First some necessary statements :
1) I received the book free in electronic format in return for producing a review. I am not required to write a positive review.
2) I know Jeremy personally : we spring from the same theological stock, I married his baby-sitter. I wanted to say that my wife used to dandle him on her knees, but she tells me this isn't strictly true. But Jeremy did buy a flat from us.
You can hear Jeremy in an Interview with the inimitable Shaun Tabatt here.
So this is a friendly review. However, sometimes they're the worst. OK. Here we go.
I do welcome this book. It addresses some issues that have been troubling me for some time. Issues like :
Tribalism. How do we understand and relate to all the various tribes that now exist? Jeremy names but some. T4G, TGC, ACE, 9Marks, R21, SGM, A29, Resolve, City to City, Porterbrook, etc. etc. I was thinking just a few days before starting this book that it would be good to have an infographic relating these different groups and the personalities at their core. After all, with all these TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) I think I can be forgiven for having my HIS (Head In a Spin).
Since the earliest days of my Christian walk I have been confronted with this tribalism. I began my pastoral training in the early 1980s in a group so narrow that only one church really belongs to it. Maybe that's OK, but the missiles thrown at every other group were not. A plague on all your houses! is neither good Shakespeare nor good grace!
Jeremy talks about groups that unite around a central truth, and groups bounded by common convictions. These things need discussion, and with real humility. Firm, well-defined theological convictions held in common do not sufficiently protect against tribalism and division, or there would not be all these presbyterian denominations all adhering to the Westminster standards, would there?
Is a non-tribal catholicity of spirit possible? I hope so, and I hope I have seen some examples in my brief but blest life.
The Charismatic non-question. I must have blinked and missed something, but all of a sudden the Charismatic issue was no longer an issue. When? Who decided? Was there a proclamation or something? I know that John MacArthur Junior's "Strange Fire" conference ruffled a little feathers, but honestly, how long can we ignore the elephant in the room ? (Oops !)
What does it mean to be Calvinist? Another question that has exercised my poor little grey cell recently has been this whole question of the word "Reformed". Who has the right to define who is and who isn't reformed. I think it was Jeremy himself, as a card-carrying Reformed Baptist who found himself argued out of existence in a brilliant burst of logic by some Presbyterian brothers and collaborators.
The Law and the Gospel. An old calvinist (Presbyterian) colleague and I were chatting on a journey. After a while he said, "I don't know if I could work in a Lutheran team." My reply was that he certainly had a strong old Law-Gospel opposition going on in his thinking. We'll never lay this question to rest, it'll run and run. The discussion continues.
I do have one or two questions to ask Jeremy.
How do you decide who is a New Calvinist and who is just a plain old vanilla flavour calvinist ? Some of the people in your list look pretty ancient to me. Does someone become New Calvinist by embracing the doctrines of grace (the 5 points), or can an old calvinist become New by speaking at a conference, or blogging on one of the mega-blogs or whatever? I know it's a hard question to answer, because by its nature the movement is a bit fuzzy round the edges, but I do think it's a serious question.
Then, and I do say this as a friend, Jeremy, please work on your prose. Work on writing short sentences using short words. Read Fowler. He'll help. Get a nasty editor to help you with your writing. Use one of those tools for hunting down the fog. Look, here's one of your sentences : Where there are no aberrations which genuinely compromise these commendations (and there are many instances in which our assessment can and should be substantially positive) and where there exists significant overlap, or where there are common causes in which we can, without conceding anything weighty, properly cooperate, I believe and hope that with mutual affection and respect we can stand together on matters of first importance and shared interest. No. No, no, no!
Then something a bit more general. Perhaps when raising questions with people it's best to address them, rather than to speak about them in the third person. I sense already some ruffled feathers in the blogosphere about your book. I think you have generally been very fair. But imagine that you're in a room of people and they start discussing Jeremy, and his good and bad points. In the third person. Talking about you, not talking to you. It's actually quite rude! Is it possible for us to address our brothers directly, irenically, in a kindly, brotherly way in our books, such that they may disagree with the points we make, they may want to argue with us or even say we were unfair, but at least they'll know we are talking to them, not about them...
The New Calvinism. What will it become? Please God let us all grow in grace and in knowledge, in love and in holiness, in faithfulness and service, in likeness to Christ!