Recommended Books for Studying Calvinism

Image of The Doctrine of God (A Theology of Lordship)
by John M. Frame
P & R Publishing 2002
Hardcover 896

Having been asked to recommend a few books on Calvinism I thought it might make a good post at Dr Reluctant. I myself am about as much a modified Calvinist as I am a modified Dispensationalist. Although many will not agree with me, I believe that “plain-sense,” old fashioned grammatico-historical hermeneutics requires some readjustment of standard Reformed formulations of Calvinist doctrines.

My reason for this is that the hermeneutics of Reformed Calvinism, when aimed at eschatology, produces supercessionism and covenant theology. It is a hermeneutics heavy on deduction. I might characterize it as “deduction before induction,” whereas I believe it ought to be the other way round.

In light of this I wrote a set of posts a while back which engaged standard Calvinist formulations: Dispensationalism and TULIP. (The link is to the last in the series, from where the others can be accessed). The posts do not present a positive case, and I understand that these posts are not popular with many Calvinists. But I long ago gave up trying to please others by towing the line, and I prefer to explore theology “freed” from what can become a party line. If it doesn’t sound pompous, I want to do theology from the Bible while feeling quite free to disagree with formulations that appear to me to rest too much upon inference instead of exegesis. I am okay with having “frayed edges” to my theology. I don’t think I am capable of boxing everything up in a tidy way. Some things in the Bible just stick out!

Anyway, in studying Calvinism it is essential to read well and carefully. There are too many doctrinaire works out there that bloviate much and explain little. In no particular order, here are some of the best resources I know:

Major Works of Calvinistic Theology

John M. Frame –The Doctrine of God

In this outstanding work Frame supplies the mature student with a thorough text on the most important subject in theology. Within its pages he develops a “theology of Lordship” based upon “Lordship attributes” of immanence and transcendence from which he expounds his views on God’s control of His world. I personally do not think that he escapes the gravitational pull of nominalism with his discussion of accountability and responsibility, but I think he does make a pretty fool-proof case for the necessity of Divine predetermination, and he grounds everything in a well worked-out worldview and ethics. Even where I differ, this is the best book on its subject.

John S. Feinberg –No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God

Feinberg’s book is even more massive than Frame’s. He takes a decidedly more philosophical approach and interacts much more with modern thinkers than does Frame. I don’t like what he does with Divine simplicity, but his discussion of compatibilism is nuanced and compelling. More than a simple book about God,No One Like Himis one of the best things produced by an evangelical ever, although few will agree with him on everything (Frame is better on worldview). I used to use this as my required text for teaching Philosophy of Religion.

Robert L. Reymond –A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

When I get round to revamping my article reviewing Systematic Theologies I will again extol the overall merits of this book. It has some quirks, but it is superior to Grudem. Reymond reminds me so much of John Murray, which is a good thing. Reymond is as dogmatic as they come; a bit of a blunt instrument. But his earnestness is so refreshing. He tries to ground his Calvinism in exegesis, and his explanations of “the doctrines of grace,” even within a revised supralapsarianism, contain some of the most straightforward expressions of classical Calvinism.

John Calvin –Institutes of the Christian Religion

You should read Calvin. Even when he gets into murky waters with children going to hell in Book 3 he has by then said enough about God’s “powers” (i.e. attributes) to warrant serious reflection. Calvin does not articulate a belief in definite atonement (still less in his commentaries), but his logical arguments for God’s absolute sovereignty must be read (N.b. his translator, Ford Lewis Battles wrote a classic essay, “Calculus Fidei” if I recall, in which he explained the inevitability of ending up where Calvin was if you followed his thought). Btw, I do not recommend the bookCalvin’s Calvinism, which displays the Reformer’s ruder and more pugnacious side.

As for shorter studies, I think these best explain Calvinism:

Michael Horton –For Calvinism

Horton is one of the most well versed Reformed theologians around, particularly in interacting with modern theological movements. He is able to write books at a scholarly level and for popular readers. This book is for the latter, and even though I demur here and there, I think it succeeds in its stated aim.

