Last time we linked interviews with Dr. Crisp about this book. This time, the knives come out… and also some congratulatory bouquets.
This Monday, on the next trinities podcast, I discuss libertarian Calvinism and universalism with Dr. Crisp.
If you’ve not studied philosophy, here are introductory-level talks about determinism, libertarian freedom, and compatibilist (aka soft determinist freedom). Both author and reviewers are assuming that you have a basic understanding of these. This article will help too; it surveys attempts to show that divine foreknowledge is compatible with free will.
- Dr. James Anderson @ Analogical Thoughts argues that belief in libertarian free will is ruled out by the Westminster Confession of Faith
…the Confession teaches not only that God decrees all things but also that God’s decree is not conditioned or dependent on anything external to him, such as the libertarian free choices of his creatures. But if that’s the position of the Confession, it’s hard to see how some version of divine determinism can be avoided.
But if the WCF [Westminster Confession of Faith] is implicitly committed to comprehensive divine determinism, by way of its commitment to (i) an all-encompassing divine decree and (ii) divine aseity and independence, then it cannot be reconciled with libertarian Calvinism.
…we find the Westminster Divines affirming both sides of the compatibilist coin: divine determination and human freedom.
- In another post, Dr. Anderson makes similar points about the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.
- Student Paul Manata @ Analytic Theology, Et Cetera has a series of carefully argued criticisms of Dr. Crisp’s defense of libertarian Calvinism, though they are expressed in analytic-philosopher-speak. 🙂 . Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.
I take it that Crisp agrees that the [Westminster] Confession teaches (1) God is simple, (2) God is a se, and (3) God has exhaustive foreknowledge, including knowledge of all future human actions. It is beyond dispute that each of (1) – (3) issues in powerful objections to the existence of creaturely libertarian free will. If any of (1) – (3) is inconsistent with LFW, then one cannot hold to the WCF [Westminsher Confession of Faith] and LFW [Libertarian Free Will]. The Confession is inconsistent with LFW, in that case. For the moment, though, I want to focus only on (3). 1 We know many philosophical-theologians (e.g., Greg Boyd, William Hasker, Alan Rhoda, John Sanders, Richard Swinburne, Peter van Inwagen, Nicholas Wolterstorff) would judge the WCF inconsistent with LFW since the WCF affirms (3). Not just any reply will be consistent with that Confession; and Dr. Crisp’s case is incomplete, as he has not suggested a way to know that foreknowledge doesn’t rule out libertarian freedom.
…it seems like the Confession is saying here that it’s possible that Adam sin. That is, his good nature and powers didn’t entail that he couldn’t fall. In other words, Adam’s nature was not “absolutely determined” to not fall. He was not like a triangle that, once created, couldn’t have angles summing to 190º. This is consistent, though, with the fall’s being relatively necessary upon the creation of Adam’s nature conjoined with a set of circumstances
…many (if not all) of the actions the regenerate do that flow from or are sourced in this new nature are taken by Christians of all stripes as free actions. Pick your favorite action that flows from or is sourced in your regenerate heart, one you would not do (or would not do with the same motivation or reasons) if you were unregenerate. You probably see this as a free action. But how could it be free on LC [Libertarian Calvinism]? Since the new nature (the new man, the heart of flesh, etc.) is not something we’re ultimately responsible for—it’s not ultimately “up to us” whether we have the nature or not—then these actions could only be free in the compatibilist sense. And here’s the problem: LC, by affirming libertarianism, affirms source incompatibilism. But, to retain credibility and affirm that we do all sorts of free actions that are sourced in our regenerate nature, it must also affirm source compatibilism. But compatibilism and incompatibilism are contradictory! Thus, LC, to remain credible, must affirm a contradiction. This spells doom for LC. Now, LC has another option. That is to reject that any of our actions that flow from our new nature are free actions. This position is extremely implausible. Ultimately, it would seem to require that we never do a free action in heaven, since all our actions in heaven (it seems) are sourced in that regenerate (now glorified) nature. So, if LC isn’t contradictory, it’s highly implausible. If this doesn’t spell ‘doom,’ it at least spells ‘Worry’ (with a capital W).
