reminder that the Reformed faith when properly understood is not at all inimical to evangelistic zeal. Au contraire.

"Calvinism in Practice" includes essays on marriage, the family, work, politics and ethics, showing that Calvinism offers a theology for the whole of life. Good stuff.

Sinclair Ferguson's excellent piece on doxological Calvism concludes the book. He relates an anecdote from the writings of B. B. Warfield. There was violent rioting in an American city. A man spied a stranger walking calmly up the road. As the stranger passed by the man turned  and asked him, "What is the chief end of man?" To which he replied, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever." They had recognised from each other's unruffled demeanor that each was a "Shorter Catechism boy". That is doxological Calvinism - living for the glory of God and knowing the peace that comes from resting in a sovereign God.

1 comment:

Ben said...

Thank you, and I very much share your view on the five points. I too am all in favour of them all, and they may provide a useful way in, but they are far from adequate in comprehending what Warfield, I think called 'a vision of the majesty of God'.

I'm far from happy though, to read that apparently the mind/heart false dichotomy is given further currency in this book. This is surely entirely unscriptural, the heart in Biblical anthropology being the seat of everything including a person's rational, intellectual capacity. Delineating the heart as exclusively the sphere of emotional life is a modern, Romantic idea.

'Its size' not 'it's size', in your first para.