Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).
Week 2 (1/8-1/14): I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)
When I saw that my friend Michael Lynch was going to Tweet/blog through Muller’s PRRD, it was a spur for me to re-read my way through. Then we decided to join forces. But since he’s a real scholar and not a pastor-“scholar” like me, I told him my comments would be John Madden-esque as I read through a section: “Boom! Whack!!”
Seriously, the work of Muller and those who have dedicated the lifespan of their brain cells to reassessing the Reformation and Post-Reformation played a part in assuring my soul. As strange as that might sound, it’s true. I was a rootless 19-year old—I came from a broken family, I was saved a little more than a year before, went to play basketball at a Christian college because I thought that would be better for my spiritual life, only to find myself disillusioned by all the PKs and MKs who couldn't care less. A part of my journey to stability emotionally and theologically was finding on a used bookshelf in a Christian bookstore a copy of the 1988 edition of Muller’s, Christ and the Decree. I still have it! I hardly had any idea what he was saying, but I knew it was the kind of serious history into the Christian past I had to get more of if I was going to figure out what I believed and where I was going in life.
Here in PRRD I.1.1.2–3 we have a mini-history of Reformation through Post-Reformation theology. It’s not easy to give to a parishioner, but as a pastor, it’s the kind of summary I need to be familiar with so that I can distill it to my peeps.
I.1.1.2 contrasts the false narrative that the Reformation was alive, vibrant, and a period when the “living Word” had its way only to be quenched by “dead orthodoxy” in the Post-Reformation period. As Muller explains, the relationship to these two periods is doctrinal continuity through the means of methodological discontinuity (46). One way Muller accounts for this phenomenon is what he calls “the underlying drive of the Reformation…the drive toward true or correct doctrine” (47). In other words, of course theology is going to feel like it’s changed because the needs changed: from Luther-esque proclamation to catechetical instruction of newly Reformed people, to polemical precision between Catholics and Protestants (and Protestants and Protestants), then finally to establishing university faculty norms. Even Calvin’s own Institutes, so falsely seen by some as the Rosetta Stone of pure biblical proclamation, underwent significance changes in form and structure as the needs changed over the course of his life (56–58). So what is Reformed “orthodoxy?” Muller summarizes: “a conscious attempt to reflect in detail the early confessional synthesis of Reformed doctrine” (59).
The main thing I want you to take away from the heavy-going section I.1.1.3 is a practical point so necessary in today’s ecclesiastical climate. I write as a minister in the URCNA so my exhortation is to those of us in the über-conservative, ultra-confessional world of Reformedom. Muller says, “High orthodoxy…modified, developed, and elaborated extant system in relation to a changing intellectual environment” (74). Again, in relation to ad intra controversies and polemics within the Reformed churches surrounding Cocceian covenant theology, appropriating Cartesian philosophy, aspects of Saumur theology, Baxter’s soteriology, and how to respond to Socinianism’s denial of God’s ad intra attribute of punitive justice, Muller says, “On none of these issues, however, did the Reformed churches rupture into separate confessional bodies or identify a particular theologically defined group as beyond the bounds of the confessions, as had been the case at the Synod of Dort” (76). Too many of us today use the confessions as a rod and not as a staff. We view them as walls, not boundary markers. We’re more concerned with repristinating a “pure age” of theology, piety, and practice, which ironically is exactly what the “Calvin v. Calvinists” school of thought has tried to do with Reformed theology.
Join us next Wednesday as Michael Lynch blogs through the reading for Week 3 (1/15-1/21): I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)!
Meet the Puritanssupporting
For previous posts in this series, see:
Matthew Barrett, ed., Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 784pp. Hardcover. $45.00.
Reformed theology aims to be biblical. Yet being Reformed also describes historic branches of confessional Christian churches. This means that Reformed theology must be both biblically faithful and historically informed in order to retain its name meaningfully. This impressive volume includes essays from authors who seek to achieve both of these aims. Reformation Theology presents the entire system of Christian theology in light of the writings of sixteenth-century authors with an aim towards ongoing reformation. The result is a highly readable and interesting introduction to Reformed thought that should appeal to believers at every level.