Libertarian Calvinism seems to be unstable. The libertarian thinks that various morally salient choices deeply matter. And since we can be subject to various harms for failing to do what we ought to do, we must have libertarian freedom to justify such treatment. But then it seems strange that arguably the most morally weighty choice humans could make is not one that we are able to libertarian freely make. Moreover, not making this choice subjects us to perhaps some of the weightiest consequences. If we don’t need libertarian free will here, then why do we need it anywhere?
- Dr. Guillaume Bignon, aka theoloGUI, comments:
Can a Calvinist believe in a libertarian view of free will? Even just a little bit?… The answer to that question, however, inevitably depends on which minimal commitments one requires for a view to qualify as “Calvinist”. To that effect, in his discussion, Crisp supposes that a view can be called Calvinist if (and presumably only if) it is compatible with the teachings of the classic confession of reformed theology, the Westminster Confession of Faith. That standard is fine by me (at least on the issue of divine providence…
…if a choice is not determined by God (i.e., if it is a libertarian free choice), for it to be nevertheless ordained by God, it cannot be based on an open view or a simple-foreknowledge view, but rather would have to involve God’s middle-knowledge of the relevant counterfactuals, and in their light, His weakly actualizing the choice in question.
What then prevents the “deviant Calvinist” à la Crisp to affirm exactly that?
Response: -the Westminster Confession.
- Derek Rishmawy @ Reformedish is impressed by Dr. Crisp’s Green Lantern analogy, and then asks the important question: “Why argue for a position you don’t hold?” and notes the analytic style of Crisp’s work:
Contrary to some rumors, from what I know of analytical theological types this isn’t out of some “rationalistic” impulse to systematize the faith into some easily graspable construct either. Many simply want to get back to the days when theology actually tried to ask and answer questions with care and clarity.
Given my undergraduate background in philosophy at a school that’s got a bit of an analytic bent, reading Crisp’s work took me back to the old days. I suppose that’s why I was unfazed by the one feature of Crisp’s work that has been causing readers some trouble: his tendency to argue for a number of positions that he apparently doesn’t hold, or at least gives no indication that he holds. …Christian charity ought to motivate us to fairly represent the positions of those we disagree with in the best light possible, before disagreeing with them. It is a form of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves in the intellectual life.
- Dr. Roger E. Olson of Baylor reviews Deviant Calvinism at length. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.
[On ch. 1] I don’t see how Crisp’s account of the authorities of Scripture and tradition really differs substantially from my own and yet certain evangelicals have attacked, almost condemned, my view as leading inevitably toward liberalism in theology. Will they attack his view, too? That is to be seen. But somehow I doubt it and that because he self-identifies as Reformed and I don’t. This whole evangelical controversy (or set of controversies) is very much tribal in nature. Much depends on what tribe one is perceived as belonging to.
Intermingled with this discussion of experience and faith is Crisp’s somewhat surprising but at the same time gratifying inclusion of both Arminianism and Calvinism under the rubric of “evangelical”—and equally—without making one somehow “more evangelical” than the other.
…Crisp tends to define “Calvinism” and “Reformed” by written, authoritative confessional statements (such as the Westminster Confession) rather than by what most vocal Calvinists believe. That is certainly his prerogative, but it overlooks the fact that many, perhaps most, of the outspoken contemporary proponents of Calvinism are Baptists or members of other “free church” traditions.
[Crisp] argues that “God ordains whatever comes to pass” does not imply determinism. “Note that this libertarian Calvinism does not deny that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. It denies that God determines or causes whatsoever comes to pass.” (87) Some human actions, he says, “are not determined by God but are foreseen and permitted by God.” (87) Of course, Calvin himself adamantly denied this, but, as Crisp mentions, Reformed theologians (even those who call themselves Calvinist) are not obligated to agree with Calvin about everything; they are only obligated to agree with the “Reformed confessions.”
