Results tagged “Calvinism” from Reformation21 Blog

Dueling for Christ at Dort?

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As everyone in the Reformed world surely knows by now, 2019 marks 400 years since the Synod of Dort wrapped up proceedings and bequeathed to the Protestant Reformed family of churches that glorious statement of Reformed doctrine known as the Canons of Dort. Commemoration and celebration of Dort and her Canons properly began last November, in conjunction with the start date of the Synod. Celebrations will, one presumes, conclude this May, which marks the month the Canons of Dort were officially promulgated by the Synod. Commemoration and celebration are certainly in order, although we must, as ever, take care to keep commemoration from devolving into commercialization, a danger that attends centenary celebrations and threatens, through the process of historical simplification that naturally attends commercialization of historical events, to subvert rather than support critical and constructive engagement with the past.

Regardless, one episode in Dort's proceedings less likely than others to receive attention, but arguably deserving it, is the duel that almost took place between Reformed delegates in January of 1619 during Dort's 65th session. The immediate occasion of conflict was disagreement about how to interpret Paul's declaration in Eph. 1:4 that God "chose us in him [i.e., Christ] before the foundation of the world," disagreement that reflected more fundamental disparity in lapsarian positions (that is, positions on how to relate God's eternal decree of election to his decree to permit the Fall).

Franciscus Gomarus, a Dutch delegate at Dort, expressed, relative to this text, his opinion that Paul's words identified Christ -- the incarnate Son of God -- as the means by which God's decree of election was and is realized, and so as the foundation (fundamentum) of the benefits bestowed in time upon God's elect, but not as the foundation of divine election per se. Gomarus's opinion reflected his supralapsarian perspective. Supralapsarianism situates God's decree of election several logical steps before God's decree of the Son's incarnation, and so names the incarnation (and life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ) as the means by which God's decree of election is realized.

Matthias Martinius, the delegate from Bremen, took exception to Gomarus's reading of Eph. 1:4, believing it failed to do justice to Paul's assertion of our election in Christ. Martinius essentially accused Gomarus of twisting Paul's words to read something like this: "God chose us before the foundation of the world and brought that choice to fruition in him." Gomarus, in other words, reduced Christ to the "effector of our election." Martinius believed Paul's words required recognition of the incarnate Son as "the author and procurer" of election in addition to the means by which election is realized. Martinius's argument theoretically reflected his own infralapsarian position. Infralapsarianism makes God's decree of election logically subsequent to God's decree to permit the Fall (thereby making fallen and culpable, rather than fallible and morally neutral, human beings the objects of election and reprobation), and so places God's decree of election in closer proximity to God's decree of the incarnation. That said, it could be argued that Martinius's lapsarian scheme failed just as much Gomarus's to make adequate sense of Eph. 1:4, since both traditional lapsarian positions place the incarnation -- the event that permits us to name the eternal Son as Jesus Christ -- after the decree of election. Regardless, Martinius's intent was clear; he wished to do justice to Scripture's teaching that God elects believers in Christ (and so, somehow, with a view already towards the incarnation of the Son).

In any case, Gomarus was not impressed with Martinius's words. According to John Hales, an English divine who observed and reported events at Dort to England's ambassador Dudley Carleton, Gomarus stood when Martinius spoke and declared, "Ego hanc rem in me recipio," that is, "I take this thing [i.e., these words] to be against me." Gomarus then, Hales writes, threw his glove upon the floor, "require[d] the Synod to grant them a duel," and expressed his confidence that his reading of Eph. 1:4 could withstand criticism from Martinius. To all appearances, Gomarus judged Martinius his inferior both in swordmanship and exegetical ability, unless, of course, his intention was to be martyred for the supralapsarian cause (and so, perhaps, to further it).

Thankfully, Gomarus's challenge came to nothing, not by virtue of any apparent retraction on his part (in fact, he renewed his challenge at day's end), but rather by virtue of Martinius's more peaceful disposition and the collective moderation of the Synod.

