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).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here

Week 3 (1/15-1/21): I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)

Most of us probably have not spent a lot of time thinking about the “prolegomena” of Christian theology. Sure, we might have Bavinck’s first volume of his Reformed Dogmatics entitled “Prolegomena”— but have we actually read, it or did we skip to the second volume? Yet, arguably the single most important development of Christian theology in the modern period has been theological prolegomena. From Brunner and Barth to Kaufman and Pannenberg, questions touching on 1) the nature of theology and revelation, 2) the source of revelation, and 3) theology’s relation to reason make up what has come down to us as the theological prolegomena. Muller’s first volume of PRRD, especially this second chapter, surveys the basic contours of theological prolegomena from Augustine through the Reformed orthodox in the early modern period. Muller’s thesis is that the development of theological prolegomena occurred well after the practice or the doing of theology was well under way. According to Muller, scholasticism (or school-theology) – both medieval and early modern – was a significant if not primary catalyst for such post-dogmatic reflection.

Reformed orthodoxy, unlike much of the theology of the Reformation, reflected deeply on the nature of Christian theology. As Muller points out, this reflection was not only in continuity with its medieval precursors, as found in theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus, but also underwent significant shifts in emphasis and even substance. Given the early Reformation debates over the interplay between Scripture and tradition, and their authority in determining orthodoxy, it is no surprise that the principia of theology (the foundations upon which theology exists) would soon be systematically configured. By the end of the 16th century, Franciscus Junius, in what was arguably the most significant prolegomena of theology in the early modern period among Reformed theologians, laid out and argued for a material, formal, efficient, and final cause of our theology.

Another area of theological prolegomena which received significant treatment in the early modern period was the relationship between faith and reason. Given the revival of Augustinian hamartiology and soteriology among the Reformers, and because prolegomena “develops in dialogue with basic dogmatic conclusions after the system as a whole has been set forth” (pg. 121), it is no surprise that the Reformed orthodox would emphasize the insufficiency of natural theology and the concomitant need for special revelation, especially in contexts where rationalists and Socinians questioned either the necessity of special revelation or sought to make reason the arbiter of Christian theology.

A third aspect of theological prolegomena developed in the early modern period relates to the philosophical eclecticism of the day. Take, e.g., the advice Richard Baxter gives to students who wish to study philosophy and his caution against following one particular philosophical sect (among the many different philosophical options of the day). Along with your standard Christian Aristotelianism (as modified by Neoplatonism), theologians had to wrestle with the Hermetic tradition, Cartesianism, the revival of ancient Epicureanism, and atomism, just to name some. And some of these latter philosophies, most notably Cartesianism and to a lesser extent the hermetic tradition and atomism, even influenced certain theological systems of the Reformed orthodox. With such philosophical wranglings, it is again, no surprise that the Reformed would be forced to examine the nature and even legitimacy of theological inquiry.

One area where each of the two former aspects of the development of theological prolegomena was exercised regards the question of how we know Scripture to be divine (and, hence, should be believed). This is one area, among many areas, where John Owen and Richard Baxter disagreed. And it is probably the only theological point at which William Cunningham takes Baxter’s side over Owen! Owen emphasized that we know Scripture to be divine principally on account of the inward testimony of the Spirit. Baxter, alternatively, emphasized that we know Scripture to be divine because of objective evidence which points to Scripture as being divinely authored. I am not especially interested in who got the better of the debate, though I think Cunningham is right. These questions of theological prolegomena have profound practical implications on how we do theology and vice versa – this is one area Cornelius Van Til has helped our tradition, no doubt, think through more carefully.

Muller’s survey of these developments will now look in more detail at each of the main topics of early modern theological prolegomena, beginning with the meaning of the term “theology” and “religion” in Reformed orthodoxy. Find out more next Wednesday—it's not too late to join our reading group! 


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)

Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

Contemporary Christian sayings are not necessarily new. In the last article, I pointed out that Edward Reynolds, an important member of the Westminster Assembly, encouraged us to ask what would Jesus do in a particular situation. Reynolds is not alone in building a bridge between the Puritans and contemporary Christian sayings; he is joined by Anthony Burgess, another important member of the Westminster Assembly.

