The Other Side of Calvinism, written by Laurence M. Vance is a monumental work written on the subject of Calvinism. One of the first points made is that Calvinism has “masqueraded as sound doctrine for much too long.” (Vance ix) Vance as a purpose does not designate the last statement; however, it seems, that in this book Vance determines to undermine the history, theology, philosophy, and men who are responsible for current day Calvinism. Many direct quotations and excerpts from historical church documents pervade the book. The book is well cited; Vance is well read, and has included in his book many pages of bibliography. He has no stone left unturned and provides readers with a strong argument against the false teachings of Calvinism
In the preface, Vance identifies a few of his purposes in writing the book. Although there is a great deal of writing on this subject, most authors primarily argue from a reformed or Calvinistic view. Calvinism is becoming increasingly popular. Vance argues that Calvinism is dangerous and can distort one’s view on other practical and doctrinal issues. He claims that, “Calvinism is…the greatest “Christian heresy” that has ever plagued the church.” The teachings of Calvinism are heretical, but the “greatest Christian heresy” may be a slight exaggeration. (Vance x)
Vance informs his readers that the book will not be written from a neutral position. He justifies this approach by reminding readers that the “other side”, writes in the same manner. This approach is fine; after all, a reader rarely approaches a book from a neutral position. It is understood that his ultimate purpose is, “to show that Calvinism is beyond all doubt not the teaching of the Bible nor of reason…Vance’s attempt is to prevent the spread of Calvinism.” (Vance xi)
Vance begins in the first chapter with an introduction to Calvinism. He takes this opportunity to inform readers how Calvinists perceive themselves, and how they perceive what Calvinism defines in Scripture. His conclusion to this matter is that Calvinism identifies itself with Biblical Christianity. Some Calvinists even refer to their theology as the Gospel. He provides a brief history of Calvinism. This history includes the names of men who have identified themselves with Calvinistic and Hyper-Calvinistic theology. Readers are made aware that Calvinist leaders have come from Baptist, Presbyterian, and Reformed religious background.
Vance takes some time to explain the origin of Calvinism by referring to church history. This explanation is a very important part of the book because it lays the foundation for Calvinistic thinking. Vance discusses the Catholic Church, and Augustine. Many of the tenets of Calvinistic teaching originated with Augustine. Augustine had a great influence on Calvin. The personal lives and teachings of both Calvin and Jacob Arminius are taught in great detail. It appears that both men thought similarly, this piece of history is commonly unknown. Likewise the teachings of both men have expanded beyond their original intent and teaching.
Vance discusses “TULIP”, the acrostic that is foundational to the theology of the Calvinist; he makes a great effort explaining the origin of this acronym. There are some who will not accept all five points. Vance spends a great deal of time discussing the history and controversy of how these points became so important to Calvinist thinkers. A familiarity with history is helpful for the reader to better understand this complicated information. Vance’s decision to begin the book with detailed historical information is what makes this work significant. Several books have been written on the subject of Calvinism, but few are written from a historical point of view.
Much of the book is dedicated to the explanation and refutation concerning each point of the “TULIP”. Vance does a great job of explaining what each letter represents. He pulls direct quotes from Calvinists through the ages and responds accordingly. Each point he refutes with credible and frequent Scripture passages.
Whether or not Vance fulfills his purpose, one will never know. The inclination is that few Calvinists will read this book. One could never really know if the book will successfully change people’s minds on the subject. The book is filled with detailed information, including quotes, confessions, and Scripture. While all of this is great information the book may have been better if some of the information was excluded. Perhaps a series, or a two-volume work would have been better. The closer I became to finishing, the harder it became to read and concentrate on the subject. Vance is well read and used plenty of sources. Yet, it was his massive bibliography that became frustrating. Footnotes would have been better; it was a real task to look up each quote, there are so many. Ironically, what is most impressive about the book became a frustration while trying to intently read.
Vance, M. Laurence. The Other Side Of Calvinism. Pensacola: Vance Publications, 2007.