Moving forward while retaining ties to the past

I’m working through Richard Muller’s “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”. That’s a daunting title, to be sure, but given how these several generations of theologians (from say, 1550 to 1750) worked to codify the theologies of the Reformation, they were probably some of the best Christian thinkers in the history of the church. It will pay dividends to us and to our generation of the church to know what they were about.

This is not to say there weren’t other fine thinkers, but these individuals had the opportunity to consider the grand sweeping entirety of church history.

One thing to note is that they were largely philosophical thinkers. Luther rejected the “scholastics”; I think the book is still out on how Calvin related to them. But later thinkers were still steeped in the scholastic methods of their forbears in the Middle Ages. The difference: they were able to draw upon and to elaborate the insights of the Reformers.

When this orthodox or scholastic Protestantism is examined in some depth and viewed as a form of Protestant theology in its own right rather than as merely a duplication or reflection of the theology of the Reformation, it is clearly a theology both like and unlike that of the Reformation, standing in continuity with the great theological insights of the Reformers but developing in a systematic and scholastic fashion different from the patterns of the Reformation and frequently reliant on the forms and methods of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries.

This double continuity ought not to be either surprising or disconcerting. Instead, it ought to be understood as one example among many of the way in which the church both moves forward in history, adapting to new situations and insights, and at the same time retains its original identity as the community of faith. It ought to be understood as one example of the way in which the Christian intellectual tradition maintains useful forms, methods, and doctrinal ideas while at the same time incorporating the advances of exegetical and theological investigation.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 28–29). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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