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Is Middle Knowledge Biblical? An Evaluation

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In part one of this series, the doctrine of middle knowledge was set forth and explained on its own terms. Its principal concern is to reconcile the sovereignty of divine agency and the liberty of human agency by inserting a third logical moment between God's natural knowledge and visionary knowledge, wherein God purportedly knows what every creature would freely do in any set of circumstances. It is argued that, by freely ordaining a particular world with a particular set of circumstances in which God foresees what the creature would freely do, the integrity of both divine agency and human agency are preserved. 

In what follows, the biblical fidelity of Molinism will be evaluated from a self-consciously and confessionally Reformed perspective. Therefore, it must be asked: How biblical is middle knowledge? This question will not likely be resolved on purely exegetical grounds. A more definitive answer will be sought by evaluating some of the divergent theological presuppositions about God that lie behind these important exegetical discussions. And as we shall see, the assumptions that one is forced to make about God in order to assert the need for, much less the coherency of, a so-called middle knowledge in God, are inconsistent with the God of the Bible who just "is What He is" and is all that He is of Himself (Exodus 3:14).

Middle Knowledge Evaluated

How biblical is middle knowledge? There are different ways to approach this question. We could refute Molinism from an exegetical and hermeneutical perspective, and others have competently done so.[1] But we can also approach the question by evaluating the biblical and confessional fidelity of some of the more metaphysical assumptions implied in the Molinist position. In what follows, we will evaluate three of these assumptions. With respect to the first two, it will be argued that the solution proposed by the advocates of middle knowledge presupposes an unbiblical and, therefore, incoherent view of God. Regarding the third, it will be argued that the proposed problem itself, much less their proposed solution, equally assumes an unbiblical view of God and, therefore, should be rejected at the outset.

First, with respect to the Molinist solution, it fails to ground God's so-called middle knowledge in God's knowledge of Himself. Rather, it claims that free and contingent effects (events, actions, or otherwise) are known by God as things independent of divine causality. But this would make God and the perfection of His knowledge dependent upon that which is not God. Just as no creature can be in the world apart from the divine causality, neither can it be known what a creature would do if they were in the world apart from the divine causality. To say otherwise would necessarily presuppose a God whose knowledge is dependent upon the creature and a creature who is in some respects independent from God, both of which are metaphysically impossible and biblically incoherent.[2]

The second is related to the first, again with respect to the middle knowledge solution. This view fails as an explanation for how God can know with certainty what creatures would do contingently of their own independent-libertarian-freewill. A necessary cause produce necessary effects, which can be foreknown with certainty; a contingent cause produces contingent effects foreknown only with probability. If God knows what a would-be-creature would do by grounding His knowledge in the contingent causality of the creature, and not in Himself as the first cause, then He can only have a conjectural or probable knowledge concerning it. Middle knowledge provides no further explanation for how God can know with certainty, but only with probability, what we would do of our own independent-freedom. Furthermore, probable knowledge can be rendered significantly unreliable by the possibility of our "acting out of character."[3]

The third objection is with respect to the "problem" as they see it. We just said that necessary causes produce necessary effects and contingent causes produce contingent effects, i.e., effects that proceed from their cause in such a way that they might not have happened or could be otherwise. And the Molinist assumes that God's will, because it is infallible and immutable, must be a necessary cause that only ever brings about necessary effects and, therefore, threatens the contingency and liberty of human agency. 

But we cannot accept the problem as they see it, which assumes that God is of the same univocal order of being whose causal agency must compete for space and influence with the agency of the creature. Divine agency cannot be reduced to either a necessary or a contingent cause. God's causality transcends the whole order of creaturely existence and agency; His is of the first order of causality and the whole of creaturely existence is lived out in the order of second causes. Though divine agency in the world is certain and unfailing after the manner of first causes, it is not, as such, a necessary cause that produces necessary effects. Rather, as a transcendent cause, He unfailingly ordains necessary causes for the effects that He wills to be necessary, and He no less effectually ordains causes acting contingently for the effects He wills to be contingent. There is plenty of mystery here, but no problems to be overcome. Divine agency and human agency do not need to be reconciled as two forms of causality competing for the same effects. Divine agency of the first order does not violate but establishes human agency of the second order, whether necessary or contingent. To suggest otherwise is a colossal failure to take seriously the fundamental biblical distinction between the Creator and the creature.  