Reformation Theology is an excellent introduction to early Reformation thought. Its authors represent some of the most well respected historians and systematic theologians in the Reformation traditions, both Reformed and Lutheran (Kolb). Michael Horton’s stirring and insightful prologue alerts readers to the need for recovering Reformation theology at the present day. This material shows readers what to do with what they learn from all subsequent chapters. The following three chapters represent the most heavyweight scholarship in the work, especially Gerald Bray’s superb treatment of late-medieval theology and its relevance to the Reformation. These chapters establish the broader historical context of the Protestant Reformation and its theological developments, helping readers grasp better what is unique to Reformed theology while disabusing the common notion that the middle ages were merely the “dark ages.” This is an important point for those of us who believe that Christ faithfully preserved the truth in his church in great measure in every age. The rest of the volume outlines Protestant theology from the doctrine of Scripture through eschatology, drawing from primary source writings of early Protestant authors, with heavy stress on Luther and Calvin throughout. In addition to the opening chapters, the material on the person of Christ (Letham), the Church (Kolb), the sacraments, (Denlinger and Mathison), and the relationship between church and state (Lillback) stand out for depth of research, setting broad historical contexts. All of the chapters are interesting and edifying and readers will gain a stronger grasp of the theology of several first and second generation Reformers.
Reformation Theology, however, illustrates the difficulty of blending historical and systematic theology. The challenge of writing historical theology is asking historical questions of historical figures rather than looking into the proverbial well of history in order to see our own reflections. Understanding past authors on their own terms and in the contexts of their times provides us with perspectives that sometimes differ widely from our own. Believers rightly desire to evaluate what they find from Scripture and appropriate ideas in their present generation. Doing so, however, entails at least three questions: What did Reformation authors teach? Is their teaching biblical? and, What should we do with their teaching today? Theologians need to distinguish such questions initially in order to bring them together effectively and accurately later. This is not as easy as it sounds. For the most part, the authors of Reformation Theology lean in the direction of answering the first question rather than the last two. While this reviewer believes that this slants the volume in the right direction, it is not easy to see why the editor’s stress on the authors’ holding to Reformation theology matters much in most cases. People can write good history whether or not they sympathize with their historical subjects. However, the few authors of this volume who attempt to evaluate and apply Reformation thought often blur the distinction between historical and contemporary theology. For example, Douglas Kelly spends a large amount of time asking what the Reformers would have thought about theistic evolution (289-293), even though such views became prominent in the nineteenth-century. A better approach would have been to ask what issues faced the Reformers in their own times in relation to the doctrine of creation, to evaluate their conclusions, and then to apply their ideas to present controversies. This some judgment applies to importing anachronistic terms, such as “sphere sovereignty” (687), into sixteenth-century theology. The only chapter that clearly combines historical analysis with clear and distinct biblical evaluations and contemporary uses is Korey Maas’ chapter on Justification by faith alone (511-548). While criticism should not detract from the usefulness of this work it sheds light on the kind of discernment that readers need to digest some of its assertions.
Reformation Theology is an excellent introduction to the theological developments of the Protestant Reformation. The large size of the book should not hinder broad readership. This volume has the advantage of placing theology back at the heart and center of the Reformation without neglecting the broader historical context (45). This reviewer agrees with the editor and authors of this book that we need to recover the depth, beauty, and power of the historic Protestant proclamation of the Gospel. May the Lord use this work to push the church in the right direction.
Answering the question, “What is Puritan Theology?” may sound too much like attempting to define Puritanism, a slippery term that evades a crisp definition or at least agreement on one. Indeed, there exists a great deal of overlap between Puritanism and Puritan Theology, but I hope to add a little something to the discussion.