Justification is a very important biblical-theological concept that Christians, including very young ones, need to understand. How do we teach it to them?  One catchy and memorable way is to say that it means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. This is helpful insofar as it captures a key aspect of justification. The Westminster Confession of Faith 11.1 correctly teaches that justification involves forgiveness (“pardoning their sins”) and a declaration of righteousness (“accounting and accepting their persons as righteous”).  The “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned captures the forgiveness component of justification.

At one point in his book, The True Doctrine of Justification, Anthony Burgess discusses the meaning of remission of sins.  The first proposition that he lays down is this: “That when God doth pardon sinne, he takes it away so, as that the party acquitted is no more looked upon as a sinner.”  In light of this, Burgess does not hesitate to say that the forgiven man is not a sinner.  His sins are taken away—indeed, he says that they are utterly abolished.  At the same time, however, he is also quite willing to say that the forgiven person is a sinner and that his sins are not utterly abolished.  

Burgess uses the distinction between liability (reatus) and pollution (macula) to explain how both statements are true at the same time.  The liability to guilt and punishment of sin is completely taken away, but the pollution of sin is not.  He writes:

“Therefore in different respects we may say, That pardon of sin is an utter abolition of it, and it is not an utter abolition of it. It is an utter abolition of it, as it doth reflect upon the person, making him guilty, and obliging him actually to condemnation; in this respect a man is as free as if he had never sinned; but if you speak of the inherency of sin, and the effects of original corruption, that do abide in all, which are also truly and properly sins; so pardon of sin is not an utter abolition…”

A justified person, therefore, is “as free as if he had never sinned” with respect to guilt and punishment (condemnation) because pardon utterly abolishes these effects of sin.  He will also be free as if he had never sinned with respect to the pollution of sin because Christ, as Burgess says, doesn’t apply half-cures (semiplenam curationem) but fully heals “diseased persons.”  But that doesn’t happen immediately because Christ “works by degrees in the grace of sanctification.”  And until that day when the presence of sin is completely cast out, a forgiven person will both be a sinner and not a sinner.

 What is justification?  An important component of our justification is the forgiveness of our sins.  Forgiveness completely removes our guilt and liability to punishment.  There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).  Whoever believes in Jesus does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).  Thus, Justification, at least in part, means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned, or in the words of Burgess, it means that I am “as free as if [I] had never sinned.”


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous posts in this series, see:

Puritan Sayings (1)

Today we are promoting our new giveaway: The Faith We Confess by Gerald Bray. Follow this link to Reformed Resources and enter to win! Thank you to Latimer Trust for providing the book for this drawing.

After setting out the nature of the church in Article 19, the next three articles underline the sufficiency of Scripture in its application to the church’s polity and practice. Articles 20-22 thus take up several aspects of the church’s authority in light of the doctrine of sola scriptura, that was set out in articles 6-8. Article 20 makes it very clear that Anglicanism affirms the supreme authority of Scripture. “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written….it ought to not decree anything against the same.” The Church remains under the authority of Scripture, neither above it nor equal to it.  


The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

Article 20 is three simple sentences which set out in more detail what was stated in article 19, that the church’s obedience to Christ’s command is in a biblically faithful order in word preached and sacrament administered. As we saw in article 19, the source for the wording in article 20 also comes from Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum

For this reason, the church may not determine anything which is contrary to the Word of God written, nor may it so interpret one passage as to contradict another. Therefore, although the church is a witness, guardian, and keeper of the divine books, yet this prerogative must never be granted to it, that it should either decree anything contrary to these books or that it should make any articles of faith without the witness of these books, and impose them on Christian people as requirements of faith [Bray, 181].

The article guards against two common errors: one negative, one positive. Both errors are equally lethal to the life of the church:

  • Subtracting from Scripture. To ordain anything contrary to God’s word written is to lessen, even reject Scripture’s authoritative teaching.
  • Adding to Scripture. The church does not have the authority to add to the biblical Gospel anything as a requirement for salvation. To do so obscures the Gospel.

The first sentence, the Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith was added by Queen Elizabeth after it had passed the convocations of Canterbury and York. It affirms the freedom of the church in setting orders of worship and retaining a vital judicial authority in matters of church discipline. This means the church as a body can make decisions and judgments in matters of controversy and disagreement from the parish to the national level.

