Book Review: Evangelistic Calvinism: Why The Doctrines of Grace are Good News

It is a very common mistake people who are new to Calvinism often make. They usually assume the five points of Calvinism, which is often referred to as the Doctrines of Grace, are harsh truths that Christians are to be wary of and should be avoided as much as possible or dispensed with entirely since in their view, it casts a dim light on the loving nature of Christ to a dying world. To this very day, these five bible truths are still ignored in many Christian circles. Even among those favorably disposed to Reformed theology, some find these points discomfiting as they are often anxious the doctrine somehow adversely affects any evangelistic endeavors. This apprehension no doubt arises out of a misunderstanding of the Doctrines of Grace.

In “Evangelistic Calvinism: Why The Doctrines of Grace are Good News“, John Benton 0851519296succinctly presents a solid case for why the doctrine is good news for lost men and women in need of a Saviour.

Proceeding in order of the traditional acrostic; TULIP, he begins by pointing out that Total Depravity – the spiritual condition in which sin’s contamination of every human being is total, with every human faculty bearing sin’s ugly imprint – rather than hurting people’s sensibilities causes them to face the reality of their true spiritual state.

Indeed, one needs not look far away but to tune in to the news to behold the myriad manifestation of man’s depravity on display across the entire world. The stark evidence reveals there is no depth of wickedness to which human beings will not stoop. This the author observes “provides us with the background for God’s grace”, making us appreciate the lengths to which this loving God will go to save sinners. A frequent corollary of this observation is that sinners need never pretend to be good but rather can be “transparently honest about themselves before God.” He concludes this portion with a hopeful rhetoric “if God loves those who can only be descried as ‘totally depraved’ then no sinner is without hope; no one can be ‘too bad’ to be saved.”

John Benton then tackles Unconditional Election – God’s choosing of sinners in eternity past – explaining that it dispels fears sinners have that they may not be welcomed by God due probably to the extent of the manifestation of their sinfulness. This is because the doctrine shows contrary to popular opinion that “sinners are not chosen on account of some merit, goodness, or ability to be found in them. Neither are they chosen because God saw beforehand that they would do something that would deserve his goodness” but rather salvation and grace are freely given to us by God. This truth underscores that face that whoever needs to be saved, whatever they have done, may come, just as they are, to Jesus Christ!

He then moves on to concisely explain that Limited Atonement – the belief that Christ’s death was intended specifically to save God’s chosen people – is a definite atonement with the implication that “no one for whom Jesus died can possibly fail to receive all that they need to reach heaven, which obviously include faith and eternal life.” This doctrine teaches that on the cross, Jesus actually secured the salvation of all his chosen ones when he cried with a loud voice, ‘It is finished.’ This is good news indeed since it assures all who believe in Jesus that they are definitely saved and are thus set free from all religious legalism and spiritual bondage and best of all, it communicates God’s love to the sinner in a very individual and personal way. It is heartwarming to know that God had you and me in mind when he sent his Son to die for our sins. Oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

The author then proceeds to Irresistible Grace – the teaching that God’s grace works in such a way as to guarantee the required response to the gospel’s call – to show how this doctrine is of enormous encouragement to those who are caught in addictive habits and a sinful course of action who neither can nor desire to change. These are glad to learn that though they feel powerless to believe, God can give them faith. John Benton notes that “to be without faith is to be spiritually dead, but God gives life to the dead.” This is good news indeed since the irresistible grace of God tells them that there is power for the powerless and hope for the hopeless.

Benton ends with the Perseverance of The Christian – the belief that those who trust in Christ will be kept in Christ. Also referred to on popular level as ‘Once Saved Forever Saved’, this doctrine however does imply that the perseverance of Christians will happen regardless of how they live nor does it imply that Christians will be free from all forms of mundane struggles and falls and setbacks. Benton shows that this doctrine teaches that when a sinner is saved, he becomes ‘God’s workmanship’ and the Lord will keep on working on us and shaping us until finally the image of Christ is perfectly seen in every aspect of the sinners life.

This doctrine unburdens the sinner from the anxiety that comes from the notion that one must keep doing good works in order to secure one’s salvation. As Martin Luther so beautifully puts it, “He [God] upholds us in our sins and accepts our work and life, worthy as these are of total rejection. He goes on doing it until he perfects and consummates us…We escape his condemnation because of his mercy, not because of our righteousness…” With this assurance we can rejoice in Christ despite our failures and live our Christian lives to the glory of God.

In conclusion, I believe the author achieved his aim of arguing to the effect that “the doctrines of grace are in fact five beautiful diamonds from which  the glories of Jesus wonderfully shine to attract those who are lost in sin” with flying colors. This booklet is ideal for its brevity and concise elucidation of these timeless truths and makes for a perfect gift for young believers and newbies to Calvinism. I highly recommend it!

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