That collective moderation was ultimately reflected as much in the Synod's Canons as it was in Gomarus's failed efforts to secure a duel with/from his peers. The Synod ruled certain theological positions out of bounds, but very intentionally crafted Canons that would preserve the diversity of Reformed views represented at the Synod (regarding both the precise object of election/reprobation and the way in which Christ's efficacious sacrifice for the elect on the cross should be calibrated against the effect, if any, his death had upon the reprobate). To the extent that Gomarus's failure to bring delegates to physical blows reflects a profound truth about the spirit and work of the Synod of Dort more broadly, perhaps that failure is in fact worth celebrating. (Failed-duel day, anyone? Our church calendar is so thin...We need something to tide us over to Reformation day.)

The Reformed world will always have its Gomaruses, i.e., less moderate individuals, who perhaps fail to temper theological conviction with Christian charity and respect for the distinction between fundamental and secondary doctrines. Some present-day Gomarusus in our midst seem determined, somewhat ironically it must be said, to capitalize on Dort's anniversary by denying that much diversity of opinion and/or generosity of spirit actually prevailed there, despite the overwhelming scholarly consensus that such diversity existed and, for that matter, reflected the spirit of Reformed theology and practice from its inception (think Zurich Consensus, and see, on Dort itself, works by John Fesko, Anthony Milton, Robert Godfrey, and Jonathan Moore). Efforts to revise Dort's history in this direction are driven, of course, by contemporary agendas, and they serve (again, somewhat ironically, it must be said) to subvert the tolerance for differing convictions on secondary doctrines and generosity towards peers necessarily entailed in genuine respect for, and subscription to, the historic Reformed confessions in some specific manifestation (say, the Three Forms of Unity). Conviction regarding theological matters is, of course, commendable (relative to Dort, I'm an infralapsarian particularist of the Owen/Turretin variety, if anyone cares). Challenging others within one's confessional camp to duels and/or rewriting history to undermine a Reformed brother's (or sister's) opinions, assuming such opinions genuinely fall within confessional boundaries, is less commendable.

I'm confident, however, that a spirit of moderation will prevail in the confessional Reformed world, and will, indeed, continue to accommodate both the Gomaruses and the Martiniuses among us. Some intentional effort towards that end on our part, aided by some historical awareness, wouldn't hurt things.

A Response to Mark Jones and Gert van den Brink

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We're grateful Oliver Crisp has offered his response to the two reviews of Deviant Calvinism which were published this week. Oliver's contribution serves to extend an important conversation over the character and sources of Reformed theology ~ Editor 

I wish to address two reviews of my book Deviant Calvinism that have appeared in the pages of Reformation21. (There was a third review of the book by Professor Paul Helm that was published earlier in Reformation21, but I shall have no comments to make on that here.) The first review is by Gert van den Brink. The second is by Mark Jones. My response fall into three parts. In the first, I want to correct some factual inaccuracies (by van den Brink). In the second, I want to consider matters of theological method. In the third, I offer some more general reflections on the book in light of these reviews.

As to the first, Gert van den Brink writes this in the closing paragraph of his review:
My last point has to do with the coherence of the book as a whole. Crisp pleads for justification from eternity, salvation for all people, universal efficacy of Jesus' sacrifice, but also for more room for the freedom of the human will, [as allowable views within the Reformed tradition, not as his own personal views] (updated to clarify). For each of these points, he mentions the names of Reformed authors, but it is clear that, historically speaking, there is nobody who (as Crisp wants now) pleads for these positions together. Furthermore, it is logically impossible to combine freedom as indifference with the absolute predestination of all people. Crisp does not answer the question why the position he defends did not become accepted in the Reformed tradition. The answer, however, is obvious: it is not a coherent position. And for those who even now wish to be regarded as Reformed and as Calvinistic, this is a weighty argument.
I do not endorse justification from eternity, salvation for all people, or the universal efficacy of Christ's sacrifice in the book. Rather, I set out a number of different views that have been taken in the Reformed tradition, but which I do not necessarily endorse. There is value in trying to understand from the inside-out, so to speak, views you don't hold personally. That is what I try to do in this work, in order to correct what I perceive to be a narrowing of how the Reformed tradition is understood in much literature today. I  do this by providing a series of doctrinal studies on nodal issues in the tradition--not by attempting to set forth a single unified view on the range of topics I deal with. But I emphatically do not plead for these views, if that means seeking to make an appeal for doctrines that I endorse--and I make that plain at the outset of the book. (The explanatory gloss offered in square brackets in this citation was not written by Gert van den Brink, but offered by Mark Jones when I queried this in personal correspondence.) 

