Video Book Review #9: Calvinism in a Las Vegas Airport

Disclaimer: Mouw’s recent attempts of ecumenicism are not endorsed by this blog, though I am thankful that he has introduced the discussion in this book.

The first book I have read this year was Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. I read the book in preparation for a study on the doctrines of grace. Of course, over the last ten years I have read most of the major biblical and systematic studies on Calvinism, but this one, in my estimation was a happy addition to the ever-growing market for Calvinistic literature.

Who is Richard Mouw? Dr. Mouw is the president of Fuller Theological Seminary; a seminary that is looked upon with suspicion by those of us who hold on to a more theologically conservative framework.

What is the book about? Yet I have found these 127 pages to be very profitable. At the very least it gave me a good glimpse the thinking of a very well known evangelical scholar. Mouw has a more of a Dutch Reformed background, so it is not the Westminster Standards that his Calvinism, but rather the Three Forms of Unity: The Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and the Heidelberg Catechism; the latter being very dear to Professor Mouw. In many ways, it is the more pastoral and gracious and less technical language of the Heidelberg that leads him to defend a Calvinistic Soteriology from a gentler, rather than the pugilistic sort that is so common.

He writes on page 18:

We are attracted to Calvinism, but we regret the fact that there are so many people who  such a distorted view of Calvinist thought and life.

According to Mouw our Calvinistic ancestors used “harsh language,” and so he reads these older documents with a “tendency to filter out the rhetorical excess.”[1] As a strong example of what he considers to be humble Calvinism he cites Charles Spurgeon again and again. He believes Spurgeon was forceful when needed, but he persuasive because he knew how to win non-Calvinists with wit and wisdom, rather than disrespectful rhetoric.

Mouw offers a strong defense of the five points of Calvinism. He is committed to it, though he shares some reservations about Limited Atonement. He tends to view it as a “shelf theology.” By that he means that it won’t be the one he will throwing in people’s faces every time he has a conversation about salvation.

What was positive about the book?

First, Mouw has a very clear style of writing. This is the type of book I wish I had read when I first became a Calvinist a decade ago. It doesn’t delve into all the theological arguments, but it provides a good summary of what some have referred to as TULIP.

Secondly, Mouw calls himself a Calvinist, but to him this does not simply mean believing in the five points of Calvinism. Mouw is also a Kuyperian. He believes that to be a Calvinist also means embracing a whole life view. This means engagement with the modern culture and bringing the Lordship of Christ to apply in every sphere of life. This is consistent Calvinism.

Finally, Mouw’s ecumenical approach is the most appealing about the book. Though he strongly disagrees with non-Calvinists, he also expresses a patience to deal with their arguments. He finds that non-Calvinists can be the source of many great observations and that we shouldn’t shut our ears simply because it’s a non-Calvinists speaking. Mouw wants to work with other evangelical groups to pursue common political and cultural causes.

What was negative about the book?

First, Mouw commits the same frustrating errors that I see so often today when dealing with passages like John 3:16. Mouw refuses to fall into the trap of taking the word “world” and shrinking it down to a few in the world; I applaud him for that. But on the other hand, he refuses to see the cosmic implications of Christ’s death for the world. He seems to enjoy Warfield, but perhaps a little more B.B. Warfield would help when it comes to soteriology. Christ has come to give his life for a great number; Christ’s death is going to Christianize the world before His second coming. Calvinists don’t need to be exegetical gymnasts to understand John 3:16.

Second, Mouw plays a couple of dangerous games when he hypothesizes about some non-Christians being forgiven when they stand before God. The truth is Jesus is the only way to the Father and it doesn’t matter how gracious and kind a rabbi is; without Jesus there is no salvation.

This is a fine book; a helpful introductory book. As a pastor I will recommend it, but with caution. Thanks for joining and we will see you next time.

[1] Page 22.


About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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