About Providence, Divine Action and the Church

In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Essay Review: Oliver D. Crisp, 'Calvin on Creation and Providence'

Oliver D. Crisp, ‘Calvin on Creation and Providence’, in Sung Wook Chung (ed.), John Calvin and Evangelical Theology: Legacy and Prospect. In Celebration of the Quincentenary of John Calvin (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009), pp. 43–65

I am pleased to see that Oliver Crisp has published an account of Calvin’s position on creation and providence. Although Crisp generally appears appreciative of Calvin’s thought, he also hints at potential difficulties in the Reformer’s treatment of these inseparable themes. The majority of the essay is divided into three sections, in which Crisp delineates the theological content of the doctrines of creation of providence; summarises Calvin’s teaching on these matters; and assesses the extent to which this teaching should remain influential today, particularly in an evangelical context.

Having studied the theology of John Calvin as part of my doctoral work on providence, I must confess that little in this paper was new to me. However, two things did stand out:

First, I realise that the conceptuality of continuous creation is far more nuanced than I had previously thought, if there is truly a distinction between creatio continua and creatio continuata. (fn 22, p. 52). My own research on continuous creation – which isn’t extensive, I admit – has not yielded such fine distinctions, so I would be grateful if someone would point me to these in the literature.

Secondly, Crisp notes that Calvin articulates a far more christological account of creation and providence in his commentaries than in the Institutes. Crisp suggests (fn 46) that the reason for this could be the arrangement of the 1559 edition of the Institutes, in which Calvin divides the themes of providence and election ‘for structural and systematic considerations’. (p. 64). This may well be the case; but if a christological understanding of creation and providence is so pervasive in the commentaries, I don’t see why this shouldn’t translate well into the Institutes, even given the structural rearrangements Calvin felt he had to implement.

These comments are not criticisms, of course, and I commend Crisp’s essay as a useful introduction to Calvin’s thought on creation and providence.

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