Reformed Theological Diversity (lots of it)
October 15, 2014
While doing my MA in historical and dogmatic theology I had a very neat (i.e., narrow) understanding of the Reformed tradition. I typically thought in these categories: Reformed versus Arminian; Reformed versus Socinian; Reformed versus Roman Catholicism; etc.
But as I moved into my PhD studies I started noticing that Reformed theologians had their own lively intra-Reformed debates. Eventually, I co-edited a book with Michael Haykin on intra-Reformed debates in the Puritan tradition, Drawn into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity and Debates Within Seventeenth-century British Puritanism. Dr. Haykin and I are currently editing an eighteenth century companion volume.
Richard Muller's introductory essay in Drawn intro Controversie should be required reading for Reformed ministers, especially those who polemicize on matters regarding Confessional orthodoxy. In his essay he lists: 1) Debates that concerned confessional boundaries, which crossed over or pressed the boundaries; 2) Debates over philosophical issues; 3) Debates concerning issues of significant import that threatened to rise to a Confessional level; 4) Debates over theological topics that did not press on confessional boundaries. The various debates that I had selected for discussion in the book were placed into these categories.
Since that book, my understanding of diversity within the Reformed tradition has been confirmed more strongly.
What are some of the areas that were disputed among Reformed theologians?
In no particular order of importance, they are
1. Debates on the efficacy of baptism. This happened at the Westminster Assembly, but also on the Continent. Herman Witsius notes that there are theologians "of the highest name" who differ on the efficacy of baptism for infants. Many maintain "that a certain kind of regeneration and justification is not only signified but bestowed upon all the infants of covenanted persons without exception, although it may not be infallibly connected with salvation inasmuch as they may fall from it by their own sin after they have grown up."
Voetius (pronounced: foo-shuss; foot-c-us; but not Vo-et-ee-us) says, "There is a seventh opinion prevalent among the Reformed doctors, which attributes regeneration to all and sundry of infants within the pale of the covenant, provided they are elect (Selectae Disputationes, vol. 2, p. 410).
2. Debates on forsaking sin in order to be justified. See Witsius. Good thing he wasn't living in Scotland in the eighteenth century.
3. Debates on justification are well known, especially on the matter of imputation. But even the question of whether justification may be "reiterated" or only understood as a one-time act was disputed. Plus, there are the views of many who say something along these lines:
"To this effect, Good works of all sorts are, by some, said to be necessary to our Continuance in the state of justification and to our final absolution: not as Instrumental Causes of our Justification, but only as precedent Qualifications or conditions of final forgiveness and eternal bliss. Such passages had need to be very wisely and warily understood, lest thereby the minds of any be withdrawn from the pure doctrine of justification by Faith in Jesus Christ."
4. Debates on ecclesiology. Here is an area to rival the complexity of debates on the Mosaic covenant. You have English Presbyterians (fiercely) disagreeing with each other. You have the Scottish Presbyterians siding with the English Congregationalists on certain points. Then Voetius comes into the picture and seems to side with the English Congregationalists. Westminster was a compromise document even on the matter of ecclesiology.
5. Debates on the Mosaic covenant. I've written pretty extensively on this topic, even in Drawn into Controversie. While I am still not inclined to believe that Kline's specific view has much historical precedence, I have never raised the issue at Presbytery once, and do not think his followers are outside the Reformed pale because they hold to his view of the Mosaic covenant. True, I can disagree strongly with Kline's view; but I would not personally refuse to ordain someone on that account.
6. Hypothetical Universalism seems to have quite a strong pedigree among Reformed theologians. John Owen provided a robust defense of particular redemption, but even later Reformed particularists disagreed with Owen on certain points.
7. Debates on sanctification. The Marrow in its seventeenth century context was not always embraced as fully sound. I happen to think the Marrow fits right within the stream of Reformed orthodoxy. There might be some phrases I'd tighten up here and there, but that goes without saying with any substantive work.
8. Debates on the beatific vision. Read Owen. Read Turretin. See the big difference.
9. Debates on Adam's reward. Read Goodwin. Read Turretin. See the big difference.
10. Debates on the Sabbath. Read Cocceius. Read Voetius. See the big difference.
11. Debates on the Hebrew vowel points as inspired during the Old Testament period, see The Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675), Canon 2. Defenders of the points include: Gerardus, Junius, Gomarus, Polanus, Whitaker, Ussher, Rainolds, Voetius, Deodatus, Lightfoot, and Heidegger.
12. Debates on worship. See Hooker versus Cartwright and Travers.
13. Debates on the free offer of the gospel. Read Manton. Read Owen. See the difference.
14. Debates on Christ's suretyship: expromissio versus fideiussio (Cocceians versus Voetians)
15. Debates on assurance: the Puritans versus some of the Reformers (is assurance of the essence of faith?)
16. Eternal justification: some staunchly Reformed theologians held to this view; others rejected it. Turretin is not Goodwin; Goodwin is not Maccovius.
17. Worship of Christ: This issue was debated in some (intricate) detail among the Reformed orthodox. The Christological debate (adoratio Christi) between William Ames and Johannes Maccovius centered on whether Christ ought to be worshipped according to both natures or just his divine nature. Ames defended the position that Christ should be worshipped according to both natures. Maccovius responded, however, that Christ ought to be worshipped only as he is truly God according to his divine nature. Rivetus, Gomarus, and Voetius sided with Maccovius; Maresius and Walaeus sided with Ames.
18. Debates on the necessity of the atonement. Rutherford and Twisse versus Owen.
19. Debates on lapsarianism: Supra, infra, and everything in between, as well as variations among the Supras and Infras.
20. Debates on free-will libertarianism. See Oliver Crisp's book, Deviant Calvinism, and Paul Helm's recent piece on the matter.
And I could go on with many more debates among Reformed theologians.
So to the chaps who have it all figured out, good luck with that...
Pastor Mark Jones is (maybe) going to take a break from blogging for a few weeks.