Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The "Wicked Smart" Oliver Crisp

Last evening, Oliver Crisp gave his talk, "Was Jonathan Edwards Theologically Orthodox?" as part of the LeRoy Martin Distinguished Lecture Series and in collaboration with Theology on Tap of Chattanooga. I was pleased with the turnout, with roughly one hundred people in attendance.

Over a year ago I was at a conference where Crisp was getting ready to speak. I happened to be sitting in the audience next to a distinguished religious historian who I greatly respect. Before Crisp began speaking, my friend leaned over to me and asked if I knew Crisp. I admitted that I hadn't met him, but knew of his work. My friend then broke his usual sophisticated speech by telling me that Crisp is "wicked smart."

Reflecting on Crisp's talk on Jonathan Edwards's philosophical theology last night, I can sincerely say that I agree with that assessment--Crisp is wicked smart. He has written or edited sixteen books since earning his PhD in 2003 (some of these books are in press), specializing in Christology, the Atonement, and Edwards's thought. I was astounded at how much Crisp knows about Reformed theology, from the Reformation to the present, as well as the intricacies of Edwards's thought. He explained that Edwards sees reality as a continual stream of consciousness within the mind of God. According to Edwards, the world as we see it doesn't really exist. Rather, what we see and experience are simply feelings that we perceive as true, but do not actually exist. In other words, Edwards was an idealist.

Edwards added his own twist to idealism by arguing in Original Sin (1758) that God recreates the universe as we know it ex nihilo, again and again, at every moment. The illustration that Crisp used was of a movie projection. When people go to the theater to watch a movie, they see the illusion of a continuous story, but in reality the movie consists of a series of individual slides that make up a complete film roll. In a similar way, God has pieced together the individual moments that have been created from scratch to form one continuous flow of thought in his mind that we experience as reality. Needless to say, this is a difficult concept to consider while highlighting the breadth of Edwards's thought. Crisp showed the audience that Edwards was not simply the fire and brimstone preacher of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," but a deeply intellectual theologian who advocated some radical innovations to Calvinism.

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