Review: “Evangelical Calvinism,” edited by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

PICKWICK_TemplateHistorically, Calvinists have asked the question, “Who are the elect?” Perhaps, a more fundamental question should be asked: “Who are the Calvinists?” Actually, more broadly, the issue is, “Who are the Reformed?”, though we grant that “Calvinism” is often used as a synonym for “Reformed theology,” just as it appears to be in the present volume. The authors of Evangelical Calvinism make an impassioned plea to answer this question with plurality, even as they recognize a dominant North American form (“Federalism”) that too often claims sole proprietorship to the term “Reformed” (3). They affirm, “While there is geographical diversity [in Calvinism] there is also theological diversity. For the contributors to this book, this is not only to be expected but actually encouraged, for unity in diversity brings with it new perspectives, correctives, and opportunities for enrichment” (2). In some ways, then, Evangelical Calvinism is a call for destroying artificial boundaries in Reformed theology, for the authors would undoubtedly insist that the identification of “Calvinist” or “Reformed” solely with the trajectories that pass through the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Synod of Dort would be artificial. After all, many claim or would claim the moniker “Reformed” (though not always “Calvinist”), such as some Baptists (e.g., Henri Blocher), some Dispensationalists (e.g., Stephen Spencer), and even many Arminians (e.g., the title of Roger Olsen’s book Reformed and Always Reforming would suggest that he, too, identifies with the Reformed tradition broadly considered).

Structure

            The authors are quite intentional to tie their “mood” to the Reformed tradition and not simply pour new wine into old wine skins. Each author appeals frequently to the tradition, specifically to what he or she sees as an often-neglected strand of Reformed thought but with enough historical attestation as to remain a legitimate strand from the original ball of yarn. This is important for the authors, who follow the lead of Habets and Grow in affirming that Evangelical Calvinism (EC) “is more of a mood than a movement” (3). Presumably (though not clearly stated), this distinction emphasizes the appeal to the past and seeks to minimize the sense of novelty in EC. It is not surprising, then, to find the first of the three content parts of the book dedicated to historical theology, a section that spans four chapters and includes notable Calvin scholar Charles Partee. Of these four chapters, two (chs. 2-3) pertain to the ontology and use(s) of Scripture, further demonstrating the sense of givenness in this mood as well as the genuine desire to hold firmly to “evangelical” identity. Adam Nigh begins his essay (ch. 3) affirming just this: “The Bible is the foundation and criterion for Christian theology” (67). From there, he draws upon theologians past (especially T. F. Torrance) to elaborate the way in which his initial confession is true and the manner in which EC seeks to understand the subsequent biblical claims.

However, lack of or limited novelty does not mean devoid of constructive theology (see p. 7). Indeed, the second part of the book, the largest at six chapters, is given to systematic theology. Here we find the authors drawing out their trajectory. While the first part concerns locating EC’s strand in the history of the Reformed churches, the second part finds the authors attempting fresh answers to problems that have long occupied the pens and pubs of the Reformed. Here, the authors wrestle with such issues as how we might speak rightly of God, election, federalism vs. realism in the perpetuation of sin, union with Christ, atonement, and infant salvation. In each case, the author highlights the trajectory at play: continuity with at least parts of the tradition while always reforming and recalibrating. Most notable in this regard is Marcus Johnson’s venture into the debate on the transmission of sin nature and guilt from Adam onward (ch. 8). Johnson recognizes the weaknesses of historical federalist and realist positions alike even as he posits a more modest realism—“Pauline Realism”—that exchanges on the currency of union with Christ. In this move, we see both the strand and the trajectory coming forth: Johnson’s articulation of union may be found in the thought of a number of past and present Christians, yet the use of this doctrine to shed light on the transmission of sin and guilt is “a way forward” in that it trades on the apparent symmetry in Rom. 5:12-21 between those in Adam and those in Christ. Regardless of whether or not the reader agrees with Johnson’s solution, she must acknowledge both the biblical attentiveness and the theological insight at play even as Johnson draws from a traditional form of the doctrine of union with Christ.