Lorraine Boettner –The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination

A standard work in which the “five points” made one of their first appearances. The best delineation of TULIP. Clear discussion of double predestination.

James White –The Potter’s Freedom

I actually don’t think this book is that good, but since it interacts with Norman Geisler’sChosen But Free, it is worth perusing. White indulges in what I think are some cheap shots against Geisler (no exegesis, circular reasoning, etc) while not really addressing the charge of voluntarism (i.e. nominalism) which Geisler presses (btw, I am not a huge fan of Geisler). Still, when he does express the Calvinist position White states his positions well. He presents the way many contemporary Calvinists think, and for that it is valuable.

Greg Forster –The Joy of Calvinism

reviewed this book and mentioned that what I liked about it was its forthrightness. I also appreciated the way the author emphasized definite atonement as a linchpin of TULIP.

J. Gresham Machen –The Christian View of Man

This is the first book I read on Calvinism. I recall studying on a long train journey back in 1986. Machen walks the reader through the central pillars of the Reformed doctrine of salvation, including predestination and the imputation of Adam’s sin.

David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, et al –The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented

The big contribution of this book is the way the authors provide succinct definitions of “the doctrines of grace” with texts supporting each step in the logical argument. That makes it very valuable. It took me a long time to trace each step out, but it showed that built into some of their definitions is a tendency to affirm the consequent.

Three more books which should be read are:

Dan Phillips –The World-Tilting Gospel

This is a book about the Gospel and its “transformative implications.” But what the author manages to do while pursuing his goal is to fit the five points within a worldview narrative. I found that to be an ingenious and unique approach.

Kenneth J. Stewart –Ten Myths About Calvinism

In this well written book Stewart shows that there is more breadth to Calvinism than is often portrayed.

David J. Engelsma –Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel

This book is by a theologian who many would say is a hyper-Calvinist. But the value of reading this well articulated book is to follow his logic. Engelsma argues cogently that if TULIP is true it follows that God hates the non-elect (a common teaching found in e.g. John Owen), and that therefore you cannot offer the Gospel to the lost because the odds are God doesn’t mean well for them if they are non-elect.

These are not the only solid books on Calvinism, but they are the ones that I would choose. If you have another list I would like to see it. I should say that there are reasons I did not include men like A. W. Pink or John Owen in the list. I revere both men, but I don’t like their arguments for Calvinism.

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There are 6 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

Thank you, Paul, for this list.  I must confess that I have read only two or three of these.  I have read different books by several of the authors, but not the books you listed.  I need to get busy!  I am curious to know why you did not list John Murray's classic, "Redemption Accomplished and Applied"?  That would rank high on any list I might compile.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

Yes G. N. I think Murray ought to be there.  Redemption, Accomplish and Applied focuses more on the former than the latter, but it is well argued.  I still recall exchanging Sidlow Baxter's Explore the Book (6 vols) for Murray's Collected Works (4 vols) many years ago.  It was a deal well made.  I love Murray even when I differ.  

You may notice that Warfield isn't in the list either.  This is not because I don't like Warfield.  It's because I think he is more difficult to read than others in the list.    

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I like Boetnner a lot, including his "five points" book. I have Murray, but haven't read him yet.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

John E.'s picture

Great list. I've read most of them and added those I haven't to my Amazon wish list.

If I may be so bold as to submit two selections that I've found helpful for laypeople who are not familiar with Calvinism apart from straw men - The Doctrines of Grace by Boice and Ryken and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by Packer.

G. N. Barkman's picture

John, thanks for this reminder.  "Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God" was very helpful in my early years when wrestling with questions about Calvinism.  I would add "Knowing God" by J. I. Packer as another outstanding book.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

Yes, the two books by Packer are worthy to be on the list.  The list itself is a response to being asked to recommend books for a non-Calvinist to read to grasp Calvinism.  I had to excluse some good contenders.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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