Results tagged “reformed theology” from Reformation21 Blog

Cornelius Van Til and Classic Reformed Theism

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Cornelius Van Til, former professor of Christian apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA, professed to have stood on the shoulders of classic Reformed theological giants such as Abraham Kuyper, Benjamin B. Warfield, and Herman Bavinck.1 While not everyone is agreed on how consistently he stood on the shoulders of those men,2 I wish to underline--in this article--the fact that Van Til stood squarely on the shoulders of theologian extraordinaire Geerhardus Vos.3 Vos was, like his friend and old Princeton colleague Benjamin Warfield, a polymath and renaissance man, expert in exegesis, biblical, systematic, and historical theology.4 Vos proves to us that you can be adept at all of these and allow each to mutually reinforce and inform the other disciplines. Van Til often said that Vos was his favorite seminary professor. He kept a framed photo of Vos in his office at the seminary as proof of his love and esteem.5

In recent years some have given the impression that Van Til did not uphold so-called classical theism. As long as classical theism is not equated with any single theological influence (say, Thomas Aquinas to the exclusion of other equally profound thinkers), I can affirm without fear of contradiction that Van Til upheld classical theism, or more accurately, classic Reformed theism. This is not to suggest that he merely parroted the tradition (whatever that might actually mean), as if he did not suggest improvements and creatively construct theological formulations. He is known, after all, for his creative approach to apologetics. Even here I would suggest that the more one reads in Dutch Reformed orthodoxy the more one will see that Van Til extended its insights to apologetics. In other words, Van Til was committed to the deeply rich theological vision of the likes of Geerhardus Vos.6 That Vos is little known is a true disappointment. I am convinced that we are the poorer for this neglect.7

For the sake of this article, let's consider the matter of God's aseity. The doctrine of divine aseity is that biblical truth that upholds God's independence. God is not dependent on anything outside of Himself. Whereas we creatures are dependent on God and the world He has created for us, God did not need to create us whatsoever nor does he depend upon us in any way. God does not change in himself by the mere act of creation nor does he change in himself in order to relate to or interact with his creation. Another way to say the same thing is to note that God is both absolute and that he relates to us. God does not need to change in himself in order to enter into meaningful relationships with us.

Even in the incarnation, the eternal and absolute Son wills a new relation that consists in taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul in permanent hypostatic union to his divine person. Yet precisely in that new relation his divine person remains immutably absolute. In other words, God the Son remains a se in himself. Both the essence and the person of the eternal Son remains immutably absolute in the "new relation" to the contingent human nature assumed in the incarnation. That is why the Chalcedonian formula is so important.

The Son does not become what he was not before. The Son as to his divine nature remains independent but he enters into a hypostatic union with a true, but contingent human nature (soul and body so that Christ has a divine nature and a full human nature in one person). While the two natures are united, they are not mixed nor do the two natures intermingle or become a third thing (per Chalcedon). Jesus Christ is both God and man in one person, but the union does not contradict the Creator/creature distinction. The God - man is absolute as to his divine PERSON and nature and contingent and changeable as to his human nature (as Luke 2:40, 52 explain, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man").

Cornelius Van Til often talked about the "self-contained ontological Trinity" throughout his various writings. He could not have meaningfully and truthfully used such language had he denied divine aseity.

I am interested in defending the metaphysics that comes from Scripture. This involves: (a) the doctrine of the self-contained God or ontological trinity, (b) the plan or counsel of this God pertaining to created reality, (c) the fact of temporal creation as the origin of all the facts of the universe, (d) the fact of God's providential control over all created reality including the supernatural, and (e) the miraculous work of the redemption of the world through Christ. This metaphysic is so simple and so simply Biblical that non-Christian philosophers would say that it is nothing but theology...So I point out that the Bible does contain a theory of Reality. And this theory of Reality is that of two levels of being, first, of God as infinite, eternal, and unchangeable and, second, of the universe as derivative, finite, temporal, and changeable. A position is best known by its most basic differentiation. The meanings of all words in the Christian theory of being depend upon the differentiation between the self-contained God and the created universe.8

