Saving Calvinism (Oliver Crisp)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, Nov 20, 2018.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Crisp, Oliver. Saving Calvinism: Expanding the Reformed Tradition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2016.

    The Reformed theological tradition is like inheriting a large, albeit old house. It has many rooms and in these rooms are old treasures. The Young, Restless, and Reformed movement, however, decided that only a few rooms are worth inhabiting. So begins Oliver Crisp in a short read that explores other dimensions of Reformed theology.

    This book is quite light. It won’t convince any Arminians, and most Reformed readers will be disappointed that some arguments aren’t pursued further. However, Crisp cogently and succinctly outlines a number of options and provides bibliographies at the end of each chapter.


    Before we think about election, whether we believe in it or not, Crisp warns us not to impose temporal concepts back into eternity. There was no literal “moment” where God decided to elect, since a moment connotes time, and time hadn’t yet been created. Maybe “intentions” is a better word (though probably still inadequate). It seems we are thrust back onto something like Boethius’s model.

    Perhaps there is another way. Athanasius spoke of Christ as the subject of election (Discourse against Arians, Book 2.75-77), and one could link that with Athanasius’s speaking of Christ as the Father’s willing, and then link that back to the decree to elect. It bears reflection, though Crisp doesn’t point out that option.

    In any case, the point of Jesus isn’t the decretum absolutum, or the hidden God, but the fullness of God dwelling in him and reconciling all things to himself (Col. 1:19-20)

    Free Will

    In his section on Free Will Crisp explores the different ways Jonathan Edwards and John Girardeau developed free will. Edwards’ view is fairly well-known, so we will focus on Girardeau’s. Crisp notes, “There are situations in which fallen human beings have the power of contrary choice” (Crisp 77). Crisp criticizes Edwards’ view because it seems to make God the direct author of sin. While Girardeau’s view is more palatable, it is conceptual ambiguous. It is quite possible that God ordains some actions but they aren’t determined by him (79). That’s very interesting, though Crisp doesn’t give any examples.


    It seems odd that there should be a chapter on universalism in a book on Calvinism. Fear not. Crisp doesn’t affirm it. He uses it as a foil for a “hopeful Christian particularism.” This position affirms the doctrine of hell and that God-in-Christ saves (or will save) a particular number of humanity. It just asserts, along with WGT Shedd, that this number is quite large.

    The Atonement

    He doesn’t actually attack limited atonement. He summarizes other models and shows problems with all. I’ll focus on several:

    Nonpenal substitution: originally propounded by J. Macleod Campbell and popuarlized by the Torrance clan. According to this view, “Christ offered up a perfect act of penitence on behalf of fallen human beings” (120; see Hebrews 5:7-10).

    Hypothetical universalism; draws on the sufficient/efficient distinction of Peter Lombard. The atonement is powerful enough to save all, yet only the elect are saved. Seems right so far. Crisp gives the example of a medical team going to a village to inoculate them against a terrible disease. The vaccine is powerful enough to save the whole village, yet only some are saved.

    Crisp then lists some potential problems with this view.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
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  2. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Sorry for the bold facing. My computer font messed up.
  3. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    I found this book to be interesting and enlightening, if somewhat slight in its treatment of the various topics. I suppose the section on universalism is appropriate since Chesterton once referred to universalism as “optimistic Calvinism.”
  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Early universalistic critics of Jonathan Edwards were quick to point out that JE had given them the "mechanism" for Universalism. God's going to save you regardless.

    Crisp spoke at a "Rethinking Hell" conference where he defended Christian Particularism, which I think formed this chapter.
  5. Von

    Von Puritan Board Freshman

    An analogy that will stick in my mind. Thanks for sharing.
  6. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I thought about being cheeky and describing the Young, Reformed, and Restless crowd as "There is no theology but Calvin, and Edwards is his prophet."
  7. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    I don’t know if I would even go that far. It seems to me that a lot of the youngest of the YRR movement have never read Calvin or the broader Reformed tradition (they are really just soteriologically Calvinistic Christians), and their only exposure to Edwards is at best second-hand through the mouth of Piper. In other words, I wonder how much real first-hand experience a lot of the YRR have with Reformed literature.
  8. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    Or maybe “there is no theology but Piper, and Keller is his prophet.”
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  9. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    That's a better way of putting it. I came to Edwards through Piper almost 20 years ago. And I liked the "all for God's glory stuff," but there are realms of Edwards thought that few have touched--like his doctrine of continuous creation.
  10. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    I agree.

    There are also questions regarding his understanding of justification, although I have not explored that. I did, however, write a paper in my Edwards class in which I criticized him for what I felt was a less-than-Reformed understanding of assurance.
  11. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    In what way? Don't want to start a debate or derail the thread; I'm just curious.

    Joel Beeke's entry of Assurance in the Edwards Encyclopaedia seems to argue that Edwards was clearly in the Reformed tradition re asurance (although in keeping with the limits of an Encyclopaedia, the entry is brief).
  12. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Junior

    My thesis could very well be mistaken. I need to re-evaluate, no doubt. Some of it has to do with the differences regarding assurance between Westminsterian and Continental Reformed theology—i.e., whether or not it is "of the essence of saving faith." Berkhof notes these differences in several places. But, regarding Edwards himself, I remember reading a sermon on assurance that I thought sounded almost Roman Catholic in places. But, like I said it's been a while, and perhaps I need to re-evaluate. I was also going through what I now believe to be something of a slightly antinomian phase at the time I wrote that paper, so there's that. (That's a story for another time.)

    The problem is that Edwards wrote so much; it is impossible to consult the entire corpus of his literature to see what all he says on any given topic. I would be happy to send you my paper via PM. It has specific examples. (Also, just to be clear, I love Edwards and have nothing but the highest respect for and admiration of him). I wrote that paper with a love for Edwards, but also very aware of some of his odd aspects.
  13. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Edwards sometimes gets a bad rep when folks anachronistically apply what he wrote to what the common vernacular seems to be.

    I think this is a good starting point on the matter of assurance and Edwards. The references provide more sources for deeper research:

    Now back to the topic of the OP...
  14. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

    Thanks Taylor. I'm sure you are aware the Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Stout) is a helpful work to give the 'big picture' of Edwards.
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