The Calvinist philosopher Paul Helm has recently published a brief review or commentary on Oliver Crisp’s “Deviant Calvinism” on the discussion between “freedom of the will” and “state of grace”. He states the issue: “An attempt will be made to show not that there are two rival metaphysical views of human freedom side by side in the confession, but that language about freedom and about liberty is in fact doing two distinct jobs. First let us look at ‘liberty’ then at ‘freedom’.”
My intention is not to dive into the specifics of the issue here, but to show that Helm’s conclusion is more than plausible, given the state of the discussions (analyzed by Richard Muller) of “the breadth of Reformed Orthodoxy”, and the precision and (pardon the word) “inclusiveness” of the use of the language.
that the choice of words in the Confession follows a deliberate policy and that that policy is consistent and intelligible. If this suggestion is plausible, there is no need to resort to the debate between libertarians and compatibilists
Note where Muller takes the 17th century discussion:
In the high orthodox era, orthodoxy continued to be defined in terms of the major confessional trajectories of the Reformation as a churchly theology in academic and popular forms, whether positive or polemical, exegetical, catechetical, or dogmatic, conceived in the context and within the doctrinal boundaries set by the Reformed confessions.
This understanding of orthodoxy (which, arguably, belongs to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) has not been consistently obliged by modern discussions of post-Reformation Reformed thought.
Thus, if one anachronistically draws a rather strict and narrow line of development from Calvin to Turretin and denominates only what fits in this particular Genevan trajectory as “orthodoxy,” then various Reformed views, developed entirely within the confessional understanding of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Reformed, can be cordoned off and identified as opponents of the Reformed orthodox.
Bullinger’s covenantal thought can be segmented off from “Calvinism,” and Cocceius’ form of covenant theology can then be set against the strictly “orthodox,” as if they (or, indeed, Calvin!) objected to an emphasis on covenant. Infralapsarian and supralapsarian forms of the doctrine of predestination can become identifiers of alternative orthodoxies—which, however bitter the debate, they clearly were not.
Indeed, any variation of doctrine incapable of being accommodated to Calvin’s 1559 Institutes can come to be viewed by the older scholarship as a deviation from the norm of Reformed theology—without any recognition of the fact that doctrinal variations and even highly polemical debates over doctrinal formulae that took place within the confessional boundaries all belonged to the broad stream of Reformed orthodoxy.
This approach, albeit characteristic of much twentieth-century historiography, does not accurately represent the seventeenth-century orthodox understanding (or, indeed, understandings) of “orthodoxy.”
To define orthodoxy in terms of the more traditionalist line of Geneva, culminating in Turretin, or in terms of the Voetian theology at Utrecht prejudices the case from the start by creating subconfessional lines of demarcation for orthodoxy and by offering an anachronistic picture of a “rigid orthodoxy” operating within the narrow limits of a single school.
The historical materials do not support the picture. Just as Calvin did not speak for the entire early Reformed tradition, so was Geneva less than the arbitrator of the Reformed tradition in the seventeenth century.
Whereas, therefore, some distinction can be made between various lines of development within Reformed orthodoxy, such as between the Swiss orthodoxy of the line of Turretin and Heidegger and the Academy of Saumur [A Huguenot university and the home of Amyraldism], between the northern German Reformed of Bremen or the Herborn Academy and the rather different approach of Franecker theologians in the tradition of Ames, between the Cocceian or federalist line and the Voetian approach, between the British Reformed theology of Owen and that of Baxter, or between the British variety of Reformed theology in general and the several types of Reformed teaching found on the continent, there is no justification for identifying any one of these strains of Reformed thought as outside of the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy or as not evidencing the characteristics of Reformed scholasticism.
Voetius and Cocceius obliged the same confessions—and Voetius could identify several lines of Reformed thought on, for example, the work of Christ, including that of Crocius and the Saumur theologians.
He disagreed with these thinkers but did not set them outside of the Reformed confessions.
Turretin, similarly, indicates his disagreement with the Saumur theologians on various issues, but consistently identifies them as Reformed and as “our ministers.”
Owen and Baxter acknowledged each other’s theologies as belonging to the same confessional tradition. Owen, moreover, thought highly of Cameron and Amyraut on such issues as the divine justice and the doctrine of the Trinity—at the same time that he abhorred elements of the teaching of Twisse and Rutherford, both of whom stood closer to him than to the Salmurians on the issues addressed in the Formula consensus Helvetica.
All of these branches of the Reformed tradition stood within the boundaries established by the major national confessions and catechisms of the Reformed churches.
Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 1: Prolegomena To Theology (2nd ed., pp. 78–80). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Both Helm and Muller are identifying a trait that’s not easily yielded among “Reformed” writers in our day: that there was room for a broad and diverse within the understanding of the Reformed confessions.
Now, isn’t to say that any one “Reformed” viewpoint is more correct than any other – it’s merely to demonstrate that the writers of the confessions allowed for it.