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An outstanding book on Calvin's soteriologyAug. 12 2005
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If there is a book that must be read (aside from Calvin's Commentaries and Institutes) in order to understand the soteriology of the great Genevan Reformer this book is it. Shepherd does an outstanding job presenting Calvin's understanding of faith to various theological issues in a systematic and engaging way. In fact, Shepherd's work is not only expositorily faithful to what Calvin wrote but philosophically impeccable (Shepherd is a philosophy of sorts too) in regards to how it engages Calvin's soteriology and its criticisms of it (as will be demonstrated below).
Shepherd discusses key issues related to Calvin's understanding of faith in each succeeding chapter: the Word, justification, sanctification, predestination, the various kinds of faith, the law, the church, and the sacraments. Though some chapters are longer than others Shepherd still manages to adequately deal with all these issues. One of the jewels of this book is Shepherd's discussion of Calvin's view of predestination (in fact, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book). Shepherd is not afraid to engage and even confront Calvin on this very contentious doctrine. To understand Shepherd's skill in pulling apart doctrines and reconstructing them one must read this chapter. Shepherd does a very good job arguing (I am a Calvinist, btw) that Calvin's doctrine of God's hidden "double decree" leaves no firm assurance for believers. Why? Even though Calvin insists that believers must look to Christ alone for assurance the implications of election will lead believers to ultimately look for assurance in themselves (i.e., if they possess "fruits" of election). This is where Calvin, according to Shepherd, gets himself in trouble. Shepherd also criticizes Calvin's handling of the reletionship between salvation and "unformed" faith. Shepherd, again, skillfully argues that Calvin's understanding of "unformed" faith leads to problems since it makes one believe that there are two kinds of faith - a faith that looks to Christ and saves and a faith that is not centered on Christ yet still saves (Shepherd sees Calvin here plunging into many difficulties and contradictions). Shepherd also criticizes the way Calvin handles the issue of Simon Magus. He argues that Calvin's understanding of "false faith" that looks and feels real warps "parts of the New Testament witness" (p. 127). Another good discussion is Calvin's understanding of infant baptism. Shepherd is correct to assert that Calvin's understanding of infant baptism (and infant baptism in general) breaks down the relations between the Word of promise, faith, and sacraments as seals of that faith (p. 218).
Though there are many parts in the book that challenges Calvin's understanding of certain doctrines exegetically and philosophically, Shepherd still does a good job of being fair to Calvin. In fact, his discussion of Calvin's view of the law is sure to provide ample information for students on the subject. This book is not only a good resource for those who are studying the theology of the great Genevan Reformer but is also one of those rare books that seriously challenges the theological points of Calvinism. In all honesty, my loyalty to the Calvinistic system was seriously challenged as I read this book. Not only is the scholarship at a high level in this book but it is also easy to read and understand. This is a good book to own if you're a passionate student of Calvin and his theology.