A More Generous Calvinism?

Jan 30, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

In the last twenty-five years our understanding of the Reformed tradition has undergone a quiet revolution. With Richard Muller’s brilliant work on post-Reformation Reformed dogmatics leading the way, it is now widely recognized in academic circles (even if the insights are still making their way to the pew) that (1) Calvin is not the sine qua non of Calvinism, (2) that Reformed theology cannot be reduced to the central dogma of predestination, (3) that TULIP is a woefully inadequate summary of Reformed doctrine, (4) that Reformed scholasticism is a rich development of the magisterial Reformed tradition (not a compromised departure from it), and (5) that even within confessional Calvinism there is a surprising diversity of opinion on the substance and shape of key doctrines. In other words, Calvinism has many layers, many themes, and many voices. It is big, broad, and (with basic continuity) goes back a long ways.

But exactly how big and how broad?

For Oliver Crisp, the answer is bigger and broader than many people think. In his book Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology, Crisp, a professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, argues that “Reformed theology as it is usually reported today is not the whole story” (3). Crisp’s burden is to show that Calvinism “is still regarded too narrowly, even among those cognizant of the recent historical-theological reassessment of the shape and character of the early Reformed tradition” (236). Key themes have been written out of the received narrative (4). In particular, there is more “wiggle room” than has often been thought on things like libertarian free will and hypothetical universalism (239). Crisp’s aim is not to provide a complete account of Reformed theology, but to argue that within Reformed confessionalism there are often acceptably divergent ways of approaching the same problem (238). In short, this book is an attempt to redress imbalances in the Reformed tradition and present a softer Calvinism—one more mindful of forgotten themes and more open to minority viewpoints (240).

A Different Kind of Book

Deviant Calvinism defies easy description. It’s historical theology practiced by a systematic theologian with a bent toward analytic philosophy. Crisp thinks of the book as “a species of retrieval theology: seeking to retrieve the ideas of past theologians as resources for contemporary theology.” In this pursuit, Crisp exhibits remarkable skill and diversity of interests, writing thoughtfully on everything from the Bebbington Quadrilateral to the Westminster Confession to Amyraldianism, and on everyone from John Hick to John Davenant to John Owen. Despite the difficult intellectual terrain, Crisp, for the most part, wears his learning lightly, with a style that manages to be conversational, academic, and playful. No small feat.

Crisp’s approach, however, is not without drawbacks. For starters, the proliferation of new terms—is it the analytic philosophy talking?—can be distracting. At one point, in the space of a few pages, we are introduced to the “ordination-accomplishment objection,” the “divine-benevolence objection,” and “conditional ordained sufficiency” (192-194). I found these labels more confusing than clarifying. Likewise, because Crisp understands this work to be more retrieval theology than systematic theology, he often stopped short of reaching firm conclusions. So instead of finally coming down on the side of eternal justification, which he took a chapter to support, Crisp concludes that “there may be resources” with which to meet traditional objections against eternal justification and that applying “these insights to current ecumenical discussions” may open up “an interesting and potentially fruitful avenue of research” (69). Similarly, he will not finally say whether “deviant” doctrines like libertarian Calvinism and hypothetical universalism are right, only that they “raise interesting issues” (96) and “provide more resources for a version of the doctrine suitable to the contemporary theological climate” (211, cf. 233). Whether such studied ambiguity is a sign of epistemic humility or of pulling your intellectual punches likely depends on what the reader is hoping to find from a work of theology.

More critically, Deviant Calvinism is marked by a conspicuous absence of Scripture. Bible passages are referenced rarely and detailed exegetical work is non-existent. This is not necessarily a critique: there is a place for doing theological work through the lenses of history and analytic philosophy. But, again, the reader should be aware of what he is (and is not) getting into. For example, these few sentences discussing the possibility of universalism were telling:

Alternatively, Augustinians could fall back upon a biblical argument in favor of particularism. And this is what Augustinians typically do. However, as I pointed out in chapter 4, this is not a happy option for the Augustinian, because it generates an Augustinian problem of evil: if God could have created a world where God saves all humanity yet has not done so (because the Bible says God has not), why has God not done so? There seems to be no good philosophical reason for God’s not doing so, apart from the argument of Scripture, and a very strong moral argument for doing so. (137)

