‘Ten myths about Calvinism’

Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition
By Kenneth J. Stewart Apollos.
292 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 135

Calvinism (aka Reformed theology) often gets a bad press, both in the church and in the world.

This book of ten myths is a great remedy to that problem. But before all you passionate advocates of Calvinism dash out to buy your copy, I must warn you that this book has two parts. Part two is entitled ‘Six myths non-Calvinists should not be circulating (but are)’, but here is an author who is interested in putting his own house in order before sorting everyone else out (note the book’s subtitle).

Part one is entitled, ‘Four myths Calvinists should not be circulating (but are)’. For me this first section was the highlight of the book, as it clarified and corrected views that I often hear expressed or assumed, but that are rarely examined thoroughly. These four myths are: One man (Calvin) and one city (Geneva) are determinative; Calvin’s view of predestination must be ours; TULIP is the yardstick of the truly Reformed; and Calvinists take a dim view of revival and awakening.

Challenging assumptions

Kenneth Stewart presents a thorough historical case in each chapter, making careful distinctions and challenging popular assumptions with historical facts in order to separate myth and reality. In particular, Stewart wants us to listen to the whole spectrum of Reformed thinkers through the ages instead of just our particular favourites and labelling their views ‘the Reformed view’, or pulling out a Calvin quotation in discussion as though it were a top trump that beats everyone else with no questions asked!

Part two examines whether Calvinism really is anti-missionary, antinomian, tending to theocracy, or undermining of the creative arts, gender and racial equality. Historical fact is what Stewart is interested in, and, while ably defending Calvinism against these charges, he also refuses to explain away failures among various stripes of Reformed believers, at the same time as helpfully reminding us that ‘association is not causation’. The conclusion then examines successive revivals of interest in Calvinism, beginning with the present day ‘New Calvinism’ and then tracing its interdependence with several previous similar surges of interest over the past few centuries.

Where does this book leave us? Although it clearly has an apologetic role in defending Calvinism, its clearest call is for ‘fewer angular, sharp-elbowed Calvinists who glory in what distinguishes their stance from that of others and a lot more supporters of the Reformed faith who rejoice in what they hold in common with others’. And how about this for a vision for Reformed theology: ‘The abiding value the Reformed tradition has to offer is surely a rigorously biblical and God-centred approach to faith and life in Jesus Christ; Calvinists should see that we hold this in trust for the many sincere believers in Christ who would find it a tonic… if they could sample it, and for the many unbelievers who have yet to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34.8)’. Calvinist, make this your manifesto!

Peter Newton,
lover of a warm, open-hearted Reformed theology