If you’ve stuck around Christian circles long enough, you might have heard of the Doctrines of Grace, also known as the Five Points of Calvinism. Most could likely recite the catchy acronym of TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints. Perhaps some could actually explain what the doctrines mean. Even fewer could seriously hold to and affirm all five points, maybe four at best. But what’s so significant about Reformed soteriology anyways? To find out, we’ll need to go back to the original sources.
1. What is the book about?
Grace stands as an essential doctrine of the Gospel – highlighting God’s sovereignty and man’s insufficiency. Nowhere is this clearer than in the act of salvation. Yet so many seem torn and confused over who plays the starring role – God or man. Kevin DeYoung intentionally avoids reinventing the wheel as he approaches the Calvinist-Arminian debate by returning to the historical confessions that defined these doctrinal differences. In just over 100 pages, DeYoung discusses the development, theology and application of the Canons of Dort. He explores why grace is a precious doctrine truly worth defending, both at the time of the Reformers and in the Christian faith today.
2. What did I learn?
From early on, DeYoung makes it clear that there are more flowers in the garden of Reformed theology than the humble TULIP. In fact, TULIP is primarily concerned with soteriology, that is, the theology of salvation. As we look at the Canons of Dort, what we’ll come to find is that they present a more detailed, comprehensive and nuanced view of God’s sovereignty that simply cannot be captured in an acronym. Furthermore, my previous experience with the doctrines of grace had almost exclusively been in heated discussion with overzealous Christians. With this context in mind, it was refreshing to find that the Canons are not overly argumentative, but rather deeply pastoral and committed to doctrinal precision.
I never truly understood how important the doctrines of grace are until I considered the full implications of the opposite view. In each step of election, calling, justification and sanctification, we see God’s glory demonstrated and God’s grace magnified. DeYoung raises helpful diagnostic questions to contemplate the alternative: Did God choose the elect because they would believe, or did God choose the elect so that they might believe? Did the Son of God die to make salvation merely possible, or to make salvation definite and secure? Is saving faith a gift that we can accept or deny, or a new will worked within us? Does the power behind perseverance in faith lie in the effort of man, or the strength of God? While these distinctions may seem arbitrary, the practical consequences are monumental.
3. What did I enjoy?
As a Presbyterian minister, DeYoung proudly writes from a Reformed perspective. Yet he intentionally includes the counter-arguments of the Arminian Remonstrants for fair-minded comparison and effective contrast. The extensive appendix features the original documents for both the Calvinists and Arminians. My consistent joy as I read this was that the purpose of doctrine was to be lived out. Too often does rich theology stay within our minds, and fail to penetrate our hearts and hands. In doing so, we miss out on the lasting confidence and comfort that God offers to our souls.
4. Why should other people read it?
If you’re a younger Christian seeking to develop a theological foundation, there’s no place better to start than the Canons of Dort. This book unashamedly embraces the fundamental role that grace plays in salvation and all of Christian life. If we fail to recognise God’s sovereign grace in salvation, we stand to lose everything. But if we hold fast to the biblical vision for God’s plan to redeem humanity, we’ll soon come to find that God is far bigger than we thought and grace is far better than we imagined.