On the matter of whether there is a single Reformed theologian who holds all the views I set forth in the book, that would appear to be beside the point given its rationale. But, in any case, systematic theologians don't worry too much if someone has not held precisely the view they espouse, otherwise there could be no constructive theology. We would simply be reiterating the views of those who had gone before us. Just read Calvin's Institutes and then Turretin's Institutes: there is clearly doctrinal progression and difference between these two Reformed thinkers, a matter that I don't think is unusual. This is even more clearly the case if one compares Barth with Calvin--yet both are Reformed theologians.

This brings me to the matter of method. The first objection Gert van den Brink raises has to do with the "intermingling" of historical and systematic theology. I take it he does not have much truck with retrieval theology, which (as I indicate in the Introduction) is the sort of approach to the historical material that I attempt in the subsequent chapters. He goes on to say,
Normally, Crisp's approach is as follows: he claims that in the history of the Reformed tradition there were one or more people [sic] who took a certain position, and because they did so in the Reformed context, the specific position can be regarded as a Reformed one, being within the bounds of Calvinism. In this way he mentions the fact that Arminius lived in a Reformed context, and subsequently he argues that Arminius's views can be seen as Reformed. However, such an approach is a categorical mistake. From the fact that somebody worked in a specific context, we should be careful about their theological leanings or proclivities. Not everybody in Rome is Romish. Crisp's claim that Arminius's views were "merely controversial; they were not unorthodox" (p. 82) is apparently wrong: on the Synod of Dordt, not only the opinions of his followers, the Remonstrant party, but also Arminius's own views were labelled as heretical. 
This is what I actually say about Arminius in the book (p. 85):
Jacob Arminius lived and died as a Reformed pastor and professor at Leiden, though he espoused a version of Molinism and may even have been responsible for the introduction of Molinism into Protestant thought. Although the Synod of Dort repudiated a number of his views in its canons, this was subsequent to his death. During his lifetime, his views were merely controversial; they were not unorthodox. What is more, his views are more measured and careful than the Remonstrant party that took up his cause at the synod. 
There doesn't seem to be any historical misreporting here; no category mistakes. Mark Jones also takes up my remarks about Arminius and Arminianism, but from a different direction. He worries that Reformed theologians must be monergists (i.e. think that God alone brings about human salvation) whereas Arminians are synergists (i.e. allow that God and humans together bring about human salvation). He notes that I am not convinced that all Arminian theologians are synergists. To this I would add: I'm not convinced that the distinction between monergism and synergism is always a terribly helpful way to characterize the differences that certainly do exist between Arminian and Reformed theologians--as if the Arminian account of human salvation is somehow bordering on semi-Pelagianism, whereas Reformed theology is solidly Augustinian.

Gert van den Brink also accuses me of misrepresenting historical material cited in the book, and this is something Jones also seems concerned about. With regard to justification from eternity, van den Brink alleges that I cite authors that don't espouse this position as if they did. It would be tiresome to deal with each of these in turn, but to take one example, it is well-known that Tobias Crisp (no relation) was regarded as a defender of justification from eternity. Admittedly, Crisp's views are complex and this is reflected in scholarly discussion of his work, e.g. that by Carl Trueman. But Trueman himself writes, "The name most associated with sophisticated expressions of the doctrine of eternal justification in [John] Owen's day was Tobias Crisp." (See his John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man [Ashgate, 2007], p. 114.)

Gert van den Brink goes on to say, "Crisp does not at all even allude to the historical discussion, let alone that he is in dialogue with the positions. Even if he cites Reformed authors, they are seldom from the seventeenth century. There is a lack of interaction with the Latin sources from the seventeenth century, which would have helped his discussion immensely." This is true, and it is a point reiterated by Jones. But (to repeat), this is not a work of historical theology as the Introduction to Deviant Calvinism makes plain. Moreover, it is odd to object that an author hasn't cited works the reviewer would have preferred to have seen used, instead of the Reformed theologians actually cited. We all make selections in the interlocutors with whom we interact. It is surely appropriate to choose interlocutors from the Reformed tradition that speak to a particular topic. The fact that they weren't the interlocutors the reviewer would have chosen is beside the point. (To take a hypothetical example, am I not allowed to use G. C. Berkouwer as a resource when tackling the doctrine of election because John Calvin wrote about it before he did? Must I compare Berkouwer to Calvin on this topic in order for my work to be theologically responsible? It does not seem to me that an affirmative answer to these questions is always the right answer to give, depending on the sort of inquiry envisaged, and the nature of the sources used.)

