Preview of a New Book about Calvinism: Oliver Crisp’s Saving Calvinism: Expanding the Reformed Tradition
I read and review both kinds of books here—ones for Calvinism and ones against Calvinism. I also read and review books for Arminianism and ones against Arminianism. I won’t claim to be impartial, but I do claim to strive for balance.
My most recent post here was a review of a new book against Calvinism by an Arminian philosopher—theologian. Here I will preview a forthcoming book for Calvinism by a well-known and highly respected Reformed theologian—Oliver Crisp who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary.
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Earlier here I reviewed Crisp’s book Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Fortress Press, 2014). I reviewed it in a series of posts—giving it great attention and respect even where I found points for criticism.
A few weeks ago InterVarsity Press asked me to preview Crisp’s forthcoming book Saving Calvinism with an eye toward possibly providing a promotional endorsement for it. I agreed to the request and received an advance copy of the book in “galley proofs” (copies of the book’s pages still open to possible revision). One of the unspoken but understood rules in such situations is that previewers of forthcoming books not critique the book’s contents, so I will avoid that here. What I promise to do is review it here when it is published. I have read it and provided IVP with a promotional statement endorsing the book. (Don’t ask me when it will be published; I have no way of knowing that. Amazon says “December 2016” but I know from experience that is not set in stone.)
I can say this—based on Crisp’s earlier (and somewhat similar) book (viz., Deviant Calvinism) and on my preview of this one (viz., Saving Calvinism)—that Crisp seems to be pursuing a project of distinguishing between “Reformed theology” and “Calvinism” as the latter is popular described in the “Young, Restless, Reformed Movement” inspired by John Piper. Many other Reformed theologians have emphasized the same distinction and they are right. This is something most “Young, Restless, Reformed” Christians do not seem to understand. Being “Calvinist” is not enough to be “Reformed.” I cringe every time I see a church that is unaffiliated fundamentalist (e.g., many “Bible churches”) and Calvinist (in the sense of promoting TULIP as the “doctrines of grace”) calling itself “Reformed” (or being called that by its pastor and attenders). The two words have become virtually synonymous in contemporary popular evangelicalism in America. As Crisp points out, however, there have been and are Reformed theologians of good standing, reputation and influence who did/do not embrace all the doctrines typically associated with “Calvinism” in this Young, Restless, Reformed Movement.
I suspect there are some contemporary evangelical Calvinists in America especially who would reject Crisp as not truly either Calvinist or Reformed. In my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, Crisp is not a traditional Calvinist but he is a Reformed Christian. And many contemporary conservative/fundamentalist American Calvinists are Calvinists but not really Reformed. “Reformed” includes a strong ecclesiology and a high view of the sacraments missing in most contemporary conservative/fundamentalist American Calvinist circles.
There is much more to Crisp’s forthcoming book about which I cannot talk here right now. But I promise to review it in more detail after it is published. My endorsement of the book is this: “Oliver Crisp’s ‘saved Calvinism’ is Reformed theology an Arminian can appreciate even if disagreements remain. This Arminian wishes ever Calvinist would read Saving Calvinism and allow it to soften the hard edges of much contemporary Reformed theology.” (I guess I should have put “Reformed theology” in quotations marks there, but you can’t do everything in an endorsement statement and that would raise questions which is not really the purpose of an endorsement.) I have no idea whether or how IVP will use my offered endorsement.
I will just end here—with a “whetting appetites” suggestion (for my later review of Crisp’s book)—by saying that I really do not know why so many revisionist Calvinists, “deviant Calvinists,” who attempt to “save Calvinism” by adjusting it dramatically, insist on calling themselves “Calvinists” at all. Crisp calls Arminius a “deviant Calvinist,” which, if true, would mean classical Arminians such as I are also “deviant Calvinists.” He wasn’t and we’re not. There is a sense in which Arminius was Reformed; he worked from within a Reformed context. But he was not a Calvinist of any kind. Nor am I.
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