Recommended Books for Studying Calvinism

Having been asked to recommend a few books on Calvinism I thought it might make a good post at Dr Reluctant.  I myself am about as much a modified Calvinist as I am a modified Dispensationalist.  Although many will not agree with me, I believe that “plain-sense,” old fashioned grammatico-historical hermeneutics requires some readjustment of standard Reformed formulations of Calvinist doctrines.  My reason for this is that the hermeneutics of Reformed Calvinism, when aimed at eschatology, produces supercessionism and covenant theology.  It is a hermeneutics heavy on deduction.  I might characterize it as “deduction before induction,” whereas I believe it ought to be the other way round.

In light of this I wrote a set of posts a while back which engaged standard Calvinist formulations: Dispensationalism and TULIP.  (The link is to the last in the series, from where the others can be accessed).  The posts do not present a positive case, and I understand that these posts are not popular with many Calvinists.  But I long ago gave up trying to please others by towing the line, and I prefer to explore theology “freed” from what can become a party line.  If it doesn’t sound pompous I want to do theology from the Bible while feeling quite free to disagree with formulations that appear to me to rest too much upon inference instead of exegesis.  I am okay with having “frayed edges” to my theology.  I don’t think I am capable of boxing everything up in a tidy way.  Some things in the Bible just stick out!

Anyway, in studying Calvinism it is essential to read well and carefully.  There are too many doctrinaire works out there that bloviate much and explain little.  In no particular order, here are some of the best resources I know:

Major Works of Calvinistic Theology

John M. Frame – The Doctrine of God

In this outstanding work Frame supplies the mature student with a thorough text on the most important subject in theology.  Within its pages he develops a “theology of Lordship” based upon “Lordship attributes” of immanence and transcendence from which he expounds his views on God’s control of His world.  I personally do not think that he escapes the gravitational pull of nominalism with his discussion of accountability and responsibility, but I think he does make a pretty fool-proof case for the necessity of Divine predetermination, and he grounds everything in a well worked-out worldview and ethics.  Even where I differ, this is the best book on its subject.

John S. Feinberg – No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God

Feinberg’s book is even more massive than Frame’s.  He takes a decidedly more philosophical approach and interacts much more with modern thinkers than does Frame.  I don’t like what he does with Divine simplicity, but his discussion of compatibilism is nuanced and compelling.  More than a simple book about God, No One Like Him is one of the best things produced by an evangelical ever, although few will agree with him on everything (Frame is better on worldview).  I used to use this as my required text for teaching Philosophy of Religion.

Robert L. Reymond – A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

When I get round to revamping my article reviewing Systematic Theologies I will again extol the overall merits of this book.  It has some quirks, but it is superior to Grudem.  Reymond reminds me so much of John Murray, which is a good thing.  Reymond is as dogmatic as they come; a bit of a blunt instrument.  But his earnestness is so refreshing.  He tries to ground his Calvinism in exegesis, and his explanations of “the doctrines of grace,” even within a revised supralapsarianism, contain some of the most straightforward expressions of classical Calvinism.

John Calvin – Institutes of the Christian Religion

You should read Calvin.  Even when he gets into murky waters with children going to hell in Book 3 he has by then said enough about God’s “powers” (i.e. attributes) to warrant serious reflection.  Calvin does not articulate a belief in definite atonement (still less in his commentaries), but his logical arguments for God’s absolute sovereignty must be read (N.b. his translator, Ford Lewis Battles wrote a classic essay, “Calculus Fidei” if I recall, in which he explained the inevitability of ending up where Calvin was if you followed his thought).  Btw, I do not recommend the book Calvin’s Calvinism, which displays the Reformer’s ruder and more pugnacious side.

As for shorter studies, I think these best explain Calvinism:

Michael Horton – For Calvinism

Horton is one of the most well versed Reformed theologians around, particularly in interacting with modern theological movements.  He is able to write books at a scholarly level and for popular readers.  This book is for the latter, and even though I demur here and there, I think it succeeds in its stated aim.

Lorraine Boettner – The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination

A standard work in which the “five points” made one of their first appearances.  The best delineation of TULIP.  Clear discussion of double predestination.

James White – The Potter’s Freedom

I actually don’t think this book is that good, but since it interacts with Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, it is worth perusing.  White indulges in what I think are some cheap shots against Geisler (no exegesis, circular reasoning, etc) while not really addressing the charge of voluntarism (i.e. nominalism) which Geisler presses (btw, I am not a huge fan of Geisler).  Still, when he does express the Calvinist position White states his positions well.  He presents the way many contemporary Calvinists think, and for that it is valuable.

