September 3rd, 2010
Calvin, John. Edited by Paul Helm. The Secret Providence of God. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2010. 128 pp. $15.99.
We all know who John Calvin (1509-1564) is. The great Reformer and, now mostly maligned, namesake to a particular set of doctrinal beliefs called Calvinism. Paul Helm is teaching fellow at Regent College and a professor at Highland Theological College in Scotland. He has written numerous books on theology in general and Calvin in particular.
The Secret Providence of God looks at an argument (actually an exchange of writings) between Calvin and Sebastian Castellio (1515-1563). Though he never claims authorship of the ‘attacks’, it is clear by the context of what Calvin writes, that it is Castellio.
The book begins with an editor’s introduction that is necessary for setting the context of the exchange between the two theologians. The editor believes that by reading these exchanges, we have a decent understanding of how John Calvin would have responded to one Jacobus Arminius.
After reading the introduction, we begin down the trail of the discussion with Castellio drawing first blood. He does so by listing fourteen articles that he feels Calvin must address. Castellio writes anonymously, thus the comment above regarding Calvin’s assumption of who was the antagonist. Upon Castellio’s charges being presented, Calvin then deftly answers point by point what he understands the Bible to say. He does so in a most convincing manner.
Much like the debates taking place in Christendom today, (see Piper and Wright on the doctrine of justification) we are able to peer back in time to see how the debates of yesteryear at a most pivotal time in the history of the church played out. Helm shows Calvin to be a man of deep conviction as regards the doctrine of God’s providence in and through history.
While I would have loved to see a point-counterpoint presentation, I highly doubt one would have existed given the magnitude of the argument in which Calvin presented. In essence, I could see Job (Castellio) wanting to ask God all these questions and God simply saying Where were you…? Who are you…?
The Secret Providence of God is not easy reading. I would not pick this up if you have a question regarding the providence of God. Calvin’s arguments will fly over the head of most in the church today because, truth be told, most of us in the church today are not nearly as concerned with these issues as we would like to think. We would rather keep everything simple and argue from ignorance of facts more often than not. Once you become familiar with the historical truths of the debate that has raged for ages, then you should read this book.
If; however, you have been wrestling with the doctrine of God’s providence for some time, this book may be the perfect balm to heal a hurting mind. Calvin’s arguments are precise and biblical…something not often seen in today’s theological discussions or debates.