The Doctrines of Grace
Shane Lems, The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014. 143 pp. $9.99/₤6.99
In recent years the so-called Five Points of Calvinism have received increased attention and adherence. The Five Points seem to have a growing number of defenders, or at least inquisitors. Less admirably, hosts of "Old Calvinists" at least still assume the points to be true. Sadly, the points are less frequently presented as living and meaningful doctrines which can strengthen slack theological muscles and invigorate generic Christian thought. If these doctrines are often neglected in the church at large, they are rarely utilized for teaching the next generation of believers. If given the task of trying to hold the attention of a Sunday school class or youth group meeting, few people would be enterprising enough to turn to the Five Points.
But, could it be that we have underestimated the pedagogical usefulness of the Five Points of Calvinism even for young people? To answer that question, I let the thrust of this review be determined by the reception my young family gave to the twelve chapters of The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition, as the book was recently used in family worship. To better understand this experiment, you should know that my three children are eight, seven, and five-well below the target audience of this book. If my kids could benefit from spending a few weeks studying total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints, then surely so could those in and around their high school years.
If I could speak for my kids, the experiment was a ringing success!
Author and pastor Shane Lems set
out to give readers "a basic knowledge of these doctrines and show...where they
are found in the Bible." He also hoped that the book would make readers "see
the wonder and beauty of the truth that God saves sinners by grace alone." In
these simple yet substantive goals, the author has succeeded admirably! Lems
clearly took to heart the advice given by the authors of the canons of the
Synod of Dort (1618-19)-the confessional source of the Five Points-when they
admonished everyone "to conduct themselves piously and religiously in handling
this doctrine, both in the universities and churches, to direct it, as well in
discourse as in writing, to the glory of the Divine name, to holiness of life,
and to the consolation of afflicted souls." The
Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition never approaches the arrogant or
condescending spirit against which the
Methodologically, Lems devotes a chapter to introduction, two chapters apiece to the Five Points, and two chapters to review. This approach allows time to present the doctrines in an age appropriate, and applicatory way. By the time they have finished the book, most students will be able to identify each of the Five Points, express their importance, and fit them into God's great work of redemption. Admittedly, there has been some pushback against the use of the TULIP acronym to summarize the doctrines set forth in the Canons of Dort. But with the author of The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition I would agree that as a mnemonic device, and combined with careful explanation, the acronym is valuable and not likely to be set aside anytime soon.
The author also rightly (and tactfully) explains at the end of the book that "there's a lot more to Reformed theology than TULIP...we also believe that God's covenant of grace includes parents and their children, which is why we baptize children. Reformed Christians believe churches are connected to each other, so we have church meetings called general assemblies or synods...TULIP is only part of what it means to be Reformed" (p.87). But insofar as these doctrines lie at the heart of the reformed conception of salvation, they are vital and need to be communicated to our children. As a means to that end, The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition is a very welcome tool which, with God's blessing, can help our children rejoice in his truly amazing grace.
William Boekestein is the Pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. He has authored three children's books on the Reformed Confessions (Faithfulness Under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres; The Quest for Comfort: The Story of the Heidelberg Catechism; and the Glory of Grace: The Story of the Canons of Dort). His most recent book (co-authored) with Joel Beeke) is, Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation