Historically, Calvinists have asked the question, “Who are the elect?” Perhaps, a more fundamental question should be asked: “Who are the Calvinists?” Actually, more broadly, the issue is, “Who are the Reformed?”, though we grant that “Calvinism” is often used as a synonym for “Reformed theology,” just as it appears to be in the present volume. The authors of Evangelical Calvinism make an impassioned plea to answer this question with plurality, even as they recognize a dominant North American form (“Federalism”) that too often claims sole proprietorship to the term “Reformed” (3). They affirm, “While there is geographical diversity [in Calvinism] there is also theological diversity. For the contributors to this book, this is not only to be expected but actually encouraged, for unity in diversity brings with it new perspectives, correctives, and opportunities for enrichment” (2). In some ways, then, Evangelical Calvinism is a call for destroying artificial boundaries in Reformed theology, for the authors would undoubtedly insist that the identification of “Calvinist” or “Reformed” solely with the trajectories that pass through the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Synod of Dort would be artificial. After all, many claim or would claim the moniker “Reformed” (though not always “Calvinist”), such as some Baptists (e.g., Henri Blocher), some Dispensationalists (e.g., Stephen Spencer), and even many Arminians (e.g., the title of Roger Olsen’s book Reformed and Always Reforming would suggest that he, too, identifies with the Reformed tradition broadly considered).
The authors are quite intentional to tie their “mood” to the Reformed tradition and not simply pour new wine into old wine skins. Each author appeals frequently to the tradition, specifically to what he or she sees as an often-neglected strand of Reformed thought but with enough historical attestation as to remain a legitimate strand from the original ball of yarn. This is important for the authors, who follow the lead of Habets and Grow in affirming that Evangelical Calvinism (EC) “is more of a mood than a movement” (3). Presumably (though not clearly stated), this distinction emphasizes the appeal to the past and seeks to minimize the sense of novelty in EC. It is not surprising, then, to find the first of the three content parts of the book dedicated to historical theology, a section that spans four chapters and includes notable Calvin scholar Charles Partee. Of these four chapters, two (chs. 2-3) pertain to the ontology and use(s) of Scripture, further demonstrating the sense of givenness in this mood as well as the genuine desire to hold firmly to “evangelical” identity. Adam Nigh begins his essay (ch. 3) affirming just this: “The Bible is the foundation and criterion for Christian theology” (67). From there, he draws upon theologians past (especially T. F. Torrance) to elaborate the way in which his initial confession is true and the manner in which EC seeks to understand the subsequent biblical claims.
However, lack of or limited novelty does not mean devoid of constructive theology (see p. 7). Indeed, the second part of the book, the largest at six chapters, is given to systematic theology. Here we find the authors drawing out their trajectory. While the first part concerns locating EC’s strand in the history of the Reformed churches, the second part finds the authors attempting fresh answers to problems that have long occupied the pens and pubs of the Reformed. Here, the authors wrestle with such issues as how we might speak rightly of God, election, federalism vs. realism in the perpetuation of sin, union with Christ, atonement, and infant salvation. In each case, the author highlights the trajectory at play: continuity with at least parts of the tradition while always reforming and recalibrating. Most notable in this regard is Marcus Johnson’s venture into the debate on the transmission of sin nature and guilt from Adam onward (ch. 8). Johnson recognizes the weaknesses of historical federalist and realist positions alike even as he posits a more modest realism—“Pauline Realism”—that exchanges on the currency of union with Christ. In this move, we see both the strand and the trajectory coming forth: Johnson’s articulation of union may be found in the thought of a number of past and present Christians, yet the use of this doctrine to shed light on the transmission of sin and guilt is “a way forward” in that it trades on the apparent symmetry in Rom. 5:12-21 between those in Adam and those in Christ. Regardless of whether or not the reader agrees with Johnson’s solution, she must acknowledge both the biblical attentiveness and the theological insight at play even as Johnson draws from a traditional form of the doctrine of union with Christ.
