The Relevance of Protestant Orthodoxy to Us Today

When it comes to theology, you’ll frequently hear the phrase, “standing on the shoulders of giants”. One point that Muller makes is that these men were cognizant that the Reformers weren’t “starting new churches”, as Roman Catholic writers frequently charge. They were more interested in maintaining continuity with the past – with all of church history – and later Reformed writers appreciated and reflected this continuity. And it has remained with us to this day.

The contemporary relevance of Protestant orthodox theology arises from the fact that it remains the basis for normative Protestant theology in the present. With little formal and virtually no substantial dogmatic alteration, orthodox or scholastic Reformed theology appears in the works of Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander Hodge, and Louis Berkhof. Even when major changes in perspective are evident—as in the theology of Emil Brunner, Karl Barth and Otto Weber—the impact of Protestant orthodoxy remains clear both in terms of the overarching structure of theological system and in terms of its basic definitions.

Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology draws heavily on Francis Turretin’s Institutio theologiae elencticae and represents, particularly in its prolegomena, an attempt to recast the systematic insights of orthodoxy in a nineteenth-century mold. Of the other writers, Karl Barth most clearly shows his indebtedness to the orthodox prolegomena—not always in terms of direct appropriation of doctrine, but rather in terms of sensitivity both to the importance of prolegomena and to the issues traditionally raised at this preliminary point in dogmatics.

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

As we study the Reformation, it’s important, in the words of Paul Avis, to go “beyond the Reformation”. From our perspective, to look to the earlier period, which provided the context of the Reformation, and to the period, from the Reformers’ perspective, beyond what they were able to accomplish, to the time when great thinkers made the effort to sort it all out.

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