Tim Moss’ Review of CALVINISM: A BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE, edited by David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke

Published on September 18, 2023 by Eugene Ho

B&H Academic, 2022 | 560 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

by Tim Moss


The great debate over Calvinism is not on the decline but on the rise. Allen and Lemke commissioned a group of theologians of divergent backgrounds to pen essays scrutinizing crucial aspects of Calvinistic theology. Notably, it is crucial to observe that while these essays are primarily critical of Calvinism, the arguments presented are articulated within the framework of Christian civility and promote constructive dialogue among the differing perspectives.


Table of Contents


  1. A Critique of Total Depravity by Adam Harwood 
  2. A Critique of Unconditional Election by Leighton Flowers
  3. A Critique of Limited Atonement by David L. Allen
  4. Is God’s Grace Irresistible? A Critique of Irresistible Grace by Steve Lemke 
  5. A Critique of Perseverance of the Saints by Ken Keathley
  6. Calvinism is Augustinianism by Kenneth Wilson
  7. Dissent from Calvinism in the Baptist Tradition by J. Matthew Pinson
  8. A Wesleyan Critique of Calvinism by Ben Witherington III
  9. Romans 9 and Calvinism by Brian J. Abasciano 
  10. Corporate and Personal Election by William W. Klein
  11. The Character of God in Calvinism by Roger E. Olson 
  12. Determinism and Human Freedom by John Laing 
  13. Evil and God’s Sovereignty by Bruce A. Little
  14. The Public Invitation and Alter Call by Mark Tolbert

Epilogue: Calvinists and Non-Calvinists Together for the Gospel by Trevin Wax
Appendix: Semi-Pelagianism: The Theological Catchall




Section One – Chapters 1-5

The first section of this book offers a thorough critique of five-point Calvinism from a biblical and theological perspective. Notably, this section is distinguished by its intricate historical scrutiny, which traces the development of each tenet from its inception in Augustine’s thought to its contemporary forms and examines diverging strands that have arisen over the centuries.

In addition to the historical background, each contributor examines critical biblical passages used to support Calvinist doctrine. While not every proof text is examined, the contributors provide ample quotes from theologians throughout history to support their arguments and include plenty of footnotes for further research.

The distinctive characteristic of this critique is the cordial tone of disagreement among the contributors. They assert that despite divergences in theological viewpoints, adherents of Calvinism are still members of the Christian faith and can collaborate towards the common goal of proclaiming the gospel. Additionally, each author acknowledges the merits and drawbacks of both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic positions, providing an honest evaluation of the doctrines under scrutiny.

If an individual desires a technical resource on a biblical critique of Calvinism, this first section alone is worth it. The historical context and carefully thought-out arguments make it a valuable addition to a theological library. 


Section Two – Chapters 6-8

The three chapters covered in this section focus on two main themes. Chapter six provides a compelling argument that the foundational principles of Calvinism can be traced back to Augustine. The remaining two chapters delve into the history of Calvinism within the Baptist and Methodist traditions.

In Chapter Six, the author’s focus on Augustine’s influence on Calvinism may appear somewhat disjointed from the preceding chapters. Nonetheless, this section thoroughly examines Augustine’s theological views, particularly his soteriological positions, and highlights a pivotal moment in Augustine’s life when his views on grace and predestination shifted in AD 412. The author postulates that many of the critical tenets of Calvinism, which originated from Augustine’s teachings, took shape during this period of transformation. Despite the lack of explanation from Augustine regarding his change in theological views, the author offers some insights in the concluding remarks while also tracing the evolution of Calvinism from contemporary perspectives back to Augustine’s time.

In chapters seven and eight of this book, the authors provide a historical account of the development of Calvinism within the Baptist and Wesleyan traditions, respectively. Pinson’s essay on the Baptist tradition commences with the seventeenth century in Europe, during which most Baptists were adherents of Calvinism, and culminates with the contemporary resurgence of Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention. Pinson guides the reader through Baptist history by incorporating numerous quotations from Baptist preachers and leaders. Notably, Pinson provides an objective historical account of Calvinistic and Reformed traditions within the Baptist Church. Although this chapter contributes significantly to the book by providing a comprehensive history of Calvinism within the Baptist tradition, it strays away from the overall thesis.

Witherington, in his essay, took a vastly different approach than Pinson. In the opening pericope, he contrasts the views of John Wesley and Jacob Arminius and the development of Wesleyan theology by Richard Watson. Witherington, who taught Wesley’s Standard Sermons at Duke Divinity, then proceeds with the rest of his essay defending Wesleyan views from Calvinism through the lens of John Barclay, Watson, Wesley, and his work. His essay is a condensed version of the first five chapters of this volume. 

This section proved to be a tedious read. The section on Augustine is highlighted in other chapters, although not in as great detail. Pinson’s historical account of Calvinism within the Baptist tradition was an exhaustive review, yet it fell short of providing a “biblical and theological critique” as espoused by the overarching thesis of this book. Though Witherington presents a convincing argument from the Wesleyan perspective, his chapter lacked any significant new information not previously covered in the first section.