The third part of the book is entitled “Applied Theology.” Though the smallest section, by no mean should it be overlooked, for it brings the trajectory to its completion: the life of the Christian. Anchoring this section is Julie Canlis (ch. 12), the always delightful proponent of Calvin’s own theological “ladder” (see her monograph Calvin’s Ladder: A Spiritual Theology of Ascent and Ascension). Part three is probably the most important section of the book, for more than any other single chapter in the book, it captures Calvin’s own spirit in doing theology. Summarizing and quoting Calvin, Canlis writes, “Calvin’s original purpose never wavered [even as his Institutes grew]. His desire was that it give believers not only a right understanding of the gospel, but that it ‘pass into daily living, and so transform us’” (333). By no means had the Reformed tradition lost this truth; for all the criticism of “Puritanical ethics” in contemporary popular and academic discourse, they are shining examples of a branch of the Reformed tradition that emphasized the importance of right living in Christ. Jonathan Edwards’s creative adjustments to the doctrine of justification present just one instance of this. Nevertheless, the transformational aspect of the gospel has often been obscured amid deafening theological debates, many of which themselves were needed. The inclusion of this third part testifies to the vision of EC: historically rooted and constructively engaged for the edification of the Church. To this, it should be added, though, that this is not merely a call to righteous living or a treatise on Christian ethics. Rather, each of the authors in this section draw upon the realism that characterizes much of the volume, and on this basis, they argue for transformation in Christ, sharing in his life, death, and resurrection through the intimate Spirit-bond between Christ and believer. The Christian life is caught up in and transformed in what Scott Kirkland calls the “vicarious humanity of Christ” (ch. 14).

Fifteen Theses

 

Space and time do not allow for a review of each of the fourteen contributing essays, so a peak at the structure will have to suffice for the most part, though further comments will appear below when considering strengths and weaknesses. Meanwhile, the fifteenth chapter, a sort of constitution for EC, presents several points of interest. It is clear from the theses that they are not meant as a doctrinal statement encompassing the fullness of their confession. Rather, the theses demarcate that which distinguishes EC from other branches of the Reformed tree, particularly the “Federal” theology of Westminster and Dort. Without question, the theses lean heavily upon the thought of Thomas Torrance, and it is in his distinctives that we find the most provocative theses. With Torrance, Habets and Grow affirm a general election of all humanity

T. F. Torrance

T. F. Torrance

through the election of Jesus Christ (Thesis 5). Closely tied to this is an affirmation of the Torrancian (and Barthian before him) version of supralapsarianism (Thesis 8) and union with Christ (Thesis 10, combined with explanatory comments on their understanding of union in Thesis 5, 7, and 11). As throughout the book, realism also features prominently, especially in Theses 1, 5, 7, 10, and 11 and hinted in Thesis 4. Commendably, the authors begin with the triune God and wish to ground all of creation in Father, Son and Spirit (Theses 1 and 2). Most directly poking at “Classical Calvinism” are Theses 3 and 4—which affirm a covenantal ontology but reject classical covenant theology—and 15—which deliberately aligns EC with the Reformed Scot’s Confession and Heidelberg Catechism and not Dort and Westminster. Finally, Thesis 11 pushes directly against Dort, arguing for universal atonement (though not universal salvation).

Recovery Theology

            In addition to its emphasis upon “applied theology,” perhaps the other great strength of the volume is its grounding of all theology, including its doctrine of Scripture, in the triune economy, which itself is the expression of the triune life ad intra. The authors rightly contend that Christian theology begins with the God who reveals himself as triune creator and redeemer. Generic starting points will not do, whether that be general notions of godness or the metaphysical assumptions of various forms of natural theology.

This volume also refuses to be caught in the no-win poles of conservativism vs. liberal Protestant theology. Partee’s chapter (2) sees these as false alternatives, each falling into its own ditch, especially with regard to Scripture. The former has tended to use the Bible narrowly as the “epistemological foundation for theological propositions” (30), functionally elevating Scripture to divine status through a doctrine of inerrancy (see p. 49, et al). The latter sought “to reconcile Christianity and modern culture based on scientific rather than dogmatic speculation” (40); generally liberals have prioritized science and culture rather than Christ. Splitting these options, Partee and EC follow John Webster’s confession of Scripture as sanctified witness while contending for ontology over epistemology: “[m]ost crucially, evangelical theology begins with the Lordship of Christ” (49). One might rightly object that this is nothing new, to which it seems Partee and the EC crew would exclaim, “Exactly!” That is to say, EC is about recovery of authentic Christianity in the line of Calvin by recovering the ontology of Christianity: knowing and experiencing Christ. This emphasis is abundantly clear in Nigh’s exploration of hermeneutics[1] and Grow’s affirmation of the analogia fidei[2] as well as Partee’s description of the EC posture on the nature of Scripture (as we have seen above). To this recovery, I can only say, “Bravo!”

