Book Review: “Mere Calvinism” by Jim Scott Orrick


Orrick, Jim Scott. Mere Calvinism. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2019.

Summary: The book is intended to function as an introduction and basic defense of the doctrines of grace, or “Calvinism.” It is not a wholesale defense of Reformed doctrine, but rather focuses on the doctrine of salvation. The book consists of seven chapters. The first chapter is a general introduction; the seventh chapter is a brief conclusion. Each of the five chapters in between (chs. 2–6) are dedicated to one of the five points of Calvinism represented by the acronym TULIP.

There is a chapter on “T” or total depravity (he prefers “total inability”). The next is a chapter on “U” or unconditional election. This is followed by a chapter on “L” or limited atonement (he prefers “particular redemption”). Then a chapter on “I” or irresistible grace. Finally, a chapter on “P” or perseverance of the saint.

Each chapter provides a biblical defense of the doctrine, answers to anticipated objections, and a final section which provides questions for reflection and discussion. As promised, each chapter is filled with illustrations which makes for easy reading.

Weaknesses: The book has a particular aim to function as an introduction to Calvinism, so the critiques are given with these parameters in mind. First, the book could have done better in showing the historicity of Calvinism. Surely the doctrines of grace precede Calvin himself and showing the historical lineage of Calvinism could still be presented in a way that keeps with the target audience.

A second weakness of the book is its lack of footnote and recommendations for further reading. Much ink has been spilt on each one of the doctrines addressed in TULIP. Since this book serves as an introduction to Calvinism some suggestions for further study could have been given. It would have been essential to have a “next steps” type of section to help readers deepen their understanding of the doctrines of grace.

Strengths: His stated purpose was, “to write a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of the Five Points of Calvinism” (p. 11). He successfully accomplished this task and his clarity is a definite strength of the book. He also stated the target audience as young Calvinists and those interested in learning about Calvinism. As such, he intentionally uses a lot of illustrations in his writing (p. 11).

A second strength of the book is Orrick’s anticipated objections. In each chapter he provides answers to some common objections to Calvinist doctrine. He is charitable in the objections and, I believe, is fair in representing opposing views.

A third strength of the book is its application and reflection questions at the end of each chapter. Here, he shows that thinking deeply about the doctrines of grace have great implications on the mind and life of the believer. These doctrines do not merely sound good, but they are practical (as all doctrine should be!).

A fourth strength is the balance of the book. Certainly, some aspects of TULIP are more hotly debated than others, but his pacing was excellent. He was able to write with a consistent level of clarity and balance between the five points that kept a good flow.

Recommendations: This book is most helpful for the intended audience; namely, those who are new Calvinists or looking for a simple introduction to Calvinism. Since the book does provide discussion questions it would also be helpful for small groups looking for a topic focused on doctrine. Pastors should keep the book on hand for those with no background to Calvinism, it is the clearest and simplest defense of Calvinism and will be useful in a ministry context. Personally, I would place it on a recommended reading list for potential members seeking to understand our church’s soteriological position.

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