Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JOTGES 2:1 (Spring 89) p. 67
Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649. By R. T. Kendall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. 238 pp. Paper, $21.95.
Though this review comes ten years after the publication of this controversial work, its consideration is merited by the continuing discussion that the book has generated in Reformed circles. Originally an Oxford dissertation, Kendall’s thesis is that English Calvinism took its theological cues not from Calvin, but from Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at Geneva. Thus English Calvinism differed from Calvin himself in three important ways.
First, it abandoned Calvin’s belief that Christ’s atonement was universal in intent (“Christ died for all”) for the doctrine of particular redemption (“limited atonement”).
Second, this change necessitated a redefinition of faith. For Calvin, faith was rooted in the “understanding,” a response of the heart to the truth of the Gospel (pp. 19–20). But with particular redemption it was no longer sufficient to believe that Christ had died for the ungodly. Instead, one must now come to a volitional assurance that Christ had died for him, “apprehending and applying Christ,” making faith an act of the will (pp. 62–63).
Third, for Calvin there was no distinction between faith and assurance. If one believed that Christ died for him, he had the assurance that Christ died for him. But in later Calvinism, assurance became a reflexive action, a secondary act in which one had to “put faith in his faith” (pp. 71–72, 179–83). A person had to scrutinize his or her faith to determine whether it was genuine, with the final step being that the ultimate evidence of true faith was godliness. This leads Kendall to the startling conclusion that the Westminster divines had adopted a definition of faith and a ground of assurance which was in complete agreement with Arminius and very alien to Calvin (pp. 184, 209-13)!
As one might expect, Kendall’s thesis has been strongly contested. Calvin’s belief concerning the extent of the atonement has been the
JOTGES 2:1 (Spring 89) p. 68
subject of vigorous debate long before Kendall’s work appeared. Suffice it to say that neither side will ever be convinced of the other’s interpretation. Yet most have agreed that Kendall is correct in his presentation of Calvin’s understanding of faith, and in his comprehension of Calvin’s view of assurance.
However, what Kendall cannot dispute is that perseverance was for Calvin the indicator that one truly had saving faith. Nevertheless, for Calvin the question was whether one persevered in faith, while in English Calvinism ...
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