The second sentence sets out two statements. The first statement clearly affirms that Anglicans submit to the ultimate authority of Scripture, it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written. The second statement, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another, explains the reason.

The reason is the unity of Scripture and that it does not contradict itself (unlike human reason, which may err). Therefore we must not interpret or expound any part of Scripture in a way that contradicts other parts. Articles 7 and 8 are particularly relevant here, because in these articles Anglicanism recognizes the progressive nature of God’s unfolding plan of salvation as far as the Old Testament is concerned. Article 7 reminds us that Scripture's own internal authority testifies as to why the ceremonial laws and civil regulations given in the Old Testament are no longer binding, but the moral law is. Therefore the church has the freedom to write confessions that clarify the errors discovered in contemporary controversies of doctrine and to systematize its teaching for education and catechesis. It is clear that the article affirms the development of a systematic theology. We must have an understanding of the whole if we want to avoid expounding one part of Scripture in a way that contradicts another. We should take note that, as early as 1553, Anglicans anticipated the great Reformed Protestant systematic theologies of the late 16th and 17th centuries. Those who would suggest that systematization is contrary to the nature of Anglicanism simply show that they do not know what they are talking about. 

The third sentence summarizes the church’s relationship to the Scripture;  the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ…. The Church is a witness and a keeper of Scripture (or the Reformatio Legum: a “witness” “guardian” and “keeper” of Scripture). The church has no authority over Scripture but is to bear witness to Scripture’s authority. As a witness, it testifies to the truth that the Bible is God’s word. Therefore, the church’s ministry is not priestly but a prophetic ministry, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of salvation. As a keeper and guardian, it is called  to protect the integrity of the biblical canon, to pass it on to the next generations, and to contend for it when it is assaulted by an enemy that would seek to corrupt its teaching.


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


My life has been profoundly shaped and enriched by men who died long ago, but whose ministries live on through their books. As a theologian, I have read a lot of books about the teachings of the Bible, but none affect me more than the writings of the Puritans (and its parallel movement in the Netherlands, the Dutch Further Reformation).

As a young man, I found myself nourished by the writings of Thomas Goodwin, whose books about Christ the Mediator and Christ’s compassionate heart in heaven deeply moved me with faith and love for Christ. In my adult years, some of my favorite books have been Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, a combination of Reformed theology and ethics written in a warmly experiential tone; Anthony Burgess, Spiritual Refining, a classic on recognizing God’s saving work in our lives; and The Letters of Samuel Rutherford, letters full of meditations on the beauty of Christ by a man who suffered much for Him.

While there are many ways that the Bible-saturated books of the Puritans have influenced me, I would like to highlight three special lessons I have learned from them about experiential, practical Christian living.

1. The Priority of Love

The Puritans not only commended love, but called Christians to excel in love with godly zeal. Oliver Bowles said zeal “is a holy ardor kindled by the Holy Spirit of God in the affections, improving a man to the utmost for God’s glory, and the church’s good.[1] Such zeal is not proud and harsh, as religious zeal can sometimes be, but a sweet and gentle energy to do good. Jonathan Edwards wrote,

As some are mistaken concerning the nature of true boldness for Christ, so they are concerning Christian zeal. ’Tis indeed a flame, but a sweet one; or rather it is the heat and fervor of a sweet flame. For the flame of which it is the heat, is no other than that of divine love, or Christian charity; which is the sweetest and most benevolent thing that is, or can be, in the heart of man or angel.[2]

William Ames said that love for our neighbors means that we desire their good “with sincere and hearty affection” and “endeavor to procure it.”[3] When we speak of being on fire for God, the Puritans remind us that it must be a fire of love. And they realized that no one but God can kindle and fan this fire. John Preston wrote, “The love of God is peculiarly the work of the Holy Ghost…. Therefore the way to get it is earnestly to pray . . . . we are no more able to love the Lord than cold water is able to heat itself . . . so the Holy Ghost must breed that fire of love in us, it must be kindled from heaven, or else we shall never have it.”[4] This leads me to my next point.