According to Crisp, insofar as I understand him correctly, the only logical reason for hell in traditional Augustinian-Calvinism is the manifestation of God’s glory through the display of all his attributes including justice through wrath against sin. (He does not deny that there may be other reasons for believing in hell; he is only concerned here with the internal logic of Augustinian-Calvinism.) Can one hold onto God’s absolute sovereignty, belief that God ordains all that occurs, and that God’s end or purpose in creating is to glorify himself through displaying all his attributes (Edwards) and deny restricted election and reprobation of a certain number of persons? Crisp’s answer is yes.
How? Here comes the point I have been making for a very long time—one few if any Calvinists have answered and none to my satisfaction. Crisp makes this point: The death of Jesus Christ was a sufficient display of God’s attribute of justice through wrath against sin such that hell is unnecessary—even if one believes God’s ultimate purpose in ordaining and creating, creating and ordaining, was and is his own glory and that that purpose required the full display of all his attributes. (p. 115) I made exactly that point in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and in Against Calvinism! (But I get no credit from Crisp.)
Dr. Olson ends his long review by wondering out loud why the evangelical heresy-hunters aren’t coming after Crisp! Shhh! Don’t rattle their cages, Dr. Olson!
- Jim West at Zwinglius Redivivus complains in his review that Dr. Crisp hasn’t dug enough into central Calvinist sources:
The only primary source which Crisp utilizes in his discussion of Calvin’s thought itself is the Institutes. There’s nary a reference to a sermon, a letter, or a commentary. Anywhere. Calvin scholars have long known that one cannot, simply does not and will not grasp Calvin’s thought adequately merely by means of the Institutes. The Institutes, furthermore, are only ever cited in the translation of McNeill. Crisp does, though, admire himself, listing eight of his works in the bibliography. Brunner gets one mention, Barth gets two. Indeed, no one has more works listed in the bibliography than our author. Not a single primary work of Zwingli or Bullinger or Vermigli or Bucer or Oecolampadius appears. This is, then, hardly, to be completely fair, what anyone would or could rightly describe as an examination of Reformed theology.
West also opines that the book doesn’t achieve its broadening aim.
What Crisp wants to do, then, isn’t so much broaden our understanding of Reformed Theology (and if that is his goal, he has not achieved it) as it is to ask us to think more generously of the notion of universalism. This book, in short, is nothing other than an apologia for that particular viewpoint. …This volume will teach readers about universalism and how to dress it up in such a way that even Augustine can fit into the suit; but it will not teach anyone anything about Reformed Theology as that term is understood historically.
- Fuller student “cwoznicki” is much more positive:
Here are a few things Crisp shows throughout the book:
That one can be both a Calvinist and a libertarian about human freedom.
That one can be an Augustinian and a Universalist.
That there are resources within Calvinist theology that can resist an Augustinian Universalism.
That the scope of atonement need not be “limited.”
That the major objection to the doctrine of universal atonement, the double payment objection, actually fails miserably
And he argues that all of these things fall well within the scope of Reformed confessionalism! …I could not put this book down. I was so enthralled by it and the possibility moving past funadamentlistic neo-Puritianism (i.e. Johnny Mac and his cronies) that I read through it in a day and a half. Not only was it interesting though, it was very well argued.
- Bobby Grow @ The Evangelical Calvinist is in hearty agreement with Crisp’s emphasis on the broadness of the Reformed tradition.
The Canons of Dort give a detailed and skilled reply to Arminianism; hence “TULIP” represents a response to the Arminian five-point Remonstrance. It was never intended as a sum of Reformed thought. The Canons of Dort are still to be consulted for a Reformed reply to Arminianism, but they should not be thought to represent the sum of our belief.
- Dr. Paul Helm argues that there are not two irreconcilable views of human freedom in the Westminster confession.
- Dr. Peter Leithart @ First Things runs through a few examples of “deviancy” that Dr. Crisp discusses.
Got links to any other worthwhile reviews or discussions of Deviant Calvinism? Please paste them into the comments below.