Book Review: Humble Calvinism, by J. A. Medders

Review
02.05.2019

I cannot recall the number of times that I have heard something tantamount to “I would never be a Calvinist because of this guy/church/professor I know.” The fact of the matter is those of us in the reformed camp know that we sometimes struggle with arrogance. J. A. Medders seeks to provide us a way out.

He notes that the book was written for the problem I described above, written because the problem with Calvinism is “Calvinists like me.” (13) He seeks to “crack open the five points . . . so that we can see what happens when the points get into our hearts” (27). The goal of this? To transcend simply studying the doctrines of grace and embrace the grace of our doctrine— embarrassingly, to see “Christ in our Calvinism” (28).

Medders distinguishes between “Head-Calvinism” and “Heart-Calvinism” in an effort to wean his readership from the first to the second. He provides both historical comments and personal anecdotes to achieve this goal.

A helpful section of the book for the novice to all things reformed appears in between chapters 1 and 2: A Short Interlude about Jargon and Church History. In this practical excursus, the author introduces less theological readers to the terms and history of Calvinism, as well as to the “jargon, acronyms, and name drops needed to enjoy this book” (36).

Chapter 2 provides the author’s apologetic for his title, which he admits might sound like an oxymoron to some but most certainly is not in its truest form.

My hope for this book is that you’ll see the points of Calvinism not as lights in which to bask but as a lit path toward enjoying Jesus, the light of the world, personally and powerfully (43).

The author unpacks and repackages the five points from chapters three to seven. Throughout, Medders provides clear descriptions of each point, reorients each point through the lens of Christ, and then provides helpful and encouraging, if not sometimes painful, pastoral and practical implications. In one particularly helpful section, Medders unpacks the doctrine of perseverance and provides the reader with healthy evaluative questions for any believer.

Are you lukewarm toward other believers? Do you actually pray for others when you say you will? Do you pursue meeting up with those who are struggling? Do you risk a comfortable friendship in order to give, with tears in your eyes, a necessary rebuke? Don’t belittle the role of the saints in your perseverance or your role in theirs (150).

Medders’ book is full of memorable and compelling descriptions of warm-hearted, humble Calvinism.

  • Christ savoring Calvinism is soul food (48).
  • Sin is when we live like the most relevant reality in the universe is irrelevant, ignorable, and even idiotic (56).
  • We’re free to recognize, praise, and celebrate the doing of good in this world. Helping the least of these in the world is good. It’s just not good enough to save you or to cancel out or overcome your depravity (58).
  • The first point of Calvinism is about more than how totally depraved we are – it reveals how we are totally dependent on Jesus (67).
  • Now if you know God loved you like that, you go love others the same. The way of God’s love is the way we love others. It’s unconditional. It’s about us choosing to love, regardless of what comes back (80).
  • He didn’t atone for the sins of the soil beneath your feet—but he did die to release the soil from the burden, decay, and groaning caused by the sins of those who tread on it (104).
  • Satan would love for us to find pride in how we understand the humble cross of Christ. Don’t give in. Consider every Arminian, every Four Pointer, every Christian as more important than yourself . . . Look for ways you can love them and serve them, regardless of whether they are fully ‘Calvinized.’ Christ, not Calvinism, is all (112).

This compilation characterizes the book as a whole. There is simple but rich reformed preaching here. Medders provides a plethora of quotes from historic heroes of reformed theology that clearly promote a Calvinism that is happily married to a robust, evangelistic, practical theology. All in all, you are missing out if you don’t read this book.

If there are points that need redirection in the book, they are few.

For instance, some of Medders’ illustrations regarding limited atonement I found unhelpful and confusing. But these minor quibbles aside, the book is accessible, instructive, and edifying.

I cannot recall the number of times that Calvinists have given a bad name to their own theology. This book is a simple, straightforward, and humble correction and encouragement to follow the Savior from the reformed ranks. Medders provides all who join him with a satisfying and God-glorifying path to follow.

By:
Jeff Mooney

Jeff Mooney is the senior pastor of Redeemer Baptist Church in Riverside, California. He also is an Associate Professor of Old Testament Studies and Biblical Theology at California Baptist University.