If God had to change within himself in order to create or relate to creatures, then he could not be independent, no matter how much conceptual and linguistic gymnastics one performed. For Van Til, God is both self-contained, and relational. This is true because God is both one and three, three and one. Unity and diversity are equally ultimate in the godhead. God is one and at the same time he is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God's oneness is not something other than the three persons, but the three distinct persons who subsist distinctly as the undivided essence of God, also relate to one another in perichoretic, personal relations of mutual interdependence (known in Greek as perichoresis and in Latin as circuminscessio). It should be noted that we do not need to fall into the equal and opposite error of thinking that God is an undifferentiated monad (like the One of Plotinus).9 Van Til clearly builds upon the insights of his mentor Geerhardus Vos as evidenced by Vos's discussions about God and the incarnation in his recently translated five-volume Reformed Dogmatics.10

In the first volume of Vos's Reformed Dogmatics, which follows the catechetical question and answer format (although it often has answers far too long for a memorable catechism answer), Vos asks about God's "self-existence,"

  1. What is God's self-existence? That attribute of God by which He is the self-sufficient ground of His own existence and being. Negatively expressed, independence says only what God is not. Self-existence is precisely the adequate affirmation here. Proof texts: Acts 17:25; John 5:26.11
If Van Til builds on Vos in his understanding of divine aseity, the same is true with regard to divine omniscience. God is the original and man is the copy. God is the archetype and man is the ectype. God's knowledge is creatively determinative and man's knowledge is derivatively reconstructive. As Van Til liked to say, we are to "think God's thoughts after him." Vos, specifically notes,

 
  1. What is God's knowledge? That perfection by which, in an entirely unique manner, through His being and with a most simple act, He comprehends Himself and in Himself all that is or could be outside Him.
  2. What distinguishes divine knowledge from that of human beings?
  3. a)     It occurs by a most simple act. Human knowledge is partial and obtained by contradistinction. God arrives immediately at the essence of things and knows them in their core by an immediate comprehension.
  4. b)     It occurs from God's being outwardly. With us the concept of things must first enter our cognitive capacity from outside us. God knows things from within Himself outwardly, since things, both possible and real, are determined by His nature and have their origin in His eternal decree.
  5. c)     In God's knowledge, there is no cognition that slumbers outside His consciousness and only occasionally surfaces, as is the case for the most part with our knowledge. Everything is eternally present before His divine view, and in the full light of His consciousness everything lies exposed.
  6. d)     God's knowledge is not determined through the usual logical forms, by which we, as by so many aids, seek to master the objects of our knowledge. He sees everything immediately, both in itself and in its relation to all other things.12
God knows all things because he has decreed them. We know because we discover the truth of things after the fact. God knows all things exhaustively. We know things truly, but not exhaustively. God created us to know him and his world. We know him as he intended us to know him, after the fall into sin, not only dependent upon him for every breath but for any knowledge we have of facts or the laws that govern facts.

God could not be archetype if he was not a se. If he had to change within himself in order to create us or relate to us, he would by implication also have to come to learn things as we do. If God had to change within himself in order to create or relate then that would mean that he had to be what he was not before which would entail learning or coming to know something he did not know before. If God knows himself perfectly since he is a se, his knowledge would be correspondingly incomplete and imperfect should he need to change.

While Cornelius Van Til was creatively constructive in his application of Reformed theology to apologetics, he was standing on the shoulders of giants like Geerhardus Vos. Van Til sought to bring out the rich insights of classic Reformed theism in his theology and his theological apologetics. We have briefly considered his treatment of divine aseity and omniscience. If we think Van Til is novel in these areas, it may be because we don't know the depth of the richness of classic Reformed theism as we think we do. With Van Til, let's seek to be faithful to our heritage which seeks to bring out the riches of Scripture as found in classic Reformed theism.

 

 

1. See Greg Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998), for a discussion of Van Til's critical appropriation of Kuyper and Warfield. For further elaboration of this topic, see my "On the Shoulders of Giants: Van Til's Appropriation of Warfield and Kuyper," The Confessional Presbyterian Journal, Fall 2011 (Vol. 7), 139ff. With the recent translation and publication of Bavinck's magnum opus, the Reformed Dogmatics (John Vriend, tr. John Bolt, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2003-2008), the reader can see Van Til's dependence upon and extended application of Bavinck's method to the defense of the Reformed Christian faith.