The third part of the book is entitled “Applied Theology.” Though the smallest section, by no mean should it be overlooked, for it brings the trajectory to its completion: the life of the Christian. Anchoring this section is Julie Canlis (ch. 12), the always delightful proponent of Calvin’s own theological “ladder” (see her monograph Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension). Part three is probably the most important section of the book, for more than any other single chapter in the book, it captures Calvin’s own spirit in doing theology. Summarizing and quoting Calvin, Canlis writes, “Calvin’s original purpose never wavered [even as his Institutes grew]. His desire was that it give believers not only a right understanding of the gospel, but that it ‘pass into daily living, and so transform us’” (333). By no means had the Reformed tradition lost this truth; for all the criticism of “Puritanical ethics” in contemporary popular and academic discourse, they are shining examples of a branch of the Reformed tradition that emphasized the importance of right living in Christ. Jonathan Edwards’s creative adjustments to the doctrine of justification present just one instance of this. Nevertheless, the transformational aspect of the gospel has often been obscured amid deafening theological debates, many of which themselves were needed. The inclusion of this third part testifies to the vision of EC: historically rooted and constructively engaged for the edification of the Church. To this, it should be added, though, that this is not merely a call to righteous living or a treatise on Christian ethics. Rather, each of the authors in this section draw upon the realism that characterizes much of the volume, and on this basis, they argue for transformation in Christ, sharing in his life, death, and resurrection through the intimate Spirit-bond between Christ and believer. The Christian life is caught up in and transformed in what Scott Kirkland calls the “vicarious humanity of Christ” (ch. 14).
Space and time do not allow for a review of each of the fourteen contributing essays, so a peak at the structure will have to suffice for the most part, though further comments will appear below when considering strengths and weaknesses. Meanwhile, the fifteenth chapter, a sort of constitution for EC, presents several points of interest. It is clear from the theses that they are not meant as a doctrinal statement encompassing the fullness of their confession. Rather, the theses demarcate that which distinguishes EC from other branches of the Reformed tree, particularly the “Federal” theology of Westminster and Dort. Without question, the theses lean heavily upon the thought of Thomas Torrance, and it is in his distinctives that we find the most provocative theses. With Torrance, Habets and Grow affirm a general election of all humanity
through the election of Jesus Christ (Thesis 5). Closely tied to this is an affirmation of the Torrancian (and Barthian before him) version of supralapsarianism (Thesis 8) and union with Christ (Thesis 10, combined with explanatory comments on their understanding of union in Thesis 5, 7, and 11). As throughout the book, realism also features prominently, especially in Theses 1, 5, 7, 10, and 11 and hinted in Thesis 4. Commendably, the authors begin with the triune God and wish to ground all of creation in Father, Son and Spirit (Theses 1 and 2). Most directly poking at “Classical Calvinism” are Theses 3 and 4—which affirm a covenantal ontology but reject classical covenant theology—and 15—which deliberately aligns EC with the Reformed Scot’s Confession and Heidelberg Catechism and not Dort and Westminster. Finally, Thesis 11 pushes directly against Dort, arguing for universal atonement (though not universal salvation).
In addition to its emphasis upon “applied theology,” perhaps the other great strength of the volume is its grounding of all theology, including its doctrine of Scripture, in the triune economy, which itself is the expression of the triune life ad intra. The authors rightly contend that Christian theology begins with the God who reveals himself as triune creator and redeemer. Generic starting points will not do, whether that be general notions of godness or the metaphysical assumptions of various forms of natural theology.
This volume also refuses to be caught in the no-win poles of conservativism vs. liberal Protestant theology. Partee’s chapter (2) sees these as false alternatives, each falling into its own ditch, especially with regard to Scripture. The former has tended to use the Bible narrowly as the “epistemological foundation for theological propositions” (30), functionally elevating Scripture to divine status through a doctrine of inerrancy (see p. 49, et al). The latter sought “to reconcile Christianity and modern culture based on scientific rather than dogmatic speculation” (40); generally liberals have prioritized science and culture rather than Christ. Splitting these options, Partee and EC follow John Webster’s confession of Scripture as sanctified witness while contending for ontology over epistemology: “[m]ost crucially, evangelical theology begins with the Lordship of Christ” (49). One might rightly object that this is nothing new, to which it seems Partee and the EC crew would exclaim, “Exactly!” That is to say, EC is about recovery of authentic Christianity in the line of Calvin by recovering the ontology of Christianity: knowing and experiencing Christ. This emphasis is abundantly clear in Nigh’s exploration of hermeneutics and Grow’s affirmation of the analogia fidei as well as Partee’s description of the EC posture on the nature of Scripture (as we have seen above). To this recovery, I can only say, “Bravo!”