It would be unfair to think that Crisp does not care what Scripture thinks (and it should be noted that he ends up arguing against universalism), but there is no sense in this book that Scripture should get the final word on contested matters. If he were only writing for fellow academics, some of whom may not have any interest in what Scripture says, the approach would be understandable. But when the aim of the book is to convince those in the Reformed tradition that they have been too narrow, the approach seems misguided. I suspect the inconsistency is owing at least in part to the fact that this volume consists of Crisp’s chapters and articles pulled together from various books and journals whose intended audiences may not be the same as the audience for this book.

How Deviant?

Given Crisp’s goal of introducing a softer Calvinism with wider boundaries, it is surprising that most of the book does not exactly push at those boundaries. Half of the eight chapters do not do much to lobby for a “deviant” Calvinism. Chapter 1 argues for the important role experience plays in the formation of doctrine—a good reminder for some of our stodgy brethren, but as a general category hardly a controversial point. Chapter 4 makes a case for Augustinian universalism, which Chapter 5 goes on to rebut. Chapter 6 explores the inner logic (and striking contradictions) of Barth’s universalism. All are fascinating logical and historical explorations, but they do little to advance the main thesis of the book.

Of the four remaining chapters, Chapter 2 argues “that there is more to be said for eternal justification than is often thought” (68). To be sure, this is not the majority opinion of Reformed theologians (nor can it be supported by the Westminster Confession [WCF 11.4]), but even if we were to make room for eternal justification (and men as well esteemed as Abraham Kuyper have affirmed it), it is not clear to me who in the Reformed camp is clamoring to enter this room. The issue hardly seems pressing. Rather, the burden of Crisp’s plea for a more generous Calvinism seems to rest on two other points: a (partially) libertarian freedom of the will and a (possible) hypothetical universalism (Chapters 3, 7, 8). Almost all the wiggle room on Crisp’s wish list concerns these two doctrines.

Of these two points, Crisp’s chapter on libertarian Calvinism is the less convincing. According to Crisp, there is a hard determinism, a “folk version” of Calvinism, which maintains that because God ordains whatsoever comes to pass, we are never free to act contrary to God’s decretive will. Consequently, in this folk view, free will has no place in Reformed theology (75). Crisp calls this incompatibilism because it denies that divine determinism can mesh with human free will (77). This is where Crisp goes “deviant,” arguing that because the Westminster Confession teaches that man in his innocency had the capacity to do good or evil (WCF 9.1-2), the Confession must be affirming that the “human pair had free will consistent with alternate possibilities” (73). And once you have man at least sometimes operating with this libertarian free will, Crisp sees no reason to suppose we do not have significant freedom in most areas of life. Except for the decision to believe in Christ, which must be worked in us by God directly, Crisp believes that our wills are free and that this limited libertarian freedom is not excluded by Reformed theology.

The problem with this reasoning is that it confuses free will as a moral category with the larger questions of philosophical necessity and contingency. To recognize that Adam and Eve had wills which were not bound by sin to choose what is evil is not the same as saying their wills were not still subject to the all-encompassing ordination of God. Most Calvinists would reject Crisp’s incompatibilist label, for they very much see divine determinism compatible with human responsibility, not because the human will is undetermined (i.e., as the liberty of indifference) but because the will is not subject to external coercion or compulsion. We are not “senseless stocks and blocks” whose wills are overridden by force (Canons of Dort III/IV.16). For Calvin, the will, however bound to wickedness, is still self determined (Inst. II.iii.13; II.v.7, 14-15). Likewise, Turretin argued to the same effect by postulating six different types of necessity. The will can be said to be free even if it is bound by a moral necessity (along with the necessity of dependence upon God, rational necessity, and necessity of event) so long as it is free from physical necessity and the necessity of coaction. That is to say, if the intellect has the power of choice (freedom from physical necessity) and the will can be exercised without external compulsion (freedom from the necessity of coaction) then our sins can be called voluntary and we can be held responsible for them (Elenctic Theology, X.xii.3-12). While Crisp’s insistence that the God of Calvinism is not the direct cause of all things is a necessary correction to some folk versions of Reformed theology, his larger claim about the presence of libertarian notions of freedom in the Reformed tradition is unconvincing.