Critique

             Nevertheless, a further question must be asked: to whom is the recovery portion of the book directed? If the answer is the church, then by all means, continue. Evangelical churches have continually failed to educate (or, perhaps, discern) their congregations on the nature of Scripture, leaving many academic theologians frustrated when freshman arrive at Bible college or to intro theology courses at Christian universities. Many seminary professors would also agree. However, if the audience is the guild of evangelical (and/or liberal) theologians, then the reader is left scratching his or her head, for the accusations are made with such generalities that at least this reader was frequently scribbling in the margins, “Who says this?” Partee names names but not convincingly. He seems to build momentum as he punches the bags of the Hodges of Princeton yesteryear and B. B. Warfield, but again, it is only a group of bags that he is punching. For as careful of a historian as Partee has been in other settings, he is every bit as historically loose in the present essay. This is evident in his attack on these older Princetonians for their preoccupation with matters of epistemology, yet we are forced to respond, “Their conversations in their historic setting were on the reliability of Scripture, so why does it surprise us that these theologians talked about Scripture in terms of epistemology?” In other words, we expect people (even today) to speak relative to their context: if the conversation is about defensive strategy in basketball, we hardly expect an interlocutor to wax eloquently on the purpose of sport in the development of people. If Partee has reason to believe that Warfield and Company would reject the sort of ontology of Scripture presented by the present book, then show the reader. For my own part, I have no sense in my reading of Warfield that he would reject an ontology of Scripture that is rooted in the triune God’s self-revelation and economy.

The same lack of precision resurfaces throughout the volume. Inerrancy is rejected on principle but never in interaction with specific theologies of inerrancy (other than a passing reaction to the notion of “original autographs”); Habets insists that EC is not Arminianism, but he doesn’t actually interact with Arminians, some of whom have little or no gripe with his formulation of EC on atonement. A few of the authors criticize evangelical epistemological uses of Scripture and replace it with an ontology of Scripture; isn’t this category confusion? If Scripture remains the source for Christian theology (67), shouldn’t some attention be given to epistemology as well? Related to precision is Habets’s concern for a doctrine of election that “adheres much closer to the presentation of election as it is found in Scripture” (173), followed by no substantive engagement with Scripture.

One could contend, too, that the distinction between “mood” and “movement” suffers from lack of precision. In what sense is EC a “mood” and not a “movement” when it is tied above all to the thought of one man, T. F. Torrance? In support of this distinction, Habets and Grow insist that EC “does not to [sic.] belong to any particular denomination, nor is it aligned with any particular seminary” (2). Yet they do clearly and frequently wave their flag on the pole of T. F. Torrance. Indeed, most of their distinctives as a “mood” are due to the theological formulations of Torrance. This tethering is so significant that their doctrines of election, union with Christ, and atonement—distilled directly from TFT—are highlighted in the concluding 15 Theses, which are meant to describe the mood’s distinctives. In other words, the specificities of this mood are so sharp that those Reformed theologians who struggle with parts of the Westminster Confession of Faith and reject core formulations of TFT are not likely to find a home with Evangelical Calvinism.

Furthermore, though it becomes apparent that “Evangelical Calvinism” is a borrowed term, it isn’t clear why the present “mood” is Evangelical Calvinism and not Evangelical Torrancianism or, simply, Torrancianism. The editors especially see their theological identity caught up in TFT, who, incidentally, is the one from whom they borrow the label “Evangelical Calvinism.” Sure other theologians are cited, especially Calvin, but by far and away, with the exception of a few of the essays, the overwhelming share of appeals is to the works of TFT. It has already been granted that some use “Calvinist” to mean basically “Reformed,” and it is also evident that the present authors wish to recover Calvin from his Federal highjackers, but for all of their positive contributions to this task, some of the central markers of Calvin’s theology (particularly his soteriology) are traded for a Barthian Reformed theology as nuanced by T. F. Torrance. Among the Barthian-Torrancian renovations to Calvin’s house are to the latter’s understanding of election, predestination, union with Christ (see below), atonement, and theological anthropology. As already mentioned and applauded above, these evangelical Calvinists draw attention to other areas in Calvin’s thought that have sometimes been neglected. However, it is worth noting that many of these recoveries follow from the implications or direct appeals of Torrance. In short, as others—including some Federalists—have pointed out, “Calvinism” and “Reformed” probably should not be used interchangeably. For the present purposes, EC would do better to refine what it calls its own “mood”—Reformed, yes, but “Calvinist” only at times. In fairness to the aforementioned aid of recovery, the Federalist followers of Dort, too, should be called something other than “Calvinist” (perhaps “Federalists” would do, but the term does not seem to say enough about the distinctives of those who travel through Dort and Westminster).