Nevertheless, a further question must be asked: to whom is the recovery portion of the book directed? If the answer is the church, then by all means, continue. Evangelical churches have continually failed to educate (or, perhaps, discern) their congregations on the nature of Scripture, leaving many academic theologians frustrated when freshman arrive at Bible college or to intro theology courses at Christian universities. Many seminary professors would also agree. However, if the audience is the guild of evangelical (and/or liberal) theologians, then the reader is left scratching his or her head, for the accusations are made with such generalities that at least this reader was frequently scribbling in the margins, “Who says this?” Partee names names but not convincingly. He seems to build momentum as he punches the bags of the Hodges of Princeton yesteryear and B. B. Warfield, but again, it is only a group of bags that he is punching. For as careful of a historian as Partee has been in other settings, he is every bit as historically loose in the present essay. This is evident in his attack on these older Princetonians for their preoccupation with matters of epistemology, yet we are forced to respond, “Their conversations in their historic setting were on the reliability of Scripture, so why does it surprise us that these theologians talked about Scripture in terms of epistemology?” In other words, we expect people (even today) to speak relative to their context: if the conversation is about defensive strategy in basketball, we hardly expect an interlocutor to wax eloquently on the purpose of sport in the development of people. If Partee has reason to believe that Warfield and Company would reject the sort of ontology of Scripture presented by the present book, then show the reader. For my own part, I have no sense in my reading of Warfield that he would reject an ontology of Scripture that is rooted in the triune God’s self-revelation and economy.
The same lack of precision resurfaces throughout the volume. Inerrancy is rejected on principle but never in interaction with specific theologies of inerrancy (other than a passing reaction to the notion of “original autographs”); Habets insists that EC is not Arminianism, but he doesn’t actually interact with Arminians, some of whom have little or no gripe with his formulation of EC on atonement. A few of the authors criticize evangelical epistemological uses of Scripture and replace it with an ontology of Scripture; isn’t this category confusion? If Scripture remains the source for Christian theology (67), shouldn’t some attention be given to epistemology as well? Related to precision is Habets’s concern for a doctrine of election that “adheres much closer to the presentation of election as it is found in Scripture” (173), followed by no substantive engagement with Scripture.
One could contend, too, that the distinction between “mood” and “movement” suffers from lack of precision. In what sense is EC a “mood” and not a “movement” when it is tied above all to the thought of one man, T. F. Torrance? In support of this distinction, Habets and Grow insist that EC “does not to [sic.] belong to any particular denomination, nor is it aligned with any particular seminary” (2). Yet they do clearly and frequently wave their flag on the pole of T. F. Torrance. Indeed, most of their distinctives as a “mood” are due to the theological formulations of Torrance. This tethering is so significant that their doctrines of election, union with Christ, and atonement—distilled directly from TFT—are highlighted in the concluding 15 Theses, which are meant to describe the mood’s distinctives. In other words, the specificities of this mood are so sharp that those Reformed theologians who struggle with parts of the Westminster Confession of Faith and reject core formulations of TFT are not likely to find a home with Evangelical Calvinism.
