What comes to your mind when you hear that word? Some hear that word and start foaming at the mouth. For many this word elicits debate. Many think of a cold and stale religion. Others think of doctrines of grace that need to be vigorously defended. Some think of TULIP’s and formulas to be defended.
When Greg Forster think of Calvinism the first word that comes to his mind is “joy”. He believes that “real Calvinism is all about joy”. It is to prove this point that he has written The Joy of Calvinism.
It is not his intention to say that those that are not Calvinists have no joy. In fact Forster believes that “all the major traditions confess the same doctrines that are central to Calvinism”. The only difference is that Calvinists “preserve these doctrinal commitments more purely and follows them more consistently than other traditions do”.
After taking a brief detour to explain and defend Calvinism, Forster tackles some of those hard to swallow doctrines and shows how they are consistent with evangelical commitments and actually leads to further joy. The author attempts throughout to show how such sticky doctrines as limited atonement, unconditional election, and irresistible grace are actually just more consistent with the core of Christian belief.
First, he argues that Calvinists are more consistent in saying that God loves you personally. For every other tradition the “work of Jesus is creating a system of salvation. All it does is create the system…” but none can consistently say that Jesus died to save them personally. Save for those who hold to the Calvinistic tradition. Limited atonement teaches that Jesus actually died for actual people.
Secondly, Forster argues that adopting anything other than unconditional election leaves one in a difficult position of prioritizing systems over people. Only the Calvinist can consistently say that “God loves you so much that he will utterly demolish all obstacles in order to save you”.
He also compellingly argues that God’s love for us irresistible and unbreakable. In the new birth God completely transforms a sinners heart. Yes, contrary to their fallen wills, he gives us a new heart. As Forster explains:
God changes our natural systems of thinking, feeling, and willing not by working within the framework of our natural system, like a counselor, but by cutting out our natural system and transplanting a new one, like a surgeon.
In some ways his fourth chapter seems almost unnecessary. If God has went through such depths to save us isn’t it only logical that he would go through an equally great length to keep us. He concludes by restating his overall thesis that Calvinism does indeed help in our quest for joy in God. A lengthy appendix that attempts to answer various questions posed of Calvinism is also attached for the readers help.
I doubt I will hand this book to my non-Calvinist friends. I should restate that. I doubt I will hand this book to my settled non-Calvinistic friends. If someone is in a neutral position or wanting to learn more I believe they would benefit from this book. But if someone is a convinced non-Calvinist I doubt this book will change their minds. Not that it is isn’t good. It is. But I think his audience isn’t to a convinced non-Calvinist. His audience seems to be those of a Calvinistic persuasion that need a kick in their worship. And also to defend Calvinism to those that have only heard wrong stereotypes.
For me personally there were times when I had to put the book down and just marvel at the goodness of God. Forster is right, this doctrine ought to cause worship and profound joy. It even sparked my prayer life and gave me even more confidence that God can save anyone. Furthermore, it gave a boost in my evangelistic preaching. After reading Forster’s third chapter I put together a passionate sermon for our teenagers, opening up for them how much God actually overcomes in saving us. In it was an appeal to unbelievers as well. At least in my heart this book has done what it set out to do; give me more joy in Christ.
Should You Buy It?
It depends on what you are looking for. If you are genuinely curious about what Calvinist believe then I think this book might serve as a really helpful introduction. Or if you are a Calvinist looking to grow in your worship, at least in my experience this book will assist in that. It’s probably not a book for everybody but for those that it is written for you will be immensely blessed.
You can buy it here.