Crisp’s exploration of hypothetical universalism was more compelling, even if less radical than meets the eye. Canvassing the theology of the Anglican Bishop John Davenant (1572-1641), and borrowing from the seminal work Jonathan Moore has done on John Preston (1587-1628), Crisp argues that English hypothetical universalism—the belief that Christ died for all men on the condition that they believe—has a long history in the Reformed tradition and is not to be confused with Amyraldianism, a variant of hypothetical universalism which also called for a controversial reordering of the decrees. It is now widely believed that the Synod of Dort, while certainly not endorsing the position, left open a back door for delegates like Davenant who held to particular redemption for the elect and a conditional intent toward the non-elect.

Crisp’s historical work is well researched and his arguments carefully nuanced. Overall, he makes an important point. But I wonder if his conclusion is less envelope-pushing than meets the eye. In his recent book on the theology of the Westminster Standards, for example, J.V. Feskso (hardly a deviant Calvinist) reaches the same conclusion (187-203). This is not to discount Crisp’s contribution or the need for it to be heard. It is, however, to question how much generosity is gained by hypothetical universalism. After all, as Lee Gatiss has pointed out, Calvinistic hypothetical universalism is, in the end, still a variant of limited atonement: Christ died effectually for the elect and only conditionally for the non-elect. The conditional intent for the non-elect is not in place of particular redemption for the elect (as in Arminianism), but in addition to or prior to this effectual atonement for those who will believe (For Us and For Our Salvation, 99). What’s more, it is hard to see what concrete advantage accrues to the non-elect by saying Christ died for them upon the condition that they believe, when God does not in fact grant the gift of faith to any of the non-elect. This is the same point made by Dabney, whom Crisp employs in making the case for hypothetical universalism, when he observes: “To say that God purposed, even conditionally, the reconciliation of that sinner by Christ’s sacrifice, while also distinctly proposing to do nothing effectual to bring about the fulfillment of that condition He knew the man would surely refuse, is contradictory. It is hard to see how, on this scheme, the sacrifice is related more beneficially to the non-elect sinner, than on the strict Calvinist’s plan” (Systematic Theology, 520). Hypothetical universalism appears to do more for the Calvinist’s psyche than for the state of the non-elect. To be sure, hypothetical universalism—at least of the non-Amyraldian kind—has not been considered outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy, but this is owing to its congruence with stricter notions of particular redemption, not because of a marked departure from them.


This is not the first book I’ve read by Oliver Crisp, nor will it be the last. Even when exploring “liminal places” (3), his theology is deeply informed by and respectful of the Reformed tradition. This work is no exception. The history is informative, the breadth of knowledge striking, and the arguments provocative. One can learn much from this book. My main complaint is that in the two instances meant to make the case for “deviant Calvinism,” the first example (libertarian free will) is not really Calvinist and the second example (hypothetical universalism) is not all that deviant.

View Comments

Some Words for Well Known Pastors

Jan 28, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Over at Mortification of Spin Todd Pruitt has a good post entitled A Word to Famous Pastors. Here are his five points:

1. I am thankful for you. “I have been on the receiving end of great blessings from well-known preachers and pastors. I continue to benefit from the books and teaching of men whose names we all know. May God bless you and protect you.”

2. What you do, write, and preach reverberates through the rest of the church. “[There] are people we love and pray for and visit in the hospital. You don’t know them. You’ll never meet them. But they listen to your teaching and read your books.”

3. Your level of accountability corresponds to your level of influence. “Because of your influence you will give account for the many who have downloaded your sermons and purchased your books. Are you ready to answer for the influence you have in the lives of men and women you will never meet?”

4. Please exercise great discernment in accepting speaking engagements and partnerships. “When you choose to make such compromises then you confuse and lead astray the men and women I serve as pastor who read your books and listen to your sermons.”