Furthermore, though it becomes apparent that “Evangelical Calvinism” is a borrowed term, it isn’t clear why the present “mood” is Evangelical Calvinism and not Evangelical Torrancianism or, simply, Torrancianism. The editors especially see their theological identity caught up in TFT, who, incidentally, is the one from whom they borrow the label “Evangelical Calvinism.” Sure other theologians are cited, especially Calvin, but by far and away, with the exception of a few of the essays, the overwhelming share of appeals is to the works of TFT. It has already been granted that some use “Calvinist” to mean basically “Reformed,” and it is also evident that the present authors wish to recover Calvin from his Federal highjackers, but for all of their positive contributions to this task, some of the central markers of Calvin’s theology (particularly his soteriology) are traded for a Barthian Reformed theology as nuanced by T. F. Torrance. Among the Barthian-Torrancian renovations to Calvin’s house are to the latter’s understanding of election, predestination, union with Christ (see below), atonement, and theological anthropology. As already mentioned and applauded above, these evangelical Calvinists draw attention to other areas in Calvin’s thought that have sometimes been neglected. However, it is worth noting that many of these recoveries follow from the implications or direct appeals of Torrance. In short, as others—including some Federalists—have pointed out, “Calvinism” and “Reformed” probably should not be used interchangeably. For the present purposes, EC would do better to refine what it calls its own “mood”—Reformed, yes, but “Calvinist” only at times. In fairness to the aforementioned aid of recovery, the Federalist followers of Dort, too, should be called something other than “Calvinist” (perhaps “Federalists” would do, but the term does not seem to say enough about the distinctives of those who travel through Dort and Westminster).
Finally, the volume’s issues with precision come to the fore in the depiction of union with Christ. In short, whose union is this: Barthian Torrance (ch. 7) or Calvin (ch. 9)? The EC crew is quick to claim (rightly) that there is a gap between Calvin on union with Christ and some of the clan of Westminster today. It is worth pointing out that while some in the latter group think (wrongly) that they have Calvin right, others do not feel obliged to tether themselves so tightly to Calvin on this issue (e.g., J. V. Fesko, Todd Billings). Nevertheless, while the current crew rightly points to the gap between Calvin and some in Westminster today—again, it is worth pointing out that this is some and not all in Westminster today—on union with Christ, the editors in particular are not as forthcoming on the significant gap between Calvin and Torrance on this doctrine. Commendably, both theologians’ views are presented, but the fifteen theses rule definitively for Torrance’s view, thus bringing into question the exact role of chapter 9 in the present book.
In sum, though there are many points of intrigue in the book and even some important corrective, in the end, this reader is left unconvinced that EC (or “ET” for Evangelical Torrancianism) is the way forward for some who precede the verbal-noun “Reformed” with the adverbial-adjective “broadly.” Nevertheless, this does not mean that even those who do not sign-on to EC are left without significant pieces for moving forward. As already mentioned, there are a number of helpful essays—most notably those by Canlis (ch. 12), Johnson (chs. 8-9), and Murphy (ch. 6)—that begin recovery of issues close to Calvin’s heart. Torrance himself masterfully discerned some of the theo-logic in Calvin’s doctrine of God, and reflections on this prove to be some of the most refreshing and edifying in the present volume. The editors Habets and Grow should be commended for their inclusion of this sort of diversity in the book which does recover parts of and enriches the whole of Reformed theology. And together with the spirit of this book and its many essays, we may gladly and boldly proclaim, “Semper reformanda.”
 Ch. 3—“What is needed is an understanding of Scripture’s ontology and of what it means to read Scripture that arises from the content of Scripture itself” (71); “Scripture is a sign directing our attention to the reality of that personal self-revelation in Christ which it is meant to signify” (81); “it is not the use of language in Scripture that sanctifies it but Christ’s prior appropriation of it in the hypostatic union and its continued use in proclaiming him that does so” (83).
 Ch. 4—“The conditio sine qua non of an Evangelical Calvinist understanding of God begins where God begins, with his Son” (95); “Our course to knowing God is to submissively bow our thinking to God’s self-revelation for making himself known to us. That is, that knowledge of God is properly provided traction through a robustly oriented christological endeavor” (98); “We are not even giving argument for how we have come to our conclusions about God (only to describe), and thus all of our dogmatic expressions. Instead we are introducing an Evangelical Calvinist explication of God as Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit which is constitutive for its entire theological program and as such is genuinely a prolegomena for the whole dogmatic enterprise” (99).
 The diversity was welcomed even if puzzling in light of the specificity of the concluding Fifteen Theses.