Finally, the volume’s issues with precision come to the fore in the depiction of union with Christ. In short, whose union is this: Barthian Torrance (ch. 7) or Calvin (ch. 9)? The EC crew is quick to claim (rightly) that there is a gap between Calvin on union with Christ and some of the clan of Westminster today. It is worth pointing out that while some in the latter group think (wrongly) that they have Calvin right, others do not feel obliged to tether themselves so tightly to Calvin on this issue (e.g., J. V. Fesko, Todd Billings). Nevertheless, while the current crew rightly points to the gap between Calvin and some in Westminster today—again, it is worth pointing out that this is some and not all in Westminster today—on union with Christ, the editors in particular are not as forthcoming on the significant gap between Calvin and Torrance on this doctrine. Commendably, both theologians’ views are presented, but the fifteen theses rule definitively for Torrance’s view, thus bringing into question the exact role of chapter 9 in the present book.

Final Analysis

 In sum, though there are many points of intrigue in the book and even some important corrective, in the end, this reader is left unconvinced that EC (or “ET” for Evangelical Torrancianism) is the way forward for some who precede the verbal-noun “Reformed” with the adverbial-adjective “broadly.” Nevertheless, this does not mean that even those who do not sign-on to EC are left without significant pieces for moving forward. As already mentioned, there are a number of helpful essays—most notably those by Canlis (ch. 12), Johnson (chs. 8-9), and Murphy (ch. 6)—that begin recovery of issues close to Calvin’s heart. Torrance himself masterfully discerned some of the theo-logic in Calvin’s doctrine of God, and reflections on this prove to be some of the most refreshing and edifying in the present volume. The editors Habets and Grow should be commended for their inclusion of this sort of diversity in the book which does recover parts of and enriches the whole of Reformed theology.[3] And together with the spirit of this book and its many essays, we may gladly and boldly proclaim, “Semper reformanda.”


[1] Ch. 3—“What is needed is an understanding of Scripture’s ontology and of what it means to read Scripture that arises from the content of Scripture itself” (71); “Scripture is a sign directing our attention to the reality of that personal self-revelation in Christ which it is meant to signify” (81); “it is not the use of language in Scripture that sanctifies it but Christ’s prior appropriation of it in the hypostatic union and its continued use in proclaiming him that does so” (83).

[2] Ch. 4—“The conditio sine qua non of an Evangelical Calvinist understanding of God begins where God begins, with his Son” (95); “Our course to knowing God is to submissively bow our thinking to God’s self-revelation for making himself known to us. That is, that knowledge of God is properly provided traction through a robustly oriented christological endeavor” (98); “We are not even giving argument for how we have come to our conclusions about God (only to describe), and thus all of our dogmatic expressions. Instead we are introducing an Evangelical Calvinist explication of God as Father of the Son by the Holy Spirit which is constitutive for its entire theological program and as such is genuinely a prolegomena for the whole dogmatic enterprise” (99).

[3] The diversity was welcomed even if puzzling in light of the specificity of the concluding Fifteen Theses.

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About Ashish Varma

I am a PhD student under Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and my dissertation project pertains to defending the theological validity and identifying the dogmatic location of virtue in traditional Protestant thought, namely within the sphere of union with Christ. My wife Narissa and I attend College Church in Wheaton.
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13 Responses to Review: “Evangelical Calvinism,” edited by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    Ashish,

    Thank you for this, a nice thorough review. Although I don’t fully (of course) agree with the weaknesses you seem to think are present (like your privileging of Calvin juxtaposed with Torrance for example–as representative of the fruitful aspect of our book … which I agree, all of those essays on Calvin are excellent!). And our Fifteen Theses, it was made clear, represented what Myk Habets and myself personally constitutes our location in the Evangelical Calvinist mood relative to some of our other authors who are not in complete agreement with Myk and I and our theses. We caveated the theses at the beginning of that chapter with this:

    “In conceiving this volume the editors had in mind a series of theological
    and methodological commitments which they thought could
    form something of an outline of what an Evangelical Calvinism could
    become if it were to develop into a clearly definable position within the
    Reformed tradition. What follows are fifteen theses in which the editors
    of this volume have attempted to broadly define some of the key moments
    and aspects Evangelical Calvinists might be committed to. On
    saying that, however, the editors recognize that within this volume the
    very contributors themselves do not share all of the commitments specified
    in what follows.” pg. 425

    I find it interesting that you delimit recovery to Calvin as a Reformed theologian, and it seems as if you leave Torrance and Barth out. Could you elaborate further on why it ‘seems’ you see Calvin as more definitively Reformed (other than that his name is attached to Calvinism) and his touchstones V. Barth or Torrance?

