By Andrew Faris
True confession: despite having been a Calvinist since 2002, it was not until these last few months that I actually read a whole book on the subject. Some theology nerd friends started telling me about Calvinism when I was a freshman at Biola. They showed me the passages, I was convinced, and no other interpretation has swayed me yet.
So when I graduated from Talbot a few weeks ago and my uncle gave me a copy of Sam Storms' Chosen for Life as a graduation gift, I thought it was time to make my way through a Calvinism book for two reasons: (1) there may be aspects of the system left out in my reading of systematics, commentaries, and my conversations with friends and professors; and (2) I was hoping that if Storms' book was good, I would be able to confidently recommend a book on the subject when asked.
Given these goals, I was not disappointed. Chosen for Life excels as an introduction to Calvinism (or at least to divine election, which is the heart of Calvinism). If you are an experienced, widely-read Arminian, Storms' exegesis is unlikely to convince you. But if you are new to the subject, you will receive an introduction to both systems that even Arminians are likely to think fair, while confronting the arguments that have convinced Calvinists.
The book begins with the hypothetical brothers Jerry and Ed. Both have been to church plenty, but neither is a Christian. Sitting in church like they often do one Sunday, Jerry is listening to just another sermon, but this time his heart is awakened to the truth of the gospel. Why has Jerry suddenly repented and given his life to Jesus when he never had before? Storms repeatedly returns to this hypothetical and explains how each system interprets it as he unpacks them both.
Of course, Storms argues for a Calvinist understanding of the conversion, and he does it in the standard ways. Both camps believe in election- Arminians believe in conditional election according to foreknowledge, while Calvinists believe in unconditional election. Bost believe in total depravity- Arminians believe God overcomes this with prevenient grace, while Calvinists believe in irresistible, electing grace and regeneration prior to conversion. And so on.
The book has two chapters on unconditional election in the Gospels and Epistles and three more dedicated specifically to Romans 9. Clearly Storms hedges his bet that Romans 9 will be (as it was for me in 2002!) the most convincing passage for his case. Finally, Storms closes with a defense of a defense of Calvinism (yes, you read that correctly), and both here and in his introduction suggests that the debate, provided that it is humble and loving, is worthwhile because our apprehension of the glory of God is at stake (cf. Eph. 1). There are also three appendices, the most important of which is his discussion of "problem passages" for Calvinists.
As Carson's endorsement suggests, fairness is indeed one of the key features of this book. Storms' explanation gave me a greater clarity on the Arminian understanding of prevenient grace (just before he of course argues that it is entirely unbiblical!). I suspect that any Arminian who read the book would appreciate the irenic tone and clear presentation of Arminianism.
That said, the Arminian may be frustrated where I myself was: Storms repeatedly insists on the all too common but misguided Calvinist argument that the Arminian understanding of salvation violates a true "grace alone" view of salvation. While I do agree that Calvinism understands the grace of God in salvation more biblicallly than does Arminianism, I am unswayed by the idea that a free choice to receive Christ constitutes anything close to what the Bible calls a "work." I have given my argument for this elsewhere on this blog, so I won't rehash it here. This is one of the most glaring drawbacks of this book, especially since it works best as an introduction.
If you were raised in an American non-denominational evangelical church like me, you were probably raised an Arminian by default, even if you would never have known what that word meant (I certainly wouldn't have). When my friends started commending this crazy "Calvinism" to me, I reacted negatively until they kept taking me to the Bible. Storms does that in this book. If you are new to this subject and want a clear, fair but decidedly Calvinist introduction to the doctrine of divine election (or if you know someone else who fits that description) go get Sam Storms' Chosen for Life.