The Dark Side of Calvinism. George Bryson. Santa Ana , CA : Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004. 398 pp. Paperback. $14.95.
The Dark Side of Calvinism by George Bryson is another light in the spectrum of books dispelling the gloom of Calvinism. Up until a few years ago, there were very few books challenging the labyrinth of Calvinistic logic, but recently, several books have been written, each with their own strengths. Laurence Vance’s The Other Side of Calvinism is an excellent source for seeing in their own words what Calvinists teach and believe. C. Gordon Olson’s Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive, Mediate Theology of Salvation contains some of the strongest exegetical arguments against Calvinism that exist. Dave Hunt added his weight with the striking book What Love Is This?
Bryson’s book is a mixture of these others. Like Vance, he has numerous quotes from Calvinistic authors. Like Olson, he includes exegetical arguments. Like Hunt, he employs logic to show the illogic of Calvinism. Bryson’s real strength, however, is in the tone of the book. His book is full of grace. Of all the books written against the so-called “Doctrines of Grace” his is the most gracious. This is an amazing feat considering that his primary purpose was to show the Scriptural abuses, logical sinkholes, and foreboding theological implications inherent in the Calvinistic system.
One way he was able to accomplish his gracious tone was through numerous and memorable illustrations which cleverly shed light on the illogic of the Calvinistic logic (e.g. pp. 80, 83, 89, 97, 353). Of course, I don’t think Calvinists are amused, no matter how gracious Bryson is, for he says “it is the ‘distinctives’ of the Reformed faith that are of concern to me and are the focus of this book” (p. 16). He wants to make sure his readers understand that only Calvinism is under attack—not Calvinists. While he considers Calvinists to be believers (p. 17), he says that Calvinism is a false Gospel (pp. 19, 23, 147). How can this be? Most Calvinists, he says, only became Calvinists after they had believed in Jesus for eternal life (pp. 38-39). They have become victims of their own theology (pp. 16-17).
The Calvinistic crimes Bryson is most concerned with revolve around three central distinctives: the doctrine of reprobation (chaps 2-3; p. 31), the idea that God causes sin (p. 17, 68-69), and the Calvinist’s lack of assurance (pp. 245, 268, 270-71, 284, 286). Though most Calvinists deny all three of these teachings, Bryson shows that consistent Calvinists must either believe these things, or reject their entire system. The logic of Calvinism—the good, the bad and the ugly – stands or falls together (pp. 49-53, 275).
Since this is the nature of Calvinism (p. 51), Bryson does not feel compelled to deal with the five points of Calvinism as traditionally presented, namely, TULIP. Nor does he begin with what is considered the “weakest link”: Limited Atonement. Instead, Bryson takes the bull by the horns and begins at the central and strongest point—Unconditional Election (chaps 2-3). From there he goes on to deal with Limited Atonement (chaps 4-5), Irresistible Grace (chaps 6-7), Total Depravity (chaps 8-9), and Perseverance of the Saints (chaps 10-11). Each of the five points is dealt with in two chapters. The first explains the point using numerous Calvinistic quotes. If you want to know what Calvinists teach, you don’t have to trust Bryson to tell you; he lets them tell you in their own words. The second chapter of each point is devoted to the Scriptural and logical refutation of the point just explained. Bryson closes out the book with what is often called the “Sixth Point of Calvinism”—the Sovereignty of God (chap 12) and a summary chapter (chap 13).
While the layout of the book is well formatted and easy to follow, I sometimes found myself confused by the outline of the individual chapters and the transition between sections. This was especially true when Bryson was explaining some of the texts of Scripture. I was never quite sure which passage he was attempting to exegete, since his primary tool of exegesis seemed to be comparing Scripture with Scripture. For example, when he begins to explain John 3:1-8 (p. 239), he does so by going to John 1:12-13 and Ephesians 2:1-10 in rapid succession (p. 243). After another return to John 1:12-13 (p. 245) he concludes his explanation of John 3:1-8 (p. 246) without explaining much of the text at all. While I agree with his conclusion, I found it difficult to follow his page-turning approach. It would have been clearer to deal with each passage individually, and then draw conclusions based on primary exegesis.
Of utmost concern to JOTGES readers is his discussion of matters like faith and works, the Gospel, assurance, and perseverance. I am happy to say that Bryson fits very nicely in the Free Grace camp. I found many references where the Gospel was presented as faith alone in Christ alone (pp. 30, 121, 130, 154, 171, 176, 177, 189, 190, 191, 192, 196, 199, 202-203, 205, 206, 207, 225, 231, 244, 246-49, 348, 349, 350, 352, 356, 366, to name a few). In one place, he very clearly states that “While it must be emphasized that we bring nothing but faith, it must also be emphasized that we must bring faith. …Requiring the lost to bring faith is not to ask the lost to make a contribution to their salvation, but it is a consistent reminder that salvation is all of God and not at all of man” (p. 244, italics his).
However, having said this, I found several instances where the Gospel was stated in ways someJOTGES readers might be uncomfortable with. In two places, he refers to salvation as receiving Christ as Lord and Savior (pp. 39-40), and in three places, he says that the condition of the Gospel is faith and repentance (pp. 174, 336, 362). I thought maybe these references to repentance were just hiccups in the editing process since most of the time Bryson refers to justification by faith alone. But on p. 362, he writes, “I would agree with those Calvinists who believe that when a man believes in Christ, he also necessarily repents. Conversely, I also believe that when a man repents, he also necessarily believes. You cannot do one without the other.” I disagree with this statement, but then, many in the Free Grace camp would shout a hearty “Amen!”
As far as eternal security is concerned, Bryson believes it is Scripturally irrefutable (pp. 190, 201, 284). In the same vein, he takes Calvinists to task for their weak stance on assurance. Because of their doctrine of perseverance of the saints, he forcefully points out that no one who believes in the Calvinist doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints can have assurance of salvation (pp. 245, 268, 270-71, 284, 286). I love his statement on p. 286 which says, “The Calvinist doctrine of salvation provides no more assurance of salvation than Arminianism does, and perhaps less.”
As side issues, I really like the way he laid out his endnotes, numbered not by each chapter, but for the book as a whole (618 of them). On the other hand, I would have liked to see some Scriptural and topical indexes of which there were none.
Just as few people will see the dark side of the moon unless they are shown pictures of it, Bryson has provided a vivid picture of the dark side of Calvinism. Don’t be lured to the dark side of the faith. Keep within the light of Scripture: read Bryson’s book.
Jeremy D. Myers
Grace Evangelical Society