Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 04:1 (Spring 1983)
Article: Book Reviews
Author: Anonymous

Book Reviews

The Great Debate: Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation, by Alan P. F. Sell. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983 (1982). 141 pp. $7.95, paper.

The stated purpose of this book is “to trace the course of the four-hundred-year-long debate” between Calvinism and Arminianism (p. 1). Alan P. F. Sell, lecturer at the West Midlands College of Higher Education, Walsall, believes that in doing so “we shall be brought face to face with the question, ‘What is the heart of the Christian gospel?’“ (p. vii-viii). Hence, the evangelical community, aside from those who eschew exegetical and theological precision, should welcome this attempt to clarify what has for so long divided the Christian family.

Sell’s treatment of this debate is noticeably (and regrettably) brief. The body of the text is only 98 pages, although there is a helpful glossary and 31 pages of heavily documented end-notes. The author acknowledges that, with certain exceptions, his work “has been limited geographically to Britain” (p. 96). Viewed chronologically, the book says little of contemporary developments, for Sell contends that “the main debate ended inconclusively with a whimper during the later years of the nineteenth century” (p. vii).

The opening chapter treats primarily of Calvin and Arminius. Sell is concerned with the misrepresentations, both historical and theological, to which Calvin and Arminius have together been subjected. For example, the “Calvinism against which Arminius (1560–1609) protested was the high supralapsarianism of Calvin’s disciple Theodore Beza ( 1519–1605)” (p. 1). And again, “the cluster of doctrines often branded ‘Arminian’ owe as much to his followers as they do to Arminius himself” (p.l). He defends Calvin against charges of theological aridity and logical rigour (by which he means that when “confronted by irresolvable antinomies, Calvin never declines an O altitudo!” [p. 3]), and denies any legitimate basis for labelling Arminius a Pelagian. Arminius, he insists, “has never actually taught the final falling away of the true believer, and … does uphold the believer’s right to assurance” (p. 12). He never denied the possibility of perfection in this life and, “unlike some who subsequently took his name, Arminius was not an unconditional universalist” (p. 13). Calvin, on the other hand, argued vehemently for the bondage of the will (“the crux of the Calvinist-Arminian dispute,” Sell correctly notes [p. 16]), and, whereas he inclined towards supralapsarianism, “treats the decree of reprobation with wholesome reserve” (p. 19). Sell’s discussion of this latter

point could have been markedly improved by noting th...

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