Study Resources for Doctrine

On this page, we will offer multiple recommendations of books that are useful for the reader in understanding doctrine and theological teachings. Books are grouped according to subject. Exceptions: Books on eschatology are here and books on the divine claims of Jesus and the Trinity are here.

Heaven

Randy Alcorn, Heaven

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This book surprised me in many ways. When it began with a series of seemingly endless anecdotes, I figured it would be just another in a line of popular pap Christian books that I'd prefer to not read.

But after maybe 50 pages of this, Alcorn warmed up and started providing some real meat -- and surprisingly thick meat in some places, at that.

Although in some places a little too midrashic in his use of Scripture, for the most part Alcorn uses a sound combination of exegesis and simple logic to provide a detailed and clear picture of Heaven and the life after. He rightly refutes what he calls "Christoplatonism" -- a view that the material is bad and that heavenly life will be ethereal and dull. He answers numerous common questions in a sound way (including such as, "Will our pets go to heaven?") and provides a text that may be of particular use in comforting the grief-stricken.

Of course, Alcorn does not view the text in quite the terms we would prefer (ie, heaven and hell in terms of the honor-shame dichotomy) but even without that, he comes remarkably close to the same answers that he would have provided with the same view.

I find myself surprised to say of this popular book, "Read it. It's worth it."


John Sanders, Gabriel Fackre, and Ronald Nash, What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

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I have had a few people ask me about the fate of the unevangelized; some are asking only for the sake of seeking some reason to call the God of the Bible unjust, but there are many for whom this is a serious and sensitive issue. What About Those Who Have Never Heard? is not the book I would most recommend of this subject, but it will do for starters. (The book that I would recommend most right now is titled Through No Fault of Their Own, but it is sadly out of print. My own view on the matter is within this article.)

This book features proponents of three views on the fate of the unevangelized. John Sanders, the editor, takes up first for inclusivism, the idea that general revelation can lead to salvation. Gabriel Fackre fights for what he calls divine perseverance, the idea that the unevangelized receive the message of salvation after death and can make a choice then. Finally, Ronald Nash argues for restricitivism, which argues that only through evangelization can salvation be achieved.

I would like to say that some clear winner emerged in the discussion, but I can't. Sanders and especially Fracke fall victim to a number of exegetical errors; the latter sometimes lapses into rambling. Nash is better from the Scriptural standpoint, but left many questions unanswered and I think missed some historical and logical points that might have affected his case. Perhaps his best point is a reminder that God does not owe anyone salvation.

This is an issue that deserves more than just an "issues" book with limited space and I will be looking for something better to offer. Until then, consider this book as an appetizer.


TULIP (Calvinism/Arminianism)

George Bryson, The Five Points of Calvinism

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This is a tiny book that in short order cuts to the chase of Calvinism. It is unusual in that prominent Calvinist author Douglas Wilson “recommends” it as fairly and accurately representing the Reformed view. Bryson first explains, without unneeded emotional embellishments, what each of the five points actually teaches. There is great misunderstanding in this area, even among some avowed Calvinists. He also very ably demonstrates that the five points stand or fall as a unit, and that really, if one is to consistently apply this doctrine, it is impossible to be a “four point Calvinist.”

I found the quotes from Calvinist authors very illuminating when they appeared to be seeking to defend Calvinism from what it may appear to be. Unfortunately, Calvinism actually is what it appears to be. The second half of the book deals with using Biblical texts to refute the propositions of Calvinism, and using Biblical principles regarding the nature of God.

Due to i’s brevity, this book certainly does not address each and every argument of the Calvinist position, and in fact, does not strike a defensive posture at all, but rather taking the offensive and bringing forth verses of its own rather than constantly dealing with Calvinist prooftexts. Bryson brings forth Calvinist principles, and then refers to texts which contradict them.

It is probably the only book on refuting Calvinism that I have seen that does not even address Romans 9. Some may see that as a weakness, but in the context and tone of the book, it really is not.

-"Dee Dee Warren"


Robert Peterson and Michael Williams, Why I Am Not an Arminian

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Jerry Walls and Joseph Dognell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist

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These two deserve to be reviewed together as they are essentially a series of their own. I read the second one first, so I'll comment on that first.

The aspect of this book that haunts me the most is that it reminded me of so much of what I've already written in my series on TULIP (and as well in my essay on Sola Scriptura. Written in an easy conversational style (the authors call themselves Jerry and Joe in the text), Why I Am Not a Calvinist gently and with great panache explores the weaknesses of Calvinism and its proponents.

Their points are familiar -- Calvinists who resort to "you're defaming God's glory" as a bludgeon; those that appeal to "antinomy" when they are really preaching contradictions; an asusmption that sovereignty means microbial control -- it's all here. The expositions given of various positions (including Molinism) will be very helpful to the reader looking into this issue for the first time.

What is lacking is some of the social-science study that would have made Dongell and Walls' case even more solid. Their case on grace for example would have been helped by knowing just how grace "worked" in the Biblical era, and the meaning of faith only confirms their point of view.

The authors suppose that the resurgence of Calvinism is a reaction to the move today that sees God as a "cosmic bellhop" -- in this I agree; it is proper to squash such sentiments, but in the drive to re-assert God's holiness, some proponents go too far in the opposite direction.

As a whole, an excellent introduction to the debate and the best foot forward for an more Arminian stance.

In terms of Peterson and Williams, now. This book deserves credit for not being one of those screaming, "you're robbing God of His glory and going to hell for it" volumes. On the other hand, it is also not full of user-friendly discourse; Peterson and Williams keep the stiff upper lip that the companion volume discarded (you don't see them call themselves "Bob and Mike", for example).

In terms of content, however, it shares something else with its companion volume: a lack of knowledge of some of the social science background that could aid in deciding who in this debate has the goods. You'll find plenty of useful historical background on things like the Pelagian heresy (practically of no use to our view of original sin, though), but no hint of knowledge of the collectivist nature of the ancient mind (which would have some effect on the view that election is corporate rather than individual), as well as what "grace" meant to the contemporaries of the NT (which is far closer to the Arminian model of prevenient grace).

One will also find the standard, worn arguments here; for example, that John 10:27-30 forbids any possibility of apostasy since "no one" includes one's self (though one's self would not "snatch" one's self from Jesus' hand; one would jump from it, or ask to be let off).

Nevertheless, the reader will find this to be a readable and exegetically careful (aside from contextual considerations of the sort noted above, which no amount of exegesis with the text alone will reveal) case for Calvinism.