Of all the things written in this book, the chapter on libertarian Calvinism has come in for the most criticism, and some of that may be justified. But, as I have already indicated (and as Jones makes clear), I was not endorsing this doctrine. I was trying to lay out an account that is there in the Reformed tradition, treating it with seriousness and a certain intellectual sympathy--both of which I take to be hermeneutical virtues. My recent article in the Journal of Reformed Theology on John Girardeau's doctrine of human free will is a kind of follow-up piece that gives one important historical precedent for something like libertarian Calvinism, which Girardeau certainly did think was consistent with the Westminster Confession (whether he was right or wrong about this is another matter, of course). And, as recent historical work has shown, there is certainly a significant change in the way Reformed theologians thought about this matter from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. (See, e.g. Richard Muller's essay on Jonathan Edwards' views in this regard here). Gert van den Brink writes as if my views have no historical precedent, but that is to ignore this recent revisionist historiography, and the minority report of authors like Girardeau and others like William Cunningham, to whom I refer in the book. It is also very strange to find van den Brink distancing the authors of the Reformed Thought on Freedom from any accusation of libertarianism, when the writers of that work clearly indicate that a number of early Reformed theologians were not what today we would think of as theological determinists, and that a number of these thinkers utilized the doctrine of synchronic contingency, which is a principle that fits rather nicely with a certain sort of libertarianism. Interestingly enough, it was a conversation with Professor Donald Macleod, then Principal of the Free Church College, Edinburgh, that first alerted me to the existence of libertarian Calvinism. Macleod intimated, much to my surprise, that such was his own position!

Finally, some reflections on the project of Deviant Calvinism. Often, the way one frames an intellectual discussion is important. Perhaps I could have been clearer about the framing of my work, but it seems to me to be a natural development of previous forays into similar territory (e.g. my Revisioning Christology, and Retrieving Doctrine), and I say more about the method of theological retrieval in those works. Jones worries about the lack of biblical exploration in Deviant Calvinism, as well as about the use of historical sources. That is a fair point. But it is difficult to do all these things in the covers of one book. Whether one likes it or not, the complexity of specialist literatures today means that traversing territory as wide as that which I did undertake is no small task. Adding to that more historical work than I did, and biblical exegetical work as well, would have made this into a very different book. I do not seek to disparage Jones' comment. I only point out the limitations placed upon scholars by the complexity of disciplinary boundaries, and the inevitably limited scope of one short book. I shall redouble my efforts to do a better job in future.

In the closing section of Deviant Calvinism I wrote that one of the aims of the work was "to commend to those within and without the ambit of the Reformed community a way of looking at several central and defining doctrines of Calvinistic theology that broadens out what is regarded as appropriately Reformed doctrine." (p, 233.) No merely human author is infallible, and I certainly see that this is not a perfect book. However, in reviewing the work of others it is surely appropriate to expect charity and a real attempt to read a work accurately. I am grateful to Mark Jones for his comments, and his willingness to engage my work. I hope that Gert van den Brink and I can both learn from it.

Oliver Crisp is Professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California

Personal Reflections on "Deviant Calvinism"

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How wide or narrow is the Reformed faith? In his recent book, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology, Fuller Seminary Professor, Oliver Crisp, uses the tools of historical theology and analytic theology to address various questions, such as the broadness of Calvinistic theology. He does this not merely as a question of historical fact, but in order to help the church today understand that Reformed theology has a breadth to it that is not quite as narrow as some have presumed. This diversity that Crisp draws attention to can only be helpful for Reformed theology today, according to the argument in his book. It is a "constructive theological project" aimed to show that Reformed theology has "important resources" for contemporary systematic theology (p. 3).

