An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Saving Calvinism by Oliver Crisp

Saving Calvinism
Expanding the Reformed Tradition
Oliver D. Crisp
Downers Grove: IVP Academic
167pp; pbk; £14:39
ISBN: 978-0830851751

The title begs the question - does Calvinism need saving? And if so from who or what? This book is in some ways both a sequel and an introduction to Crisp’s other books Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Fortress, 2014), Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology (IVP Academic, 2011), and Revisioning Christology: Theology in the Reformed Tradition (Ashgate, 2011) - although this one is much shorter and more accessible than its precursors. 

The aim is clearly stated:

‘It is an attempt to provide a Reformed perspective concerning human salvation that seeks to broaden what is thought of as “Calvinistic” when it comes to such matters—not so much by presenting a revision of Calvinism but by attempting to remind modern Calvinists of the breadth of resources at their disposal’ (9)

He uses the analogy of a house - much of modern Calvinism, often depicted as New Calvinism, only uses two rooms downstairs. Crisp’s goal is to open up the house. For Crisp Calvinism is broader than the TULIP five points. Although, he does look at each one of the five points
Calvinism is not the monolith most people assume it is - Crisp shows the diversity of Calvinism. Whether all Calvinists would agree is another issue! It is highly doubtful, for example, that this book would have been published by the Banner of Truth! 
Crisp takes a fresh look at variants of Calvinistic theology. In chapters 2 and 3 he takes a look at election and freewill. Here he considers infra- and supralapsarianism and then draws upon Jonathan Edwards and John Giradeau. Girdeau opposed Edwards’ view of free will. (Crisp has dealt with Girardeau elsewhere (Crisp, 2014).) Crisp comments:

‘Even if Girardeau’s position is in some respects incomplete or underdeveloped, it does show that not all Reformed thinkers have been of one mind on the matter of theological determinism’

Crisp’s  discussion on God permitting evil is particularly stimulating - here he introduces the notion of skeptical theism, by which ‘we don’t know why God permits evil, but we can trust that there is some good reason for doing so’. 
Crisp maintains that it is possible to be a universalist and a Calvinist: 

‘it seems to me that one can be a Calvinist and a universalist. However, even if Scripture does not support universalism, it is still possible to think that the purposes of God in salvation are much more expansive than is sometimes reported’.

Not all Calvinists endorse penal substitution - again Crisp shows penal substitution is the favoured view of most Calvinists not all have adopted this perspective. He examines several other ways of understanding the atonement these include: satisfaction, as developed by Anselm of Canterbury; vicarious penitence; and penal non-substitution. Crisp sensibly advocates not one model but kaleidoscopic meta-model approach. 
He then goes on to look at hypothetical universalism as supported by John Davenant and John Preston. Although Crisp doesn’t endorse it he makes an excellent case for it being consistent with Calvinism. 
The book is eminently readable and deserves a wide readership. Crisp has certainly shown that Calvinism has a wide theological range and is wider than the traditional five points seems to suggest - even though the five points provide a good summary they are not a theological straitjacket. Crisp even suggests that: ‘Holding to all of the five points is not, in fact, a necessary condition for being a Calvinist’. Although I don’t agree with all the points Crisp makes, the book does make for a stimulating and thought-provoking read.

Crisp, Oliver D 2014. John Girardeau: Libertarian Calvinist? Journal of Reformed Theology 8(3): 284-300. 


Tony Garrood said...

Who are the Calvinists who Oliver thinks denied PSA, Steve. Reading them for over 40 years I haven't come across one.


Steve Bishop said...

Hi Tony, thanks for 'dropping by'! I don't think that Crisp says that they *deny* PSA, but not all fully endorse it.

He discusses several alternatives to it that have been held including the satisfaction theory of Anselm and nonpenal substitution - he cites John McLeod Campbell and the Torrance brothers as advocates of a version of this. Penal non-substitution developed by Grotius and developed by Joseph Bellamy (one of Jonathan Edwards followers).

As you can see he takes a broad view of what constitutes Calvinism.

In his conclusion to his chapter on the cross he writes:

"There is not one single way of thinking about this matter Penal substitution is often thought of as the mainstay of Reformed teaching on the topic, and there is good reason for thinking this is true when one looks at historic Reformed confessions on this subject. However, we have seen that there are actually a family of views on the atonement, all of which are to be found within the Reformed branch of Christianity these views share a common core of themes about Christ as our representative, or substitute We might say that they all address the question of whether Christ’s work is fundamentally vicarious in nature, though what sort of vicarious action is involved is disputed We have considered four of these approaches to the work of Christ that are Reformed. We have also considered the atonement as more than the work of Christ on the cross, in keeping with some more recent Reformed thinkers."



Tony Garrood said...

But they aren't Calvinists are they Steve? I think it is exactly because they all rejected PSA (or satisfaction, as the 16th and 17th century men put it) which means Oliver is interested in them. Sure we can embrace Arminianism (Grotius), Barthianism (the Torrances) or McLoed Campbell's repentance as atonement ideas (expelled from the Church of Scotland in 1831). The New Divinity of Joseph Bellamy I am less sure of, but it does seem to me that these men embraced the Arminian view of the cross of Grotius (satisfaction of the demands of the law, rather than bearing the punishment for sin), just like Baxter and Fuller. It's interesting that in your quote Oliver slides from Calvinist to Reformed. Sure, there are lots of Reformed theologians who reject Calvinism but this doesn't mean that embracing that rejection is Saving Calvinism.