Reformed theology is more irenic and diverse than you think, says theologian Oliver Crisp.
Few figures in church history have been so much loved or hated, admired or despised as John Calvin. Calvinism—the theological orientation bearing the French theologian’s name—has also had mixed reception. Reformed theologian Oliver Crisp, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, says Calvinism and the Reformed tradition is more diverse and amiable than is often thought. CT assistant online editor Kevin P. Emmert talked with Crisp about his new book, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Fortress Press), and the landscape of Reformed theology. Read more
Here are a few snippets from the interview:
"As Christians, we believe Scripture is the norming norm, the ultimate basis for theological judgments. The catholic creeds of the first few centuries of the church are a secondary tier of norm that witnesses to Scripture. Then we have confessions that represent particular church bodies, like the 39 Articles of Anglicanism—which are very Reformed, I might add—and the Westminster Confession for Presbyterians. Confessions are a third tier of witness, norms that stand under Scripture and the catholic creeds. It seems to me the work of particular theologians are a step below the confessions, because confessions represent the common mind of a particular ecclesial body."
"No one theologian, however important, can trump the voice of the church expressed in the creeds or confessions. Of course, the works of certain theologians have informed the confessions and can be very helpful. But they stand under the confessions. That’s the framework that informs my book and my thinking on how we should make theological decisions. And this isn’t just my view. John Calvin’s works aren’t the historic norm in Presbyterian churches; the Westminster Confession is. And Thomas Cranmer isn’t the norm for Anglican churches; the Book of Common Prayer and the Articles of Religion are."
"In the book I give a lot of attention to Bishop John Davenent, one of a number of early Reformed theologians who held to a universal atonement—that Christ died for everyone, not just the elect. He was an eminent theologian, the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and later the Bishop of Salisbury. He was chosen by King James to head the British delegation to the Synod of Dort, where we get the Five Points of Calvinism, including the doctrine limited atonement—that Christ died for only the elect. He signed the canons in good faith, believing they were consistent with his own views. At face value, that seems odd, given the story we usually hear about Dort and its Five Points. But if you look at the documents, it seems that Davenant was right and that there is indeed wiggle room. And there was no requirement in the 39 Articles for limited atonement. In fact, the 39 Articles, usually thought to be a good Reformed document, allows for universal atonement. So Davenant had no problems with either document."