Interestingly, he puts forth strong cases for positions he does not necessarily hold to, which is commendable. In other words, what is the best possible case for position x? Or, to use an example from his book, what philosophical, logical, and theological possibilities exist for justification-in-eternity to not lead to antinomianism and thus remain within the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy (see p. 61)?  

What Crisp attempts to do is not an easy task. He is also drawing attention to an important discussion that needs to take place. I confess that I still struggle in my mind about what the appropriate boundaries are for Reformed theology. Those who think it is an easy question may be a bit naive. With my sympathy towards his project made clear, I am nevertheless of the view that his idea of broadness may be too broad for me and the historical analysis may suffer in a few places. 

First, I wonder if the reader could be forgiven for thinking that Crisp views Arminians as a branch within the Reformed tradition, as many Remonstrants today wish to argue. Crisp states on page 27 that "most Reformed theologians (though perhaps not all) are said to affirm monergism." In the footnote (fn. 18) he then claims: "Reformed theologians are typically theological determinists, but some have advocated theological libertarianism, like the Arminians." Does Crisp think the Arminians are, in some sense, Reformed? Or are those Reformed who have advocated theological libertarianism doing so in the same way the Arminians did? I don't know what Crisp is getting at exactly. I am also left wondering who these Reformed theologians are who were not monergists? I can't think of anyone. 

Crisp states on the next page (28) that it is not clear to him that "Arminians are synergists." He also raises the question over how the human will may "contribute" to salvation. So if there are (hypothetically?) Reformed theologians who are not monergistic, but it is also not clear to Crisp that Arminians are synergistic, then what categories does he have in mind to sort this problem out? Are Arminians monergistic but some Reformed are not?

As we study the historical context of debate between the Arminians (Remonstrants) and Reformed, we note that they had strong disagreements on almost every major point of theology (e.g., providence, Christology, trinity, covenant, doctrine of God), especially justification. For the Arminians, it is the (human!) act of faith that is (by grace!) counted as (evangelical) righteousness, as if it were the complete fulfillment of the whole law. It is a genuine human act, coming forth from the liberum arbitrium. So that is synergistic, in my mind. 

In addition, we should also add that Arminius's vigorous commitment to scientia media meant that God responded to hypothetical human willing prior to God's providential concursus. All Arminians believe they are saved by grace, as do Roman Catholics, but Molinism allows for a subtle form of synergism (so Richard Muller), which is precisely what differentiates Arminian soteriology from Reformed soteriology. 

Historically speaking, the term Reformed has reference to a particular confessional tradition. Arminius, for example, came into conflict with this confessional tradition. He tried to claim he held to the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession, but this was deceptive on Arminius's part. I wonder if Crisp thinks that Karl Barth is part of this Reformed confessional tradition, as well?

Second, I am a little perplexed by some of the historical work in Deviant Calvinism. Let me draw attention to the chapter on eternal justification.

Crisp makes the distinction between justification in eternity and justification from eternity (p. 44). But I am personally unaware of any seventeenth-century author who makes this distinction. Is this his own "analytical" way of clarifying the issue or is this his reading of the historical documents? Moreover, the distinction between formal and material justification is not historical, to my mind. Also the idea that God's eternal act of (eternal) justification is incomplete (p. 45) does not have a Reformed pedigree, as far as I know. The intermingling of the analytic approach with the historical approach leaves me confused at times. 

I also do not think the topic of eternal justification is really all that important today, nor was it in the past. It is certainly not a "central and defining" doctrine of Calvinistic theology (see Crisp's comments on p. 238). The chapter deals with an interesting issue, but hardly a topic that will help the church today, in my view. There are other more pressing issues that I would like to have seen Crisp address, especially since his chapter on "double payment" had much value to it.

Third, the use of literature in the book to mine these incredibly complex debates seems to be too heavily focused on secondary sources. For example, there are Latin sources (e.g., William Twisse, Vindiciae Gratiae), which should be essential for discussing the topic of eternal justification in its historical context. Crisp is not uncomfortable with complex stuff, but the Protestant scholastics were even more nuanced than what I found in his chapter on the topic. Also, the topic of hypothetical universalism is exceedingly complex, and only a sustained rigorous analysis of the primary sources is going to get us beyond what the (sometimes average) secondary literature has offered thus far (note: Aaron Denliger's excellent essay on the topic in this book).