2. In recent days, it has not been uncommon to discover certain theologians affirming Bavinck and rejecting Van Til. I would contend that those who have done so have almost certainly not read the former carefully and have most likely misunderstood the latter. One cannot read and affirm Bavinck's project and at the same time reject Van Til's work. This is not to suggest that one must agree in every detail. Even Van Til disagreed with Bavinck here and there at points.  But that is the subject for another article.

3. Van Til noted his appreciation for and dependence upon Vos throughout his teaching career at Westminster. Vos is the author of such noteworthy volumes as Biblical Theology, the Pauline Eschatology, and Grace and Glory. Many of Vos's works are available through the Logos electronic library in a fully searchable format now.

4. A good exposure to Vos's ouvre can be found in the compilation of his shorter writings ably edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., >Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation (Phillipsburg, NJ:P&R Publishing, 2001). In this volume the reader can find Vos's adeptness with all the disciplines of the theological encyclopedia.

5. Van Til's framed portrait of Vos is now located in the front lobby of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Seminary. Van Til also indicated his dedication to his favorite professor by performing his funeral in 1949.

6. Van Til, in advanced years, even produced a Sunday School level biblical theology volume that has not been published. He manifests his clear attachment to Vos in this typescript.

7. For biographical material on Vos, see James T. Dennison, ed., The Letters of Geerhardus Vos (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001). The first portion of this book is a biography with the remainder of the book comprised of letters written by and to Vos by such worthies as Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Benjamin B. Warfield. More recently see the series of articles by Danny Olinger in the Ordained Servant, the journal for officers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The final article can be accessed online at: http://www.opc.org/os.html?article_id=680. Accessed on 25 April 2018.

8. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith. 4th Edition. (K. Scott Oliphint, ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 236-37. This is a restoration of the original full text of the 1st edition of 1955 with introduction and explanatory notes by the editor. Italicized words are added for emphasis and clarity.

9. That is, the two errors to avoid are indistinguishable monadism on the one hand, and mutual dependence between the Creator and creature on the other hand.

10. See the five volume set by Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, ably edited by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Multiple trs. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012-2016). Lexham Press is the print edition arm of Logos software. This set is also available in electronic format in the Logos library and other formats. The RD was originally written by hand in Dutch and then typed up, again, in Dutch. See Lane G. Tipton's review of the set in the New Horizons April 2018 issue, 9-11. This can be read online at http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH2018/NH2018Apr.pdf. Accessed on 25 April 2018. For a more detailed audio discussion of the issues covered in this article and in the Vos set, see the Christ the Center podcast from the Reformed Forum: http://reformedforum.org/ctc537/#comment-3540212.

11. Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, 1: 8.

12. Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:16-17.

What Do You Know?

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In January, Meet the Puritans began a new series studying Richard Muller's Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. Join Danny Hyde in Week 6 as he discusses not just what we know, but how we know:


What's theology? What does God know? What can we know? How do we know what we know? How do we know what we know is true? And how do we express it? That's what this week's reading is all about. Muller deals with the Reformed Orthodox discussion of the parts of true theology, so helpfully distinguished by Franciscus Junius as theologia archetypa, God's own knowledge of himself, and theologia ectypa, what we know of God.

Why this distinction? One of the insights Martin Luther rested on was the late medieval critique of Thomas Aquinas by men like John Duns Scotus. Aquinas said there was an anaology of being between God and man; Scotus said it was impossible for man to derive a description of God apart from an authoritative testimony from God himself. Hence Luther's theology of the cross--what God revealed--took precedence over the theology of glory--what God has kept hidden. John Calvin added to this the radical effects of original sin upon the mind of man so much so that apart from God's self-revelation, true knowledge of God is inaccesible to us. Therefore, Reformed Orthodox writers distinguished theology as God knows it (theologia archetypa) from theology as we creatures can know it (theologia ectypa), whether in this life as pilgrims (theologia viatorum) or the life to come (theologia beatorum). In other words, we as creatures before the Fall, after the Fall in sin, after redemption in Christ, and even in glory, are limited in what we can know of God. We know what God knows is reality; and what we can know is tethered to whatever he decides to reveal to us in a manner appropriate for our creaturely capacity.

