A certain CREC minister one time documented some of his theological changes, most of them for the better. I’ve done so about myself a few times on here, but I decided to tie some strings together. I encourage you to read his piece, since that will save me some writing. His early development mirrors mine in many ways. S.W’s piece is thoughtful. I have a few questions on some of his specifics, but that’s neither here nor there.
One of the difficulties that many of us in seminary faced–difficulties that are concurrent with many of these changes–is the inevitable glut of ideas. Compounded with that is that seminaries which are denominationally- or quasi-denominationally affiliated are inadequately prepared to deal with these various theological currents. If your goal is to churn out “preacher boys,” then many cross-currents of scholarship will drown you.
The Federal Vision controversy was raging when I was in seminary, and I confess I did not always make wise choices. Federal Visionism itself didn’t really make too much of a connection with me, at least not confessionally and ecclesiologically. What some FV writers did, however, was weaken the confessional moorings, from which I drifted and began reading outside my tradition.
On one hand that’s healthy. We shouldn’t seek theological inbreeding. The problem I faced was that no one was capable of guiding me through these issues. Once I was jaded enough, combined with a lot of real grievances from said seminary (which I won’t go in here, but they do deal with objective, financial realities), it wasn’t hard to seek out so-called “Christological alternatives to Calvinism.”
Many Eastern Orthodox apologists were saying that we should do all our theology around “Christology.” Translation: the ancient Christological creeds, if interpreted consistently, will lead one away from Calvinism. I’ll deal with that claim later.
And so for the next few years I read through–cover to cover–about ten volumes of the Schaff Church Fathers series, as well as most of their leading interpreters. One of the problems, though, was I was unaware of the high, magisterial Protestant tradition. Of course I had read Calvin. Three times, actually. All the way through, even. I was not familiar with the second- and third generation Protestant Scholastics, however.
I suspect most of us aren’t familiar with them, and how could we be? The average Evangelical publisher won’t touch these writers. Banner of Truth, specifically, won’t deal with the uncomfortable aspects of Rutherford, Gillespie, and the Scottish Covenanters.
Taking the Scholastics Seriously
When I was reading through a lot of Orthodox sources, an argument I kept seeing was that all Western traditions hold to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity, which reduces to absurdity; therefore, Protestantism is philosophically absurd. The problem, though, is that I started to see several things: a) some fathers held to a similar thesis (Nazianzus, Athanasius), b) some Reformed writers might have held to that thesis, but there wasn’t enough evidence either way to convict them, and c) the Reformed writers who did hold to that thesis had very good reasons for doing so (archetypal/ectypal). Further, the Essence/energies distinction entailed its own set of problems, and it is not always clear that many early Eastern fathers even held to that distinction.
The doctrine of authority was always looming in the background. Anchorites have several sharp arguments against sola scriptura. I bought in to some of those arguments, but I had done so without reading the Protestant Scholastic responses to them. Once I began to see that a) many Protestant Scholastics could not be seen as breaking with the medieval tradition on the canon, and b) the archetypal/ectypal distinction when applied to epistemology, leading to Scripture as the principum cognoscendi, I was then able to embrace sola scriptura with integrity.
Corollary of the above point: how many convertskii have read Richard Muller? Once I read Richard Muller I realized that much of what I had been parroting was wrong.
The Institutional Problem Reasserted
It is my personal belief that Richard Muller’s four-volume Reformed and Post Reformation Dogmatics will go down as one of the game changers in Reformed historiography. Unfortunately, most remain unaware. Baker books should issue this set in singular volumes, better allowing seminaries to use volume one as an introduction to Reformed theology course. First year seminarians, even the better read ones, are woefully unprepared.
Publishers need to seek out translators and get Muller’s sources into English post-haste. There is no excuse for Rutherford and Gillespie not being mainstreamed in the Reformed world. I can read and translate Latin, for what it’s worth. I just don’t have the time and others are better capable.
One of the reasons these works remain untranslated I suspect, is that they also entail certain conclusions about God, salvation, God’s law, and ecclesiology, conclusions which would likely cast judgment on some publishing houses. I say no more.