Our Reformed Confessions do not try to solve the mystery as though it were a problem, but unashamedly confess it:

"Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that there is not anything befalls any by chance, or without his providence; yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently" (2LCF 5.2; WCF 5.2).[4]

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[1] For instance, see James Anderson's series "How Biblical is Molinism?" on his blog Analogical Thoughts.  

[2] Regarding the Grounding Dilemna, cf. Rom. 11:33-36. Also, cf. note 1 and 3 above. See Regninald Garigou-Langrange, The One God, 465-466, "God's knowledge cannot be determined by anything which is extrinsic to Him, and which would not be caused by Him. But such is the scientia media, which depends on the determination of the free conditioned future; for this determination does not come from God but from the human liberty, granted that it is placed in such particular circumstances ... Thus God would be dependent on another, would be passive in His knowledge, and would no longer be Pure Act. The dilemma is unsolvable: Either God is the first determining Being, or else He is determined by another; there is no other alternative. In other words, the scientia media involves an imperfection, which cannot exist in God." Charnock, Existence and Attributes, "If he understood by images drawn from the creatures, as we do, there would be something in God which is not God, viz. the images of things drawn from outward objects: God would then depend upon creatures..." (1:452). Again, "As his essence primarily represents itself, so it represents the creatures, and makes them known to him. As the essence of God is eminently all things, so by understanding his essence, he eminently understands all things. And therefore he hath not one knowledge of himself, and another knowledge of the creatures; but by knowing himself as the original and exemplary cause of all things, he cannot be ignorant of any creature which he is the cause of all things, he cannot be ignorant of any creature which he is the cause of; so that he knows all things, not by an understanding of them, but by an understanding of himself..." (1:453). See Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:214, "There was nothing from eternity which could be the cause of the determination of a thing indifferent to either part except the will of God; not his essence or knowledge, for neither can operate ad extra separated from the will. Therefore, as no effect can be understood as future (whether absolutely or hypothetically) without the divine decree (because no creature can be in the world without the divine causality), so no future conditional thing can be knowable before the decree."

[3] Regarding Only Probable Knowledge, cf. Isa. 46:10. See Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:215 (summarizing Aquinas, ST I, q.14, a.13), "He who knows an effect contingent in its own cause only and not in some superior cause certainly determining it, has only a conjectural knowledge concerning it; since from an indifferent cause as far as it is indifferent, a determinate act cannot flow; and for the same reason from a contingent antecedent, as far as it is contingent, a necessary conclusion cannot flow before the decree of the divine will." Again, "What is conceived to be determinately from God can also be pronounced to be determinately; but what is conceived only to be possibly can be pronounced to be only possibly. Now it is denied that the coexistence of a free act on hypothesis can be conceived to be determinately antecedently to the decree; it is granted that it may be possibly. So it is true that Peter would possibly sin if placed in a given order of things antecedently to the decree; but not determinately so as to make it true the Peter would actually and in fact sin if placed in such an order of things. This could not be certain unless from a permissive decree of God" (Turretin, 1:217-218). See Richard Baxter (quoted in Muller, PRRD, 3:4222), "[S]eeing they use it to shew how God knoweth that Determinatively, which he foreseeth but in Conditionibus sine quibus non, or in unnecessary and not determining causes. And their own answer signifieth nothing more to the purpose, but that God can know future contingents by the Infinite perfection of his understanding, which is most true. But that he knoweth them the more from the supposition of circumstances, they never prove."