Yes, I will begin with the term, “Puritan,” and know we find more questions than answers initially when considering it. In this brief post, I will not even try to address such questions; John Coffey and Paul C.H. Lim in their introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (2008) provide a helpful discussion on the term, and I have gleaned much from them in my perspective.
In my discussion, I will start with the first part, “Puritan,” though in the process I cannot help but treat the second, “Theology,” at the same time. In general, those considered Puritans were:
In connection with the description above, I believe Puritanism to be limited historically and geographically as a contextualized phenomenon. It arose in England within the national church in the late 16th century (during the reign of Elizabeth I), not long after the term “Puritan” was first used to mock those pushing for deeper reform. Puritanism grew up, but not without struggles, under James I and Charles I (up to the 1640s); flourished and fragmented during the rule of Cromwell (1650s); waned during the Stuart Restoration (1660s-1680s); and fizzled around the time of the Glorious Revolution (1688) and The Toleration Act (1689). This was at least the case for England. In New England, where Puritanism had been exported (along with other areas such Ireland and Wales), it thrived well into the 18th century.
My approach, then, does not employ the label “Puritan” for big British names of other centuries, who impact or were influenced by Puritanism (e.g. William Tyndale of the 16th, John Gill of the 18th , Charles Spurgeon of the 19th, or Martin Lloyd-Jones of the 20th). Likewise, Puritanism really does not encompass (even for the 17th century) the Scottish Covenanters (e.g. Samuel Rutherford) or “Further Reformation” of the Netherlands (e.g. Wilhelmus à Brakel). This by no means minimizes the vibrant Puritan connections in these countries.
Concerning theology, there exists no unanimity for the Puritans, with its ranks including (not without debate!) neonomians, antinomians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Erastians, Baptists, Arminians, and even possibly an Arian. Still, in general, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) provides the closest summary (along with support from the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) of a Puritan Theology with its: Foundation of faith and practice found in the Scriptures alone; historic orthodox understanding of the Trinity and Christology; Reformed soteriology highlighting union with Christ for his benefits as prophet, priest, and king; overarching covenantal structure of works and grace stressing a two Adam theology in relation to both the history and order of salvation; two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; requirement for church discipline; accent on the third use of the law; Sabbatarianism; and eschatological outlook concerning the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead for eternal judgment or glory. The substance of such a theology was upheld by those called Puritans who nonetheless made minor changes to this confession in the Savoy Declaration (1658) highlighting congregationalism and the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) demanding believers-only baptism.
Finally, I want to discuss a pronounced theological emphasis for Puritans and, I believe, essential to understanding “Puritan Theology.” Joel Beeke and Mark Jones encapsulate this focus in the subtitle for their monumental Puritan Theology (2012), namely, “Doctrine for Life.” They stress how practical the Puritans were in their theologizing, which certainly connects to the foundational work of William Ames, in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity (1627). There, he says “Theology is the doctrine of living to God.” In this way, what God reveals to us in his Word serves to lead us back to him in our lives.
Certainly, the Puritans were not the first to link the study of theology with piety. As heirs of a maturing Reformed theology, they no doubt knew of Calvin’s twofold knowledge of God and self, which was related to wisdom and intimately connected to our worship of and life unto God. Thus, the Puritans have been known for their “experimental” (experiential) Calvinism which saturated not just their sermons but all of their writings, even the most theological and academic.
Many criticize Reformed theology then and now as cold, dead orthodoxy, which it can at times and must never be. Puritan Theology shunned such a tendency. May we do the same.
Every Wednesday in 2018 Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).
Week 1 (1/1–1/7): I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)
The crowning achievement of Richard Muller’s work on early modern theology is undoubtedly his four-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics which are currently in the process of being updated and expanded for a third edition. This year, marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Synod of Dort (1618–1619) and the 501st anniversary of the Reformation, makes for a fitting time to read through Muller’s magnum opus. For those participating, these weekly posts will help to elucidate some of the more important or interesting points found in each week’s reading. It will also give us a chance to think critically about Muller’s interpretation of the Reformed orthodox (hereafter, RO), especially at those junctures where subsequent scholarship has either objected, or (more typically) further enhanced Muller’s sketch of early modern RO.
