I heard Joel Beeke for the first time at the Ligonier National Conference in March of 2012 and of course since all the books there were at such an incredible discount, I couldn’t resist purchasing this one. I eventually got around to reading it a few months later.
Overall, I really liked the idea of the book. I find that people sometimes think Calvinism can be reduced down to the 5 points or TULIP, and as long as your church affirms salvation by faith alone through Christ alone then you are Calvinistic. Well, maybe that’s true, but TULIP fits into a larger scope of doctrine called Reformed Theology. The 5 points of Calvin are only a part of that grand explanation of Biblical teaching. Calvin and the Reformers didn’t just talk about the finer points of salvation, they were seeking to recover the Biblical responses to every issue that Christians will encounter.
So Beeke divides his book into 6 sections, Calvinism in History, Calvinism in the Mind, Calvinism in the Heart, Calvinism in the Church, Calvinism in Practice, and Calvinism’s Goal.
Section One has a nice summary of the Reformation, an explanation of the difference between Calvinism and the Lutherans, and even a report on the current reach of Calvinism around the world. Beeke also talks about the importance of Confessions of Faith in the Reformed heritage and then goes on to give a brief explanation of the historical Reformed confessions, even mentioning the Baptist ones, which I appreciated since Beeke is Presbyterian. Understanding the reasons and backgrounds of the Confessions was very helpful for me since I tend to think that one day these brilliant theologians were just sitting around, unexplainably bored, and decided to write down exactly what their doctrines were. On the contrary, the Confessions were for the most part the culmination of battling doctrinal disputes and errors in the church and were deeply rooted in historical events and motivations.
Section Two covers what we think of as the doctrines of grace along with the “solas” of the Reformation, sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, sola Christus, soli Deo gloria. I think this is a good reference for refreshing your memory on these fundamental truths. Also, each chapter in this book has a generous portion of endnotes, so it would make a good resource for starting research on a specific doctrine. There is also a fascinating chapter on Calvinistic philosophy by James Grier. This quote seems to sum it up well, “Perhaps the best way to describe Calvin’s use of philosophy is as a handmaid to theology.” Grier goes on to discuss Calvin’s views on metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Since it is a brief introduction, it did seem to bring up more questions than it answered for me, but I did find it helpful as I’ve considered the issue of Calvinistic ethics after taking a secular ethics course.
Section Three seems to take issue with the stereotypical depiction of a Calvinist as a highly intellectual theologian who has no love for sinners, no passion for the Gospel, and apparently no emotions or heart. There is a chapter by Michael A.G. Haykin on the importance of the Holy Spirit in Reformed doctrine. By the way, I heard Pastor Haykin preach at Redeemer Reformed Baptist Church of Macon Georgia and his messages were excellent. I think he has a couple books, if not more, which I would like to read. Anyways, in this chapter of Living for God’s Glory, Haykin highlights the balance which the Reformers strove to achieve…on the one hand our pursuit of the commanded means of grace (prayer, reading of the Scripture, the Sacraments, etc…) will be of no help to us if not attended by the Holy Spirit, but on the other hand, our efforts to find the Holy Spirit apart from these appointed means is “unbiblical and foolish.” As an interesting historical note, this was partly a response to the Quakers who did away with the Sacraments and yet expected to find the Holy Spirit. Haykin then goes on to explain the importance of each of the means, from the reading of the Word to prayer to the Lord’s Supper to communion of the saints.
Another chapter is about “Calvin’s God-Exalting Piety” where Beeke explains the true meaning of the word “piety” which has become a negative term now. Calvin defined piety this way, “I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces.” And he also points out the all-encompassing scope of piety, “The whole life of Christians ought to be a sort of practice of godliness.” Of course the goal of this is not so we can look down on others, not so we can earn our way to Heaven, but to do what pleases God so that God will be glorified.
The other chapter in this section deals with the emphasis of the Puritans on sanctification. Not only were they concerned with saving souls, they wanted to encourage the saved to grow in grace and continue on the path towards eternal glory. This belies the myth that Calvinism is just this intellectual, ivory tower system of theology that has no practical application. On the contrary, Reformed theology has everything to do with how we live from day to day. This is an excellent chapter and I can’t begin to summarize it.
Part Four is about Reformed ecclesiology (don’t you love all these fancy words?) and covers topics like worship, preaching, and evangelism. Beeke mentions the regulative principle, Calvin’s view on the Lord’s Supper, his teaching on liturgy, and more. There is a great chapter just on preaching and the heritage of expositional preaching from the Puritans.
One chapter addresses the “experiential” aspect of Calvinism, which I found to be very helpful in understanding what this means and why it even matters. I won’t give it away by explaining it here, because if I did, this would end up being a book and then you wouldn’t want to read Beeke’s book which would be better anyways.
And of course, there are two chapters devoted to evangelism because we all know that Calvin and his followers had no concern for saving the lost and had no interest in preaching the Gospel [*sarcasm*]. Of course Calvin didn’t care about preaching the Gospel, he only preached some 4,000 sermons while pastoring in Geneva, which comes out to about 170 sermons a year. Geneva became the center of a growing Reformed movement, and hundreds of men were sent out as preachers across the world. Calvin influenced people like John Knox to carry forth boldly with the Word of God in Scotland. I won’t ruin the rest of it by mentioning all the evangelical efforts of Calvin, the Reformers, and Puritans.
Part Five talks about the practical applications of Calvinism to other areas of life such as having a proper worldview, marriage, the family, work, civil authorities, and ethics. I really appreciated this brief look into how the Puritans dealt with all the questions we even now today ask. Their commitment to the Scriptures and to glorifying God is so encouraging. These were people who had lives, who were married, who had children, who had to work, who had to live under a government, who had to grapple with the same issues of ethical questions that we must face today. It was through this book that I grew to appreciate the Puritans more and to develop more of an interest in reading their works.
Part Six summarizes the purpose for everything else, to give glory to God. Calvinism is about doxology more than any other doctrine. It is about praising God. Because we can know God through the Scriptures, we discover what a glorious Creator He is, what fallen and depraved creatures we are, what a gracious Savior has redeemed us, and what a fulfilling task we are to pursue: giving glory to God alone.