Why is this distinction important? Let me illustrate...


Read more at Meet the Purtians today! 

 

A Word from an Alliance Board Member

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Thomas Martin, member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals board of directors, reflects on the legacy of R.C. Sproul and his relationship with the Alliance:


When James Boice died of liver cancer in June of 2000, his close friend R. C. Sproul was asked to speak at the memorial service. As Sproul rose to the pulpit, he reminded the crowd (as he often did) of a historic parallel. Philip Melanchthon, at Martin Luther's funeral in 1546, compared the death of Luther to the heavenly ascension of Elijah (the prophet whose very name meant "Yahweh is God!"). Melanchthon quoted  Elisha's lament at the loss of his dear friend and mentor: 

"And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

"And Elisha saw it, and he cried, 'My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.' And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.

"He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;

"And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, 'Where is the Lord God of Elijah?' and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over" (2 Kings 2:11-14). 

It took a few hours for the death of R.C. Sproul to sink into my soul. R.C. was a giant, and a true Christian. Imperfect, to be sure, yet a man with a genuine heart and love for Jesus. He exemplified the work of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. In a real sense, I had the feeling that the Alliance came about because Jim Boice wanted others to know R.C. Sproul as he did: a man catholic in spirit, but unbending in the truth of the holy Scriptures.

Now both are gone. Others must carry on, and we shrink from the reality that we no longer have R.C. to share in the work of the Kingdom of God. We want to cry out "My father! My father!" Yet we see him no more. 

We must recall that even in his sorrow, Elisha "took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him." The power of God is not diminished by the loss of God's saints. As John Wesley wrote: "God buries His workers and carries on His work." May the God of Elijah, the God of Jim Boice, and the God of R.C. Sproul carry on His work until Jesus comes again.

-Thomas Martin 


The Alliance is offering free R.C. Sproul MP3 downloads from Alliance conferences spanning over 30 years. Head to ReformedResources.org/R-C-Sproul for your free download. 

 

 

Our prayers today are with the family of R.C. Sproul, who has been called home to glory. Read his eulogy below, written by Rick Phillips...

We grieve today at the news of R. C. Sproul's departure from this life, while so blessed at the knowledge that he basks in the glory of the Savior he served and loved.  

In mourning our loss of this great preacher and church leader, my mind searches back to the early 1990's, when what is now called the Reformed Resurgence was only an envisioned hope.  I was converted to faith in Christ in 1990 under the preaching of R.C.'s close friend, James Montgomery Boice.  This meant that I soon was exposed to the live phenomenon of R. C. Sproul in the pulpit in the prime of his vigor.  I had never and never will see again such a combination of passion, intellect, and theological courage.  Those of us who were swept up into the Reformed faith during those years were blessed with a band of true pulpit heroes: Boice, Eric Alexander, J. I. Packer, John Gerstner, and others.  But even in that band of astounding men of vision and gospel power, R. C. Sproul stood out.  He was a lion in our midst, and when he roared we lifted up our hearts to God in faith.  For so many of us in the generation that followed these prophets, experiencing R. C. first hand at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology and then the Ligonier Conference, inserting the much-anticipated tape-of-the-month cassette into our car stereos, and hearing the life-changing audio recording of R.C.'s The Holiness of God impacted us so deeply that we raced forward to lay our own swords at the feet of Christ.  God dramatically changed our lives through the voice of R. C. Sproul and we have loved him for it.

