More Definitions of Terms

As I continue to work through Richard Muller’s “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”, I’ll likely be stumbling across a lot of names and concepts that simply aren’t familiar to 21st century believers. So it’s good that Muller helpfully explains a lot of these terms.

A comment is also necessary here concerning the terms used throughout the study. The historiography of post-Reformation Protestantism has, in the past, suffered from a failure to develop and use a historically descriptive, dogmatically neutral vocabulary. This problem is particularly evident in the use of such terms as “scholasticism,” “orthodoxy,” and “Calvinism,” all of which have been tinged with bias in much of the older scholarship. In my own usage, throughout the study, I have attempted to work with terms that have substantive use in the historical documents and I have tried to confine my meanings to the meanings of the era (emphasis added).

Thus, “scholastic” indicates an academic style and method of discourse, not a particular theology or philosophy. The denominator “Reformed scholastic” refers to a writer or a document belonging, confessionally, to the Reformed as distinct from the Lutheran wing of the magisterial Reformation, and characterized by the use of an academic or scholastic method. That method, par excellence, is evident in the academic disputations of the era and belongs to the context of the early modern academy or university—a context that could just as easily be called Reformation, post-Reformation, or late Renaissance, depending on one’s vantage point.

By extension, the term can be applied generally to the more technical theological or dogmatic writings of the era—and its application implies the early modern context of debate. In other words, the use of “scholastic” and related terms with reference to the writers of the Reformation and post-Reformation eras assumes an academic context influenced by both the Renaissance and the Reformation, a context not at all identical with that of medieval scholasticism. Similarly, “Reformed orthodox,” used with reference to the same writers or documents, indicates an individual or a theology that stands within the confessional framework of the Reformed churches and which is understood as conveying the “right teaching” of those churches, whether scholastic, catechetical, exegetical, or homiletical, as determined by the standards of the era.

“Orthodoxy,” in other words, functions as a historical denominator—and reference to the era of orthodoxy indicates the time of the institutionalization of the Reformation according to its confessional norms, namely the era extending roughly from the latter part of the sixteenth through the early eighteenth centuries.

As for the terms “Calvinist” and “Calvinism,” I tend to avoid them as less than useful to the historical task. If, by “Calvinist,” one means a follower of Calvin who had nothing to say that was different from what Calvin said, then one would be hard put to find any Calvinists in the later sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. If by Calvinist, one means a later exponent of a theology standing within the confessional boundaries described by such documents as the Gallican Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism, then one will have the problem of accounting for the many ways in which such thinkers—notably, Amandus Polanus von Polansdorf, Bartholomaus Keckermann, William Perkins, Franciscus Junius, and Gulielmus Bucanus, just to name a few—differ from Calvin both doctrinally and methodologically. One might even be forced to pose Calvin against the Calvinists. Given the diversity of the movement and the fact that Calvin was not the primary author of any of the confessional norms just noted, the better part of historical valor (namely, discretion) requires rejection of the term “Calvinist” and “Calvinism” in favor of the more historically accurate term, “Reformed.”

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 29–30). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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4 Responses to More Definitions of Terms

  1. John Faith says:

    This is a good series, thank you for posting it.

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  2. John Bugay says:

    It’s an expensive set — I picked it up through Logos. But I think it’s worthwhile to share it because a lot of people could benefit from this information

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  3. Sonnie Burger says:

    I have been reading your posts and find much for me, as a Catholic, to think about regarding my religion. Thanks for setting these things out. You have given me a good start to assess the positions of my faith community.

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  4. John Bugay says:

    Thanks Sonnie, and welcome. Please let me know if you have questions.

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