    I would like to respond with more depth later. This is just my initial response.

    I really do appreciate your view; in total, I thought you did a good job with it.

  2. Bobby Grow says:

    Actually on further review–I skimmed the first time–this review is fundamentally flawed. Why didn’t you get into the structure provided by our Introduction, it clearly defines what Evangelical and Calvinist are doing in our usage. And it structures it in a way that actually undercuts your assertion that our approach is so general that it works for a freshman in college, but not the guild; nice! The irony of your critique is that you ignore our Introduction where we are definitional and specific, and then you proceed to construct your critique that we are too general; how convenient! There is much more to say, and I will say it by way of a full rejoinder I will post at my blog. On further review your review is hat to take seriously; especially in your failure to understand Muller’s thesis in re to Calvin and the reformed trad. More later.

    • Ashish Varma says:

      Bobby,

      Thank you for your replies. I figured I would consolidate my response to your two in this single post. So, please allow me to take your concerns in order, beginning with the first post:

      1. I do privilege the Calvin portions of the book over the Torrance sections, and this stems from fundamental disagreements with Torrance. However, this is not to say that I dismiss Torrance altogether. I particularly speak positively of his emphasis on Trinitarian ontology, that is, seeing the Trinity as the beginning of theology according to the order of being and beginning talk about God with the Trinity rather than a generic conception of God. I don’t necessarily say it like this above, but I think I did enough to show that I wasn’t throwing away all things Torrance. Nevertheless, I don’t buy Torrance on a number of other points that are highlighted in the book, and to this point, I merely affirmed that those who, like me, don’t buy him either, won’t find themselves at home in a version of EC that is heavily reliant upon TFT.

      2. You and Dr. Habets certainly did affirm that not all of the contributors would agree with all of your theses. However, the nature of theses is delimiting. To offer theses for a particular label (“mood”) is to make “bounded-set” claims. In the case of this book, the difference between some theses and some essays was not hypothetical but rather actual. It is this that I sought to point out. I actually had extensive correspondence with one of your authors before posting this, and one of the key points of discussion was the nature of theses. So, I affirm that you will probably disagree with me here, but I must reaffirm that theses are de facto delimiting.

      3. I never said “Reformed theology” was limited to Calvin. In fact, I repeatedly affirmed that the present book fits under the category “Reformed theology.” I even said that “Reformed” is a more fitting label for the tradition than is “Calvinist.” Included in this tradition are Barth and Torrance, each of whom has challenged and taught me over the years, and each of whom is affirmed above as part of the Reformed tradition.

      4. You are missing what I mean by “generalities” and audience. My point, which I think I made clear in the following paragraphs, is that there is too much imprecision. I then gave a number of examples of the imprecision. One of these was over the term “Calvinism” (it should be noted that I never wrote anything against the adjective “Evangelical”). I’m not sure what part of your introduction answers my concern with the use of the term “Calvinism.” I simply said that a more precise rendering would be “Evangelical Torrancianism” since TFT receives much more material attention than Calvin. I still don’t think the book’s introduction says anything about the reason I see “Calvinism” as an imprecise moniker, especially since “Calvinism” seems to be used as a synonym for “Reformed,” a use that I granted in the first paragraph even if I disagreed with such a use. As to audience, the tone and topic of the book is clearly academic and written to the guild. I don’t doubt this. My point was that when talking to the guild, more precision is needed in key places.

      5. I thought I was pretty affirming to the structure of the book and don’t know what the Introduction said in this regard that I didn’t in other ways.

      6. I don’t think I understand your final point about Muller. Are you affirming Muller and wanting me to interact with him? To which Muller thesis are you referring and in what way do I not understand him/it?

      Thanks again.

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Hi Ashish,

        1. I have no problem with you privileging the Calvin sections over the Torrance, but in fact, I would like to suggest that the fact that we have Calvin sections in the book (from some notable Calvin scholars) should help to illustrate the function that “mood” plays in what we are after with evangelical Calvinism.

