I’m not sure that there has been a more divisive subject in Evangelical Christianity over the last few decades than that of Calvinism and Arminianism. It has resulted in a veritable “Corinthian” standoff, with some chanting “I am of Calvin,” others hollering “I am of Arminius,” and another group standing in the middle piously chanting “we just follow the Bible.” This debate has been characterized by a lack of informed dialogue, mischaracterizations, and plenty of burned straw men. As a result, there is baggage weighing down almost any term associated with this argument. Walking into a church and yelling “God is sovereign over everything!” might just be the theological version of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.
Amid the yelling, poor exegesis, and emotional argumentation, we need some careful conversations about these issues. We need scholars who lean to one side or the other to contribute to a theological discussion about the relevant texts and theological issues facing Calvinists, Arminians, and “Biblicists.” Matthew Pinson helps this conversation tremendously. My first clue that this was going to be a good book was when I saw that Michael Haykin had written an endorsement. When you can get someone who disagrees with you to give a glowing review of something you’ve written about the very subject matter you disagree over, you have accomplished something.
Pinson’s book is well laid out. The “40 Question” format serves his purpose well in that he does not need to flesh out an entire Arminian theology, but rather can tackle the most relevant issues in the current debate by simply answering questions. The author’s chapters are structured well and are carefully written. I appreciated his attention to detail in the different stripes of both Arminian and Calvinist theology. The reader will come away understanding that this is often not an “either-or” debate, but rather a series of questions and issues that one must determine where one falls. I was personally challenged and blessed by Pinson’s discussion of Reformed Arminianism and how it compares with other varieties, and how it compares and contrasts with the beliefs of Calvin. This section, along with the other historical material in section one dealing with the life of Arminius and the Synod of Dort were hugely helpful in shaping my understanding of Arminianism and of the historical context in which much of the original debate took place.
In section two, Pinson tackles questions about atonement and justification. This section made the distinction that exists even among Arminian theologians about the nature of the atonement and the significance of the work of Christ. The author then tackles the subject of the nature of the atonement. Did Christ die for all or just for the elect? I greatly appreciated Pinson’s careful textual work here and his spirit of trying to accurately represent the views of his opponents. Some of the most “controversial” material will be found in this section, and the reader would do well to read carefully with Bible in hand.
Sections three and four deal with free will and election and regeneration. What I want to highlight here is Pinson’s argument against Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. Arminians have long been accused of having Pelagian skeletons in their closet. Pinson disputes this characterization, and I believe fairly rejects the underlying assumptions of those claims. His argument that both Arminians and Calvinists are helpless to respond to the grace of God without God drawing them is clear and helpful.
The final section of the book addresses perseverance and apostasy. The author gives an excellent summary of varying positions and carefully explains his own. I’m not sure that I’ve ever read something in which I agreed so much with the exegesis while disagreeing with the conclusions as I have in this section.
Whatever your theological persuasion, you need to read this book if you have any interest at all in soteriology and eternal security. Pinson is a solid writer with a gracious demeanor, and when Haykin calls the book possibly “the best available exposition of evangelical Arminianism,” he is not bloviating. I don’t agree with many of the theological conclusions in the book, but if you want to interact with Arminianism at the textual level, and not just burn down straw men, this is a book for you.
I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review.