[4] Regarding First and Second Causality, cf. 2LCF 3.1. See Michael J. Dodds, Unlocking Divine Action: Contemporary Science and Thomas Aquinas, 210, "If we affirm divine transcendence, we can see that secondary causality neither diminishes the power of God nor distorts that of creatures. God can act through secondary causes, with their character of necessity, contingency, chance, or freedom, without becoming himself just another secondary cause, acting with a univocal necessity, contingency, chance or freedom. God's causality is not limited or circumscribed by creatures. Nor is the causality of creatures compromised by God's causality: what God wills to be actualized in the world is always actualized, and it is actualized through the mode of secondary causality that God wills--actualized either through necessary causes so that it occurs necessarily, through contingent causes so that it occurs contingently, through free will so that it occurs freely, or by chance so that it occurs spontaneously." See Aquinas, ST I, q.19, a.8, "There is a difference to be noted on the part of the divine will, for the divine will must be understood as existing outside of the order of beings, as a cause producing the whole of being and all its differences. Now the possible and the necessary are differences of being, and therefore necessity and contingency in things and the distinction of each according to the nature of their proximate causes originate from the divine will itself, for he disposes necessary causes for the effects that he wills to be necessary, and he ordains causes acting contingently (i.e., able to fail) for the effects that he wills to be contingent. And according to the condition of these causes, effects are called either necessary or contingent, although all depends on the divine will as on a first cause, which transcends the order of necessity and contingency. This, however, cannot be said of the human will, nor of any other cause, for every other cause already falls under the order of necessity or contingency; hence, either the cause itself must be able to fail or, if not, its effect is not contingent, but necessary. The divine will, on the other hand, is unfailing; yet not all its effects are necessary, but some are contingent." See Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1:218, "...what in respect to the first cause is necessary with respect to the second can be contingent, the first cause so disposing it. This not only insures the existence of the thing, but in its own manner that it is a necessary thing necessarily, a contingent contingently. Yet that necessity as to the first cause does not take away the liberty of free will because it is not a necessity of coaction, but of consequence or infallibility which best conspires with liberty."


Charles J. Rennie is a graduate of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (IRBS) and Westminster Seminary California (2008), the University of St. Andrews (2017), and is presently a Ph.D candidate at Durham University. He is a pastor at Sycamore Reformed Baptist Church in East Moline, IL He also serves on the board of trustees for the IRBS Theological Seminary.


Related Links

"Is Middle Knowledge Biblical? An Explanation" by Charles Rennie

Grace Worth Fighting For by Daniel Hyde 

Chosen in Christ by Richard Phillips

What Are Election and Predestination? by Richard Phillips

PCRT '83: Predestination  [ Audio Disc |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

Five Golden Links by James Boice [ Audio Disc |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

 

Is Middle Knowledge Biblical? An Explanation

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Middle knowledge, otherwise known as Molinism, derives its name from a 16th century Jesuit named Luis de Molina (1535-1600). There is evidence that within a decade of Molina's death, his view of middle knowledge had a profound influence upon the theology of James Arminius--though there is some scholarly disagreement as to the extent of that influence. Among the more academic and influential contemporary advocates of Molinism are Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig (who has proposed that Molinism is the key to a Calvinist-Arminian rapprochement).  But interest in the doctrine also seems to be growing in the more popular and accessible world of internet blogs, videos, and podcasts. If you have not yet encountered it, there is a good chance that either you or one of the members of your church will. 

In this two part series, the biblical fidelity of Molinism with be examined from a self-consciously and confessionally Reformed perspective. However, before its biblical fidelity can be evaluated, which will be the focus of the forthcoming post, we must seek to understand Molinism on its own terms. Therefore, it must be asked: What is Molinism, and to what does "middle knowledge" refer?

Middle Knowledge Explained

The principal concern of its advocates is to reconcile the certainty of God's decree and the contingency or liberty of man's actions, i.e., divine agency and human agency. The problem, as they see it, is this: because God's foreknowledge and will are immutable and infallible, whatsoever He foreknows must necessarily come to pass. But, if all things occur necessarily, genuine freedom, or the contingency of free agents, seems to be impossible. For instance, because God infallibly foreknew that I would presently be writing this analysis of Molinism, it would seem that it is not genuinely possible that I not be writing this at this moment. How can we affirm the certainty of God's foreknowledge and decree without reducing man's liberty to some form of necessitarianism or determinism, i.e., fatalism? The Molinist maintains that this is the logical consequence of the Reformed position and proposes the doctrine of middle knowledge as the solution.

