Roger Olson, “Review of Oliver Crisp’s *Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology* Part Five”

, posted by SEA

This is Part Five of my series of review essays of Oliver Crisp’s new book Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology and deals with Chapter 5 : Universalism and Particularism.” I invite those reading the book with me to agree or disagree with my interpretations of Crisp’s views and I invite others (anyone) to step in to comment on the subject matter itself (in this case “libertarian Calvinism”). But if you are not reading Crisp’s book, do not express agreement or disagreement with my interpretations of the book. Feel free to ask questions only.

I must say I am disappointed with Chapter 5. I was encouraged by the first four chapters and my hopes were perhaps higher than they should be. Here, if I understand Crisp correctly, the author simply returns to traditional Calvinism with an attempt to exonerate particularism of election (what I call double predestination) of the “Augustinian problem of evil”—the objection that God ought to save everyone if he can.

Here is how Crisp finishes the chapter: “Creation of such a world [where double predestination is true] does not…wrong any of the creatures contained in it. Nor can God be said to be obliged to create a better world…if, in addition to these conditions…the world created is consistent with divine benevolence and is a world where some number of human beings less than the total number of human beings are the object of special divine grace and are saved. In fact, I have argued that God could create a world where no one is saved and all are damned because of their sinful natures and that this is also consistent with divine benevolence…. It may well be that this world (that is, the actual world) is a particularist world. And it seems to me that such a world is consistent with divine benevolence. So, God has good reason to create a particularist world, and no obligation to create an Augustinian universalist world instead. This rebuts Augustinian universalism.” (150) (italics added)

I am not going to respond to each and every point of the chapter; as I have said before only that would do full justice to Crisp’s very concisely constructed arguments, but I simply don’t have time and I doubt anyone would read such a review. Here I will simply respond to a couple of points.

First, it seems to me that Crisp overlooks the relevance of love for divine benevolence. Sure, God may not be “obligated” to save anyone, but to suggest that God’s benevolence is consistent with creating a world in which everyone is damned seems a far stretch and a misuse of “benevolence.” God’s benevolence revealed in Jesus is love for people, including sinners, not mere juridical justice.

Second, it seems to me that Crisp is assuming that inherited sin carries with it damnable guilt such that even infants are worthy of damnation and, if they are not elect, deserve hell. This seems to me an especially unenlightened and severe notion, to say nothing of being inconsistent with Jesus’ embrace of the children (“for of such is the Kingdom of God”).

Crisp argues (in this chapter) that since grace is always and necessarily (by definition) supererogatory it cannot be a matter of obligation and therefore salvation is not owed by God to anyone. True. But this completely ignores divine love. Can a God who is love create a world where no one is saved and all are damned? If not (and I would argue that at least intuition tells us not), then can a God who is love create a world where he unconditionally elects some fallen persons to salvation and saves them irresistibly but does not do the same for all (I would argue that intuition and the logic of love tells us not). Wouldn’t such a God be unloving and arbitrary? He would be.

Both Augustinian universalism and Augustinian particularism fall prey to insuperable difficulties—the former with Scripture which clearly reveals that some persons will be in hell forever and the latter with Jesus as the perfect revelation of God’s character. Arminianism provides the “way of fewer and less difficult problems.” I have never claimed that Arminianism is perfect, that it has no problems. What I have always said is that I am Arminian because Arminianism has the problems I can live with—ones that do not make God morally ambiguous at best and monstrous at worst and that do not conflict with Scripture. The mystery of libertarian free will is a problem I can live with; I do live with it every day. The mystery of God’s foreknowledge is one I can live with; it reveals the limits of finite understanding of God’s powers of knowledge in a world of libertarian free will (granted by God). These are not insuperable obstacles, however, because they do not conflict with Scripture or make God monstrous—the twin problems facing Augustinianism in its universalist and particularist varieties.