Joy Project

What do you get when you combine Gretchen Ruben’s Happiness Project with the Five Points of Calvinism and Tony Reinke’s compelling writing?

You’re looking at it.

It sounds like a weird and unworkable combination, but it works well and results in an outstandingly beautiful presentation of the doctrines of grace.

Tony is careful to clarify early on that this is not a Christianized version of The Happiness Project.  This is not a book of practical theology, but of pure theology. It’s not a book centered on you, but on God. It’s not a book about what you can do to make yourself happier (though there is a place for that). It’s a book about what God has done to make you happier. It’s not DIY-happiness, but GDI-happiness. (You work it out!)

It uses the hook of the universal human pursuit of happiness to draw the reader in, only to dash these doomed hopes of happiness to dust, and then rebuild them on solid durable biblical foundations.

Its five main chapters are built around the five points of Calvinism. But it’s not your usual over-systematized presentation of the doctrines of grace that, while theologically correct, kills the beauty of grace and bores the reader to tears. By using the overarching theme of The Joy Project, Tony manages to join accuracy with attractiveness, and correct theology with compelling theology.

Additional Clarity
There’s one area I’d have liked to see a bit more clarity on. The first section on the atonement uses language that others have used about its sufficiency for all but applied only to some. Due to the possibility of people implying some kind of universal atonement from that (something Tony does distance himself from), I prefer not to use that language. Also, if God did not intend the atonement to be for all, He never intended it to be sufficient for all. So, it’s kind of a moot point. Yes, it does make “limited” or “definite” atonement more easy to defend and present; but is it true?

Additional Emphasis
There is one other area I’d like to have seen more emphasis on, although it might have diverted from the joy trajectory, and that is God’s aim of holiness. Tony repeatedly stresses God’s aim of His people’s happiness. That’s one of His aims, for sure, but it’s not the only aim. The Apostle Paul also frames the doctrines of grace as God aiming for His people’s holiness:

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Eph. 1:4).

It’s not a popular emphasis today, but maybe Tony’s next book might be The Holiness Project. (Or someone else might want to write something like, oh say, The Holy Christian perhaps?). Holiness and happiness are not contradictory of course. But without minimizing the plan, pursuit, and provision of joy, our generation probably needs to add an equal emphasis on the plan, pursuit, and provision of holiness. It’s not only believing the truth that produces joy (though we start there). Obeying the truth in every area of life also brings immense joy to the soul (John 14:21,23).

Who is this for?
That said, if you’ve ever wanted a book to help introduce someone to the doctrines of grace, not just the truth of them but the beauty of them, this book is perfect in size, content, and style. I’ll be getting a supply of them to give away.

If you want to persuade Arminian friends, this won’t beat them over the head with naked logic, but will so whet their appetites that they surely cannot but desire to feast upon these truths. It’s the best apologetic (not apology) for Calvinism I’ve come across. It’s been so wonderful to see Tony Reinke’s writing gifts flourish so much since his move to Minneapolis a few years ago.

If you want to revive your own love for these truths, The Joy Project should do the trick. It will give you some outstanding phrases and sentences to meditate on and even memorize. It will inject a new and fresh perspective into old truths, giving you a passion to spread the message of the supremacy of God for the joy of all peoples. Oh, wait, didn’t someone say that somewhere before?

You can buy the real book at Amazon or you can download an eBook or pdf version here.

  • Tony Reinke

    Such a wonderful review, David!

    For an author (as you know) it is a great honor for a reader to carefully read and comment on your own work. And I appreciate this review from you, and greatly appreciate the ministry role you play in the Church today, especially when it comes to joy and the struggles to joy in this joy-smiting planet.

    A couple of thoughts in return.

    You are exactly right that so much more needs to be said about the happiness-holiness connection. I have always been struck by the Psalmist who emphasizes the holiness of God being the attractive beauty that draws the regenerated soul towards himself (Pss 29:2; 96:9). That’s glorious! We must see God’s holiness if we are ever going to approach his joy. And the practice of holiness in our lives is also essential. We will never be happy if we are never holy. In this particular book I respond to the prevailing emphasis in American culture that you can be happy if you do more of the right things, the right hacks, the right gimmicks. Into this DIY cultural motif I’m responding, not without an emphasis on personal holiness, but with an emphasis not on more things we can do, but on what God has sovereignly enacted by his own initiative (GDI — love that!). But yes, perhaps a follow-up book!

    As for “sufficient for all, efficient for some,” I take this to be fairly resolved in the Reformed tradition from Calvin to Aquinas to Lombard to Gottschalk and then back to Prosper of Aquitaine who probubly got it from Augustine. It’s based on John 3:16 and the legitimacy of the general call for all sinners to repent, but more importantly it’s a way of magnifying the sufficiency of the cross. The world’s best high-jumpers just barely scrape over a 7-foot bar. That’s not how Christ paid for the wrath-deserving elect. It was a death sufficient for thousands of worlds of sinners (John Newton). But do we need to rethink this line? Is it too risky? Perhaps. It does seem to be more of a philosophical conclusion than an exegetical one.

    Anyhow, thanks for the review, brother!

    • David Murray

      Hi Tony. Thanks for your helpful interaction. I share your desire to magnify the cross. I suppose I prefer the word “available” for all. Again, based upon John 3:16 and the general call for all sinners to repent. Would it be better to say it was “theoretically sufficient but not (from God’s point of view) intentionally sufficient”? If God had wanted, the cross could have saved all, but He did not intend it to. But I’ll keep thinking about this. And thanks again for a book that has once again made me desire God more.

  • Dee

    Thanks for the review David (and Tony for the book!)

    Thanks also for the thoughts regarding the atonement. The only problem with the statement “sufficient for all, efficient for some” is that it can be affirmed by Arminians, Calvinists and 4-Pointers – it just depends on what one means by each word!

    In the book the way the sufficiency of Christ’s death is spoken about (though, I’m sure Tony didn’t mean it to), it seems to basically play into the hands of a 4-pointer’s ‘unlimited-limited’ view. That is, the sufficiency is stressed so much that to uncareful readers with uncareful ears, it ends up sounding like Christ did actually and sufficiently pay for the sins of every person, but only effectually applies it to the elect.

    David, I love your suggestion of “available for all”. This is how I always qualify the statement “sufficient for all”: that the atonement makes the free and genuine offer of the gospel available to every single person.