This week’s reading (it’s never too late to begin…it’s Muller after all!) is an introduction to the series as a whole as well as to the first volume focusing on the nature of RO prolegomena. A few brief remarks are in order.
First, I hope you read the two prefaces for the first and second edition. Prefaces can tell you a lot about both the author and the book! When Muller wrote the first edition of PRRD his access to primary sources was much more limited than in the early 2000s. By that point access to databases like Early English Books Online was available. One of Muller’s most important methodological points is that one can only truly understand and appreciate the theology of the RO when one has read widely—their contemporaries and their theological forbearers (the patristics and medievals). How can one give a “broad description of what Reformed orthodoxy in fact was” (I.16) unless he or she has read widely?
Second, in the preface to the first edition (I.20–21), did you notice that Muller thanked Brian Armstrong (d. 2011) “for hours of enlightening discussion and for several important references to Protestant orthodox authors and their writings?” Who was Brian Armstrong? He has been one of Muller’s favorite foils in light of Armstrong’s negative treatment of scholasticism. Yet despite such strong polemic Muller thanks him! Of course, there are numerous lessons here. You cannot blame Muller for not listening to Armstrong. He had, we are told, “hours of enlightened discussion.” In short, Muller listened to his detractors. But—and I find this to be even more notable—Muller clearly respected Armstrong as a scholar. Muller thanked Armstrong for making him a better historian. As a young historian of theology, I am thankful for both scholars.
Finally, one other element in these introductory pages is worth highlighting. Muller’s anti-“Calvin vs. the Calvinists” thesis is often (mis)characterized as presenting a monolithic Reformed faith that never changed, was never modified, and hardly allowed for any disagreement within the tradition. Those who say such things, apart from having completely ignored some of Muller’s most recent publications, must have also ignored these introductory sections. Not only does Muller (as we saw in the preface to the second edition!) attempt to paint a wide and diverse picture of early modern RO in its various ecclesiastical, geographical, and confessional expressions, but he, in fact, admits that the RO tinkered with the theology and method of doing theology bequeathed to them by the Reformers:
“If by [the use of the term] Calvinist, one means a later exponent of a theology standing within the confessional boundaries described by such documents as [list of some significant Reformed confessions] ... then one will have the problem accounting for the many ways in which such thinkers [list of many well-known RO theologians] ... differ from Calvin both doctrinally and methodologically.” (I.30)
Muller is sensitive to the ways in which the RO modified the theology of the tradition that came before them. The methodological point at issue in Muller’s PRRD is how one ought to go about identifying and tracing such discontinuities (and continuities).
I do hope these brief thoughts whet your appetite to read more Muller. More so, however, I hope that reading Muller’s PRRD whets your appetite to read the Reformers and RO themselves. After all, if that is not the outcome of reading through Muller’s four-volumes, I can assure you that he would find such an endeavor to read through his four-volumes largely useless—after all, there really is no substitute for understanding the RO than reading the primary sources. To that end, Muller is a helpful and able guide for navigating the often-complicated early modern Reformed theological world. Tollite legite.
Join us next Wednesday as Danny Hyde blogs through the reading for Week 2 (1/8-1/14): I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)!
Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books, Meet the Puritans has a number of copies of The Fading of the Flesh by George Swinnock, Stop Loving the World by William Greenhill, and Triumphing over Sinful Fear by John Flavel to give away. One entry per household please. Deadline to register is Friday, January 19, 2018.
One of the interesting things I have discovered in my reading is a link between the Puritans and contemporary sayings. Statements that we put on bumper stickers, repeat to ourselves and others, or use to teach biblical truth—I have found these, some almost verbatim, in puritan writings. I will share one of them with you in this article.
