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Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ (Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology) [Hardcover]

by J. Todd Billings
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 9, 2008 0199211876 978-0199211876 1
Is the God of Calvin a fountain of blessing, or a forceful tyrant? Is Calvin's view of God coercive, leaving no place for the human qua human in redemption? These are perennial questions about Calvin's theology which have been given new life by Gift theologians such as John Milbank, Graham Ward, and Stephen Webb.

J. Todd Billings addresses these questions by exploring Calvin's theology of "participation in Christ." He argues that Calvin's theology of "participation" gives a positive place to the human, such that grace fulfills rather than destroys nature, affirming a differentiated union of God and humanity in creation and redemption. Calvin's trinitarian theology extends to his view of prayer, sacraments, the law, and the ecclesial and civil orders. In light of Calvin's doctrine of participation, Billings reframes the critiques of Calvin in the Gift discussion and opens up new possibilities for contemporary theology, ecumenical theology, and Calvin scholarship as well.

Editorial Reviews


"I know of no other monograph that offers such a comprehensive view of the theme of participation in Calvin's work. Billings makes a persuasive case for the central importance of this motif in the Reformer's thought. This is an erudite yet very readable book." -- --Don Compier, Graceland University

"I warmly recommend Billings's book as a serious piece of scholarly research that is not afraid to tackle some of the more popular theological schools of thought in a manner that is respectful, thoughtful, and analytically powerful. Billings is the first to systematically analyze Calvin's theology of participation. He manages to pull together a Calvinian doctrine of participation which can stand on its own strength and which presents a genuine, and in decisive ways original, contribution to Calvin research. Any further critique of Calvin's theology as based on coercion or violence will have to give an account of Billings's masterful scholarship." -- --Hans Boersma, Regent College

"In the best sense, this is a work of deep theological recollection: with a view to rescuing Reformed theology from its Zwinglian captivity, it restores an appreciation for the catholicity of the Reformed tradition. In the course of defending Calvin against his radically orthodox despisers, Todd Billings carefully and persuasively articulates a vision of Calvin's theology as a source for contemporary constructive theology. And one could hope that the rich vision of sacramental participation he so deftly describes might trickle down into Reformed practice. Billings invites us to imagine how different our Reformed churches might be if they were actually 'Calvinist.'" -- --James K.A. Smith, Calvin College

"This fine study by Todd Billings gives us fresh ways of looking at a familiar figure. Lucidly written, meticulous, precise, and extremely well informed, Billings's discussion of participation, that ancient Pauline category, opens the door both to new historical and constructive insights. An indispensable study for students of Calvin, historians of Christian thought, and theologians of the Gift." -- --Kevin Madigan, Harvard Divinity School

"This is a valuable study of what is an important thought much neglected theme of Calvin's. It should be read by all with an interst in Calvin's theology." -- --Anthony N.S. Lane, London School of Theology

About the Author

J. Todd Billings is Assistant Professor of Reformed Theology, Western Theological Seminary.

Product Details

  • Series: Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology
  • Hardcover: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (February 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199211876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199211876
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,344,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J. Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI. He received his B.A. in Philosophy and Literature from Wheaton College (IL), his M.Div. from Fuller Seminary and his Th.D. from Harvard. His first book, "Calvin, Participation, and the Gift " (Oxford, 2007), won a 2009 Templeton Award for Theological Promise, awarded internationally for the best first books of scholars in theology and religious studies. His third book, "Union with Christ" (Baker Academic, 2011), won a 2012 Christianity Today Book Award. He has lectured internationally, and has published articles in a variety of journals, including Modern Theology, Harvard Theological Review, Missiology, and International Journal of Systematic Theology, as well as popular periodicals such as Christianity Today, The Christian Century, and Sojourners.

Customer Reviews

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Differentiated Union of God and Humanity August 4, 2011
Often John Calvin is characterized as describing God in a cold, hard way: a deity who is easy to displease because of His vast holiness, but hard to be loved by His failing human creatures. Sometimes this depiction grows from apocryphal stories of Calvin's dealings in Geneva, and sometimes this portrayal is nurtured through a misreading of his writings. That is why J. Todd Billings' discerning book, "Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activity of Believers in Union with Christ" is exceptional. This densely argued book is written for Calvin scholars, seminarians and pastors who are ready to work through Calvin's thinking on what participation in Christ means, and how it holds together the Christian life.
To narrow the theological playing field, Billings takes on a specific set of dialogue partners by discoursing with the assessments of "Gift Theologians" like John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward and Simon Oliver. Therefore, throughout "Calvin, Participation, and the Gift", Billings will reflect on their critiques, and allow Calvin to answer for himself. Yet the thoughtful interchange is empty of rancor or acrimony. The final chapter gives a delightful summary of the discussion that will be helpful for most readers.
In "Calvin, Participation, and the Gift" J. Todd Billings demonstrates how Calvin's teaching on believers' participation in Christ, though not a formal category of his theological framework, was an important aspect which shaped a whole network of themes. With his broad ingestion of biblical and patristic sources, Calvin cultivated a far-reaching and lively doctrine of participation which flowed through his thinking on prayer, the sacraments, ecclesiology and obedience to the law.
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4.0 out of 5 stars For Calvin fans January 2, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Full disclosure: I am a friend of the author. I found it fascinating and instructive; but I must say, it helps to be already interested in Calvin and the theological issues around his work, both during his time, and among modern scholarship.
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