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All That God Cares About:
Common Grace and Divine Delight

by richard j. mouw
brazos, 176 pages, $22

Richard Mouw, for twenty years president of ­Fuller Seminary and still on its faculty, updates us on his thinking about a matter long close to his heart: the disputed neo-Calvinist or ­Kuyperian doctrine of common grace. Conversational and personal in style, the book has hardly a paragraph without the first-person singular pronoun, and even those without it will have the pronoun in first-­person plural. All That God Cares About does not argue from first principles, and thus does not intend to give an outside reader a rooted and comprehensive grasp of this important point of theology. Rather, it is an incremental advance upon a lifetime of teaching and ­conversation.

The crux of the matter is whether neo-Calvinists can and should rejoice in true, beautiful, and good things in the world when those things are brought about by unbelievers. Mouw answers ­affirmatively on the grounds that God gives grace even to people to whom he does not give saving grace. He argues further that espousal of God’s delight in good things regardless of their provenance can be confessionally serious. He underlines, for instance, that common grace is different from saving grace, although we cannot make firm pronouncements about who has been given the latter.

This reviewer, an Anglican largely innocent of the intramural disputes of the Dutch Reformed world, would have welcomed an index of names and perhaps most of all a scriptural index.

—Victor Lee Austin

First Principles:
What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country

by thomas e. ricks
harper, 416 pages, $30

To some conservatives, whether or not the American founding was “modern” is determinative of the nation’s goodness or badness, its promise or incapability of being redeemed. This question is often answered by comparing two or three founding documents to the canon of political philosophy. A related though neglected ­question—one that does more justice to the founders as statesmen, and to their self-­understanding—is what role the classics played in the formation of the founders themselves.

Thomas Ricks wrote First Principles in reaction to the 2016 election. His political opinions are sometimes distracting and rarely illuminating. But he tells an engaging story, studded with memorable quotes from all-but-forgotten letters and memoirs, about the rise and fall of classical influence before, during, and after the founding period. Ricks demonstrates that the words and deeds of the first four presidents cannot be understood apart from their classical formation. Washington, without much formal education, nevertheless molded himself to the examples of Cato, Fabius, and Cincinnatus—and rejected that of Caesar. Adams, who never let anyone forget how well-read he was, fancied himself an American Cicero. Jefferson, the exception to the rule, preferred the Greeks to the Romans, the ­Athenians to the Spartans, Epicureanism to Stoicism. And Madison, the most “modern” of the founders, improved upon classical political science through intensive study of classical political history.

Ricks explains not only Greek and Roman references, but “classical” virtue understood as disinterested patriotism. He argues that this classicism could not endure the reality of the Constitutional Convention, the rise of party politics, and the triumph of Jeffersonian democracy. Though his conclusions are sometimes suspect, and his attention is given more generously to episodes of personal drama than to public documents, his book will entertain and inform any kind of reader, and will inspire scholars to consider more carefully the ­influence of the classics on the founders.

—Pavlos Leonidas Papadopoulos