Doctrine of God: Context in Doctrine and Piety

Muller is concerned to set “Reformed Orthodox” thinking of the late 16th and 17th century writers in their proper context: they were both “churchly” – concerned about how their writings emerged from and fit into the life of the churches. “Theology proper” most notably the Doctrine of God, arose precisely as a way to help people to live their lives in a God-honoring way.

As indicated in the first part of this study (PRRD 1), the Protestant scholastics adopted the terms “scholastic” and “scholasticism” advisedly, identifying them with a particular disputative form and method of theology used in the academic context and distinct from exegesis, catechetics, and even “positive” doctrinal exposition.

Accordingly, the philosophical or metaphysical elements of their doctrine of God evidence an eclectic approach to philosophy and an effort, paralleled by the work of the academic philosophers and logicians of the era, to develop a contemporary philosophy in dialogue with theology.

This philosophy can be called “Christian Aristotelianism” only with qualification: specifically, the Reformed thinkers of the era of orthodoxy engaged in an ongoing debate and dialogue with the older tradition, its late Renaissance manifestations, with various classical options—notably Platonism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism—that had been revived in the Renaissance, and with the newer forms of skepticism and deism born in the sixteenth century.

Declamations made in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries against classical philosophies and, equally, appeals to them ought to be understood as encounters with contemporary problems.

Attention to the exegetical tradition, moreover, carries forward one of the central methodological and theological themes of this study considered as a whole. In the second volume (PRRD 2: Scripture), we examined the doctrine of Scripture not only from a dogmatic or systematic perspective but also, as indicated by the scholastic Protestant theological systems themselves, from an interpretive or hermeneutical perspective.

By continuing to examine the issue of biblical interpretation, now through the lens of the doctrine of God, we are in a position to examine both the relationship between the Protestant doctrine of Scripture and the rest of theological system and the impact of the hermeneutical aspects of the Protestant doctrine of Scripture on doctrinal formulation in the era of Protestant orthodoxy in general.

Just as exegesis must not be ignored, so also must the relation of theology to piety, particularly as indicated in the dogmatic works of Protestant orthodox theologians and carried forward in the homiletical literature, not be forgotten. The dogmatics of post-Reformation Protestantism did not develop in a vacuum and was not formulated simply for the sake of classroom exercises in speculative thinking—it was a churchly dogmatics that reflected the concerns of religion.

This characteristic of the orthodox dogmatics is most clearly evidenced in the Dutch and English theology of the late sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries, and to the extent that Heppe, for example, cites thinkers like Mastricht from a purely dogmatic perspective, without clear indication of their consistent interest in the direct relation of the doctrine of the divine essence, attributes, and Trinity to piety, the older Protestant doctrine of God has been misrepresented.

Even so, to the extent that older scholarship has ignored both the positive, integral relationship of Reformed orthodoxy in the Netherlands to the piety of the Nadere Reformatie, the so-called Dutch Second Reformation, and the relationship of the central, Reformed trajectory of English Puritanism to continental Reformed theology, the close relationship between dogma and piety that existed, sometimes in tension, but often in profound and mutually supportive formulation, has been overlooked and ignored, again misrepresenting the nature and character of Reformed orthodoxy.

In this relationship, moreover, the orthodox writers illustrate their more typical definitions of theology as either both practical and speculative or as largely practical: their interest in the piety of the attributes arises directly from their sense of theology as a discipline directed toward the goal of salvation.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 3: The Divine Essence And Attributes (Pp. 31–32). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

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