The Softer Face of Calvinism | Christianity Today

Christianity TodayReformed theology is more irenic and diverse than you think, says theologian Oliver Crisp.
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One Response to The Softer Face of Calvinism | Christianity Today

  1. One feels a sense of repugnance with both the Reformed of the stricter kind as well as the more insipid leftovers of theological conflicts past. What the real problem is that the more focused look involves the either/or mentality which prevents one from seeing things from other angles. Consider how the idea of the asymmetrical nature of biblical truths, the Book of the Word, fits in with the Book of Nature, the observational experimental realm of investigations that keep prompting us to greater and greater efforts. What we lack is a methodology that will do justice to both sides of the coin, without compromising either. In other words, we need a creative dissonance as one sociologist called it, a reality that conforms to various discoveries made in other fields, including that of church history. The real effort comes with Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity and with comments like Dr. John D. Eusden’s Comment in his introduction to his translation of William Ames, The Marrow of Divinity, to wit, “Predestination is an invitation to begin one’s spiritual pilgrimage,….” and J.I. Packer’s effort to handle the ideas of Divine Sovereignty and Human responsibility via the term and means of antinomy. But what we must have and what seems to answer the issue involves the reality of consistency of order, on the one hand, and the chaos of complexity on the other, a both/and that recognizes the fact of rule and the exceptions together as constituting the truth.

    Just consider our Lord’s use of what some call the doctrines of grace, the TULIP doctrines, as a means of evangelism, indeed, as very invitations themselves. Could it be for purpose of humbling the recipients of Divine favor, some magnified by the woman in Mt.15:21-28, when she fell down at the feet of our Lord at His mention of being sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? On the point of falling down in worship, at least, John Calvin had it right, ending his sermons as he does with an exhortation to fall down and worship. And then there is the perspective of therapeutic paradoxes. Could the truths therein presented in what is wrongfully called Calvinism (these truths were sometimes advocated before Calvin was every born and even before the Reformation) be intended to produce an effect that is contrary to what is often supposed? After all, the very plain opposite of Jonah’s message to Nineveh certainly had the most unexpected effects, something more in line with a paradoxical approach, something familiar to Professional Counselors who use the technique.

    A bit more before calling it quits has to do with the fact that the Great Awakenings and the launching of the Great Century of Missions/Modern Missionary Movement took their cause from the recognition of determinism and even particular redemption. Indeed, John Owen’s The Death of Death in The Death of Christ is the source of Andrew Fuller’s idea of the sufficiency of the atonement. Think of a Limited Atonement angle as the source of that. And consider the eschatology of 20,000-900,000 years along with the converts of all souls on earth along with those of the inhabitants of Quadrillions of planets for a thousand generations as the very ethos of an effective and efficient atonement which is also the compelling and winsome invitation. Or as one young lady put it to a friend of mine whose name was Spurgeon (distantly related to another of that name), “O, it was so wonderful that I could not resist it.”

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