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Why I Am Not a Calvinist Paperback – April 26, 2004
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"An honest and polite articulation of why these two thinkers are not Calvinists. Useful reading and thought provoking." (Myk Habets, Pacific Journal of Baptist Research)
"Without the usual rancor, hysteria and triumphalism, Walls and Dongell offer a clear and forceful biblical and philosophical case for Arminianism. This book is a welcome and important contribution to the recent upsurge in discussions of Calvinism and Arminianism." (Kelly James Clark, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College)
"The biblical, theological and rational case against Calvinism has never been stated more clearly, concisely, irenically or convincingly." (Roger E. Olson, Professor of Theology, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University)
"Walls and Dongell present an exceptional blend of careful scholarship, readable presentation, uncompromising conviction, and graceful opposition in their forcefully argued book Why I Am Not a Calvinist. Points that make this a book well worth buying and reading include the following: The book demonstrates well the often overlooked fact that the issues between Calvinism and Arminianism are not primarily exegetical but theological and even philosophical. This task is ably accomplished by the combination of an exegetical scholar and a theological philosopher in the authorial team--an ideal amalgamation for such a book. The book clearly identifies and explains the most powerful problems for Calvinism--conceptual problems with the notion of freedom, logical consistency problems and problems of ingenuous application of Calvinist theology to Christian life. While clearly and unapologetically non-Calvinist, the authors are most assuredly not anti-Calvinist. Their treatment of Calvinism and Calvinists is always in the spirit of Christian love, acceptance, understanding and unity. The book is very timely, given the central debates in contemporary conservative and evangelical theology and the resurgence of pro-Calvinist sentiment over the last two decades." (Dr. James F. Sennett, Professor of Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies, Lincoln Christian College and Seminary)
About the Author
Jerry L. Walls is professor of philosophy of religion at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. His annual C. S. Lewis seminar is one of the school's most popular offerings. He is also author of Hell: The Logic of Damnation.
Dongell is professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.
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Unfortunately, while they quote Calvinist authors, it seems that they do not really understand the Calvinist system at all. Walls admits as much in chapter 3 when he claims that his understanding of Calvinism is largely informed by the secular philosophies of hard and soft determinism. Too often his analytic approach evaluates Calvinism using definitions of terms that are foreign to the system itself.
At the end of the day, what I was hoping to read was a strong Biblical defense of Arminianism (more similar to the sister volume), but that is not this book. One wonders if Williams and Peterson's book should have been more like this one. Still, it is often more beneficial to show how one's own system of doctrine is true before trying to show that another is false, and this would be a much a better book for one seeking to engage this issue if they had put forth a strong defense of Arminianism.
A couple other notes: The epistemology is interesting. It is strong on analytic philosophy and weak on revelation. The a priori commitment to libertarian free will is the primary assumption underlying their critique. On another note, the tone in this volume is a bit more desperate. I believe this is due to the growing influence of SBTS in the Baptist churches. This is a serious current issue for Walls and Dongell. It is much more likely that an Arminian in their circles will bolt to Calvinism than a Calvinist in Williams and Peterson's circles would do the opposite. This, I think, also influenced their approach to this volume.
I also read "Why I am not an Armenian. So I could see the subject better.
If you have been in a discussion with, or looking for a School to place your Children, this and other books are a Must read for your Families Faith and your Sanity, trust me, you don't want to go there, whether you are a Calvinist, or a Armenian, or any variation thereof, you need to treat this, as you would, when sending your Children to a Public School. Know and read all they do and ask the staff, or the Pastor, Fear no man, only the LORD, your Families Peace, togetherness and Posterity, may depend on it!!
The book is a balanced cogent polemic that will not leave the reader wondering where the authors stand. Unfortunately, I read Why I Am Not A Calvinist immediately after reading Robert E. Picirilli's book Grace, Faith, Free Will. Picirilli's book is outstanding and virtually any book read in its wake would be diminished.
I found it quite interesting how Dongell and Walls chose to systematically dissect and deconstruct Calvinism using scripture and logic to expose inconsistent and incomprehensible theology. Of the books I have read on this subject, few elaborated on Martin Luther or scrutinized the Reformed creeds, i.e., Westminster Confession, like Dongell and Walls.
In chapter 3, Calvinism and the Nature of Human Freedom, Walls writes, "... let's consider a classic Calvinistic document, namely, the Westminster Confession, a standard statement of faith for churches in the Reformed tradition. The chapter on God's eternal decree begins with the following words: `God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever come to pass.' Now this is a rather strong claim of all embracing determinism. Everything is ordained by God's unchangeable will from all eternity. This is not a matter of impersonal fate but rather of a determinism flowing out of the will of a personal being who is most holy and wise. But notice that everything is determined by the will of God according to the Westminster Confession. Now consider what immediately follows in the Confession: `Yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established (art. 3.1).' In other words, despite the fact that God ordains everything, he is not responsible for sin since he does not cause people to sin against their will."(1)
Dongell writes, "... whenever we hear the claim that a single verse of Scripture `absolutely proves"' a given theological position, we must conclude that the speaker either is unaware of the nature of interpretive enterprise or has engaged in rhetorical flourish, and neither alternative holds the promise for advancing fruitful dialogue. Conversely, though we disagree with his conclusions, we commend the tone modeled by Wayne Grudem in his study of Hebrews 6:4-6. In addressing this passage, Grudem admits that the Arminian interpretation (i.e., that some true Christians may fall forever from grace) is well founded on the cumulative force of the words and grammar of that passage. He then suggests that `a different interpretation ... is possible' ... Grudem demonstrates throughout his study that the practice of interpretation involves weighing carefully the nearly balanced options, discerning probabilities hinted at by the surrounding literary context and using one's best powers of reason. Given the degree of play possible within each of these parameters, we should all speak with a measure of care and reserve when delivering our interpretive conclusions."(2)
Why I Am Not A Calvinist is lucid and erudite and ultimately an impeachment of Calvinism, wrought upon itself by Calvinism's incomprehensible and indefensible doctrines that are not representative of the nature and character of God. I'm sorry, I didn't read Grudem's book.
Many of the reviews I have read concerning authors who write on this subject, and particularly Arminian authors, have complained that they (authors) often cite "dead guys," implying the authors are not engaging their contemporaries and the culture. This is not the case with Walls and Dongell. In defense of "dead guys," if their theology is truth, then it is timeless and eternal and should be like Jesus Christ, "the same yesterday and today and forever." (New American Standard Bible Heb. 13.8) And, any of the aged or deceased forerunners in their tradition should be every bit as relevant today.
1. Dongell, Joseph R., Jerry L. Walls, "Why I Am Not A Calvinist" Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004, 112
2. Dongell, Joseph R., Jerry L. Walls, "Why I Am Not A Calvinist" Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004, 38