However, we cannot accept the problem as they see it, nor the assumptions that lie behind it. But leaving that aside for the moment, in order to understand the Molinist solution we need to bear in mind two things with respect to God's knowledge. First, we must maintain that the foundation of all of God's knowledge is His own essence and does not depend upon any thing other than Himself. "I Am Who I Am" (Exodus 3:14). In other words, God just is what He is, and He possesses all that He is from Himself. "God ... is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creature which he hath made, .... In His sight all things are open and manifest, His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain" (2LCF 2.2; WCF 2.2); "Known to God from eternity are all His works" (Acts 15:18). Medieval and Reformed alike have always confessed that God knows by His own essence, i.e., He necessarily knows all things in perfectly knowing Himself and every way in which His own perfection and goodness can be imitated and reflected in the creature in finite and limited ways. In this way, God's knowledge is grounded in His own essence as imitable--as the Prototype and Exemplar of all reality, whether of things actual or merely possible.[1] This is an important biblical presupposition, to which we will return in a moment, that undermines the Molinist position.

The second thing we must bear in mind is the various logical and biblical distinctions that have been customarily made with respect to the knowledge of God. The medieval and Reformed consensus has been to distinguish two logical (not temporal) moments in the divine knowledge relative to the divine decree: the natural or simple knowledge of God and the free or visionary knowledge of God. Another way to say this is that God knows both all that He can do and all that He, by virtue of His decree, will do. 

The first moment--the natural knowledge of God--is logically prior to the divine decree, i.e., it does not presuppose the decree, but comprehends His absolute knowledge of all possible things-and-worlds in which His essence can be imitated in created things. As such, His natural knowledge is His knowledge of His own absolute power (de potentia absoluta), i.e., whatsoever God's power can do.

The second moment--God's so-called knowledge of vision--refers to His fore-knowledge, not of whatsoever He is capable of doing, but more narrowly of those things that He has freely willed/decreed to do. As such, the visionary knowledge of God presupposes, or logically follows from, the decree of God and rests not only upon the absolute power of God but more particularly the ordained power of God (de potentia ordinata). 

The former, being logically prior to His decree, refers to whatsoever God can do, including many possibilities that God might have done but has chosen not to do. The latter, presupposing His decree, refers to God's foreknowledge of whatsoever He has freely chosen to actualize or bring to pass. Things are known as possible by virtue of His power and fore-known as future by virtue of His will. And yet, "although God knoweth whatsoever may, or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions" (2LCF 3.2; WCF 3.2; cf. Rom. 9:11-18). 

Once again, as the Molinist sees it, the problem with the traditional reckoning is that, if God's foreknowledge of things future (persons, events, actions, etc.) rests upon the immutable will of God, then those things must come to pass necessarily. And if they come to pass necessarily, then the contingency and liberty of human agency would be destroyed. Their proposed solution to the problem is the so-called doctrine of middle knowledge. In order to affirm man's liberty and divine sovereignty, they insert a third logical moment between God's natural knowledge and visionary knowledge, hence the name middle knowledge. Like the natural knowledge of God, middle knowledge, according to one author, 

"is God's prevolitional knowledge of all true counterfactuals. That is to say, it is a type of knowledge God possessed logically... prior to his willing to create the world or his making of any decisions about what kind of world, if any, he would create. In this knowledge, God apprehended the truth value of all counterfactuals, or conditional propositions in the subjunctive mood. ... To illustrate, the [following proposition is a counterfactual] ... "If the Supreme Court had declared Al Gore the winner of the 2000 presidential election, the United States would not have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq." And according to middle knowledge, God knows which of these propositions are true and which are false before deciding to make this world or any world."[2]

That God possesses counterfactual knowledge is not particularly controversial. Medieval and Reformed alike would confess that so-called counterfactuals are among the many possibles that lie within the purview of God's natural knowledge. What is controversial about the middle-knowledge-claim is that it does not ground this knowledge in God's knowledge of Himself (neither in what He can do nor in what He will do), but in what the potential creature would do of its own accord. The middle knowledge view proposes that God knows what every creature, if created, would freely do in any set of circumstances, not by knowing Himself as the principle cause of every possibility, but by knowing the potential creature as the whole cause of their own actions, independent of divine causality. What is controversial, then, is the assumption that God's so-called middle knowledge is grounded not in God Himself, but depends upon something other than God--upon the creature, presumed to be independent and autonomous.[3]

