A Generous Calvinism

Generous Calvinism may seem like an oxymoron, but in Saving Calvinism Oliver Crisp helps file the rough edges off a narrow, ossified version of this venerable tradition. The result is a Calvinism that embraces the breadth of its own heritage.


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is often known for what to many seems to be extreme views of predestination, total depravity and the like which make up the acrostic TULIP–a rather recent summary (see Ten Myths of Calvinism, ch. 3) for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. The problem is that Calvinists are sometimes their own worst enemies in this regard–propounding their dogma in harsh, angry terms.

Recent proponents such as Tim Keller, Michael Horton, and Kevin Vanhoozer have given the movement a more careful and thoughtful presentation that is truer to the spirit of and range of the Reformed legacy. Oliver Crisp adds his own contribution to the discussion in four beneficial ways.

First, he is a master of clarity. Crisp explains the core (yet sometimes difficult to grasp) ideas of Calvinism in ordinary language with, yes, a “crispness,” that is a model for all. The book and each chapter are clearly organized so we know exactly where we’ve been, where we are going, and why.

Second, he

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does so with a wonderful array of metaphors, analogies and illustrations that make his prose vivid and memorable. Creating a video game, an ancient king, a broken transistor radio, a child using a cell phone, a play, paying parking fines, providing vaccines, and presents under a Christmas tree are just a few Crisp employees. Here we see a master teacher at his best.

Third, Crisp includes a variety of representatives from within Calvinism that are just as venerable as Jonathan Edwards and D. Martin Lloyd-Jones–such as B. B. Warfield and Karl Barth. He also introduces lesser-known lights such as Girardeau who argued against Edwards that humans can make free choices not determined by God, as long as those don’t concern salvation. Crisp likewise gives an open hearing, with arguments for and against such variations as optimistic particularism and hopeful particularism when considering how many will be saved.

Fourth, Crisp is not just generous toward the broader Reformed tradition. He is generous toward the narrower perspective that is often stereotyped. He gives the best arguments for these viewpoints, acknowledging their strengths, even when he might end up elsewhere. He does not build straw men, weakly constructed, only to knock them down with a flick of his finger.

In this excellent introduction, Crisp clearly appreciates the whole Reformed tradition, and he wants his readers to do so as well.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

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