Saturday, February 23, 2008

Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport – Richard Mouw

A week and a half ago I was about to take a trip to San Diego for a conference and knew I was going to carry my computer in it's backpack on the plane. I very much wanted to begin reading Can't Buy Me Love, the new book about the Beatles, which had arrived a few weeks ago but which I have not been able to start. That book, however, is rather thick and, as my computer is quite heavy already, I didn't relish carrying that book on my back through airports. I put that one in my suitcase (which I checked) and I looked for something thinner to take along on the plane with me. I went to the (rather large) pile of books that Laura and I have yet to read and selected Richard Mouw's Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport because it was quite thin and it had the word "airport" in the title so that seemed like an obvious choice. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed it so much that I never took my Beatles book out of my suitcase.

Mouw's title refers to a scene in the Paul Schrader movie Hardcore in which a Dutch-American Reformed man from Grand Rapids is asked by a young woman what he believes. His response is that he believes in "tulips," referring to the acronym that has helped many of us remember and organize some of the doctrines that define Calvinist thought. Even though the movie character might have his theological head on straight he doesn't do a very good job of presenting his faith to this young woman. Mouw, however, does a splendid job of presenting the TULIP doctrine and of laying out the five points in a way that helped me think of them anew. While I have known this stuff for a long time Mouw's description is fresh and he brings great insights into how this doctrine fits into today's world.

Where Mouw really shines, though, is in the way he presents Calvinist beliefs as not a closed theology, designed to keep people out but rather as a particular view of scripture which, in his case, has been adjusted and affected by his experiences and by the writings of others. As I got to the end of the book I was reminded of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy. What I liked most about McLarens's book is that he seemed open to learning things about his faith from others – both Christian and non-Christian. Some probably think he goes a little too far in being open to other beliefs. While there were indeed parts of his book that caused me some consternation, I appreciated the spirit in which he wrote, a view that says that he has his beliefs but that he is willing to listen and learn. I believe that what Mouw lays out in his book is a "Generous Calvinism." Mouw isn't ready to compromise his beliefs but he is happy to listen and learn from others. He talks about his "hunches" and what things make him uneasy but does so with a clear love for the Canons of Dordt (a very old document laying out some of the basic tenets of Christian belief from a Calvinist perspective) but also a clear love for his brothers and sisters who don't share his theological perspective. It is this delightful tone which Mouw sets in this book that makes it so enjoyable and helpful. I highly recommend Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport both for Reformed folks who could use a refresher course but also for people who just don't get what Calvinists are really about or who think of Calvinism as a dreadful set of doctrines. Mouw's book is a great place to start a dialogue.

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