This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2012 vol. 169 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed TheologyIVP Academic, Downers Grove, IL May 5, 2011
Crisp is reader in theology at the University of Bristol and visiting lecturer at Regent College in Vancouver. This work is a collection of essays on issues important to historical figures in the Reformed tradition. The author’s goal is to highlight these authors and topics from the past and show that they have significance for contemporary theology, thus retrieving them as sources for theology today.
The essays are divided into three sections. In “Creation and Providence,” Crisp interacts with John Calvin and Karl Barth. Of Calvin he concludes, “In Calvin’s way of thinking those who believe are not just spectators in this divine theatre; they are participants in this glorious work of creation, fashioned by God through the Son to be united via the work of Christ with the Father by the Holy Spirit, to the praise of his glory” (p. 25). Thus creation and providence are Trinitarian works, and those who are united to God are participants in His work in the world.
In the second section, “Sin and Salvation,” Crisp discusses Jonathan Edwards on the imputation of sin, Francis Turretin on the necessity of the incarnation, John McLeod Campbell on nonpenal substitutionary atonement, and Karl Barth’s denial of universalism. He argues that Edwards’s view of original sin has consistently been misrepresented, largely because it “is notoriously difficult to understand” (p. 47). But when correctly interpreted, Edwards “offers an intriguing response to the oft-cited criticism of imputation: that it is unfair that I am punished for another’s sin. In response to this question Edwards can claim that it is not his sin but ours” (p. 68). In short, Edwards’s position on original sin is that “Adam and his posterity are united together by God for the purposes of imputation, such that Adam’s sin becomes the sin of his posterity. They form one metaphysical unity for this purpose” (ibid.). Crisp gets Edwards right, and his essay should be read by anyone who wants to understand Edwards’s view of original sin.
The third part, “The Christian Life,” retrieves Calvin’s view of petitionary prayer, John Williamson Nevin’s view of the church, and Jonathan Edwards’s treatment of qualifications for communion. In Calvin’s view, “God ordains all that comes to pass. As such my petitioning God is part of what God has determined will obtain. . . .It is a part of the whole matrix of events that God has ordained” (pp. 152–53). In the end, “petitioning God is more about bringing my will into line with God’s will than it is seeking to change God’s mind” (p. 155). Since Edwards’s view of prayer is a bit different from Calvin’s, it would have been helpful for Crisp to have engaged him on this question. Edwards allows for a bit more mystery in prayer, agreeing that God has ordained prayer as a means of accomplishing His plan but also affirming that God does respond to the prayers of His people. It would be difficult to argue with the importance of the communion controversy in Edwards’s ministry, and Crisp rightly uses the Puritan pastor’s writings to call the contemporary evangelical church to a higher view of the Lord’s table.
This volume calls for careful and reflective reading. It is a model of how to engage with historical figures and to hear their voices in the past and bring their wisdom into the present. Understanding the past and the historical context is essential, but retrieving those voices for contemporary theology is no less important. Crisp’s work is highly recommended both for the content of these essays and as a model to be followed.
—Glenn R. Kreider