I have been one of many who are privileged to have known R. C. personally, though I would not claim to be an intimate.  A few remembrances might illuminate the personal charm that accompanied the pulpit brilliance.  In late 1997, council members of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals gathered at a hotel in Orlando to draft a response to the Evangelicals and Catholics Together statement (ECT II).  I was present as aide-de-camp to Dr. Boice, being still in seminary and new to the organization.  Our first night, Boice thought it appropriate to introduce me and so he started in on a lengthy bio of Rick Phillips.  About 10 seconds into it, R. C. interrupted and said, "Jim, is this your guy?"  Boice testily replied, "If you don't mind, R. C., I'd like to continue."  Twenty seconds later, R. C. interjected, "Jim, we don't really care about any of this.  Is Rick your guy?"  Boice again brushed aside R. C.'s interruption and continued.  Finally, R. C. exclaimed, "Jim, we really don't want to listen to this.  All we want to know is if this is your guy."  Boice replied, "Yes, R. C., he is my guy."  At this, R. C. gave me that impish grin of his and said, "Hi, Ricky.  If you're Jim Boice's guy then we're pals!"  And so we were, much to my blessing.

For that meeting, Boice and Sproul each brought proposed replies to ECT II and all we did was put them together into a unified document ("An Appeal to Fellow Evangelicals").  Then we held a conference call with the evangelical leaders who had participated in and were promoting the joint accord with Rome.  To describe this conversation as alarming and distressing is an understatement, and we went to bed dejected that evangelical scholars could, in our view, so terribly compromise the gospel.  The next morning we slumped together in the hotel breakfast area.  But R. C. perked up and said, "Boys, we have found a hill to die on!  We sing Luther's hymn, 'let goods and kindred go,' and now's the time to do it!"  For a young minister in training, it was an electrifying experience.  R. C.'s stalwart leadership in defense of justification through faith alone was one of his great accomplishments, and his clarity of insight and courage of spirit were essential in rallying the gospel cause.  Only a few short years after that experience, I had the task of giving R. C. daily reports on the rapid decline of Jim Boice's health, and we wept together on the phone after I had told him of his best friend's passage into glory.

These experiences come to mind as I thank the Lord for the life and witness of R. C. Sproul.  I might add numerous personal acts of kindness that he and Vesta performed for my wife and me, together with his warmth of heart and humor that made his great ministry so wonderfully human.  Because he took hard stands for gospel truth, there have been those who disliked R. C., just as Spurgeon had enemies and critics.  But he was a lion in our midst and the call of his voice will resound in our hearts until we are rejoined to this captain and leader in the glories about which we have so joyfully sung here below.  

But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way.
Allelujah!  Allelujah!

-- Richard Phillips.

Why We Are Still Protestant

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This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of the 95 theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. This act in itself was relatively conventional: he was essentially initiating a debate about the use and abuse of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church. But the pastoral concerns of this small-town professor set ablaze Europe with the flames of Reformation.

Within a short time it was clear that Luther's concerns had implications far beyond indulgences and relics; they went to the heart of the medieval Roman church. In the years immediately following the publication of his famous theses, Luther had occasion to engage in other highly significant debates on some of these implications. It was in Heidelberg in 1518 that Luther made it clear that humility was the key to salvation and theology. In Leipzig, about a year later, Luther declared that the decrees of the pope and of the church deserved close scrutiny; some were indefensible.

In 1520, Luther wrote treatises challenging the church's view on the sacraments, on justification and good works, and on the relationship between the civil authorities and the authority of the church. During the next year, Luther was summoned to appear before the Imperial Diet of Worms in a last-ditch attempt to get him to recant. He did not.

In further years Luther would turn his attention to the translation of the Bible into German, to the thorny problem of how a congregation freed from the grip of Rome should worship and operate, and to the perennial questions related to Christian work and the Christian family.

These kinds of questions and many more had to be addressed by Luther and the other early Reformers. This should remind us that the reform set in motion 500 years ago this October has a number of far reaching implications. While individual Christians might boil down the core of Protestantism to one or two major points, the reality was and is far more complex.

Over the next few weeks, across all of the websites of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, we'll be surveying many aspects of the Protestant cause. Some of the articles will be historical in nature, giving further detail about the specific figures, events, and debates that shaped the early years after the break from Rome. Some will be theological, bringing clarity to the animating ideas that drove Luther and so many others to pursue the truth of the gospel at great personal cost to themselves. Some will be polemical, making the case explicitly that what was true then is true today.

Our hope is that this series will renew your interest in the Reformation and its implications. But more than renewing interest, we pray that the posts will awaken in you a greater conviction of the importance of this great work of God in the history of the church.

