During my years in Lancaster, PA, I received the distinct privilege to proclaim God’s Word at a local Dutch Reformed church in the small town of Manheim, PA–Jerusalem Church. These opportunities have been deeply formative for me as I discerned the call to pastoral ministry and received external validation.
That’s why I was excited when I heard that Jonathan Shirk wrote a book and published it through his ministry Small Town Theologian. If his care and guidance as I prepared my sermons in my internships is any indication of the care he regularly shows to his flock when it comes to teaching, then I was in for a real treat. And sure enough, I was!
Jonathan’s book—Predestined for Joy: Finding Comfort in a Controversial Doctrine—successfully integrates the pastoral care and comfort of the Heidelberg Catechism with an uncompromising conviction on this controversial doctrine that is rooted in sound exegesis.
- Chapter 1: Classroom Orientation—This chapter provides a helpful orientation to how the topic of predestination will be addressed, paying special attention to the authority of Scripture, the necessity of obedience and belief, and dangers to avoid. The primary goal of this book “is to help you study and understand the six places the word “presentation” appears in Scripture, along with several other helpful and related passages and thoughts” (18).
- Chapter 2: Predestined for Joy—A helpful and brief introduction to the word προορίζω (proorizō), which is translated in English “to decree beforehand, to make a prior decision, or to predetermine” (19).
- Chapter 3: The Suffering & Crucifixion of Christ (Acts 4:28)—An exegetical study of the first occurrence of proorizō in the Greek.
- Chapter 4: Our Salvation Secured (Rom. 8:28-30)—An exegetical study of Romans for the next occurrences of proorizō.
- Chapter 5: The Wisdom of God for Our Glory (1 Corinthians 2:7)—An exegetical study of 1 Corinthians for the next occurrence of proorizō.
- Chapter 6: In Love for Adoption (Eph. 1:5 & 11)—The final exegetical study ends in Ephesians where the final occurrences of proorizō are examined.
- Chapter 7: Logic Informed by Scripture—A common objection to predestination is that it logically doesn’t make sense—how could a good and all-knowing God create people to send them to hell? Jonathan skillfully deals with this objection by starting with what we believe about God and walking through a logical argument in response to this common objection.
- Chapter 8: A Beautiful Choir of Words—Often when word studies are performed, people can hyper-focus on one word and miss all the synonyms surrounding it! Jonathan avoids this mistake and incorporates several other related words to predestination and provides a brief study and explanation—elect, chose, and purpose.
- Chapter 9: A Theological Grab Bag—Often, when public speakers or writers prepare materials, they send portions of what they write to the cutting room. Often, this is for the better, but often this means a lot of valuable material is left out! This chapter is a grab bag of other thoughts from Jonathan related to predestination.
- Chapter 10: Tough Texts & Questions—Just when you think the exegesis is over, it’s not. Jonathan explores other related passages that seem to contradict the view of predestination proposed from Scripture. He unpacks many passages and demonstrates from the text how they all form a cohesive whole. Not only that, he also responds to other common objections.
- Chapter 11: The Goodness of Predestination—This final chapter is a brief summary of the book and a reaffirmation of the importance of this important doctrine.
This resource is thoroughly exegetical! While some books can get too in the weeds when it comes to exegesis, Jonathan dives in just enough that even those who do not have formal training in Greek or biblical and theological studies can understand and follow his arguments.
Not only that, but this book is inherently pastoral. These discussions can get derailed through straw-man arguments, deep theological and philosophical considerations, and so lost that the entire points of this doctrine is missed. He never gets bogged down in these discussions, but always brings the discussion back around to how this informs our understanding of our God and our salvation.
When it comes to biblical and theological studies, there are traditionally four domains of study: biblical theology (which contains New and Old Testament studies), systematic theology (which is the affirmations of belief for the Christian faith), pastoral theology (which is the practical implications of exegesis and theology), and historical theology (which attempts to understand how the church believed).
Jonathan does well when it comes to biblical and pastoral theology (and even lightly interacting with systematics). However, seeing that our faith is a historical and communal one, this work would’ve benefited from a more historical interaction of the doctrine from the church. Needless to say, the method of this book leaned heavily exegetical, so this absence is not an entirely negative aspect! In fact, it was quite refreshing to hear the text and see it expounded.
Living as Exiles
When we approach this doctrine, we can get lost in all the nuances and the weeds. We must remember that God did not reveal this doctrine to confuse his people or to cause divisions. He revealed this doctrine to show to us the extent he went to orchestrate all of human history to save his people in his grand, unfolding story of redemption.
May we, who have been predestined by God, take comfort in his plan of redemption for all things and his sure grasp he has of his people.
Another Resource Recommendation
If you’re interested in learning more about an exegetical approach to the study of predestination, I highly recommend Why I Am Not an Arminian by Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams (one of my theology professors at Covenant Theological Seminary).
 I say this with the understanding that John Calvin is quoted throughout!