This book is a must read for pastors, teachers, and anyone else who loves Calvinism and wants to communicate it to others. Some have caricatured Calvinism so badly that having meaningful dialogue about it is often difficult. Those of us who genuinely love our Calvinistic theology are our own worst enemy because in our desire and enthusiasm we do not always use good judgment in how we communicate that truth to others.
Sadly, the message people hear is often one of irrelevance or harsh dogma or unbending compassion. It often suggests a focus only on the mind and not the heart; hence Calvinism does not seem to have much curb appeal. Mouw challenges our thinking about what our life and methods communicate to those around us, and it is not always winsome and positive. You will have to read the book, especially the opening chapter “Hard Core.” The chapter title is from a 1980s movie in which a father, in a desperate search for his daughter, teams up with one of her acquaintances, who is a prostitute. In one scene the two are in the Las Vegas airport and he is trying to tell this young wayward woman about the five points of Calvinism. You can guess the results.
Mouw challenges us not to abandon our Calvinistic heritage, but also not to demean it by being insensitive in how we express its truth to others. I think this is an excellent book to read in tandum with the Os Guinness book also reviewed in this issue. Mouw has some fresh thoughts on the sovereignty of God, the five points of Calvinism, and how to and not to communicate those truths. Like this reviewer, Mouw has a strong appreciation for the Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper. He uses him as a model of how we can learn how to express our faith in a life-transforming, kingdom oriented fashion.
Mouw writes, “I see these folks as having been working with good Kuyperian instincts. They knew in their heart of hearts that God wanted them to serve him in the places where they spent their day-to-day lives. But the theology they were hearing in their churches and in other places where they were learning about the Christian life was not helping them understand the sense of calling they were experiencing in their hearts.” He claims the kind of framework we need for serving the Lord is to be “worldly Christians” in the sense that every part of their lives are to be lived for the glory of God.
Mouw, like Guinness, urges us to be faithful, but not triumphalists. Instead we need a clearer, kinder, and more patient Calvinism, not an overbearing putting someone down version. It is no surprise that Mouw reminds us that people are lonely, hungry, lacking satisfaction and looking for answers. We as Calvinists have the answers, but we don’t always depict it in a compelling way. He even says, ” Frankly, I’m not sure TULIP (the five points of Calvinism) is ever a good topic for casual conversations with people who are not Calvinsits.” Sometimes, he maintains, people do not need a lesson in theology but a message from God who speaks in soft and tender tones. They need to here from the one who invites us to belong to him and experience his love and grace in our lives every day. Mouw also says, “Humility is an important virtue to cultivate in dealing with the basic issues of the Christian life. And when it comes to ethical issues, Calvinists do well to cultivate this virtue in large doses.”
Read this book. You will read it again and pass it on to those with whom you would want to share your Calvinistic understanding of the Christian faith. While Os Guinness reminds us that the message is sovereign not the audience, Mouw echoes that thought with the challenge to be a caring, sensitive, and a loving communicator.