There are few doctrines in the Christian faith that have produced so much consternation as the doctrine of predestination. In essence, the big debate is between two camps (there are more, but I won’t bother to delve into these): the “Calvinist” camp, which believes that man is entirely evil and that he cannot, on his own, come to salvation but God must intervene. Therefore, because God’s decreed will can never be thwarted, he “predestined” all who will come to salvation from before the foundations of the earth. The other camp is the Arminian camp, which believe that God has given up some of influence on man to allow us to have free will so that we can choose God on our own volition.
Rightly so this has divided not only Evangelicalism, but Christianity in general. Loraine Boettner, a committed Presbyterian (ask him, he will tell you about it), wrote this book to flesh out some of the issues of the system of Calvinism. In his book, he introduces the doctrine and then examines each “point” of Calvinism that is commonly known in the acronym, “TULIP”: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Preservation of the saints. He begins each chapter first with a brief explanation of the point, a quotation from the Westminster Catechism giving proof for the point, an explanation in detail, and finally any controversy over the point.
Next, he focuses on the objections to Calvinism in an entire section. For example, he goes into the objection that the system of Calvinism makes God the author of sin, etc. Next, he delves into the practical aspects of the doctrine: how it affects us in the here and now. Lastly, he examines Calvinism through history.
I don’t really want to get into a debate about Calvinism, although I am sure we could. Earlier this year, I wrote a review on the book “Proof” which is also about the reformed doctrine of grace. What benefit we have, as Christians, in studying this doctrine, even if you disagree with it, is the magnanimous love that God has for us. I hate that word “Calvinism” because it seems to label someone a particular way before you even understand what it is they are standing for. In my review of “Proof,” I argued we should simply call it the doctrine of grace, because that is the emphasis that we should take away from this most wonderful doctrine. If the reformed doctrine of grace is true, then it demonstrates how great the father’s love for us is, that we can say “amazing grace how sweet the sound” and really mean it because even though you are a wicked, evil, rebellious person, God picked you out of the billions of people on this earth to be an instrument for his glory. Before the universe even began, you had a special purpose that you wholly do not deserve. The gravity of this is made all the more clear when you begin to understand how much you were in enmity towards the father before He called you: Jonathan Edwards said “I know not how to express better what my sins appear to me to be, than by heaping infinite upon infinite, and multiplying infinite by infinite.” God has known every sin you’ve done, every sin you will do, and, if given the chance, the sin you would have done. This is the “T” in TULIP: total depravity. And despite that, God “for-loved” you and called you to be one of his children. What an awesome God.
I highly recommend this book for skeptics, Arminians, and Calvinists. I think the greatest injustice we do toward the doctrine of grace is not understanding it fully. So be educated before you make a decision. Boettner does say that this is not always an easy doctrine to comprehend and it may make some quite unsettled. But we cannot bring our pathos into the Bible; no, the Bible speaks for itself and we are to interpret it for what it says and not what we want it to say. There are unpleasant realities to this doctrine I will admit myself. So I would encourage you to wrestle with it and not to just write it off as rank heresy (which it’s not, if you didn’t know).