Sometimes the nature of Reformed theology has been summarized by the so-called five solas of the Reformation. These five Latin slogans could be translated as: the Bible alone; grace alone; faith alone; in Christ alone; to the glory of God alone. Ultimately this series of articles, and every article we publish, has one final end in mind: that God would be glorified. As we look back to God's great and gracious work 500 years ago, may God be pleased to use this series to bring about a Reformed awaking in today's church.

Geerhardus Vos' Reformed Dogmatics Giveaway!

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Geerhardus Vos' Reformed Dogmatics (5 volumes) represents the early theological thought of one of the premier Reformed thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Originally self-published in Dutch under the title Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, this important work was not available to an English audience until recently.  For the first time ever, Lexham Press Publishing Group--with the editorial help of Dr. Richard Gaffin--has been able to bring this Reformed systematic theology to English readers. 

The fifth and final volume released on Wednesday, October 26th. Lexham Press has graciously provided the complete five volume set to the Alliance for a give away (USA mailing addresses only). Enter the drawing today. One entry per person. Deadline to register is Friday, November 11.

ChinaSource is, in my estimation, the premier resource for anyone interested in Chinese Christianity. The dedicated crew observes closely, researches thoroughly, documents meticulously, and consistently publishes high-quality reports and essays written by Chinese church leaders and others with years of experience living and working in this ancient, complicated, and rapidly changing culture.

Why bring all this up now? The just-released summer 2015 issue of ChinaSource Quarterly is titled "Theological Reflections on Urban Churches in China" and is devoted to current trends in Chinese theology. As the opening editorial by Brent Fulton and Ji Lin puts it, "with the rise of civil society has come a new theological stream that seeks to position the church constructively within society, yet with a prophetic voice toward social and political institutions." This stream is quite braided in its course but one significant strand, made clear by the lead article  written (originally in Chinese) by a notable reformed church leader, is Reformed Theology.

Short, programatic, and pastoral, it's worth the few minutes it takes to open a new tab and read it. It's an encouraging insight into the kinds of discussions and concerns at play among our Reformed Chinese brothers and sisters. (The issue also includes a review of my China's Reforming Churches and interesting discussions of liberalism, eschatology, pentecostalism, and public theology in China today. The full issue, in pdf, is available here.)

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
China may be emerging as another global center of Reformed faith and practice. If so, East Asia would seem to be well on its way to becoming the heartland of the Reformed tradition in this century. True, outside South Korea, the Reformed tradition in East Asia lacks the long and relatively unbroken history of institutional development and cultural influence it enjoys in parts of Europe and the Anglosphere (including South Africa in this case), but that is changing rapidly. There are remarkable developments taking place in Indonesia, Singapore, and China. Two major Chinese cities--China's Geneva and Edinburgh, if you will--particularly stand out. Only God knows how all this will turn out, but present appearances our very encouraging despite some glaring issues.

Evidence of the advance of the Reformed tradition in China is not hard to find. (At the risk of indecent self-promotion, I happily point you to China's Reforming Churches, which attempts to tell the backstory, set present developments in proper context, and assess opportunities, needs, and challenges going forward.) Just this week, ZGBriefs, a digest of news of interest on China, highlighted a piece by Brent Fulton entitled "In Search of Structure: The Pull of Denominations in China." 

Brent, founder and director of ChinaSource, is a keen observer of Christianity on the mainland. He notes a significant change among house church leaders in their views on denominations. For decades China's house churches tended to despise denominations but that has been changing rapidly as they face the need for institutional structure and better church practices in order to support the work of the ministry--defending the faith, practicing discipline, training up the children, ordaining ministers, sending out missionaries, and so on. Interestingly, their quest for structure is driving many church leaders to the resources of Reformed theology and biblical presbyterianism, broadly construed. Brent is clearly right to view these two trends--the embrace of structure and Reformed theology--as thoroughly entangled. And, despite certain dangers, this is very encouraging since the embrace of Reformed theology in China is a church-centered affair.

