Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Calvinism's Exalted View of Scripture and Life

By Ryan McGraw

A review of: Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism. Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2008. 396 pages.

When I first saw this book, I wondered why it was necessary to add to the overwhelming pile of books on Calvinism. I was particularly curious why Reformation Trust would publish another book on Calvinism, due to the fact that it had been less than a year since they published a useful book on the subject by Rick Philips. After reading this book, I arrived at the conclusion that the reason why this book is necessary is because it is what every other book on Calvinism ought to be. Joel Beeke demonstrates that the five points of Calvinism are merely a summary of the Calvinistic doctrine of salvation, but that Calvinism itself is a comprehensive world and life view that places the absolute sovereignty and transcendence of God at the center of every area of thought and life.

The first two chapters contain a useful summary of the history of Calvinism, both in terms of its major exponents and in light of seven confessional documents that are still used by Reformed Churches today. The remainder of the book is broken into five sections: “Calvinism in the Mind,” “Calvinism in the Heart,” Calvinism in the Church,” “Calvinism in Practice,” and “Calvinism’s Goal.” The first of these sections contains the “five points” of Calvinism in the order in which they are treated in the Canons of Dort, a chapter on the five “solas” of the Reformation, and a chapter by James Grier on “Philosophical Calvinism.” Beeke’s two chapters on “limited atonement” are particularly useful, and he presents the most thoroughly biblical and convincing defense of this doctrine that I have encountered.

Beeke’s chapters on the application of Scripture, evangelism, and marriage and family issues are worthy of special notice as well. If his prescription for the manner in which sermons ought to be applied to congregations were carried out by ministers, by the blessing of the Lord, the Church would be turned upside down.

Scattered throughout the book are chapters by several other authors. The last chapter, which is by Sinclair Ferguson and bears the title, “Doxology,” is itself worth the price of the book. Ray Lanning’s chapter on Reformed worship is also a needed tonic to much of what passes for Reformed worship at the present day.

The chapters are broken down into bite-sized portions of about 10 pages each, which makes the length of the book seem less daunting. Due to its pastoral character and devotional quality, this is one of the few “long” books that leave even modern readers longing for more.

This book caught my eye primarily because Joel Beeke had written most of it. Everything that Joel Beeke has written is well worth reading. He is a model scholar and a first-rate pastor, and his books are richly filled with driving application and encouragement aimed at the hearts of his readers. When I think of what the best of Puritans must have been like, both doctrinally and personally, I think of Joel Beeke.

If this book demonstrates anything, it is that the primary distinctive of Calvinism is not the “five points,” but an exalted view of the God of Scripture. The “five points,” along with every other area of theology and life, are merely the necessary consequences of the biblical picture of God. Above all else, this book accomplishes what its title promises: it teaches us to live for God’s glory.

GPTS Alumni President Ryan McGraw received a B.A. in History from California State University Fullerton in 2002, an M.Div. from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2005, and a Th.M. from Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2008. Ryan is the pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Conway, SC. He is married to Krista and they have two sons, Owen and Calvin. Ryan has been blessed with the privilege of serving in various ministerial positions since 1998 and he has a particular love for the works of John Owen.