Speaking of sources, it is not easy to bridge historical theology with systematic theology or analytical theology. Crisp has my sympathy for the difficult task at hand. But, I am also concerned by the lack of exegetical or even basic biblical interaction in the works of analytic theologians in general. Helpful proposals for the church today need to be exegetically grounded in Scripture, in my view, even if they are helped by analytical theology.

Fourth, I am curious as to why some systematic positions that Crisp labels as Calvinistic were not regarded as such by Calvinists in the seventeenth century? In a book like this, I would like to know why the Dortian Calvinists of the seventeenth century viewed libertarianism as un-Reformed. But the question is not mentioned in regard to their objection on the matter, and therefore not answered. On this topic, see the Canons of Dort, III/IV.14; rejection III/IV.6,8).

Fifth, I came away from this book thinking that perhaps my own emphases on Reformed diversity are quite a bit different than Professor Crisp's ideas on "broadening Reformed theology." In one respect, I agree with much of what he's trying to do. But, on pages 14-15, Crisp speaks of Reformed and Roman Catholic branches of Christianity as "siblings, not enemies, related to one parent, namely, Western Catholic Christendom" (15). He adds that it is a mistake to think of the Reformed and Roman Catholics as "two distinct religious entities" (15). (Remember, the Pope was the antichrist in the original WCF).

As I understand Rome, she till holds a view of justification that is antithetical to the classical Protestant view that we are justified by faith alone. Are we not still anathematized for holding that we are justified by faith alone? We are only siblings in the sense that Rome has run away from the family, and, by her excommunication of us, has actually excommunicated herself. Our squabbles continue to revolve around the heart of the gospel, not peripheral issues.

It is true that the Reformed tradition has diversity. My own publications attest to that fact. And it is true that there are some over-zealous Reformed types out there who want to narrow Reformed theology in such a way that some of our leading lights would be excommunicated from the Reformed pale. It is also true that some are simply unaware of the breadth of the Reformed tradition. But the diversity found in the OPC, PCA, and PCUSA all differ. Is Calvinism now able to embrace gay marriage, theistic evolution, and a denial of a literal Adam? (I'm by no means suggesting that Crisp is obliged to answer these questions, but where does this broadening end? I'd love to see Crisp address the current denial of a literal Adam, especially since he has such expertise on the topic of Adam's sin and its consequences for humanity. Update: looks like that may be a reality, see here).

Crisp says in the conclusion that "it has been the burden of this book that Calvinism is still regarded too narrowly" (236). But the "broadening" found in Deviant Calvinism raises for me many questions. Based on the other chapters in the book, the diversity Crisp appears comfortable with in the Reformed tradition is, for me, a PCA minister, a diversity that stretches too far. 

In conclusion, I buy almost all of Oliver Crisp's books. They always challenge me, get me to think, and sometimes make me feel incredibly stupid. His book is not the final word, and there is more to be said. The conversation is not over, but we are making progress. Professor Crisp has gotten me to think more carefully about how Reformed churches can identify the boundaries of Calvinism more faithfully and clearly in relation to the Reformed tradition, and for that I am thankful. After all, it is easier to poke holes than offer a program. So, yes, I have some criticisms, but they are moderated by how difficult the task really is. 

An Analysis of "Deviant Calvinism" (Part 1)

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The question of how diverse the Reformed tradition is is an important topic of consideration. I have co-edited a volume on Reformed diversity in the seventeenth century, and later this year I have another co-edited volume coming out on Reformed diversity in the eighteenth century. Professor Oliver Crisp has written a book, Deviant Calvinism, that deals with questions related to the diversity of the Reformed tradition. In the near future, I hope to interact a little with the book myself, but also with the topic in general. Paul Helm has reviewed the book here. Below is an analysis of the book by a Dutch scholar, Gert van den Brink, who has published widely on these topics. 
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When are you a Calvinist, and when are you no longer a Calvinist? In this book, the English - now a Professor at Fuller Seminary - Calvinistic philosopher of religion, Oliver Crisp, claims that the space (i.e., diversity) which Calvinism offers is much wider than many presume. Too often, according to Crisp, Calvinism is identified with some narrow-minded conviction regarding predestination and limited atonement, which hinders the persuasiveness of Calvinism and gives us an unfair picture of its historical pedigree. In his book, Deviant Calvinism, Crisp stresses the doctrinal variegation in the Reformed tradition, and hopes that, by renewed interest for this diversity, Calvinism may be a serious dialogue partner in the field of dogmatics. 

