Last weekend found us once again at the Borders bookstore in Rapid City. As I approached the “Church and Theology” section one book caught my eye. I had noticed it before in previous visits but hadn’t been compelled to pick it up until now. I read through various chapters during the 45 minutes or so that we were there and then decided to buy it and give it a complete read that evening and Sunday afternoon.
Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport is a book written by Richard J. Mouw. Mouw is the the president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He is also a professor of Christian philosophy, according to the dust jacket of this particular book.
Being a Calvinist I was intrigued by the title but unsure of what I’d find within the pages. Mouw claims to be a Calvinist as well, having taught at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI for seventeen years before moving on to Fuller Seminary.
The book does, I think, have some strengths worth considering, of which I’ll list three:
- What drew me in to the book initially was Mouw’s claims to fully embrace the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and the particulars of Calvinist thought known as TULIP, combined with a warm acceptance or tolerance of others who differ in their perspectives and beliefs. This reminds me of Calvinism class with Dr. Bierma at Reformed Bible College (now Kuyper College) when he pointed out that there were approximately 25,000 denominations in the world at that time. That fact left me with the understanding that I’ll never have everything right in my beliefs – especially the peripherals – but I can still be sure of the core beliefs of historic Christianity.
- Mouw also encourages Christians to be willing to listen to non-Christians and what their beliefs, struggles, fears, etc. happen to be. Ask questions, and then be willing to listen honestly to what is said. I personally spent a few months talking to several Mormon missionaries last year, and we wouldn’t have gotten as far as we did if I hadn’t listened first and worked to understand where they were coming from. After listening to their beliefs, they were far more willing to hear what I had to show them from Scripture regarding my understanding of Jesus Christ and the gospel.
- Chapter seven of the book is about Abraham Kuyper and how Kuyper’s understanding of Calvinism and the sovereignty of God profoundly affected how he lived his life. The account of how Kuyper was “rescued” from the grip of liberal theology during his first pastorate by common people who truly lived out their faith in a good, sovereign, personal God was truly inspiring.
However, (did you know this was coming?), there is at least one significant problem with the book. In chapter eight, “The Generosity Option,” right on the heels of a wonderful chapter about Kuyperian Calvinism, Mouw drops the ball. Or bomb, as the case may be.
Early in the chapter he voices his concerns about the number of people who will actually be saved to eternal life, and then he explains again that he is not a Universalist. (“Uh oh, where’s he going with this,” I wondered as I read.) A few pages later he introduces a Jewish rabbi friend who is a “very devout Jew.” He then writes,
I have a spiritual hunch about how things are going to end up for this rabbi. I would not be surprised if, when the final encounter comes with his Maker and he sees the face of Jesus, he will bow in worship, acknowledging that Jesus is the One whom he should have named all along as the Promised One of Israel – and that the Savior will welcome him into the eternal kingdom.
It seems to me that the New Testament is clear and repetitive about Jesus being the only way to the Father and his kingdom, and that the decision to bow in worship before Jesus must come before we die. After they die, everyone will bow when they finally see Jesus Christ for who he truly is, but for many it will be in fear before a King they do not, and will not ever, love or worship. And the Savior will not welcome them into the eternal kingdom. This is why evangelism and the true gospel are so vitally important now.
Mouw goes on to write about a woman who was abused by a father who claimed to be a Christian. This woman admitted to a problem with alcoholism a few years ago and joined Alcoholics Anonymous where she has surrendered her will to a “Higher Power.” Although she denies that Jesus is that Higher Power and denies that she is a Christian, Mouw thinks it’s possible that “she has, at some level of her being, reached out to accept God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ – even though she is at present psychologically incapable of articulating her experience in those terms.”
So, despite mentioning and quoting theologians and pastors such as Abraham Kuyper, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, A. A. Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, and John Calvin, and quoting from the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt, Mouw steps away rather dramatically from the Christian faith those men proclaimed and those documents preserved, and the truth that Jesus himself declared when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Do I recommend the book? Carefully. If you choose to read it, do so with your theological ears on full alert. Mouw does have some insights worth considering, but he also teaches a possible universalism that is contrary to Scripture. And so this copy of the book is going back to the “Church and Theology” section of our local Borders.