Called by Triune Grace (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Jonathan Hoglund. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.
Summary: A monograph exploring the doctrine of effectual calling and how it is that God’s speech brings about our regeneration and conversion.
Jonathan Hoglund considers the Reformed doctrine of “effectual calling” one that has not received the kind of attention it is due in our understanding of God’s saving work in Christ. Hoglund offers this definition of effectual calling:
“The effectual call is an act of triune rhetoric in which God the Father appropriates human witness to Christ the Son in order to convince and transform a particular person by ministering, through the presence of God the Spirit, understanding and love of Christ” (p.8).
There are several important ideas in his definition that Hoglund elaborates in this work. First is the idea of focusing on calling, and the idea that just as through the Triune God’s word, creation came into existence, likewise through what Hoglund calls triune rhetoric, converting change or regeneration is brought about in the lives of individuals. One of the striking ideas this involves is that as people speak of Christ and proclaim the gospel, God’s voice is heard affirming that “Jesus is your saving Lord.”
Second is the idea that this is triune rhetoric. Using rhetorical theory, Hoglund proposes that God the Father is the ethos of this saving call that comes in the context of God’s covenantal saving purposes. God the Son is the content or logos of this saving call, and the Holy Spirit is the pathos of this effectual call in illumining and persuading effecting faith in the hearer of this call.
Third, Hoglund considers how persons are transformed. What is the converting change or regeneration that occurs in the individual whom God effectually calls? Hoglund considers how this call eventuates in faith in Christ and how one is united to Christ. Looking at New Testament testimony, one also sees an eschatological or epochal change in those who are a “new creation” and enter into the blessings of this “age to come.” The idea of “spiritual resurrection” is explored and the transformation of one’s affections and dispositions.
Along the way, after laying out the ground work in his initial chapter and the contribution of the Canons of Dort in elaborating the relationship of calling and regeneration, he proceeds to consider calling in Paul, various Reformed ideas of the content of the call before making his own proposal and a couple chapters on illumination and calling. Two chapters follow on new birth and resurrection. Then, key to his thesis, he elaborates his ideas of triune rhetoric and converting change. A concluding chapter on God’s call and the church also serves to summarize his argument.
This work builds on the scholarship of Kevin Vanhoozer and Daniel Treier around speech-act theory and rhetoric as well as connecting back to other Reformed thinkers. One of the distinctive contributions this work makes in an age of subjective experience is to affirm the truth of conversion being rooted not in our experience but in God’s persuasive communication, mediated through human witnesses. It reminds us of the tremendous privilege those of us who speak God’s message have, of the Triune God speaking in and through our words. It encourages our hearts that our awakened faith in the promises of God and our awakened love toward God are the evidence of God’s persuasive intent to call us to be his own, and not simply subjective impressions.
This is a theological monograph and calls for close reading, especially in the sections on speech act theory and rhetoric where the author is working out his ideas on effectual calling as triune rhetoric. Whether you embrace a Reformed perspective or not, I believe a close reading will reward one with a richer perspective on the work of God in conversion as people come to faith, and the privileged role human witnesses may play. It left me praising God, in the language of the book’s title, for God’s grace-filled calling of me to Himself through Christ by His Spirit and all this has meant and will mean.