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The book is best for those who want to start from the beginning on the issue of Calvinism and see introductory arguments for Calvinism (For Calvinism and Against Calvinism are meant to be companion books and should both be bought and read back to back). People who already have their minds made up will likely not be swayed by this book (and if already convinced, the book will likely serve more as happy comfort food than furthering the reader's theology). However, as someone who does not agree with Horton on several points, I think some reviewers have missed the point of each book of the series. The book will contain "typical" arguments for Calvinism as that is the intent of the book (the books are not meant to be like James white's and Norman Geisler's books "Chosen but Free"/"The Potter's Freedom" which are larger exegetical treatments and some would say questionable in their tone and civility towards each other). I recommend For Calvinism for those interested in learning about Reformed theology, why these issues have been divisive within the church, and what the author thinks the implications are for doctrine. Between this and Olsen's book, the reader in a short time will have a decent overview of the social and theological issues at hand and provide an excellent starting point for determining their theological views on these important matters.
After reading Olson's critique of reformed theology, specifically the doctrines of grace, I was unimpressed with his argument against "Calvinism". However, as we are beginning a study of Ephesians at church, and "Calvinism" is flooding convention thought in the SBC, yet again, I thought this would be a good time to read Horton's take on the validity of "Calvinism".
There is much to take away from this book. "Calvinism", or Reformed Theology(preferable), is not a TULIP. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First off, the TULIP acronym, was invented after 1900 as a way of summarizing the Synod of Dordt, the five points themself a reaction to the Remonstrants' five points. Greater still, is the fact that the terminology attached to TULIP leads to great confusion. The TULIP does not define the points to which they are assigned sufficiently or clearly. This is why, in his book, Horton addresses some of the points with different terminology(ie, Total Depravity=Radical Depravity; Irresitible Grace=Effectual Grace; Limited Atonement=Definite Atonement). While RUDEP may not be as easy to remember as TULIP, the exchange of a memorable acronym for an accurate one is probably worth the effort.
The greater reason not to equate TULIP with Reformed Theology as a whole is because the Reformed understanding of the Christian faith cannot be reduced to five points of soteriology. Horton devotes an entire chapter, and sections within chapters, expounding on the riches of Reformed Theology and practice. He makes an argument for the Regulative principle, Covenant theology, how Reformed theology views the atonement and the extent of the redeeming work of Christ beyond just sinners but unto all of creation, how Reformed Theology interacts with society and creation, etc... Reformed faith and practice cannot be reduced to the TULIP(or even RUDEP) and, beyond that, the TULIP is not even the central dogma of Reformed theology.
Horton devotes a chapter to Calvinism and missions/evangelism. It is a great chapter, and an important one, because so often(as in Geisler's Chosen But Free) the accusation is made that Calvinist theology impedes evangelism and missions. That believing in the sovereign grace of God erases any desire to share the Gospel with a neighbor or labor for the Gospel to reach the ends of the world. Horton begins the chapter with page after page of historical examples to the contrary. From the time of Calvin (who trained hundreds of missionaries) on, Horton lays out historical example after example of Christians who held dearly to the doctrines of grace and also labored faithfully, sacrificially, and often unto death to see that the Gospel was proclaimed to those who had never heard the name of Jesus. Horton shows that statistically, those who hold to Reformed theology, send as much or more money to support foreign missions, and as many or more missionaries onto the mission field. In fact, citing a PCA News report, the Presbyterian Church in America(Reformed, doctrines of grace, allegedly no desire or need to do missions) supports three times as many foreign missionaries per capita as the Southern Baptist Convention supports foreign and domestic missionaries per capita. After showing that history and statistics do not match the caricature of the mission/evangelism-hating Calvinist, Horton spends time discussing the theological underpinnings of Reformed missions.
In the final chapter, Horton unpacks some of the strengths of Reformed theology, and some of the dangers we can stumble upon if we embrace the doctrines of grace. This chapter is a gentle rebuke for some who are in the "cage stage" and may be using this book as ammunition to attack brothers and sisters who may not agree with their flower of choice. It is also a good reminder for those of us who have grown out of the "cage stage", lest we necessitate a re-caging.
I am a Horton fan, from the White Horse Inn to Modern Reformation, to his systematic theology and his preaching, and I am a fan of this book. I will admit, as with everything I have read by Horton, at times I get left behind in the text, a little lost. Olson's writing style is much more suited to introductions to issues. Against Calvinism, while not watered down, was a much easier read for me than For Calvinism was at a few parts. Being said, I would commend this book to all and encourage any who may get bogged down at parts to keep working through it. The payoff from this book is worth the effort. I would agree with Roger Olson, mostly, on his recommendation of the book from the foreword.
Anyone interested in reading the best case possible for Calvinism must read this book. It is informative, engaging, clear, and self-critical. It helpfully contributes to the ongoing discussions and debates about God's sovereignty among evangelicals...After reading this book I can recommend it wholeheartedly with the reservation that I strongly disagree with its central claims...It is possible to be committed and fair, critical and generous. For Calvinism proves it and my hearty endorsement reveals it.--Roger Olson
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