Crisp discusses in this book several topics, investigating how wide the boundaries of Calvinism stretch. He pleads for "Deviant Calvinism," in an attempt to broaden Reformed theology. Crisp focuses mainly on two things: the issue of determinism (predestination and free choice), and atonement (whether it is hypothetical, limited or universal).

I have appreciation for this book, but also points of criticism. My appreciation concerns the fact that, with his publication(s), Crisp brings attention to the intellectual component of Reformed Theology. The questions he asks have the same character as the questions asked and debated by theologians in former days. Doing theology in the Reformed tradition does not mean that a given, immutable doctrine is repeated without one's own intellectual effort, but it is an ongoing intellectual conversation with voices from the present and the past. The diversity in historical Calvinism is a consequence of the intellectual independency of many Reformed thinkers. Therefore, the questions Crisp raises have much in common with the way of doing theology in (e.g.) the seventeenth century. Crisp himself can, from this perspective, be regarded as somebody in this tradition. His book shows his acuteness and sagaciousness.  

Nevertheless, I have several criticisms. Let me mention five objections. 

The first I mention, is the intermingling of a historical with a systematic approach (though there is a lack of biblical interaction). This flaw lies also at the bottom of the other four points. Normally, Crisp's approach is as follows: he claims that in the history of the Reformed tradtion there were one or more people who took a certain position, and because they did so in the Reformed context, the specific position can be regarded as a Reformed one, being within the bounds of Calvinism. In this way he mentions the fact that Arminius lived in a Reformed context, and subsequently he argues that Arminius's views can be seen as Reformed. However, such an approach is a categorical mistake. From the fact that somebody worked in a specific context, we should be careful about their theological leanings of proclivities. Not everybody in Rome is Romish. Crisp's claim that Arminius's views were "merely controversial; they were not unorthodox" (p. 82) is apparently wrong: on the Synod of Dordt, not only the opinions of his followers, the Remonstrant party, but also Arminius's own views were labelled as heretical. 

Secondly, Crisp's book is very weak in digesting the historical material. In his argument for justification from eternity, he mentions the names of William Twisse, Herman Witsius and Thomas Goodwin as theologians who were sympathetic toward that position. Further, he makes mention of Tobias Crisp, John Gill and John Brine. However, mentioning these names is problematic. The information is sometimes inaccurate (Crisp, Witsius and Goodwin rejected eternal justification); Gill and Brine were hypercalvinists. Moreover, Crisp does not at all even allude to the historical discussion, let alone that he is in dialogue with the positions. Even if he cites Reformed authors, they are seldom from the seventeenth century. There is a lack of interaction with the Latin sources from the seventeenth century, which would have helped his discussion immensely. Most of the times, he quotes from later authors who reflect on the earlier debates (so, he notices the names of John Gill [18th century], Cunningham [19th century] and Berkouwer [20th century]), but these later names have the difficult job in sustaining Crisp's claim that the discussed position has a Calvinistic character, historically.

Thirdly, when Crisp seeks for a historical defence, he should make use of the historical data. But now he discusses the topics without always giving evidence of enough knowledge of the detailed debates of former ages. For those who have knowledge of the historical debates about justification from eternity, the treatment of that topic in Crisp's book is meager. The treatment by Reformed divines in the seventeenth century was much more profound than it is in Deviant Calvinism. That could be because this book is only introductory; but the impression is difficult to avoid that Crisp simply has no knowledge of earlier discussions. Crisp's distinction between formal and material justification is not a historical one, nor is the difference between justification in eternity and from eternity (p. 44). And the suggestion that God's (eternal) act of eternal justification is incomplete (p. 45), is thoroughly un-Reformed, historically speaking. It is, therefore, unclear which historical proponent of each of the two views Crisp could have in mind.

