Those who have read any of Cornelis Venema’s previous writings on the covenant, justification, or eschatology will already know what to expect, and they will not be disappointed. Venema, who is President and Professor of Doctrinal Studies at the Mid-America Reformed Seminary, lives up to expectations with this title on a thorny subject.
It’s quite correct to remark, as the author does in the introduction, that the number of books on the subject might discourage readers from this one. However, many of them are complex historical studies or rather unreadable, and few of them give the succinct spread of exegesis, biblical theology, and historical theology that this one does. The level is demanding for the average reader, who would best stick to Arthur Pink, but it is well-pitched for pastors, theological students, and others who want a well-balanced and biblically faithful presentation of the subject, and who are not put off by detail.
The book presents a fine introduction which sets the scene, followed by nine chapters covering the subject in the Old and New Testaments, the Pauline epistles, Augustinian and Reformation theology, the Dort debate with Arminianism, Barthian theology, and the neo-Arminianism of the open theology movement. Thus Venema brings us right up to the present, even if one is not all that taken with the dialectical meanders of modern theology.
The conclusion with theological and pastoral reflections is stimulating, revisiting perennial issues such as the fairness of God in choosing some and not others, whether the number of the elect is few, the nature of the gospel offer, human freedom, and the question of election and assurance.
I enjoyed the biblical presentation, particularly the material bearing on election in John’s Gospel, Romans, and Ephesians. Venema is right to resist the recent fad of playing up collective while playing down individual election. The presentation of Arminianism was balanced, and the discussion of Dort useful, but those who think that Moïse Amyraut and the Saumur school provided a third way with their novel approach to the divine decrees will be disappointed.
In the light of the Christian tradition as a whole, Thomas Aquinas hardly gets the place he deserves, while Barthianism gets 40 pages. Personally I thought it would have been better to discuss the thought of Suarez and Molina and ‘middle knowledge’ in the context of the development of prescience from Aquinas to Arminianism rather than with relation to open theism.
The book has the advantage of a handy glossary and bibliographical details are given for each chapter. Scripture and subject indexes are a good concluding feature.