5. You are not above criticism. “Be aware my famous friend that fame tends to have an insulating effect.”

Pruitt concludes: “I wrote this because I am grateful for so many of you. I want you to run well. I want you to end well. You have been given much. Use your influence carefully and sparingly.” Well said.

You can read the whole article here.

View Comments

Theological Primer: Eternal Sonship

Jan 27, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

From time to time I make new entries into this continuing series called “Theological Primer.” The idea is to present big theological concepts in under 500 words (or pretty close–what’s a couple hundred words among friends?). Today we look at the eternality of the Son of God.


There never was when he was not.

That was the bone of contention with Arianism, the fourth century heresy which rejected the full deity of the Son of God. The issue was not whether the Son was divine in some sense, but whether he shared the same essence (homoousia) as the Father. In particular, Arius held that sonship necessarily implied having a beginning. While Arius affirmed that Christ was preexistent and that all things were created through him, he also believed that the Father created the Son. According to Arius, “If the Father begat the Son, he that was begotten has a beginning of existence; hence it is clear that there was when he was not.” Arius was careful not to use the word “time,” because he believed the Son existed before the ages began, but for Arius eternality and sonship could not go together. The Son was a divine being, but a created being with a derivative deity

How should we respond to this claim? It’s not enough to point to passages where Christ is worshiped or where the deity of the Son is broadly affirmed. Arius did not reject these conclusions and neither do modern day Arians. Where do we turn to defend the belief that there never was when the Son of God was not?

Four passages come to mind:

1) In John 8:58 Jesus says to his opponents, “before Abraham was, I am.” Not only does Jesus link himself to Yahweh’s great “I AM” statement of Exodus 3:14, he also makes allusion to the “I am” declarations  in Isaiah 40-55 (e.g., “I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he” [Isa. 41:4]). Jesus considered himself as eternal as the God of the Old Testament was eternal. Little wonder some unbelieving Jews thought him a blasphemer and tried to kill him (John 8:59).

2) Likewise, Philippians 2:5-11 places Christ Jesus right in the middle of the most exalted language of Isaiah 45-46. The prediction that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (v. 10-11), comes from Isaiah 45:23. Jesus is identified with the God who says “I am” and “there is no other” (Isa. 45:22), with the God who declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9-10).

3) Hebrews 7:3 describes Melchizedek–the mysterious king of Salem from Genesis 14–as “having neither beginning of days nor end of life.” Whatever this means about Melchizedek himself (a pre-incarnate Christ or simply a type of Christ), for the analogy to hold (“resembling the Son of God”) Christ must also have neither beginning of days nor end of life.

4) Most convincingly, in Revelation 22:13 Jesus announces, “I am the Alpha ad the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Earlier in the book, God says the same thing, making specific reference to his eternality as the one who is and who was and who is to come (Rev. 1:8; 21:6). In whatever sense the Father is the beginning and the end, so is the Son. One cannot be more or less eternal than the other.

No matter our experience of sonship (i.e., having a beginning), the divine must be the lens through which we understand the human, not the other way around. Without the eternality of the Son, we do not have a Christ who can fully save because we do not have a Christ who shares in all the attributes of deity. Without eternal Sonship, we cannot affirm that the Father has always been the Father. And if the Father has not always been in communion with the Son, then love cannot be eternal, for the Father would have had to create another being in order to give and receive love. Likewise, it is only with eternal Sonship that the economic Trinity (that which we see about God in the unfolding of redemptive history) corresponds to any real ultimate truth about God. The God who is must be the God who always was.


View Comments

Monday Morning Humor

Jan 26, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Let’s get an engineer working on the stretcher design.

View Comments

All Paths Lead to God

Jan 23, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung


All paths lead to God, but only one path will present you before God without fault and with great joy.

Pick a path, any path–it will take you to God. Trust me: you will stand before Him one day. You will meet your Maker. You will see the face of Christ.

There are many ways up the mountain, but only one will result in life instead of destruction.

“Christianity is narrow,” you say. “Why must we talk of insiders and outsiders?”