2. The Power of Prayer

When it came to ministry, the Puritans were definitely activists, putting in long hours of arduous labor to spread the kingdom. However, they also understood on a practical level that all kingdom work is God’s work. Neither evangelism nor edification can succeed without the Spirit of God. Thomas Watson wrote, “Ministers knock at the door of men’s hearts, the Spirit comes with a key and opens the door.”[5] John Owen said, “The Lord Christ . . . sends his Holy Spirit into our hearts, which is the efficient cause of all holiness and sanctification—quickening, enlightening, purifying the souls of his saints.”[6]

Therefore, our ministry must be done on our knees. Richard Baxter said, “Prayer must carry on our work as well as preaching; he preacheth not heartily to his people, that prayeth not earnestly for them. If we prevail not with God to give them faith and repentance, we are unlikely to prevail with them to believe and repent.”[7] And Robert Traill wrote, “Some ministers of meaner [lesser] gifts and parts are more successful than some that are far above them in abilities; not because they preach better, so much as because they pray more. Many good sermons are lost for lack of much prayer in study.”[8]

3. The Pursuit of Holiness

In the worldliness of our fallen nature, our hearts pursue earthly happiness. When sorrow, disappointment, and frustration inevitably come, we grumble and dishonor God. Thomas Manton said, “Murmuring is an anti-providence, a renouncing of God’s sovereignty.”[9] Watson wrote, “Our murmuring is the devil’s music.”[10]  However, the Puritans recognized that in Christ, our hearts have a new fundamental direction, one that cherishes God’s kingdom and righteousness above all earthly treasures.

Holiness begins and flourishes with faith in Christ. John Flavel wrote, “The soul is the life of the body, faith is the life of the soul, and Christ is the life of faith.”[11] Isaac Ambrose said that we must fix our eyes upon Christ, not with a bare, intellectual knowledge but an inward and experiential “looking unto Jesus, such as stirs up affections in the heart, and the effects thereof in our life . . . . knowing, considering, desiring, hoping, believing, loving, joying, calling on Jesus, and conforming to Jesus.”[12]

Holiness must be real in our private lives and families, or it is nothing but a hypocritical show. John Trapp wrote, “Follow hypocrites home to their houses, and there you shall see what they are.”[13] Matthew Henry said, “It is not enough to put on our religion when we go abroad and appear before men; but we must govern ourselves by it in our families.”[14] Real holiness is a reflection of Christ having been brought into the heart and the home.

Love, prayer, and holiness—these are the ABCs of a biblical life. They are the very outworking and activity of a living faith in Christ. That’s a large reason why I am so indebted to the Puritans: they keep driving me back to the basics of walking with God through Christ.

[1] Oliver Bowles, Zeal for God’s House Quickened (London: Richard Bishop for Samuel Gellibrand, 1643), 5.

[2] The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, Religious Affections, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 2:352.

[3] William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (1639; facsimile repr., Norwood, N.J.: Walter J. Johnson, 1975), 5.7.4 [Rr recto]

[4] John Preston, The Breastplate of Faith and Love, 2 vols. in one (1634; facsimile repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 2:50.

[5] Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 221.

[6] John Owen, Communion with God, in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965–1968), 2:199.

[7] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, in The Practical Works of the Rev. Richard Baxter, ed. William Orme (London: James Duncan, 1830), 14:125.

[8] Robert Traill, “By What Means may Ministers Best Win Souls?” in The Works of Robert Traill (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 1:246.

[9] Thomas Manton, A Treatise of Self-Denial, in The Complete Works of Thomas Manton (London: James Nisbet, 1873), 15:249.

[10] Thomas Watson, The Art of Divine Contentment, ed. Don Kistler (Morgan, Pa.: Soli Deo Gloria, 2001), 65.

[11] John Flavel, The Method of Grace, in The Works of John Flavel (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1968), 2:104.

[12] Isaac Ambrose, Looking unto Jesus (Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1986), 28.

[13] John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (London: Richard D. Dickinson, 1868), 2:624.

[14] Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991), 3:503 [Ps. 101].


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).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here

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 Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)


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:

  1. Heirs of the Protestant Reformation in their focus on salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, according to the Scriptures, to the glory of God – alone;
  2. Reformed rather than Lutheran in their theological convictions and part of what we consider Reformed Orthodox;
  3. Concerned, in the 17th century primarily and in the Church of England initially, with carrying the English Reformation beyond its semi-Reformed theology and partly-Romish liturgy;
  4. Vigorous proponents of personal reformation and practical divinity.

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).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here

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.

Enter the giveaway here!