        2. The theses function were to identify, really, where Myk and myself are situated in this “mood.” What delimits the “mood” is not our theses, per se, but the reality that what we are calling evangelical Calvinism is an alternative one provided for by the Westminster trajectory—which has its own mood. I would be curious to know what this author from our book thought of the theses in relation to their own self-understanding of what it means to be Calvinist, Reformed, and or situated within the parameters of our book (if you’d like you can email me at: growba@gmail.com).

        3/4 (6). Yes, but even Richard Muller (and this is what I was referring to with the Muller thesis point), acknowledges that ‘Calvinist’ has become synonymous usage with ‘Reformed’. If this is the case, then it is not mis-leading nor disingenuous for us to identify ourselves as evangelical Calvinists (in the qualified way that we do that in the Introduction); it is simply to note that what we are identifying is a layer of the broader Reformed tradition that has always been present, but not dominate, especially in North America. Further, in re. to Muller; Muller’s general thesis is that Calvinism (or the Reformed faith) cannot be reduced to Calvin’s teachings, but that Calvin represents one (important) instance in its formation—so Calvin was part of a larger ground swell and movement. So it is better, I think, to use the distinction of Calvin[ian] and Calvinist/Reformed; the former when referencing study that is done on Calvin’s teachings in particular (like the essays on Calvin in our book do), and then the latter when referring to the socio-ecclesio development that mushroomed into various layers and trajectories, that I would argue came to full fruition (in its seminal years) at Westminster (and I mean to use Westminster as an historical landmark V. a doctrinal one). We are noting that Calvinism or the Reformed faith has many layers in its history; that it is not monolithic (as Muller, Trueman, R. Scott Clark et al argue); and that there is historical precedence for our belief (see Janice Knight et al).

        The fact that you disagree with the synonymous usage of Reformed and Calvinist does not then undercut how “we” are using it; and how many Calvinists use it (even noting that in its history it is largely a negative term … one which Calvin himself rejected pace Bruce Gordon). If we are using it in this synonymous way (and we are), then I don’t see how, formally, that would undercut our usage of it, and our placement of even Torrance and Barth into this category.

        As far as the audience: the imprecision you note, I would admit, may be present at a level. But I am left wondering, Why you were expecting more precision than you got? It is an edited volume with an array of voices; which really is intended, then, to illustrate (even at this structural level), how what we are offering is representative of a “mood” instead of a “movement.” Unless, we had sat down with each of our authors and in a totalitarian way told them that they had to write A. B. and C., then the kind of imprecision you note should be expected (to me this seems to be the nature of most edited volumes, at least those I have read).

        I will write more, yet, Ashish. Ultimately I would just say, that I definitely appreciate your affirmative sections (in your review … of course), and that your tone was much more irenic and collegial than mine in my initial comments here. So thanks for taking the time to write this review, and for the thought you put into it.

        Let me also add, that at the end of the day, what really matters to me (and I know Myk) is that the material and conceptual/theological realities relayed through our edited book are much more important than being able to say whether or not it is Calvinist, Reformed, Torrancian, Barthian, or whatever. We do write for the Church; which is inclusive (I hope) of the guild, the laity, and all who claim the name of Christ. While our project certainly invites some of the critiques you have made, it is important to bear this balance in mind.

        I have no problem being identified as Torrancian (or even Barthian in a qualified way), but I don’t think this is mutually exclusive from also identifying as Calvinian; and all of this under the umbrella of ‘Calvinist’ (Reformed)–I know you don’t agree with using Calvinist and Reformed synonymously, but within its diachronic/synchronic lexical range, it is available, and really is not that confusing.

        Anyway, thanks, Ashish.

      • Ashish Varma says:

        Hi Bobby,

        Thanks for your follow-up. I’m finally back to offer some thoughts. I don’t know that there’s a lot left to say, but there is a bit more. I’ll use the same numbering again, skipping over those that don’t need further response or those to which you didn’t respond.

