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The Grace of Godliness – New Book by Matthew Barrett

Introduced by Matthew Claridge–

Matthew Barrett. The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort. Joshua Press, 2013. Available at: Amazon, and Joshua Press.

The Canons of Dort can as easily be described as the “Cannons of Dort,” the first salvo in a long standing and bitter war of attrition between the forces of synergism and monergism. Unfortunately, like the Hatfields and McCoys, I wonder if most people this far removed are able to remember why the conflict erupted or what even was at stake. Far from being a mere intellectual game of one up-manship, Matthew Barrett reveals the heart and soul of this historic document in his new book, The Grace of Godliness: An Introduction to Doctrine and Piety in the Canons of Dort. Barrett, Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University (OPS) and executive editor of Credo Magazine, demonstrates that the Calvinists at Dort saw the doctrines of grace as the very foundation of godliness, piety, and progress in holiness. Barrett writes in his preface, “The Canons, as I discovered, are not only a bastion for the doctrines of grace against the attacks of Arminianism, but a fountain from which gushes forth the river of biblical piety. Dort is not merely concerned with unconditional election but also with how unconditional election is the origin from which we have assurance, humility, and holiness. Dort is not merely concerned with limited atonement but also with how limited atonement is the source of corporate and personal thanksgiving and worship. Dort is not merely concerned with total depravity and irresistible grace but with how these doctrines produce humility and destroy pride.  Dort is not merely concerned with the perseverance and preservation of the saints but also with how these doctrines are an incentive to holy living. This book seeks to expose the vivid connection Dort makes between the doctrines of grace and godliness, a connection few scholars seem to have recognized.”

I heartily recommend this book to all arm-chair generals of theology. Here is the book’s description:

When the pastors and theologians who comprised the Synod of Dort met in 1618 and 1619 to frame a response to the rise of Arminian theology in Dutch churches, they were concerned to provide not just theological argument but pastoral vision. They considered seriously the implications of right theology on both growth in grace and holiness and the spiritual comfort of believers.

Keenly aware of this vital link between theology and practice, they drew up the Canons of Dort in a manner that astutely rebutted from Scripture the Arminian Remonstrants, point by point, arguing the veracity of the doctrines of predestination, particular atonement, total depravity, effectual grace and the perseverance of the saints—the five points that have come to be known as ‘‘the doctrines of grace.”

Matthew Barrett opens a window on the synod’s deliberations with the Remonstrants and examines the main emphases of the canons, with special attention on their relationship to biblical piety and spirituality. For example, the doctrine of predestination is shown from Scripture to establish not just God’s electing grace but assurance of salvation—comforting believers that the God who saved them will preserve them to the very end. As Dr. Barrett examines the Canons of Dort it becomes clear why they are so important. Indeed, the piety and godliness that saturates these seventeenth-century canons shows they are as relevant for the church today as they were then.

Michael A.G. Haykin has written the foreword to the book, and here are some of the book’s commendations as well:

By reducing the discussion of Calvinism and the doctrines of grace to the simplified acrostic T-U-L-I-P, I’m afraid we have generated far more heat than light. A book that looks deeply within, behind and around the five points of Calvinism is long overdue. Whether you find yourself saying “Yea” or “Nay” to the five points, we all need to say thank you to Dr. Barrett for his delightful, informative and light-generating book.

Stephen J. Nichols, Research Professor of Christianity and Culture, Lancaster Bible College, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Wow! I really like this book. Matthew Barrett has given us history, theology, ministerial counsel and impetus to true piety in this treatment of the Synod and Canons of Dort. The brief but vibrant historical accounts are informative, his guidance in some thick theological discussion is expert, and his focus on piety leads us to the true purpose of all theology—the production of a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Dr. Barrett’s continual insistence on the necessity of monergism for a truly biblical grasp of the character of salvation from beginning to end is a much needed emphasis for contemporary evangelicalism. The appendices provide valuable source material. This is an excellent account of a vitally important subject.

Tom J. Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky

Matthew Barrett offers a wonderfully simple and direct exposition of one of the more misunderstood confessions of faith. The Canons of Dort are often vilified, but under closer examination Barrett demonstrates that they are biblical and pastoral and a potent tonic for a flagging faith. Tolle et lege, take up and read!

J.V. Fesko, Academic Dean, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Westminster Seminary California

Matthew Barrett has given us a thoroughly enjoyable introduction to and review of the history and the source documents of the Calvinist-Arminian debate. And with that he has given us a vivid reminder that a right understanding of these doctrines—in themselves considered and in the minds of the framers of the Canons of Dort—is indispensable to Christian worship and devotion. Highly recommended.

Fred G. Zaspel, Pastor, Reformed Baptist Church; Professor of Systematic Theology, Calvary Baptist Seminary, Lansdale, Pennsylvania

Christians speak freely and often about the Canons of Dort and the international synod of 1618–1619 which produced them without really knowing much about either. Matthew Barnett’s The Grace of Godliness will do much to remedy this lamentable situation. In a very accessible manner, referring to a number of important background documents, Barrett provides the historical context of the Synod of Dort. He also makes a solid case that the Canons themselves are filled with careful biblical reflection, wise pastoral application and exhortations to a warm and genuine Christian piety. Dort’s stalwart defense of divine monergism in the salvation of sinners does not produce a fear of God, lack of assurance of one’s salvation or indifference to good works—as critics often charge. When read and understood, the Canons of Dort present the so-called doctrines of grace as the foundation for a believer’s confidence in God’s mercy and, as the consequence, the basis for a life of gratitude.

Kim Riddlebarger, Senior Pastor, Christ Reformed Church (URCNA), Anaheim, California; co-host of the White Horse Inn radio broadcast

Matthew Barrett has produced an excellent and much-needed treatment of the intimate connection between the Canons of Dort and vibrant Christian piety. Whatever the readers’ attitude toward those canons, this book will reward them with greater understanding and appreciation of the spiritual richness and practical value of Reformed theology. I highly recommend it.

Steven B. Cowan, Associate Professor of Christian Studies, Louisiana College, Pineville, Louisiana

By breathing new life into historic events, documents and people, Matthew makes them speak to our culture, our churches and our hearts.

David P. Murray, Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

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