For evidence of this, and further evidence of the indigenization of the Reformed tradition in China, consider this recent interview with a house church pastor from a midsize eastern city (not one of the two noted above it is worth noting). The interview, translated and divided into three parts for our benefit by the good folks at Chinese Church Voices, first appeared on Christian Times, a leading Christian website in the People's Republic. Does it surprise you there is such a thing as a leading Christian website in China? Read the interview, there are far better surprises than this in store.
Seminary changed my life. Spending time both inside and outside the classroom with my godly professors, learning from them, praying with them, and receiving counsel from them revolutionized my walk with Christ. I cannot remember a time when my professors were unavailable to meet with me. Everyone from Robert Godfrey to Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark to Dennis Johnson made themselves easily accessible. I graduated from seminary thankful for all the time (i.e., personal mentorship) they provided. 

As I look back on my experience, there are many things that I would change. Fortunately, those things that I would change have more to do with me than the faculty and curriculum. While I cannot mention that enough, there are a few things I would change regarding my learning experience (i.e., the curriculum). I share this one thing not to indict my seminary -- I love them a great deal -- but more as a reflection of my time in seminary now that I have been separated from that environment for a couple of years. You can think of this as the final evaluation that students had to complete upon graduation now two years removed.

I imagine that many of the reformed seminaries in America have similar curriculum. If so, maybe this will be of some help to them as well. If not, they can discard this post like many of the others I have written.

What I wish I had learned in seminary:

I have learned a tremendous amount from those in the reformed tradition. In particular, I am grateful for those American theological giants who helped mold me. Although dead, their words live. B. B. Warfield, Charles and A. A. Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, J. Gresham Machen, and many others were instrumental in my theological outlook both while in seminary and now, but what do these men have in common besides their theology and American citizenship? They are all white. Is that a problem? Absolutely not! Again, I am grateful for these men. They have shaped my understanding of the Bible. In fact, I still read their literature. I wonder, however, if others, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, have contributed to reformed thought in an influential manner much like the men listed above?

Why do I raise this question?

The vast majority of the time when an African-American or Latino was highlighted in my theological education, they were associated with liberation theology (of the negative fold). Is that all people of color in America have contributed to theology, or reformed theology more specifically? I would have never questioned this until I graduated from seminary and began reading more broadly. I can specifically thank Dr. Carl Ellis, Dr. Eric Washington and Reverend Thabiti Anyabwile. Some of the materials they have published, and classes they have taught, have helped me realize that people of color have contributed in a positive and influential manner to reformed thought. In other words, there is more to their theology than the social gospel. 

How can this help you? How does this help me?

First, it expands our view of church history and the theological contributions of others to the church. Secondly, and perhaps more subjectively, when I speak with many people of color, they believe that to be reformed is to be white. As they look at the dominant ethnic composition of reformed congregations, they see white skin and immediately make that association.  When I, therefore, as an African-American PCA pastor, come along side my brothers and sisters of color and begin explaining the truths of reformed doctrine, there is an association with reformed theology that I must overcome while explaining the biblical accuracy of reformed doctrine. That association is the "whiteness", at least in their minds, of reformed theology. If I, however, willingly acknowledge that our congregations may presently be composed primarily of white people, although I hope to see that change, but also share other information of which they are unaware, that will help them. Particularly, if I am able to demonstrate that there were people of color who contributed significantly to reformed theology, I can slay the notion, at least historically, that to be reformed means to be white and perhaps gain a greater hearing for reformed theology among my people of color.

We do this all the time. Whenever we appeal to history to help people more clearly see how a particular doctrine was rooted in the church for hundreds of years, we appeal to the history of the church to demonstrate the validity of that doctrine. While history, in this instance, may not provide all the help we require, it is an aid for us. It can help people move toward a certain denomination or doctrine when they more fully understand its roots in church history.

Final thoughts:

Learning about how African-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color have contributed to reformed theology in America is something I wished I had learned in seminary. Although this a desire of mine now, I am confident that my former professors did not neglect this area to somehow degrade my educational experience. As I shared previously, those men, along with their teaching, changed my life. I still keep in touch with them; I am thankful for them! I love them. Nevertheless, what I would like to see in my seminary, as well as others, is a curriculum that provides the positive and influential contributions that people of color have made to reformed theology in America. They are out there. We simply must do our research to find them.