        1 & 2. I think these ultimately come together, so I’ll address your replies together. The unanswered key here is the nature of theses. As I already stated, to my knowledge, theses necessarily create boundaries. You say that the theses only represent the version of EC distilled by you and Dr. Habets, but the “bound-set” nature of theses makes it difficult to understand how such hard declarations on a subject (e.g., the version of union with Christ advocated in the theses by you and Habets) don’t automatically exclude other understandings of the same subject (e.g., the version of union with Christ proposed by Johnson). If the theses are omitted from the volume, the reader is left with a couple of options: there is a contradiction at play, or there is provision for conceptual space. The latter is a more charitable reading and is the one toward which I’m more inclined on face value, especially considering the nature of edited volumes (as you point out on another issue). However, the inclusion of theses negates this choice for the reader, and the reader is limited to the text (not some unknowable authorial intent). As for the author in question from your book, I’ll let him speak for himself (he at least was following this dialogue, though I don’t know if he is anymore).

        3, 4, & 6. Your point is taken, but keep in mind that I began the review by granting the historically broad use of “Calvinism,” so I’m not sure I have missed Muller’s thesis. However, if we’re going to appeal to Muller (though I don’t see why I need to), it’s worth mentioning that he probably wouldn’t grant “Calvinist” or “Calvinian” to the Barthian or Torrancian trajectory(-ies). I could follow this and say that historically, the term “Calvinist” does not travel through Barth or Torrance. Indeed, Barth’s version of recovery as even “Reformed” has been contested plentifully. I don’t contest the term “Reformed” for him and Torrance (again, I already said this) and given the laxity of historic usage of “Calvinist” I even grant the use of “Calvinist” and “Calvinian” (again, I already said this too). My point of imprecision cuts both ways, into some historic usage of the term and to EC’s usage. I grant its use in its imprecision, but I still think the use of the term is imprecise. Note, then, that “imprecise” doesn’t mean “irretrievably wrong” but rather “not as helpful as at least this perceiver would like it to be.”

        Still, my larger point is imprecision on particulars in individual arguments. On the issue of “Calvinism” and “Calvinian,” Muller’s thesis is mostly irrelevant to my point. Sure, the term has been used broadly historically (again, I have granted this several times now, including in the first paragraph of the review), but that says nothing of my present critique that broad use is imprecise. If I may speak broadly, broad uses usually are imprecise.

        On the audience, I don’t think you are getting my point. As I wrote in my last response, the audience itself is not in doubt. What is in doubt are the imprecisions within the particular arguments (e.g., on Arminianism, on the lumping together of “conservatives”). Nothing about the nature of an edited volume requires (or should allow) the imprecisions that I highlighted in particular essays. If your concern is that I place each instance of this at the feet of the editors, then you may rest assured that I don’t. These imprecisions belong to the authors of the imprecisions. My point was that, unfortunately, there are a lot of imprecisions that extend throughout the volume.

      • Bobby Grow says:

        Hi Ashish,

        Thanks for your further clarification. My response here will be very brief.

        As far as the delimiting factor that you seem to think is present in our theses; indeed, they do delimit, they delimit Myk and myself, and how we see ourselves situated as evangelical Calvinists. I don’t know how else to caveat that other than the way that we did in the prologue to the theses themselves (i.e. at the beginning of chapter 15 as I quoted it above). Does our inclusion of the theses place us at odds with some of our authors, theologically? Yes, for some it does; no, for some it doesn’t. But again, this only illustrates our assertion that what we are seeking to identify is a mood (a mood that is non-Westminster Calvinism, that indeed was present in the period, and currently). Clearly there is a continuum of belief among all of the authors, but not without distinction. Apparently, none of our authors felt delimited enough to not contribute to the book, even if there were some fundamental points of departure—although I would say that is very rare among the authors!

        This is almost quibbling (indeed it is) at this point; but your claim/assertion that Calvinist is never attached to either Barth or TFT, in a particular sense is not the case. Indeed, TFT himself identifies his conception of Reformed theology as an “evangelical Calvinism” in his book Scottish Theology. I brought up Muller’s thesis, because you seemed to be reducing the capacity to be called a Calvinist to a person’s ability to be able to align with Calvin’s “genuine” teaching. Muller would reject this, if this is indeed what you were attempting. Of course Muller would not allow TFT nor Barth the label “Calvinist.” But his argument is circular, which I have written of elsewhere. Your charge of imprecision among our authors, and in the book in general, I guess will simply have to be left in the realm of your opinion; I really can’t control that—other than to say that you are wrong, and I disagree with you (of course!). It is interesting (again, I feel like my whole response here is quibbling, sorry—in your review you identified Scott Kirkland as the one who used the label vicarious humanity, and yet you did not mention once Jason Goroncy’s chapter which was solely dedicated to the vicarious faith of Christ … I found that odd, maybe just a simple oversight on your part while crafting your review).

