The End of Many Books

Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport

Making Connections in Today’s World

by Richard Mouw

The first three chapters made me think I was going to love the book.

I thought his explanation of the usefulness of labels was great (19-22), as was his own label wearing explanation.

God created us to glorify him in all we do, and our basic choices either honor or dishonor God’s creating purposes. When I decide to call myself a Calvinist, then–and if I am serious in my declaration–I am implying that this is a very good way to be a human being who is created in the divine image. (20)

I appreciated his summary of Spurgeon’s sermon that stood out to him as:

a model for combining some of the most basic things I cherish in my efforts to live and integrated Christian life: theological clarity, a sense of awe in the presence of divine sovereignty, a deep desire for holy lliving, and evangelistic fervor. (24)

His careful distinction between the tendency of Calvinists and Arminians was also helpful.

When Calvinists get around to attempting to explain the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, we are so concerned to protect the former that we are willing to risk sounding like we are waffling on the latter rather than to imply in any way that God’s power is limited. Our instincts here are the opposite of many other Christians, who would much rather be accused of denying God’s full sovereignty than to give the impression that they are putting curbs on human freedom. (27)

But chapter four and following beat my enthusiasm out like dirt from a rug.

The primarily problem Mouw points out is that (many) Calvinists are jerks. Fair enough. No one likes a jerk. But I’d point out, jerks are not limited to the Calvinist camp. The worst part, however, is that his self-applied means to humility involve accepting ambivalence (42), embracing a “carelessness of faith” (45), keeping certain doctrines “on the shelf” (39-48), and leaning heavily on (his) hunches of God’s generosity toward those who are “psychologically incapable of articulating” faith in Christ (87-88) or who are even “anonymous Calvinists” (113-114).

I’m in favor of a kindler, gentler apologetic (as was Peter in 1 Peter 3:15-16). I’m in favor of humility (as was Paul) and compassion (as was Jesus). But knee-jerk and/or glib and/or dispassionate answers are not pre-packaged under the Calvinism shrink-wrap. So while Mouw has appropriately identified some of the problematic symptoms associated with Calvinists, I think he’s failed to confront the real problem (Christians not obeying and acting like Christ) and prescribed the wrong fix (some pseudo-postmodern love of mystery that makes it so we can all get along).

3 of 5 stars