Thursday, July 31, 2008

I recently finished reviewing the book What's So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard D. Phillips. Judging by the title, I wasn't expecting a defense of the 5 points of Calvinism, but a quick scan of the table of contents quickly informed me that this was the case. Each chapter begins with "What's So Great About..." It is a little humorous to see the chapter called "What's So Great About Total Depravity?" The witty answer being absolutely nothing. Nothing is good about it, let alone great about it. The book, however, is intellectually stimulating.

There is not a single issue theologically that I struggle with than that of Election. I'm not fully Reformed, but definitely not fully Arminian either. I enjoy reading and studying both sides of this debate. Although I can't pick a side (yet) I can ready and study at an intellectual level instead of an emotional level, which many cannot do.

Arminian readers will not agree with the content. Phillips tries to give the Arminian arguments against the Doctrines of Grace, but they are only given so a rebuttal can be presented. This is especially true when writing about Unconditional Election, which teaches that before God created the world, he chose to save some people according to his own purposes and apart from any conditions related to those persons. I would have preferred a more accurate and fair account of the Arminian position. I have always enjoyed the works of R.C. Sproul precisely because he seems to understand and can communicate the belief system of others in their language, without twisting it and distorting it.

I have listed some brief excerpts that I found of interest below:

SOVEREIGNTY

"Many people do not believe in God’s sovereignty, yet still
serve the Lord. But there is a great difference. Those who see the
Lord in His sovereign glory have an inward compulsion to serve
this God. Serving God is the glory of their lives. Their service
is measured not so much in what they achieve—or what God
achieves through them—but rather in the sheer wonder of the
God they serve."
page 10

TOTAL DEPRAVITY
"It is the distinction of adherents to Reformed theology in
general and to the doctrines of grace in particular that, following
the Scriptures, we hold to the worst possible view of man—and
therefore, we exercise the highest possible reliance on God’s
grace. If the question is 'How bad am I really?' we answer,
'Much, much worse than you have dared to think.' It is against
the backdrop of this terrible news about man in sin that we see
the good news of the gospel as something far more wonderful
than we have ever imagined."
page 20

"The doctrine of total depravity does not teach that
men and women are 'worthless'; as Francis Schaeffer passionately
argued, 'Though the Bible says men are lost, it does not
say they are nothing.'Far from it: it is the priceless value of
every human soul that defines the tragedy expressed by total
depravity. Neither does total depravity mean that little children
should never be called 'good boy' or 'good girl.' It is
very possible for totally depraved sinners to do things that are
in and of themselves good.
page 21

LIMITED ATONEMENT
"did the cross achieve merely the possibility of salvation for all mankind,
as Arminians insist? Or did the atonement actually effect
the salvation of those for whom Jesus died, namely, the elect, as
taught by Reformed theology?"
page 55

"But it is helpful to note that both Arminians and Calvinists
believe in limited atonement. The question is with regard to
what is limited. Arminians believe that the atonement is limited
in terms of its efficacy. Calvinists believe the atonement is limited
in the scope of people for whom it was intended. Arminians
believe the atonement is unlimited in scope but limited in effect:
it offers everyone the chance of salvation. Calvinists believe the
atonement is limited in scope but unlimited in effect: it effectually
saves the elect. If we think of the atonement as a bridge
spanning a great river, Arminians see it as infinitely wide, but
not reaching all the way to the far bank; Calvinists hold that
the atonement is a narrow bridge, wide enough only for the
elect, but reaching all the way to the other side. We believe that
Christ’s death actually saves those for whom He died."
page 56

IRRESISTIBLE GRACE
"If God has sovereignly predestined certain people to salvation, then it is necessary that those people actually be saved through faith in
Christ. The salvation of the elect does not depend on their own
willingness, but is accomplished as a sovereign act of God in
conformity to the sovereign plan of God. Luke states this matter-
of-factly in describing the salvation of those who heard Paul
preaching the gospel. He writes, 'As many as were appointed to
eternal life believed'" (Acts 13:48)."
pages 75-76


NOTE: I was given a copy of the book in exchange for this book review. It is available from Reformation Trust Publishing.

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