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What Is a True Calvinist? (Basics of the Faith) (Basics of the Reformed Faith) Paperback – May 19, 2003
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"John Calvin's personal motto was I offer my heart to you, O God, promptly and sincerely. Philip Ryken has done a wonderful job of explaining the meaning of that motto. He can describe True Calvinism because he understands Calvin's heart as well as his head. I am looking forward to using this booklet in my ministry." --Stephen Smallman
"A clear, biblical, and beautiful summary of Calvinism and the Reformed faith. This could be helpful to a new Christian as well as older Christians . . . easy to read and accurate." --Charles Dunahoo
About the Author
Philip Graham Ryken is president of Wheaton College. He is Bible teacher for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, speaking nationally on the radio program Every Last Word. Dr. Ryken was educated at Wheaton College, Westminster Theological Seminary, and the University of Oxford, where he received his doctorate in historical theology. He and his wife, Lisa, have five children.
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With that in view, this little booklet does an excellent job. It is a welcome respite from the "everyone who isn't a Calvinist is an idiot" genre of writing that so often characterizes usCalvinists. It has none of the combative tone that many works on Calvinism possess.
Ryken shows that the one who is a true Calvinist will not be characterized by his combativeness. The true Calvinist will be characterized by God-centeredness, humility, penitence, gratitude, and holy living among other things.
This is a good litmus test for those of us who follow the Calvinistic tradition. If our doctrine has not produced the above characteristics in us then something is missing in our theological education.
Ryken does not rehash the traditional five points of Calvinism as formulated at the Synod of Dort. Rather, he seeks to set forth a "practical introduction to Reformed spirituality."
Six pillars comprise the edifice of a true Calvinist. First, a true Calvinist has a God-centered mind. "What is most on the Calvinist's mind is the glory of God." The great Princeton theology, B.B. Warfield held firmly to this principle. Indeed, "Evangelicalism stands or falls with Calvinism."
The author points to Isaiah as one who properly fell silent before the holiness of God is Isaiah 6. Ryken maintains, "What Isaiah saw, therefore, was a vision of God's sovereignty. The God enthroned in heaven is the God who rules. From his throne he issues his royal decrees, including his sovereign decree of election, and also executes his plan of salvation, drawing sinners to himself by his efficacious, persevering grace."
Second, a true Calvinist has a penitent spirit. There is no room for arrogance among the Reformed. A haughty spirit, in fact, is diametrically opposed to a Calvinistic worldview. "It is important," Ryken adds, "to understand that Calvinism is not a set of doctrines but a whole way of life. God has revealed the doctrine of grace not simply for the instruction of our minds but ultimately for the transformation of our lives."
Third, a true Calvinist has a grateful heart. Ryken again points to Isaiah as a model that exemplifies this characteristic: "Isaiah did nothing to remove his own guilt or to pay for his own sins. He was the object of sovereign grace, for God both accomplished and applied his redemption."
Fourth, a true Calvinist has a submissive will. Isaiah demonstrates no reluctance when God called him into service. His will was totally surrendered to God's sovereign purposes. Ryken cites Al Martin: "This is how God makes a Calvinist. In one way or another he gives him such a sight of his own majesty and sovereignty and holiness as the high and the lofty One, that it brings with it a deep, experimental acquaintance with human sinfulness personally and in terms of our own generation. It brings experimental acquaintance with the grace of God, an intimate acquaintance with the voice of God, an utter resignation to the will and the ways of God."
Fifth, a true Calvinist pursues holiness of life. This holiness is always mingled with grace. Indeed, a Calvinism that lacks grace is a contradiction at best. Ryken adds, "A graceless Calvinism is thoroughly repugnant to the gospel, for unless the pursuit of holiness is motivated by an ever-deepening love for God and his grace, it quickly becomes joyless and fruitless."
Finally, a true Calvinist has a glorious purpose, namely, the glory of God. The true Calvinist embraces the answer to the first question in the catechism: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever." Ryken continues, "The true Calvinist embraces the eternal purpose of the sovereign God by living for his glory."
What is a True Calvinist? is a valuable piece of work. Ryken has hit the capstone of Reformed theology in a winsome way. His work is a necessary antidote in a culture where Calvinism is often unfairly maligned and caricatured.
I would argue that in order for the new resurgence in Calvinism to be fruitful and honor God there must be a humble, joy-filled, Christ-saturated mindset that accompanies the doctrinal foundations of Reformed theology. This will involve a rigorous rejection of hyper-Calvinism and a Spirit-filled approach to the Christian life.