A Critique of a Critique of Calvinism

Calvinism, as it relates strictly to the five points of Calvinism, is one of the most scrutinized set of doctrines within the Christian faith. Calvinism is, in a way, synonymous with the acrostic TULIP.

  • T – Total Depravity
  • U – Unconditional Election
  • L – Limited Atonement
  • I – Irresistible Grace
  • P – Perseverance of the Saints

If you’ve never heard of Calvinism, your brain might be going on a roller coaster. What is Calvinism? you ponder.

My goal here is not to give an exhaustive explanation of Calvinism (they are also commonly called the doctrines of grace).

To be transparent, I am a Calvinist. I don’t particularly enjoy the label—because of the negative connotations—but, when defined correctly, I am a Calvinist through and through. So I certainly had some type of bias while reading this book, but I wanted to at least hear from the other side.

The book in question is Calvinism: A Biblical and Theological Critique, edited by David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke, published by B&H Academic.

The Good

The first thing I read was the epilogue by Trevin Wax entitled Calvinists and Non-Calvinists Together for the Gospel. It was tremendous. Wax, who identifies as an “four-point” Calvinist in the book (rejecting limited atonement), lays the foundation perfectly: “Furthermore, since we agree on the basics of the gospel message … we can partner together in spreading this good news to the ends of the earth” (p. 481).

That is exactly right. Calvinists think Arminians are wrong. Arminians think Calvinists are wrong. But we both believe the core tenets of the gospel, and that’s most important.

The Bad

Leighton Flowers, who wrote the section against unconditional election, defined it this way: “‘Unconditional election’ means that God does not foresee any action or condition, including faith, that induces him to choose one individuals over another. Rather, election rests on God’s arbitrary decision to effectuate faith in whomever he is pleased to save” (p. 58).

That is correct. I believe that’s a good working definition of unconditional election. However, Flowers gets this wrong in other sections of his chapter. “While Calvinists agree that certain conditions must be met before one will enter heaven, they maintain God unilaterally decided before creation to cause certain individuals to meet those conditions, while leaving the rest innately incapable of meeting those same moral conditions, due to factors ultimately beyond their control” (p. 59 italics mine). The first part of this quote is fine, but what I believe most Calvinists would have a problem with is the sentence I italicized.

Though Calvinists believe in reprobation, we still believe that unbelievers willfully pursue godlessness. They are not robots, puppets in the hands of God. God chose certain people to be saved before the foundation of the world—yes. However, all He did to have others go to Hell is leave them to their own desires. It comes down the age-old question: Does God send people to Hell or do people choose to go in their own free will?

The answer, I would say, is “Yes.”

Unbelievers need the sovereign grace of God to intervene before they are even capable of pleasing God, yes. But at the end of the day, they make choices based on their own godless desires. So, in attempt to make a point, I believe Flowers misses a key component about Calvinistic theology.

The Confusing

One of my biggest issues with the book came in the chapter on total depravity, written by Adam Harwood. On page 39, when critiquing the view of inherited guilt (that all who are born are guilty and sinful in nature), he says, “The problem with affirming that people inherit a sinful nature is that if human nature is essentially and inherently sinful, then Jesus (who was truly human and divine) would have been a person whose human nature was sinful” (italics original).

What is confusing is this: it ignores or neglects the virgin birth. Correct, if Jesus was born via Mary and Joseph the natural way, He would’ve had a sinful, human nature. Of course, that’s not what happened. He was born of the Holy Spirit, which eliminates the issue of a sinful human nature. So this is severely off base.


Please understand that there is so much more in this book that needs attention, but for this review I wanted to make it concise. The book is enormous and requires careful reading and is very academic.

With that said, I believe any Christian who is wanting to understand the Calvinism/Arminianism debate should read this with attentive eyes. I think there are a lot of misrepresentations of Calvinism in the book. One thing it does get right, however, is the unity in the gospel above all else.

You may purchase a copy here.

I was given this book by the publisher for free for an honest review.

One Comment Add yours

  1. subpopgirl says:

    Excellent review! Thank you


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