“Christianity is hard. I don’t like what it says. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. This kind of life, this kind of faith, this kind of commitment–they will make me unpopular.”

“Christianity is strange. It’s on the wrong side of history. No one really accepts it—the miracles, the strange teachings, the ethical demands. They don’t work anymore.”

Yes, Christianity can seem narrow, strange, and hard. Jesus was often thought narrow, strange, and hard too. But sometimes the narrow way is the only way, the strange path is the true path, and the hard life is the one that leads to eternal life (John 14:6).

There are many roads to God, but only one will make you holy and only one will bring you home.

View Comments

9 Myths about Abortion Rights and Roe v. Wade

Jan 22, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

unborn babyForty-two years ago, the Supreme Court concluded that a woman’s constitutional right to privacy included a right to terminate her pregnancy. After the sweeping decision was handed down, not only were the abortion laws of all fifty states rendered null and void, it was clear that no legal prohibition against abortion before viability would stand. And it would soon become clear that prohibitions after viability were unenforceable. Abortion on demand would be the law of the land.

The moral and spiritual dimensions notwithstanding, there are a plenty of reasons to see Roe as a logical, legal, and political debacle. In his new book, Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade, Clarke Forsythe highlights a number of myths which led to the ruling in Roe and myths which continue to be believed today.

Myth #1: Abortion was a common and widely accepted practice throughout history.

Truth: This inaccurate claim was repeated throughout the 1960s. The fact is that abortion was rare well into the nineteenth century. Almost all abortion methods before then were ineffective or potentially dangerous to the mother. True, unwanted children were still terminated, but this was done by killing newly born children. If abortion is to be considered a common practice throughout history, the method was infanticide or abandonment (82-85).

Myth #2: Roe was based on a careful investigation of the facts.

Truth: When Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton were tried in the lower courts there were no trials and the judges did not look at evidence. One of the attorneys even stated that “the facts don’t matter.” Although many of the justices who decided Roe insisted on the importance of the factual record in other privacy cases, the investigation in Roe was largely taken up with procedural questions (92-97).

Myth #3: Women were dying by the thousands because of back-alley abortions.

Truth: The number of maternal deaths from all causes was 780 in 1972 (down from 7,267 in 1942). Of the 780 maternal deaths, 140 were listed as “abortion deaths” by the National Center for Health Statistics, and included in this number were those deaths caused by spontaneous miscarriage (102).

Myth #4: Existing abortion laws targeted women.

Truth: Virtually all states with anti-abortion laws treated the woman as a victim and never as a perpetrator or an accomplice to abortion. The states understood that abortions were often coerced by others and that prosecuting the woman who had an abortion was not enforceable. Instead, “treating the woman as the second victim of abortion was the consistent policy of the states for nearly a century before Roe” (112).

Myth #5: The destruction of the fetus was never treated as infanticide in the American legal tradition.

Truth: Anglo-American law, in a tradition inherited from Roman law, had called the fetus an “unborn child” or “child” since at least the 1200s. In the nineteenth century statutes enacted in 17 states referred to the crime against an unborn child as “manslaughter,” “murder,” or “assault with intent to murder.” Most of these statutes called the unborn child a “child,” not a fetus or some term which could undermine the full personhood of the unborn (114-115).

Myth #6: Our abortion laws are mainstream compared with the rest of the world.

Truth: The United States is one of only 10 nations that allow abortion after 14 weeks of gestation. Only four countries allow abortion for any reason after viability: Canada, North Korea, China, and the United States (126).

Myth #7: Abortion is safer than childbirth.

Truth: This is one of the myths that was crucial in the Justices decision and has been almost entirely overlooked since 1973. This medical mantra, based on seven journal articles with no reliable medical data, was countered in the briefs filed with the Supreme Court and in oral arguments (155-180).

Myth #8: The country is divided on the issue of abortion.

Truth: While a large (but decreasing) number of Americans support Roe, this figure drops precipitously when people are asked, not generically about Roe, but about what Roe actually allows. According to a 2009 poll, only 7 percent of Americans think abortion should be allowed at any time of pregnancy for any reason, precisely what Roe mandated in all 50 states (295).

