My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There is no denying the current tidal upswing in modern evangelicalism is the rise of the Reformed movement. Since a big part of those who follow the five solas also cling to Calvinistic philosophy and doctrine as a part of their worldview and faith, it is worth the time to invest for all Christians (whether Arminian, Calvinist or otherwise) to learn how to spot doctrines that may be true or false when held in light of the scripture. Some doctrines are true and from God. Other doctrines are not.
Hutson Smelley takes a great deal of time and thought to examine Biblical underpinnings of TULIP because no matter what doctrine is right, the doctrine that we should follow should always be Biblical. All Christians can agree with that. He also aims to show whether or not the theology of TULIP is logical. Since the subtitle of this book is “A Biblical Analysis and Refutation,” I’m sure everyone can guess the direction Smelley’s going in. As an attorney, he labels this book as putting Calvinism on trial, and Smelley’s role is that of prosecuting attorney.
The end result of Smelley’s examination is mixed. There are many excellent things about this book, and a few glaring weaknesses that cause me to put this book in the “liked it, but didn’t love it pile” as a reader. Before I go on into actually talking about the book, I wanted to mention the star rating since it’s always the first thing that a reader of reviews sees. This is one of the rare books that I wish I could give half stars to because I consider it to be a 3-1/2 star book.
Smelley begins his book by appealing to logic and telling how important logic is to the pursuit of doctrine. He also sets himself up as a lawyer to be a purveyor of logic. I actually disagree with his entire first chapter, and found him to be an arrogant narrator, which made me very surprised later when I found myself actually appreciating and enjoying much of what he had written.
After discussing logic, his credentials, etc. Smelley then spins off into a chapter on God’s foreknowledge and whether or not foreknowledge can be equated with foreordination. This is possibly the weakest chapter in the book. While I understand the argument that Smelley is making, he really does not make a strong case for not equating the two.
Smelley spends the rest of the book discussing TULIP. In each chapter he takes one piece of the TULIP worldview (ex. Total depravity) and spends the chapter deconstructing it. Each of these chapters has a similar format. Smelley first describes the Calvinist doctrine, using quotes from the books of selected modern Calvinists, and describes what Calvinists believe. He then examines the Biblical prooftexts that Calvinist use on each topic and shows how Calvinists have defined terms and taken verses out of context to suit their philosophies. Finally, Smelley gives a way forward, changing the TULIP acronym to NULIF (New Life) as he goes along.
Smelley shines at Biblical exegesis. His treatment of the Biblical texts is strong and persuasive. I feel like I finally have a firm Biblical answer for why not total depravity and for why not irresistible grace that I did not have before I read this book. His ongoing discussions of John 6 and Matthew 11 have truly enriched my understanding and helped me see those scriptures in a correct light that I did not have before. I am very appreciative of that and grateful, especially for the discussion of “draw” in John 6. That’s always been a tricky bit of scripture of me, and Smelley really helped me to clarify it.
I was not as crazy about the lengthy quotes of specified Calvinists to describe various doctrines. I hate when people pull quotes out of other people’s works just to prove a point. I felt like he was doing exactly what he said that Calvinists did to the Bible. While I have read R.C. Sproul’s “What is Reformed Theology?,” I felt like I had more reading to do because I felt guilty that I was just reading these continual snippets pulled from other people’s work. I also noticed that Smelley tended to use more strong or extreme Calvinists to form his basis for each petal of TULIP, and I would have, as someone who is a strong researcher, liked to have seen some more moderate and mild Calvinists included Smelley’s discussion.
All in all, the Biblical exegesis was excellent and well thought out in this book. It goes a long way towards pointing towards the deficiencies of Calvinism and could be very helpful to someone who is preparing to discuss Calvinists proof-texts with someone who does believe in the theology of TULIP. However, I was less than impressed with his examination of and characterization of Calvinist doctrine. He did his job as a prosecuting attorney, but I would have preferred to have a bigger picture of both historicity of the theology and the actual doctrines. However, as many readers know, thousands and thousands of pages have been written in this discussion, and what I was looking for in a book was something beyond the Smelley’s purpose for his book.