The Thistle

Book Review Highlights from the Journal of Reformed Theology – Buswell Library Select Items

Be sure to check out Journal of Reformed Theology 4, no. 1 (2010) for some good book reviews. One is of Calvin, Participation, and the Gift: The Activities of Believers in Union with Christ, by J. Todd Billings in the series Changing Paradigms in Historical and Systematic Theology (Oxford, 2007). The series title is worth noting because Oxford introduced it to contribute to the reconsideration of “the modern distinction between historic and systematic theology,” and the first book is this one by Billings (now at the RCA’s Western Seminary, and drawing here on his Harvard dissertation research). He articulates Calvin’s theology of participation, with questions such as whether there’s any place for the human in the process of redemption. He well presents the current understanding of Calvin’s training and context, as well as a thorough chronological analysis of how Calvin’s terminology developed. Calvin’s double grace (that of justification and of regeneration) is part of Calvin’s theology of union with Christ. The reviewer, Utrecht’s Henk van den Belt, cautions:

This may be true, though this solution of the complicated relation of justification and sanctification with the concept of unio cum Christo may be the result of the author’s preoccupation with the idea of participation.

Billings also deals with Calvin’s views of the law and of love, trust, and hope. Billings “refutes the Radical Orthodox (e.g. John Milbank) misunderstanding of Calvin.” Indeed, the “strength of this thorough study lies in its correction of misrepresentations of Calvin. The author goes in-depth with Calvin’s critics to show that his theology does not destroy human activity but encourages a living and lively response to God’s grace through union with Christ empowered by the Spirit.” The reviewer’s last sentence is cautionary: “It is important to connect historical and systematic theology, but both can only benefit from this connection if their distinctive methods and discourses are not mixed.”

In another review, it is Billings who treats Michael Horton’s Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ (Westminster John Knox, 2007), saying it is “a rich and engaging book on Reformed soteriology that is broad in its range and scope […and] the third in a four-part series from Michael Horton which seeks to put a Reformed account of covenant theology in dialogue with contemporary theological voices on a variety of topics.”

Bavinck and Warfield receive much attention in The Authority of Scripture in Reformed Theology, by Henk van den Belt (Brill, 2008). Calvin’s John Bolt reviews it, concluding that the “work is a solid foundation of fine scholarship combined with deep piety that does Bavinck proud.”

And in a review of A Theology of Public Life, by Charles Matthewes we are told he deems contributions to “public theology” to be self-destructively accommodationist in too many cases. He “sets forth his overall case in Augustinian terms,” noting that the differences many current thinkers have with Augustine are “fundamentally about ontology—about the nature of creation itself.