Greg Forster – The Joy of Calvinism

I reviewed this book and mentioned that what I liked about it was its forthrightness.  I also appreciated the way the author emphasized definite atonement as a linchpin of TULIP.

J. Gresham Machen – The Christian View of Man

This is the first book I read on Calvinism.  I recall studying on a long train journey back in 1986.  Machen walks the reader through the central pillars of the Reformed doctrine of salvation, including predestination and the imputation of Adam’s sin.

David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, et al – The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented

The big contribution of this book is the way the authors provide succinct definitions of “the doctrines of grace” with texts supporting each step in the logical argument.  That makes it very valuable.  It took me a long time to trace each step out, but it showed that built into some of their definitions is a tendency to affirm the consequent.

Three more books which should be read are:

Dan Phillips – The World-Tilting Gospel

This is a book about the Gospel and its “transformative implications.”  But what the author manages to do while pursuing his goal is to fit the five points within a worldview narrative.  I found that to be an ingenious and unique approach.

Kenneth J. Stewart – Ten Myths About Calvinism.

In this well written book Stewart shows that there is more breadth to Calvinism than is often portrayed.

David J. Engelsma – Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel

This book is by a theologian who many would say is a hyper-Calvinist.  But the value of reading this well articulated book is to follow his logic.  Engelsma argues cogently that if TULIP is true it follows that God hates the non-elect (a common teaching found in e.g. John Owen), and that therefore you cannot offer the Gospel to the lost because the odds are God doesn’t mean well for them if they are non-elect.

These are not the only solid books on Calvinism, but they are the ones that I would choose.  If you have another list I would like to see it.  I should say that there are reasons I did not include men like A. W. Pink or John Owen in the list.  I revere both men, but I don’t like their arguments for Calvinism.



27 thoughts on “Recommended Books for Studying Calvinism”

  1. I believe I own all of Frame’s and Reymond’s books. While I do not agree with everything that either has written they are both Excellent. Grudem Has never been one of my favorites.

  2. For a short work I would like to suggest Jim Scott Orrick’s Mere Calvinism. This was released recently.

  3. This is awesome, thank you.

    I am surprised you did not include men like Piper and Sproul here – I am very unfamiliar with calvinistic works, but I thought these 2 are some leading figures for calvinism.

    Also, what do you think of Roger Olson, Against Calvinism ? I understand it is kind of a response to Horton’s for Calvinism (or the other way around ?). Though, from the reviews I’ve read, Olson’s work doesn’t seem to be that great.
    Anyway, thank you for all this, I keep bugging you with all sort of questions, but your blog is a treasure trove.

    1. Emanuel,

      I didn’t include Piper and Sproul because I don’t think a whole lot of their defenses and explanations of Calvinism. Piper’s ‘The Justification of God’ contains some good exegesis but it is hampered by its inattention to Paul’s subject, which is national Israel, not the individual sinner. I can’t stand his Christian Hedonism approach, not only because I think it is man-centered, but because it does not represent Puritan Calvinism and its successors (and many solid old-school Calvinists would agree). I have read many of Sproul’s books (e.g. ‘Chosen By God’; What is Reformed Theology?’) and I just don’t think he presents a good case. He often relies on just a few texts, which he then extrapolates on. His discussion of the raising of Lazarus to support Total Inability (in the latter book) being a case in point. Sproul just asserts things without solid proof.

      I haven’t read Olson’s book, but I have read his ‘Arminian Theology’ which is excellent.

  4. Hey Paul, how about the best books to refute Calvinism, starting with Dave Hunt and the other side of Calvinism by Laurence M. Vance. What else would be good.

  5. I’m also very interested in what the other side is saying – defending arminianism/ countering calvinism – I don’t know much besides Dave Hunt and Geisler’s Chosen but free

      1. Paul, most don’t care about the Armenian side. We care about the bible believers who are solid and do not believe in Calvinism. Thanks, Mark Amen.