Section Three – Chapters 9-14

This section of the book aims to comprehensively examine the theological, biblical, and ecclesiological issues associated with Calvinism. Given that Romans 9 is widely regarded as a crucial chapter that buttresses Calvinist perspectives, the section proceeds by initiating a discourse on Romans 9 and Calvinism. Specifically, the essay commences by delving into an exploration of whether the election referred to by Paul is individual or corporate. Abasciano advances the argument that the notion of the corporate election was a prevalent view held by Paul due to his knowledge of the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Subsequently, the essay systematically scrutinizes each pericope of Romans 9, carefully expounding how the Calvinistic interpretation is out of context. While the argument advanced by Abasciano is notably reasoned and concise, the extent to which one agrees with his thesis is fundamentally hinged on whether one attributes significant weight to the Jewish and Old Testament background of Paul’s thought in this chapter.

The notion of election remains central to the subsequent chapter, where Klein presents an essay on the distinctions between corporate and personal election. In addition to distinguishing between these two forms of election, Klein introduces the concepts of election to a task and election to salvation. Having established the foundational aspects of his argument, Klein delves into examining the theme of election in the New Testament. His argument is cogently structured, and he endeavors to construct a biblical theology of election by drawing on the corpus of the New Testament.

Chapter ten scrutinizes the portrayal of God in Calvinism. Until now, the contributors have maintained a respectful disagreement regarding Calvinistic theology. However, in his essay, Olsen’s tone is more assertive. He references several hard-line Calvinists who espouse views on the character of God that are divergent from those of many Christians. Specifically, Olsen conducts a critical analysis of the character of God as presented in the written works of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, and John Piper. At the crux of Olsen’s argument is the contention that traditional Calvinism posits God as the source of sin and evil. Consequently, in Olsen’s view, this alters one’s perception of God and how one worships Him. In his concluding remarks, Olsen poses the question of whether, from a Calvinist perspective, individuals fear or worship God.

Chapter twelve is a technical exposition of the concept of freedom. To facilitate a lucid comprehension of the intricate subject matter, Laing begins by briefly clarifying determinism, incompatibilism, libertarianism, and compatibilism. Subsequently, he advances to the crux of his essay by elucidating the arguments of compatibilists against libertarianism. Notably, Laing acknowledges that there is no proof text in support of libertarianism. Nevertheless, he contends that examining various biblical accounts, such as the Fall, reveals the presence of libertarian freedom in the Bible. In the latter half of the essay, Laing presents biblical arguments in favor of libertarianism, utilizing contextual analysis of scriptural accounts to assert the existence of human freedom. The essay concludes with a philosophical discourse on the nature of freedom in heaven and divine freedom.

In chapter thirteen, Bruce Little examines the intricate relationship between evil and God’s sovereignty. Nevertheless, this chapter serves as a concise and integrated presentation of the three preceding chapters. The author addresses questions of the attribution of blame for the existence of evil, providing comprehensive answers. Notably, Little’s writing style adopts a pastoral tone that presents a refreshing perspective.

Whether an individual is a hyper-Calvinist, chapter fourteen presents a compelling appeal for evangelical churches to reintroduce a biblical public invitation. The author advocates for pastors of all theological persuasions to incorporate a public invitation and altar call into their services. Tolbert bases his argument on a meticulous exegesis of Scripture, establishing a solid foundation before exploring how pastors have deviated from the biblical model. The central tenet of his argument is that implementing a practice within the worship service that honors God and invites sinners to be reconciled with Him is paramount.

While not all arguments presented by the contributors in the concluding section may have aligned with my perspective, it is evident that a prolonged period of analysis could be devoted to comprehending the ideologies expounded within this section. This written work has meticulously outlined the matters frequently deliberated upon in conferences and debates. This section gives the reader a unique opportunity to grasp the stances, reference pertinent biblical texts, and develop their viewpoint. As such, the section is a valuable resource for individuals seeking to deepen their understanding of the topics of Romans 9, election, the character of God, determinism and free will, evil and God’s Sovereignty, and the public invitation.


Epilogue and Appendix

Since Augustine modified his stance in AD 412, individuals have been engaging in debates over several theological tenets, including total depravity, election, atonement, irresistible grace, the nature of God, and the problem of evil. Calvin played a pivotal role in systematizing these theological ideas, leading to a protracted debate. Nevertheless, Christians must recognize that despite differences in theological perspectives, they are united in Christ. The significance of soteriological positions should not supersede the importance of correct views on the gospel or the Trinity. Individuals ought to acknowledge that a spectrum of beliefs exists, and they should not feel obligated or compelled to align themselves or others with a particular theological camp.

The single appendix included in this publication expounds on the theological concept of Semi-Pelagianism. Individuals who declare that they are not Arminian are often erroneously labeled Semi-Pelagian. However, it is crucial to underscore the distinction between the two, as Semi-Pelagianism does not uphold the primacy of grace in soteriology. Therefore, employing the term as a general and all-encompassing label is frequently misguided.


Concluding Thoughts

To neglect the presentation of critical arguments in a chapter-by-chapter review of each topic discussed in this work would be an injustice to the contributors and the work’s overall value. This book represents a significant resource for laypersons, pastors, and scholars, providing comprehensive historical and theological insights into a biblical critique of Calvinism. Regardless of whether a reader may disagree with the propositions advanced by individual contributors, each chapter offers illuminating perspectives on various viewpoints and ensuing debates, prompting individuals to evaluate whether their beliefs align with scriptural teachings.


Tim Moss

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B&H Academic, 2022 | 560 pages

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