Review: Saving Calvinism

In Saving Calvinism Oliver Crisp provides an exploration into the diversity of thought in the tradition of Calvinism. This work first and foremost serves as a major correction to anyone who assumes that Calvinism is a monolithic theological system. As a Baptist I am appreciative of other theological traditions be they Calvinist, Wesleyan, and others. Other traditions help us examine theological issues from another perspective and help open our eyes to how our own tradition might bias our interpretation of Scripture.

Crisp begins his work by defining what it means to be Reformed and in what ways Calvinism extends beyond the Reformed tradition. Regarding Calvinism he states, “It is a theological tradition that is broad and deep and that encompasses a range of different views within the bounds of a confessional approach to the Christian life, not all of which are commensurate with all of these five points, or theological emphases, though they are representative of much in that tradition.” One cannot make sense of church history without making some allowance for diversity within the tradition of Calvinism. In the following chapters Crisp explores issues ranging from election, free will, universalism, and the nature and extent of the atonement.

I think the most helpful chapters in this work are chapters three, four, and six. In his third chapter he contrasts Jonathan Edwards understanding of the will, which is the one most often adopted by those espousing Calvinism, with that of John Giradeau who held that in some areas of life human beings do have the power of contrary choice. Giradeau’s view of the will seems to parallel that found in confessional Lutheranism.  In chapter three Crisp contrasts hopeful universalism and optimistic particularism. He cites Warfield and Shedd as examples of those who held to optimistic particularism as seen in their belief that all who are incapable of making a rational choice about faith in Christ will be saved, which I should note is distinct the Westminster Confession of Faith which argues only for the salvation of elect infants. Chapter six provides a cogent look into the long history hypothetical universalism has had within Calvinism, hypothetical universalism being the position that accepts the death of Christ being sufficient for all.

Whether Calvinist or not Crisp provides a look at the history of some key doctrines with which every Christian tradition must address at some point and the implications that possible responses have. I think one of Crisp’s greatest strengths is his appeal to mystery. What many Calvinists and nonCalvinists do not make allowance for is the fact that some things are still a mystery to us and are not fully explained in Scripture. I do believe the greatest weakness of the work is his unwillingness to declare some beliefs beyond orthodoxy such as universalism.

Disclosure: I received an egalley of the book from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing it. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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