        I get your point about audience; it isn’t that nuanced :-)! My point in response, is simply, again, that I don’t agree with you. And you would have to do much more work and argument to demonstrate your assertion (in the review) that there is this kind of imprecision (which I am not even sure what kind of criteria you are using to make such an assertion).

        Anyway, Ashish, thanks for spending the time that you have reviewing our edited book; I truly do appreciate that you did this, and that you actually read our whole book (that is totally commendable). I’ll look forward to seeing the fruit of your work in the days to come.

        His strength,

        Bobby

  3. Phil Harrold says:

    I appreciate the review and aim to read the book. this seems to be quite an important topic for Anglicans, in particular, to consider. Some of the most eloquent calls for ‘evangelical Calvinism’ can be found in Anglican divines like William Beveridge (17th c.) and Anglican evangelicals like John Newton and Charles Simeon (18th-19th c.). The moderation and modulation of their Calvinism(s) comes, in some cases, through engagement–first- and second-hand– with the early Fathers. In this way, they anticipate T. F. Torrance’s project. But it may also have something to do with the importance of sacramental theology in the Anglican tradition. Consider, especially, the way Richard Hooker appropriated Calvin on ‘participation’ in Christ via sacramental presence.

    I would also add that there is a significant ecumenical dimension to this theological trajectory. Those theologians who engage Calvin for the sake of reuniting the Church rather than defending or merely differentiating a particular theological tribe have tended to identify more with the Barth-Torrance view of Calvin. Perhaps that’s too obvious to even mention.

    • Ashish Varma says:

      Phil,

      Thank you for your comments. I must admit that the history of Anglican evangelicals is outside my area of competence, but your teasers have me intrigued. I see from your faculty bio that this is right up your ally, though. Do you have a couple of go-to sources that you would recommend for life after the dissertation?

      I am also intrigued by your thoughts on the ecumenical trajectory of those who appeal to Barth-Torrance. Do you see this as inherent to Barth’s/Torrance’s enterprises as they engaged Calvin or do you see this as happenstance appropriation of the two by others?

      • Phil Harrold says:

        Ashish–

        There are general works that include very helpful composite studies of evangelical Anglicans: David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980 (NY: Routledge, 1989); Kenneth Hylson-Smith, Evangelicals in the Church of England, 1734-1984 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988); and Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of the Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys, A History of Evangelicalism, People, Movements and Ideas in the English-Speaking World, vol. 1 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003). Of these, Bebbington has near ‘standard’ status these days in the historiography, but I enjoy Hylson-Smith a bit more as a writer. You’ll also find some good biographies of the folks I mentioned, especially good is Bruce Hindmarsh’s work on John Newton.

        Ecumenical trajectories in all of this: I’ve always appreciated Barth and Torrance for their breadth, especially their positive engagement with the early Fathers (e.g., Athanasius in particular for Torrance) and their more general concern for the unity of the church. They write with great respect for Catholic sources (both pre-Reformation and post-), and there is a healthy self-critical stance that comes from reading within as well as outside of their own theological trajectories.

        Evangelical Anglicans like Newton and Simeon were both active in a very divided, often partisan, landscape of churchmanship and theology under the big tent of 18th-19th c. Church of England. Being clergymen and evangelists, of a sort, within a reformed-and-catholic tradition like Anglicanism motivated them to recover aspects of Calvin and, via Calvin and some Caroline Divines, the early Fathers that were centering motifs in soteriology. Most especially, union with Christ was found to be a helpful way of overcoming some rather nasty divisions over the order of salvation within Calvinist circles, and between Calvinists and Arminians. Both of these Anglican clergymen were known as peace-makers in their day, and their legacy has recurred now and then, most recently in the likes of John Stott and J. I. Packer.

        I hope this is helpful. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts and engage with those who are more familiar than I am with Calvin and Calvinism(s).

      • Ashish Varma says:

        Thanks for the recommendations and expansion, Phil. And sorry for my delayed acknowledgement of these; I have been away for the past week.

  4. Bobby Grow says:

    Ashish,

    Let me first of all apologize for my last comment above! It represents bad form, knee jerk reaction, and just mean-ness on my part. Please forgive me for that. Sorry brother. I still plan on writing a rejoinder, but I plan on taking an appropriate tone, the above from me was not appropriate. Now let me read your response to me. 🙂

  5. Pingback: Review: ‘One with Christ’ by Marcus Johnson | For Christ and His Kingdom

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