James G. McCarthy’s John Calvin Goes to Berkeley is an enjoyable book that deals with an important contemporary issue: the growth of Calvinism, especially among young people. The setting is the famed University of California where some Calvinist members of a campus ministry are starting to make their presence known by putting pressure on the group leader to do things their way and to teach the Calvinistic view of predestination. This development is very troubling to the leader and many of the group members who do not know a great deal about Calvinism, but know enough to be very uncomfortable with the idea of pushing Calvinism onto the other members of “University Christian Fellowship”. Inevitable problems and conflicts ensue leading several members to embark on a quest to better understand the Biblical teaching on predestination. The main Calvinist group member is dealing with pressures of his own since his pastor that he is counting on for a recommendation to a Reformed College is not at all happy with his membership in a group that is largely non-Calvinist.
The book has a few unexpected twists and plenty of sub plots that keep the story interesting even for those who don’t care much about the theological themes. The eventual solution to the predestination problem is intriguing and unexpected as well. It will especially appeal to anyone who is involved with campus ministry or anyone who is interested in the Arminian and Calvinist debate. I read the book very quickly due to my interest in both of the main themes and had a hard time putting the book down. It leaves you anxious to find out what will happen next, especially regarding the student’s personal investigations regarding what the Bible has to say on the topic of predestination, and the interpersonal dynamics of the conflicts that result.