Do you remember the WWJD craze from the 1990’s? WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” and was plastered everywhere: wristbands, mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces and earrings. The start of WWJD movement is generally attributed to Janie Tinklenberg, a youth leader in Holland, Michigan. After reading and then discussing Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps: What would Jesus do? with her youth group, she abbreviated the subtitle and had them printed on wristbands. The rest, as they say, is history.
Asking the question, what would Jesus do, however, did not originate with Charles Sheldon. Two hundred years earlier, Edward Reynolds was exhorting his hearers to do the same. Reynolds (1593-1676) was an important member of the Westminster Assembly, vice-chancellor of Oxford University and after the restoration, Bishop of Norwich. In his work, The Life of Christ, Reynolds elaborated on “the doctrine of our conformity in holiness to the life of Christ.” At one point, he warned against “a will holiness,” that is, governing our lives according to our own rules and ways. Instead, he gave this advice: “Whatever action therefore you go about, do it by rule; enquire out of the Scriptures, whether Christ would have done it or no,—at least, whether he allow it or no.” Reynolds added the qualification “at least, whether he allow it or no,” because he understood that there are some things that are “lawful and expedient with us, which were not suitable unto the person of Christ.” One example that he gave is marriage. Reynolds then gave concrete illustrations of how to use this rule (WWJD) in everyday life. He wrote:
“When thou art tempted to looseness and immoderate living, ask thy conscience but this question, Would Christ have drunk unto swinishness, or eaten unto excess? Would he have wasted his precious time at stews [brothels], stages, or taverns, or taken delight in sinful and desperate fellowship? Did Christ frequently pray both with his disciples, and alone by himself,—and shall I never, either in my family, or in my closet, think upon God? Did Christ open his wounds, and shall not I open my mouth? Was his blood too precious to redeem, and is my breath too good to instruct, his church? Was Christ merciful to his enemies, and shall I be cruel to his members? Again, For the manner of Christ’s obedience; Did Christ serve God without all self-ends, merely in obedience, and to glorify him; and shall I make God’s worship subordinate to my aims, and his religion serve turns? Shall I do what I do, without any love or joy, merely out of slavish fear, and compulsion of conscience? Thus if we did resolve our services into their true originals, and measure them by the holiness of Christ, and have him ever before our eyes, it would be a great means of living in comfort and spiritual conformity to God’s law.”
If he had been a youth leader, if he had been surrounded by the proper marketing team, and if the technology had existed, then Edward Reynolds may have been the one to spark a popular trend!
Article 19 marks the third division of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Built on the two articles that precede them, articles 19-22 define the marks of the true church, its visible and invisible character, the nature of its authority in relation to Scripture, and the hallmark of a false church that seeks to overthrow the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness.
XIX — OF THE CHURCH
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.
At the time of the Reformation it was essential to define the doctrine of the church against the error of Roman Catholicism where too much emphasis was being placed on the visible church. Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum tells of “the insanity of those who think that the Roman church was founded on a rock of such a kind that it has neither erred nor can err” [Bray, 209]. Article 19 is also similar to article 7 of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 reflecting the shared concern of the Reformers.
It is significant to note that of all the controversies of the period, the marks of the true church defined by Cranmer in 1553 remained unchanged when the articles were promulgated in 1571. His genius here is to look beyond the various practices of the apostolic era. The source of unity is not an outward ecclesiastical unity, but unity is grounded upon the one who is true: God himself. If we are to have true unity with one another in the church, then we must have true unity with the one who is the Truth which means then that we need to ground the doctrine of the church in election. If we were to lay the Reformation confessions side by side we would see that the doctrine of the church arises out of the doctrine of election. Once again, we must pay attention to the narrative of the articles. Article 17 and 18 on election and on the uniqueness of Christ for salvation must logically precede this article. As we are united to the Lord Jesus Christ, the necessary consequence is that his pure Word is preached by legally authorized and properly trained ministers (article 23), and the sacraments administered according to his command: the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper (article 25). Cranmer echoes Ephesians 4 here. The essence of the church is that a congregation of faithful people must be in union with this one God, this one Lord, through his ordinary means of grace.