Fourthly, Crisp chooses to let the borders of Calvinism coincide with the content of the official confessions. Especially the Westminster Confession is his reference. He suggests that his own view on the liberty of the human will (the libertarian view, freedom as indifference) can have a place within these boundaries. Libertarianism is the view that, given all preconditions as predestination, regeneration and the working of the Holy Spirit, the human will has still the opportunity to choose a or b. But, again, if he had given more attention to the historical settings, different results would emerge. If Crisp had given weight to the Canons of Dordt, he should have to acknowledge that his own libertarian view is repudiated there (Canons III/IV.14; rejection III/IV.6,8). Crisp relies on Reformed Thought on Freedom of the Dutch research group Classic Reformed Theology, but wrongly. In that book (to which I contributed myself) there is certainly not a defence of libertarian Calvinism, as Crisp wants to have it (p. 96). Libertarianism was strongly repudiated by Reformed authors, as Reformed Thought on Freedom shows. Additionally, those who read the confessions with knowledge of the convictions of the writers and the subscribers, shall understand that the space that Crisp seeks, was certainly not intended. In short: those who want to give themselves a name which is historically laden, shall have to deal with the history of that name. In other words: is it fair to call myself a Calvinist, if I know that my dogmatic position would definitely be regarded as un-Reformed by the Calvinists of the sixteenth and seventeenth century?

My last point has to do with the coherence of the book as a whole. Crisp pleads for justification from eternity, salvation for all people, universal efficacy of Jesus' sacrifice, but also for more room for the freedom of the human will, [as allowable views within the Reformed tradition, not as his own personal views] (updated to clarify). For each of these points, he mentions the names of Reformed authors, but it is clear that, historically speaking, there is nobody who (as Crisp wants now) pleads for these positions together. Furthermore, it is logically impossible to combine freedom as indifference with the absolute predestination of all people. Crisp does not answer the question why the position he defends did not become accepted in the Reformed tradition. The answer, however, is obvious: it is not a coherent position. And for those who even now wish to be regarded as Reformed and as Calvinistic, this is a weighty argument. 

Gert van den Brink, The Netherlands
PhD student Evangelical Theological Faculty Leuven (Belgium)

Westminster Conference 2014: "Authentic Calvinism?"

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This year's Westminster Conference is within hailing distance (Tue 02 and Wed 03 Dec) and the bookings have begun rolling in. Details can be found on the new website, together with the booking form for those wishing to attend. First time attendees at the conference can come free if they are among the first ten such to notify the Secretary (contact via the website). It looks like a pretty ripe array of the usual theological and historical subjects, and the fee is peanuts by comparison with other two day conferences in central London, so do check it out and come along.

Reformed ghetto blasters

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I've just been reading Collin Hansen's Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. It's a fascinating exploration of the growing influence of names with which we are familiar: John Piper, Mark Dever, Al Mohler. I don't get Christianity Today, but I gather that this book arises out of material which appeared in CT some time ago.

 

I was a bit disturbed, however, with the following paragraph (p34), in connection with the author's interview of John Piper:

 

'I think the criticism of Reformed theology is being silenced by the mission and justice and evangelism and worship and counselling - the whole range of pastoral life', Piper said, 'We're not the kind who are off in a Grand Rapids ghetto crossing our t's and dotting our i's and telling the world to get our act together. We're in the New Orleans slums with groups like Desire Street Ministries, raising up black elders through Reformed theology from nine-year old boys who had no chance'.

 

I'm not sure if Piper is aiming at some particular group here? I've never been to Grand Rapids, so I don't know about its Calvinistic ghettoes, but the comment seemed to me to be uncharacteristically harsh. I'm glad for the time Piper takes to cross his own t's and dot his own i's - his contribution to the debates on imputation for example have been greatly appreciated.

 

On the other hand, I'm sure that there are Grand Rapids Calvinists who are every bit as practical in the outworking of their theology. As someone who lives on an island, perhaps I'm over-sensitive to the ease with which we can caricature others and be caricatured ourselves, but let's not rush into judgement on God's people just because of where God in his Providence has called them to serve!