I am an accidental Arminian. By that I mean I have not ‘signed up’ to Arminius’ theology but as I discover it I find a fellow traveller. For some time I have been convinced that the main thrust of the Biblical doctrine of Election was not a ‘non conditional personal’ topic but rather one of the ‘conditional corporate election of those in Christ’. This is pretty much exactly Robert Shank’s thesis in this excellent book. It is a long time since I read a book that I wanted to underline so frequently. Happily with the kindle version I can do that readily.
The book is a follow up to an earlier book, not yet available in Kindle, entitled “Life in the Son”. In these two books Shank thoroughly examines Calvinism’s P and U of the infamous TULIP blueprint. “Life in the Son” examined the “Perseverance of the Saints” and “Elect in the Son” covers the “Unconditional Election” theme and, at the same time all the other letters of the TULIP. In fact Shank quotes from “Life in the Son” and so this “Elect in the Son” is fully self-standing as an examination of TULIP. Thus we have a comprehensive examination by an Arminian of the distinctive features of Calvinism. And, in my view, I doubt that it could be more comprehensive. The book was originally written in the 70s so the names of contemporary big hitters on the Calvinism team are missing but in as much as the likes of Packer, Piper, Carson and Driscoll are following well-trodden paths Shank’s arguments stand up well in this book.
Shank divides his topic into
- Thy Kingdom Come
- Elect in the Son
- A Ransom for All
- The Election of Grace
- The Called according to His Purpose
and has two very valuable Appendices in
- The Question of the Order of the Decrees
- An Examination of the Rationale of Calvinism
The second of these appendices covers Calvin’s own stated rationale in the introduction to the various editions of Institutes of the Christian Religion. This, on its own, would provide a cautionary introduction to Calvin’s writings and the position of his followers.
Shank is respectful to Calvin, honouring his contribution and labours in many fields, particularly Calvin’s Biblical commentaries. He ‘plays the ball and not the man’ as the English say. He does not detour into medieval politics or the thorny Serverus issues but concentrates simply on the theology of the matter. And this is a theological book. To get most benefit you will need some theological reading background and at least ‘access’ to some New Testament Greek. It is also a book written by a man of an older generation and some of his sentences are as long as Paul’s! So be prepared to read them slowly, and thoughtfully. So this is a study tool and you will need your Bible to hand to check out some his references.
Having said that, if you are willing to invest the time and thought required into the book you will be richly rewarded. His method is logical and precise. Some call that pedantry but it is what is sorely needed in this kind of topic. The warmth of his love for God and His purposes permeate the book so this is not dry theology, but it is theology. I thoroughly recommend this study and give it 5 stars.