Jonathan Hoglund. Called by Triune Grace: Divine Rhetoric and the Effectual Call. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Called by Triune Grace, by Jonathan Hoglund, is relevant to the Calvinist concept of irresistible grace. For many Calvinists, human beings are so depraved that they are unable to accept the Gospel on their own, so God enables a select number of them to believe in the Gospel and to desire godly things. Many Calvinists regard this process as irresistible: those whom God so transforms are unable to say “no” to God’s transformation of them. Actually, as God transforms their desires, they will not even want to say “no” to it!
Hoglund writes from a Reformed perspective, and he appears to accept the concept of irresistible grace. Still, he has questions. For one, Hoglund does not care for how some conceptions of irresistible grace depict humans as utterly passive, as if they are lifeless blocks of wood upon which God is acting. Second, there is the question of how exactly irresistible grace occurs. Does God infuse into select people the sort of disposition and attributes that would enable them to accept the Gospel? Does God transform them while they are hearing the Gospel? Is God’s transformation like illumination, or raising a spiritually dead corpse from the dead? Is it primarily intellectual, enabling people to understand the Gospel, or does it transform the will, as well? Does God use means, such as life experiences, to prepare people to receive the Gospel?
Then there is the question of how exactly the word of God fits into the equation. There are Scriptures that appear to indicate that the word of God itself is what gives birth to born again believers (I Peter 1:23; James 1:18). Is it, though, according to the Calvinists who believe that regeneration must precede a person’s hearing of the word for that person to accept it? Does the word itself, the Gospel and the Scriptures, play a role in a person’s transformation?
Hoglund surveys Calvinist thought on these questions, including (but definitely not limited to) the thought of John Owen and Jonathan Edwards. Occasionally, Hoglund refers to non-Calvinist thought on divine grace, such as the thought of Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, and Arminians. Schleiermacher technically belongs to the Reformed camp, but he is not known for emphasizing predestination or irresistible grace. His view on how God brings people to Godself, through the historical passing down of Jesus’ God-consciousness through witnesses, is discussed extensively by Hoglund.
Hoglund’s own contribution believes that rhetoric plays a significant role in God’s process of enabling people to believe. Hoglund refers to Scriptures that highlight the importance of persuasive techniques and appeals in God’s word, or the conveying of God’s word. The Father’s authority behind the word, for Hoglund, provides an ethos that can persuade a person to believe, and the Holy Spirit illuminates a person’s understanding, enabling one to see Jesus Christ as he is, as beautiful. Hoglund seems rather uncomfortable likening unbelievers to a passive, lifeless corpse, so he believes that God, in transforming unbelievers into believers, works with human faculties, such as reason and emotion.
There were times when I was reading this book and wondered if Calvinist thinkers were making the problem more difficult than it needed to be. Yes, a person believes the word and becomes saved, and, yes, God needs to transform a person for that to happen. The content of the word itself is righteous and edifying and thus plays some role in spiritual transformation and renewal, and yet one needs a certain disposition to accept it. Why all the disagreement among Calvinists? Hoglund’s book is still valuable, in my opinion. The mechanics of how conversion takes place is not exactly obvious. Hoglund does well to survey Christian thought on this, and also to highlight shortcomings to various proposals. Certain analogies have their shortcomings, which often are not acknowledged by those who make them. Hoglund does well to go deeper.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest!