Deviant and Evangelical Calvinism Together

Oliver Crisp, Reformed theologian, Brit, professor of Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA just had a book of his published deviantby Fortress Press entitled Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology. It is a cool book, you ought to check it!

The following is not a review of Oliver’s book (maybe I will do one of those later … although the publisher never did send me a complimentary copy, so we will see – I have a manuscript version from Oliver Crisp), instead what I want to highlight is the general theme of Oliver’s book, it is a theme that is resonant with what we here have called Evangelical Calvnism, and what Myk Habets and myself similarly highlighted in our 2012 edited book Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Pickwick Publications). The point of contact between Crisp’s ‘Deviant Calvinism’ and our ‘Evangelical Calvinism’ is that we both are hoping to promote the idea that the Reformed faith is much more expansive and variegated than what we typically think of when we are confronted with Calvinism. Usually, especially in North America (but elsewhere too), when we think of Calvinism we either think of the famous and heated debates between the Calvinists and Arminians, or we think of the infamous five points of Calvinism (TULIP). But this is too reductionistic; we think so as does Crisp. Habets and I wrote this in the introductory to our book:

Numerous recent attempts at defining the Reformed or Calvinist tradition have been offered.24 A number of these treatments have tended to present in objective fashion what is, ultimately, only a subjective judgment. Earlier popular works at definition, still in vogue amongst seminary and university students on campuses today, look to the five points of Dort—the so-called “doctrines of grace”—as the essence of what it means to be Reformed.25 Dort, however, as with most if not all of the Reformed confessions, is a localized and contextual document. 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.[1]

Dovetailing with this sentiment Oliver Crisp in an interview he just did with Christianity Today on his book Deviant Calvinism wrote this:

I see a lot of misrepresentations of Reformed theology, among people both inside and outside the Reformed tradition. Many people think Reformed theology coalesces around five points or around the soteriological “doctrines of grace” rather than around historic confessions. And I see a lot of Calvinists who aren’t confessional, when in fact the Reformed tradition very much is. If you truly are a Calvinist, then you should be interested in Reformed confessions, I think. And when we look at the confessional tradition, it seems Reformed theology is broader than the more narrow five-point Calvinism.[2]

PICKWICK_TemplateSee resonant!; in fact of the same mind as ours in our thinking about the Reformed faith as evangelical Calvinists. Interestingly the like-mindedness doesn’t stop there, within this same theme of the wide and deep nature of the Reformed faith or Calvinism we also wrote in our book:

The contributors to this volume are Reformed theologians from various denominations who love their theological tradition and are committed to its truths, but understand that their tradition is a variegated one, with many tributaries and eddies. They represent a consistent feature of Reformed theology—the willingness and ability to enrich their tradition by mining its past and contributing to its future.3 This is not, however, an expression of a “new-Calvinism” or even a “neo-Calvinism,” if by those terms are meant a novel reading of the Reformed faith. We, along with the Reformed theologian Donald McKim, consider the Reformed faith an expansive tradition with many threads that make up the fabric of our tradition; McKim captures this well when he says:

The Reformed faith impels persons to confess their faith as part of the ecumenical church, the whole people of God. The movement here is first from what Christians believe to what Reformed Christians believe. Reformed churches are a portion of the full household of faith. As such, Reformed theology and Reformed faith are open to hearing, dialoguing with, and learning from other theological viewpoints and Christian communions. Though some Reformed bodies have tended to become more narrow and almost assume that their formulations are the only means of expressing God’s truth, this impulse runs counter to the genuine heartbeat of Reformed faith. Reformed faith is open to God’s Spirit, who may encounter us at any time in any place. Reformed Christians should see and listen to other voices since perhaps through them an essential theological insight will be given.[3]

Oliver, the Deviant Calvinist unsurprisingly writes this (in the same interview of him that I just quoted):

Also, a number of people outside the Reformed community tend to associate the Reformed tradition with a narrowly dogmatic—in both senses of that term—way of thinking about the Christian faith. And they are rather disparaging about that. But not all of us are narrowly dogmatic. So I thought, Maybe the time has come to make a case for a more irenic, more sanguine, broad approach to the Reformed tradition, because there are great riches in the Reformed tradition that just don’t get reported.[4]

Crisp with his new book is tapping into a movement of sorts among Reformed theologians that is attempting to notice a reality that has always been the reality, even if it has maintained a minority report for too long! The Reformed faith has a lot of exciting categories and trajectories to offer the Christian faith in general, and I think, along with Crisp and Habets that it is high time that we crack the lid open and let this truth out!

I think we can safely say that the Deviant Calvinists & Evangelical Calvinists are together in their desire to see the riches of Reformed theology unleashed on broader Christianity; in an edifying and reforming way that fosters an environment that better enables the body of Christ to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ until we all finally come to the unity of the Faith. ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda—“the church reformed and always reforming.”

[1] Myk Habets and Bobby Grow, Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 9.

[2] Oliver Crisp, The Softer Face of Calvinism. Interview with Kevin P. Emmert (IL: Christianity Today, October 23rd, 2014).

[3] Habets and Grow, Evangelical Calvinism, 2.

[4] Crisp, The Softer Face of Calvinism, October 23rd, 2014.