Myth #9: The pro-life movement is anti-women.

Truth: Women are less supportive of abortion than men. According to a 2010 Rasmussen poll, 53% of women believe abortions are too easy to get, compared with 42% of men. Likewise, 58% of women believe abortion is morally wrong in most cases; 49% of men agree with the same statement (305).

Very likely, abortion will always be a controversial topic in this country. Prudential half-way measures may be the best way forward in many circumstances. But with a little instruction, some moral courage, and more political resolve than we are used to seeing, the worst effects of Roe can be mitigated and the lives of many unborn Americans can be saved. Get informed. Keep praying. Be ready to act.

View Comments

Monday Morning Humor (on Tuesday)

Jan 20, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Best Dad ever?

(Sorry for the OMG’s at the end).

View Comments

The Measure You Use

Jan 19, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

SONY DSCIt’s been a hard several months for race relations in this country. You can put me in the category of those who find everything very complicated, with lots of layers, and lots of emotions. I’m not an expert in police procedures or how grand juries are supposed to work. I don’t know what it’s like to be looked at suspiciously or treated roughly because of the color of my skin or the clothes I wear. I don’t know what it’s like to try to make an arrest and think of all the things that could go wrong. I’m sure I don’t even know half of the things I don’t know that I don’t know. I’m a pastor and a preacher. I study the Bible and teach the Bible for a living. So there are plenty of things I’m still trying to figure out. I’m trying to learn and trying to listen along the way.

But as a pastor and as a Christian there are things from the Bible that I do know. I know we ought to use the measure with each other that we want used for us (Matt. 7:2): “Don’t assume the worst about me because I don’t look like you. Don’t size me up based on how I dress, where I live, who my parents were, or if I ever knew my parents. Don’t speak before you listen. Don’t rush to judgment before you’ve heard from all sides.” Isn’t that what we all want?

One of the hallmarks of our legal system is the principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. The Romans subscribed to the dictum ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, no qui negat–“Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies.” In other words, you shouldn’t have to prove your innocent; the other side needs to prove you are guilty.

Which is why some people will say, “Stop with the trial by twitter. What happened to the presumption of innocence? We have to trust the system.” And why others will say, “Trust the system? We’ve spent our whole lives being assumed as guilty, when the ones who mistreat us are always presumed innocent.” Same principle, different experiences, different application.

So what are we to do as Christians?

Probably a dozen different things depending on our situation and calling. But here’s at least one thing we can do: think about the measure we want used for us. Ask yourself: How do I want people to measure me? How do I want people to judge me? How do I want to be treated when I’m accused, when I’m harassed, when I’m about to be put down or sized up (or worse)?

I want people to hear me out.

I want people to get to know me and not lock me into a preconceived narrative or set of experiences.

I want people to give me the benefit of the doubt.

I want people to look at every angle and not be quick to believe the worst about me.

I want people to deal with facts, not gossip or speculation.

I want people to tell me the truth when I’m not seeing the truth.

I want people to try to understand why I’m hurt or scared or upset.

I want people to give me a fair hearing and be open to changing their minds.

I want people to consider how they may be at fault and admit when they’re wrong.

I want people to speak respectfully to me and of me.

I want people to try to see what they can’t yet see.

I want people to remember that I’m made in the image of God and should be treated fairly, honestly, and decently.

This is not social commentary. This is not political prescription. There is time for both of these things, but this post is about something else. It’s about taking Matthew 7:2 as a starting point (not the end, but the beginning) for living out and living into the picture of racial harmony we will rightfully hear so much about on MLK Day.

Take a look at the “I” statements above. Isn’t that how you want people to measure you? Very likely. Is that the measure you’re using for them? Something to think about.