Cranmer fixes the gaze of the visible church on the invisible church. He was well aware of this visible/invisible Church distinction, as is evident in the Thirteen Articles (1538), where we read in article 5 that “true believers, who really believe in Christ the Head” make up the invisible Church, and the visible Church comprises “all who are baptized in Christ, who have not openly denied him nor been lawfully and by his Word excommunicated” [Bray, Documents of the English Reformation, 189]. True unity begins with the one who is true, and that unity must cohere with our union with him. It is interesting to note how in an age when the Roman Catholic Church pushed hard toward the visible, Cranmer pushes hard toward the invisible and he indirectly sets up what is to follow in the succeeding articles concerning the foundation of the visible church in a series of “nots”.
The article towards its close mentions the three historic patriarchates of the Eastern Church, “Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch”, powerful churches, which, though founded by apostles, had still fallen into error. How then is the true unity of the visible church understood? It is the common testimony of the truth in a biblically faithful confession like the Articles of Religion (pure Word of God) and the order of worship that Christ commands like the Book of Common Prayer (sacraments administered according to Christ’s ordinance). Cranmer returns to the Scriptures in which all knowledge and things pertaining to salvation reside to flesh out the hallmarks of his ecclesiology. In so doing he also acknowledges that it is God’s providence that takes time to bring the church to its fulfillment. The church is moving toward its consummation. There is an almost eschatological flavor to it. Cranmer sees a distinction between the existence of the church and its perfection in Christ Jesus through the lens of the Scriptures.
When you begin to see as Cranmer did how the existence and perfection of the visible church are founded upon a God who is true who is bringing us into union with himself, then this becomes the foundation for the existence and perfection of the visible church. We need not be concerned to be under one organizational umbrella or a human succession. We should be concerned with the truth. When we are concerned with the truth, then we can come together to discuss differences between us. We are not to minimize the truth so that we can come together to feel good.
Which brings us to the modern, pragmatic “feel good” description of the church within the Anglican Church of North America masking as doctrine, the so-called “three streams of the church”: Catholic, Evangelical (or Protestant) and Pentecostal (or Charismatic) traditions or “tributaries” being channeled into a single “river” to create some kind of doctrinal synthesis. Such a synthesis has abandoned Cranmer's biblically faithful doctrine of the church in its common testimony of the truth. Two of the three streams, for example, reject the classical Pentecostal teaching about a post-conversion baptism of the Holy Spirit or the normative practice of glossolalia and prophecy. Two of the three have historically repudiated the Roman Catholic understanding of the ordained ministry as sacerdotal and would have a very different view of the nature and number of the sacraments. And one of the three does not understand justification as primarily the gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness to individual believers received through faith alone. It reminds one of Philip E. Hughes observation on Roman Catholic and Anglican dialogue during the early 1970s, that to resort to fine-sounding but ambivalent terminology is to paper over the cracks and then to call attention to the attractiveness of the wallpaper. Without a thorough revision of its doctrine of the church along biblically faithful lines, the Anglican Church of North America has merely turned back the clock to restart in the early 1970’s when concern for the truth had already been abandoned and is set to repeat the tragic history which followed.
Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015). 168pp. Paperback. $21.00.
Catholicity is as important as it is often misunderstood. In search of a deeper connection to historic Christianity, some study Roman Catholicism only to become Roman Catholic. Others study Eastern Orthodoxy and adopt that system of thought, in whole or in part. The great strength of post-Reformation Reformed theology is that it provides an example of how to glean from the entire catholic tradition of the church without adopting alternate theological systems. In Reformed Catholicity, Allen and Swain make a persuasive case why we need to learn to do the same thing today. They argue for building a distinctively Reformed theology, in conversation with the entire Catholic tradition of the church, under the authority of Scripture, in the church, and for the church. This is precisely the kind of theological maturity that Reformed churches need so desperately today.
