Review: Retrieving Doctrine (Crisp)

Crisp, Oliver.  Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology.

Crisp highlights key (but often marginalized) ideas from several Reformed thinkers.  He is “retrieving” aspects of doctrine that aren’t usually talked about.  He analyzes Calvin on Creation, Providence and Prayer; Edwards on Original Sin; Turretin on sin and necessity; Barth on universal salvation, and others.

The book is a short model on how to do analytic theology.  It mostly succeeds.  There are a few chapters where Crisp either spent too much time with too little payout, or not enough time at all.  Nonetheless, some essays, like the ones on Barth and Nevin, score major gains.

Non-Penal Substitution

Crisp examines the argument of John Macleod Campbell who argues for a substitution but one that isn’t penal.  Christ isn’t punished for my sin, but he undergoes some kind of penitential act.  In response Crisp notes that this view doesn’t remove any of the key objections.  It’s not clear how Christ’s “feeling sorry” for my sin actually removes my sin.  Further, it’s not clear on what ground Christ has any right to “feel sorry” for my sin.  Therefore, in response, penal substitution is a more viable model. Or at least, the main criticisms against PS also obtain here.

Karl Barth’s denial of universal salvation

Barth’s problem was that he posited a model of Christology and election that entailed universal salvation, yet he denied this was his teaching.  Crisp shows that it was. Introductory premises:

A1. There is a domain of moral agents comprising all human agents.

A2. By Christ’s death atonement is procured for the sin and guilt of those for whom he died.

(1) Given A1 and A2, Christ’s death atones for the sin of all human agents.

(2) Christ’s death is sufficient for all human agents (CD II/2, p. 271).

(3) This work is completed at the cross.

(4) This work is appropriated, not on the traditional gloss of ‘repent and believe,’ but by agents coming to realize that ‘this is what God in Jesus Christ has done for you’ (Ibid., 317ff).

(5) Christ is the Elect One.

(6) Christ is the Reprobate One.

(7) All human agents are elect only in a derivative sense of having a saving relation to the set of the Elect and its single member, Christ.

(8)The Sin of all human agents is atoned for by Christ, the Reprobate one.

But (8) seems to entail universalism, which Barth does not want.  So perhaps he means it in this sense: 

(8*) All human agents are reprobate only in the derivative sense of having a relation to the set of the reprobate and its single member, Christ.

But this would entail: 

(9) All human agents are simultaneously members of the sets ‘elect-in-Christ’ and ‘reprobate-in-Christ.” 

But this is incoherent.  Therefore, Barth must mean (8) instead of (8*).  Given (8) we now have: 

(9*) All human agents are members of the set ‘elect-in-Christ.’ 

At this point Barth can escape (9*) by affirming some sort of Libertarian free-will, but Barth doesn’t do this (and he gives good reasons for not doing it).  Therefore, Barth must hold to something like,

(10) All human agents are necessarily (and derivatively) elect-in-Christ by virtue of his universally efficient atonement.

But now we are back at universalism, unless Barth can posit a new way out:

(11) A human agent whose redemption Christ purchased may reject Christ and may ultimately not be saved.

This is fallacious, given (1)-(4) and (5)-(8) and (9*).  Further, (11) is Arminianism, which Barth claims to reject.

John Williamson Nevin on the Church

Instead of the visible/invisible church, Nevin posits the Ideal Church and its manifestation in time.  It is an organic whole springing from a common ground.  While Nevin has much good to say, it’s not clear he can fully escape “visible” and “invisible” categories.  For example, he would rightly want to affirm OT saints as part of the church, yet since they have died they aren’t “visible.”

For all of Nevin’s problems, though, much of his teaching is simple Augustinian realism.  One wonders, though, what it would take to shore up Nevin’s conclusions without using his German Idealism.

Another difficulty: if there is a metaphysically real union with the old Adam and a metaphysically real union with Christ, then how are these two distinct? This isn’t a problem but only a place where he isn’t clear.

Crisp gives a fine summary of Nevin’s conclusions on p. 172:

(1) The Church is mystically united to Christ.

(2) The church isn’t the Incarnation, part two.  Rather it is a continuation of the new creation brought about by the Incarnation.

(3) OT sacraments are largely preparatory (I think Cocceius held to a similar view).

(4)The Church has an ideal aspect and a concrete (externalizing) aspect.

(5) The ideal is perfect in all respects; the concrete is imperfect but gradually realizing the perfect.

(6) Adam and his progeny are an organic whole.

(7) Christ and the church are another organic whole.

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About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Book Review, theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Review: Retrieving Doctrine (Crisp)

  1. cal says:

    In your estimation, do you see Barth’s doctrine of election and Torrance’s doctrine of election the same? Torrance denies his universalism through appealing the surd of rejection, but I never really understood this appeal to mystery. Is it any different than Barth or is it just tying a paradox because he doesn’t like the logical entailment?

    Also, Nevin’s essay sounds interesting.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Review: God Incarnate | Tractatus Logico-Geopoliticus

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