View Comments

The Necessity of Good Works and Obedience

Jan 16, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

A very helpful synopsis from Bradley Green (23-24):

1. Loving or knowing God is linked with obedience (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-6; 3:22, 24; 5:3; 2 John 6; Rev. 12:17; 14:12)

2. The ‘conditional’ nature of our future salvation (Rom. 11:22; 1 Cor. 15:2; Heb. 3:6, 14; 4:14)

3. Christians must ‘overcome’ if they are ultimately to be saved (Heb. 10:38-39; Rev. 2:7, 11; 3:5, 12, 21; 21:7)

4. The necessity of a great righteousness (Matt. 5:20)

5. The requirement of the law being met ‘in us’ (Rom. 8:3-4)

6. God will efficaciously work ‘in’ us, moving us to obey him (Phil. 2:12-13)

7. The necessity of putting to death the old man, by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:13-14)

8. ‘Faith’ and ‘obedience/works’ used as virtual synonyms (2 Thess. 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17; Rev. 12:17; 14:12; cf. 6:9)

9. We are truly judged, or justified, by our works (Matt. 7:21, 25; Rom. 2:13; cf. Jas. 1:22-25)

10. The ‘obedience of faith’ (Rom. 1:5; 16:26; Acts 6:7)

11. We were created and redeemed for good works (2 Cor. 9:8; Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14 [cf. 11-12])

12. Faith working through love (Gal. 5:6)

13. The law affirmed; the law of Christ (Rom. 13:9; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 4:14; 6:2)

14. Persons do the works of their Father (John 8:39)

Amazingly, justification is by faith alone. And just as amazingly, “Christ justifies no one whom he does not at the same time sanctify” (John Calvin).

View Comments

Ten Books that Have Shaped Me as a Christian

Jan 15, 2015 | Kevin DeYoung

Recently someone asked me what ten book have been most helpful in my growth as a Christian. A good question, I thought, and a fun question to answer. I love to talk about books, especially those that have been instrumental in my walk with Christ.

Two quick caveats:

1. In order to be most useful, I tried to think of books that have been helpful to me as a Christian not just as a pastor. The two callings, however, are not easily extricated, so my list may strike a chord more readily with those in full time church ministry.

2. This is not a list of my ten favorite books of all time (though that list would have significant overlap with this one), nor is this a list of the ten books every Christian should read. For that list I’d pick a few more popular-level books and try to cover a number of other topics. What we have below are ten books that profoundly shaped my head and my heart at key moments in my Christian life. Not surprisingly, given the way God often works, I read all of these books for the first time (except for the last one) between the ages of 18 and 22. Pastors, campus ministers, professors, publishers, parents, take note: get good books in the hands of college students.

I don’t usually read too many of my blog comments (sorry), but on this post I’d love to hear from you. What books have been most helpful in your growth as a Christian? Here’s my list, in no particular order:

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
No book besides the Bible has shaped me more than this one. It’s more readable than you might think. Give it a try. I stole my dad’s copy when I was a college freshman and never gave it back.



Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers
I first came across this book during seminary (thank you First Pres book table), and as I went through the prayers I wasn’t sure I had ever really prayed before! Ok, I had prayed before, but after using this book I knew my prayers would not be the same.


Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (two volume biography)
I got these two volumes as a Christmas present during college (thank you mom and dad). I found the Doctor’s life and ministry so thrilling I couldn’t put them down for the next semester.



B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible
Warfield helped me come out of a confusing intellectual season where I wondered if the Bible really could be trusted.




J.C. Ryle, Holiness
Stirring, convicting, illuminating. I didn’t know about the Keswick controversy when I first read the book. I was just powerfully encouraged to grow in holiness.



J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
Never seems to not be relevant. Machen crystallized for me what I had seen in parts of my mainline college experience.




David F. Wells, No Place for Truth
He opened my eyes to the ways in which the church had become compromised and introduced categories for faithfulness I had never considered before.



John Piper, Future Grace
His analysis of anxiety, bitterness, and lust are still with me. For my money this is Piper at his practical, personal, penetrating best.



Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology
After Calvin I cut my theological teeth on Berkhof. So clear, so concise, so logical. My copy has been falling apart for some time.




Heidelberg Catechism
I had to study the Catechism with my pastor before I joined the church in fourth grade–a gift that keeps on giving.

View Comments
1 2 3 201