The uniqueness of this view can be seen in its relation to the doctrine of election. The popular variety of Arminianism proposes the following logical order: God decides to create a particular world and then looked down the corridor of time and foresees who will put their faith in Christ and who will not, and then He bases His decree of election on the faith foreseen in those persons. Molinism, however, approaches the matter with more sophistication. It proposes that God is, according to a so-called middle knowledge, aware of all possible worlds in which, under certain circumstances, a person would freely trust in Christ and other possible worlds in which, under different circumstances, they would freely reject Christ. Accordingly, He does not base His election of that person on the basis of their foreseen faith, but no less determines that they will believe by sovereignly decreeing one of the possible worlds, together with all of the concomitant circumstances, in which He foresees that they would believe. Human freedom is thereby preserved, inasmuch as God is not the cause of their believing; likewise, God's sovereignty is preserved, inasmuch as He was under no necessity to decree that world and not another of the myriad of possible worlds in which they would not have believed.

In Summary. We have sought to answer the question: What is Molinism, and to what does "middle knowledge" refer? The principal concern of its advocates is to reconcile the sovereignty of divine agency and the liberty of human agency. The problem, as they see it, is this: if whatsoever God decrees necessarily comes to pass, then genuine freedom and the contingency of free agents seems to be impossible. Their proposed solution is to insert a third logical moment between God's natural knowledge and visionary knowledge, wherein God purportedly knows what every creature would freely do in any set of circumstances. It is argued that, by freely ordaining a particular world with a particular set of circumstances in which God foresees what the creature would freely do, both the sovereignty of divine agency and the liberty of human agency are preserved. But how biblical is middle knowledge? In part two of this series, we will offer a brief evaluation of the so-called doctrine of middle knowledge from a self-consciously and confessionally Reformed perspective.

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[1] cf. Aquinas, ST I, a.15, q.2, "Inasmuch as He knows His own essence perfectly, He knows it according to every mode in which it can be known. Now it can be known not only as it is in itself, but as it can be participated in by creatures according to some degree of likeness." Charnock, Existence and Attributes, "God knows by his own essence; that is, he sees the nature of things in the ideas of his own mind, and the events of things in the degrees of his own will; he knows them not by viewing the things, but by viewing himself; his own essence is the mirror and book, wherein he beholds all things..." (1:452). See Henri Renard, The Philosophy of Being, "From all eternity God contemplating His essence, which is the actuality of all perfection, sees the possibility of limited imitations of that supreme perfection. Thus, from an eternity He conceives the possible essences; consequently, these essences are said to be eternal, immutable, and necessary. The formal realization of the possibles, then, is in the divine intellect. The foundation, however, for this cognition is the essence of God as imitable, for the essence of God is the source of all reality, of all possibles, of all beings" (112). See John McCormick, Scholastic Metaphysics, "[I]f anything at all besides God is possible, it is because it can imitate in a finite way some infinite perfection of God. God's essence as imitable in a finite way in created things is, therefore, the ultimate foundation of the possibles and the final reason why things are possible at all... God's essence is therefore the Exemplar and Prototype of all reality" (1:55).

[2] Kirk R. MacGregor, Luis de Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge, 79.

[3] The Molinist might protest this conclusion, pointing out that Molina himself spoke of divine causality both in creating creatures capable of libertarian-causality and in freely bringing to pass a specific order and, therefore, outcome of things. He even maintained that "God acquires no knowledge from things but instead knows and comprehends everything He knows in His own essence and in the free determinism of His own will..." But Molina immediately goes on to limit the extent to which God comprehends everything He knows by excluding the notion that He knows all things in knowing Himself as their cause: "...nonetheless it is not because He knows that something is going to be that that thing is going to be. Just the opposite, it is because the thing will come to be from its causes that He knows that it is going to be" (Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia, trans. Alfred J. Freddoso, disputation 52.19).


Charles J. Rennie is a graduate of the Institute of Reformed Baptist Studies (IRBS) and Westminster Seminary California (2008), the University of St. Andrews (2017), and is presently a Ph.D candidate at Durham University. He is a pastor at Sycamore Reformed Baptist Church in East Moline, IL He also serves on the board of trustees for the IRBS Theological Seminary.


Related Links

Grace Worth Fighting For by Daniel Hyde 

Chosen in Christ by Richard Phillips

What Are Election and Predestination? by Richard Phillips

PCRT '83: Predestination  [ Audio Disc |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

Five Golden Links by James Boice [ Audio Disc |  MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

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. 
* * *

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!