  6. I think here lies an irony – I believe the majority of orthodox evangelicals are arminians – in the sense that we believe that every man has a chance at salvation (as opposed to only the chosen ones) and we believe in free will – sometimes I think we could even be regarded as extreme arminians = semipelagians.
    The problem is that we don’t like to identify with this term “arminian” because, for some reason arminianism seems to be closer to liberal theology – it is embraced by many mainline/liberal churches, and many if not most arminian theologians are moderate to liberals – ex. W. Davies, C K Barrett, Hauerwas, Olson, Nolland, Joel Green, Witherington, H Marshall, etc. This makes us reluctant to call ourselves arminians, so we sit in kind of a limbo.

    The arminians that I’m the closest theologically are G. Osborne, J. Cottrell and N. Geisler. But for the rest, I’m way more comfortable with someone like McArthur or Piper than Witherington or Barrett.

  7. A good book against calvinism is John Lennox “Determined to believe”. He makes a good case against determinism, and I like how he explains difficult verses. He also interacts with many scholars.
    I also got Horton’s For calvinism. I’m curious if he can give a good answer to the problems I have with calvinism.

  8. Dr. Henebury,

    Thank you for your book recommendations as always. I have a new roomate who just finished at internship at Capitol Hill Baptist with Mark Dever. He has read extensively on the doctrine of God. (albeit a fraction of you I’m sure)

    He does not like Frame, saying he takes biblicism too far / imporperly. He doesn’t know Feinberg. (my guess having stayed in the popular reformed bubble) He told me to read volume 1 of Bavinck and Calvin as first priorities. He also has read Vos, Turrentin, Grudem, Berkhof, and Van Til

    Being theology’s most important subject, it seems like there is a recent unfavor, maybe even aversion/estrangment of Frame in the popular circles? (especially in favor of Bavinck) Why do you think that is? Do you still think Frame and Feinberg are the first priorities in reading doctrine of God?

    Thank you

  9. My apologies. Volume 1 is prolegomena and Volume 2 is God and creation in the Bavinck set

    He clarified that he cannot get with Frame because of his Theistic mutualism

  10. I just want to groan! Really, I have always said that one of Reformed Theology’s big problems is its deductive method. I don’t know where to start. I ran across this attitude all the time in London and Reformed Baptist churches in England. They are very narrow and doctrinaire. Here’s my advice (for what it’s worth):

    1. Do NOT just read Reformed works!
    2. Do certainly read Reformed theologians, but not many of the new ones. Read Calvin, especially the first two books. Then come up to the 19th century and read Hodge, Warfield, Shedd, and Bavinck. There are other worthies but those are the ones I think stand out. Then read John Murray and Robert Reymond. You can give Grudem a pass.
    3. John Frame is perhaps the best Reformed writer of the last 30 or so years. So called “Theistic Mutualism” (when will these guys stop heresy hunting?) is BIBLICAL. Just read Genesis 18 -19 or the Psalms or the Gospels! Certainly, God is simple and unchanging and even impassible. But these must be defined from Scripture, not from scholastic theology or Augustine. Talking about Augustine, you ought to read Kenneth Wilson’s ‘The Foundation of Augustinian-Calvinism.’ It is true that God does not have relationships with His creatures that are equal. He is always Lord. But to say there is no mutual relationship between God and His saints (Sons!) is ridiculous (John 17). I have spent years studying God’s covenants. They involve God in relationships!
    4. To start a person off with Volume 2 of Bavinck is dumb. Bavinck is quite advanced. You will not appreciate him unless you have some Calvin and Warfield or Murray or Frame(!) under your belt. Robert Letham’s Systematics looks good as far as I have read it. I have stopped reading ST while writing on Biblical Theology.
    5. As well as a few of the Reformed guys I named you ought to read Erickson (whose Christian Theology is the best in my opinion), Ryrie (whose Basic Theology is very balanced), and Griffith-Thomas (whose Principles of Theology has strong historic underpinnings).

    I need to update my list of ST’s some time soon.

    1. Hi Paul, only came about your comment now. Griffith-Thomas is “the” authority on the Thirty Nine Articles for those of you who are evangelical Anglicans. He was also a dispensationalist – rare for an Anglican and non-existent in the 21st Century!

      Also, I wonder why you would place Erickson, Ryrie, and Griffith-Thomas in a separate mentioning from Reformed theologians? As far as I know they are sort of Calvinistic although some concede Ryrie was a Calvinist there are some like James White who scoffs at the suggestion? (I feel at home with Ryrie and Griffith-Thomas, but very doubtful with Reymond or Bavinck or Frame etc theology wise) Thanks.

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