A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Jeff Mooney
In our culture, people often decide on the appropriateness or truthfulness of an idea based upon the demeanor of those holding the idea. Calvinists have provided ample reasons to reject the doctrines of grace over the years. It is, unfortunately, a reputation we are have difficulty shaking. J.A. Medders seeks to provide us a way out.
He writes “the problem with Calvinism is ‘Calvinists like me’” (13). He seeks to “crack[s] open the five points … so that we can see what happens when the points get into our hearts” (27). Medders aims to transcend simply studying the doctrines of grace and to embrace the grace of our doctrine, embarrassingly, to see “Christ in our Calvinism” (28). In supplying this focus, the author distinguishes between “Head-Calvinism” and “Heart-Calvinism.” With hopes of weaning his readership from the former to the latter, Medders provides both historical comments and personal anecdotes. The novice to all things reformed will need to read the helpful little section between chapters 1 and 2 – A Short Interlude about Jargon and Church History. Here, the author introduces to rookies of Reformed theology the terms and history of the idea of Calvinism, as well as all of the “jargon, acronyms, and name drops needed to enjoy this book” (36). He provides the option for the more seasoned five-pointer to skip this section and move forward (29).
Chapter 2 provides the author’s apologetic for his title, which he admits might sound like an oxymoron to some but most certainly is not in its truest form.
My hope for this book is that you’ll see the points of Calvinism not as lights in which to bask but as a lit path toward enjoying Jesus, the light of the world, personally and powerfully (43).
The author unpacks and repackages the five points from chapters three to seven. Throughout, Medders provides clear descriptions of each point, reorients each point through the lens of Christ. He provides painful, pastoral and practical implications and charges. The selections below provide a good shape and introduction to the book.
- “Christ savoring Calvinism is soul food” (48).
- “Sin is when we live like the most relevant reality in the universe is irrelevant, ignorable, and even idiotic” (56).
- “We’re free to recognize, praise, and celebrate the doing of good in this world. Helping the least of these in the world is good. It’s just not good enough to save you or to cancel out or overcome your depravity” (58).
- “The first point of Calvinism is about more than how totally depraved we are – it reveals how we are totally dependent on Jesus” (67).
- Quoting Spurgeon: “… I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards …” (76).
- “Now if you know God loved you like that, you go love others the same. The way of God’s love is the way we love others. It’s unconditional. It’s about us choosing to love, regardless of what comes back” (80).
- In commenting on using the doctrine of predestination as a litmus test for faith, he states the following. “This is something we Calvinists must continually be cautious of because we are adding to what it means to be saved by Jesus, and that’s as un-Calvinistic and, more importantly, un-Christian as it gets” (88).
- “He didn’t atone for the sins of the soil beneath your feet, but he did die to release the soil from the burden, decay, and groaning caused by the sins of those who tread on it” (104).
- “Satan would love for us to find pride in how we understand the humble cross of Christ. Don’t give in. Consider every Arminian, every Four Pointer, every Christian as more important that yourself …. Look for ways you can love them and serve them, regardless of whether they are fully ‘Calvinized.’ Christ, not Calvinism, is all” (112).
- Important is Medders’s replay of Calvin’s vigorous Church Planting ministry. Quoting Starke, “By 1555, Calvin and his Geneva supporters had planted five churches in France. Four years later, he had planted 100 churches in France. By 1562, Calvin’s Geneva, with the help of some of their sister cities, and planted more than 2,000 churches in France” (129).
- The author practically expresses the doctrine of perseverance with questions for any healthy believer to evaluate in their own lives. “Are you lukewarm toward other believers? Do you actually pray for others when you say you will? Do you pursue meeting up with those who are struggling? Do you risk a comfortable friendship in order to give, with tears in your eyes, a necessary rebuke? Don’t belittle the role of the saints in your perseverance or your role in theirs” (150).
Medders’s book supplies the reader and the church a rich model for Reformed preaching and life. He successfully marries the system to a rugged practical theology by including insightful and concise statements to be repeated and recast throughout the book.
Among the positive features of the book, I only have a few points that need redirection. I’ll mention the more obvious ones to me: product and then content. First, it’s not clear who Meddors thinks will read the book. Will his readership be the Young Restless and Reformed crowd that might need it? As a general rule, those who need humility the most are the last ones to get in line for a serving. If the intended audience is the old school Reformed, whom he seem to skip in his assessment of Calvinism at one point in the book, then “bragging about Jesus” may not appeal to the group Medders hopes to convert from a prouder stance. I would think they would see it as indicative of the distinction between their seriousness about the doctrines of grace and his lack of it. (43-47) Second, the title is descriptive but reminds me of Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life title. As a Christmas gift, such a title requires an explanation that no one typically wants to give or they want badly to give it – neither preferable.
There are moments in the book that don’t provide the muscle that is indicative of the overall project. For example, opening up his discussion on limited atonement, Medders includes the exact type of illustration that tends to confuse people with regard to limited atonement, turning his daughter’s petition down for the chocolate he purchased his wife. A proper illustration would have his daughter not wanting his wife’s chocolate and being denied, but offered it and turning her nose up at it for one of those horrible, diabetes inducing gummy bear things (93-94). That aside, however, the section on definite atonement is incredibly helpful and I will put it in front of anyone who is confused about the matter.
While I cannot recollect the number of times that Calvinists have interfered with their own theology, I can remember the number of times I have read a simple, straightforward, and humble correction and encouragement to follow the savior from the reformed ranks – one time. Medders provides all who join him with a satisfying and God glorifying path to follow. Soli Deo Gloria