This book points the church in the right direction with regard to doing systematic theology. It stresses primarily the meaning and application of the Reformed principle of sola scriptura in conjunction with confessional theology in formulating Reformed theology. The authors rightly note the importance of texts, such as Eph. 4:11, for establishing the necessity of teaching as an instrument by which Christ through the Spirit teaches the church and builds believers up to maturity. They make a biblical case for the special role of historic creeds and confessions in this process followed by an outstanding concluding chapter “In Defense of Proof-Texting.” This section shows the nuanced exegesis that ought to stand behind proper proof-texting in theology. The only weakness to this treatment is the absence of discussing theological inferences and their proper use in light of Scriptural example.
One thing that should be added is that recovering Reformed Catholicity highlights the necessity of Latin for Reformed theologians. English-speaking theologians draw predominantly from British and American texts, effectively cutting themselves off from the continental Reformed tradition. This is unfortunate, since most Reformed systematic theology in the Reformed orthodox period was written in Latin on the continent.
In spite of the many virtues of this work, the book highlights as well that Reformed Catholicity is easier to formulate than to practice. For example, appealing explicitly to the churchly context of theology would strengthen their treatment of “proof-texting.” They suggest that in order to keep theology biblically grounded, systematic theologians should engage in writing theological commentaries or articles on parts of Scripture. While this counsel is valid, if theology is truly a churchly activity, then what better place for systematicians to ground their theology in Scripture than ministering what they learn in the context of the church from the pulpit? Preaching naturally gravitates towards exegetical and biblical theology. However, systematic theology, if used properly, has the potential to make preaching more precise, edifying, personal, and practical. It is possible for professors to stress the churchly context of theology without giving a churchly solution to contemporary problems. In the past, the best ministers were the best professors. Laboring prayerfully in the study in the context of ministering to God’s people in the local church has greater potential to produce sound and useful systematic theology than writing theological commentaries, though both are important. It is telling that older forms of church order, such as the Scottish Second Book of Discipline, charged the doctors of the church with teaching in theological schools and with catechizing the youth. This is how it should be.
The generally excellent appendix by Todd Billings take a tragic turn when he appeals to City Church in San Francisco as example of what it means to be catholic-Reformed. He calls this congregation, “a distinctively Reformed church that seeks to draw upon the larger catholic tradition of theology and practice, for the sake of its mission and witness in the world. The felt needs of the culture do not drive its agenda” (157). Having recently moved from the San Francisco Bay area, this reviewer finds this assessment puzzling if not shocking, since City Church declared itself independent from an established Reformed denomination in order to ordain women elders, rejected ministerial vows to uphold historic Reformed creeds, and now accepts practicing homosexuals into their membership. It is hard to conceive how City Church embodies either catholic or Reformed theology and practice.
Reformed churches today desperately need to recover the theological maturity exemplified by their forefathers. This entails critical and appreciative engagement with the entire catholic tradition of the church, with the conviction that Christ has spoken and continues to speak to and through his bride. However, there is a fine line across the spectrum trying to repristinate the seventeenth-century, appropriating and adapting historic Reformed theology to a new generation, and transforming the content of that theology into something entirely new. The authors of Reformed Catholicity aim at the second option, but the appendix by Billings appears to drift into the third one. Yet in an age in which there are almost as many methods as there are systematic theologians, Allen and Swain provide much sage wisdom for students, professors, and scholars. In particular, this review hopes and prays that Reformed pastors would develop a healthy Reformed catholicity that will prevent believers from being tossed about by every wind of doctrine and build them up into unity and maturity in the Lord and with his church in all ages.
[This review appeared in Puritan Reformed Journal]
And are not the Sacraments signa conditionalia, conditionall signes and seales? and did any Orthodox Divine before your self charge this to be Arminianism, to say that the Gospel runs upon conditions? I confesse it is Arminianisme to say any thing is conditionall to GOD, this I never asserted, but that the Gospell is both preached and by the Sacraments sealed to us upon condition of faith, will passe for orthodox doctrine, when you and I are dead and rotten.