Expanding the Reformed Tradition
Oliver D. Crisp
Downers Grove: IVP Academic
167pp; pbk; £14:39
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.