Thursday, January 11, 2007

Making the Garden Grow

Bobby Grow said:

  1. Many of the Reformed developers of theology are very scholastic/thomist/rationalistic in their approach to doing theology; according to Richard Muller in his book: Christ and the Decree. Such as: Vermigli, Zanchius, and Polanus just to name a few. This is a debatable issue, and not as clear-cut as Gene would lead us to believe.

  2. Bobby Grow Says:

    Here’s what Muller says on Zacharias Ursinus’ usage of rationalistic methodology:

    Calvin had often argued in terms of the Aristotelian categories of causality, but here in addition to the concepts of primary and instrumental causality, we encounter the concept of God as the unmoved mover. This is one of the more fully developed uses of Aristotelian-Thomistic conceptuality in the Reformed theology of the sixteenth century. (Richard Muller, Christ and the Decree, 107)

    It’s easily demonstrable that Reformed theology has explicitly taken shape through the rationalistic lens,
    just look at Polanus, Perkins, and Turretins theologies amongst many others.

Unfortunately, Bobby does not get what Dr. Muller is stating because in his haste to impeach Reformed Theology with the charge of "rationalism," he has reversed Muller's entire historical thesis. Muller is stating that the METHOD and FORM was "scholastic" but there is no such thing as "scholastic content" that is imported wholesale from Aristotle or used as a controlling metaphysic over theology, exegesis, and exposition. Bobby Grow desires to cast Reformed Theology as a system of thinking that posits metaphysical determinism and then constructs its theology accordingly, but Thomism does not select for any particular theology. Oops. He tries to weasel around Muller by saying "this is a debateable issue." I agree, but it would be helpful if he was an opponent that demonstrated some basic knowledge of the material and what "rationalism" actually is. Notice he employs Muller on Ursinus - but without so much as a note of what Muller is saying. Has he actually read Christ and the Decree? I understand it is currently out of print? Has he read Protestant Scholasticism: Essays In Reassessment? If so, where is his detailed rebuttal? Has he read Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Muller's larger, expanded work? Has he read the work of R.Scott Clark? For that matter, has he read Turretin? Perkins? Voetius? Volanus? Ursinus? Witsius? Beza? Gomarus? Twisse? Hyperius?

They employed this method simply to be understood in the academy and to organize theology into rational and logical form, and they further distinguished between the thelogical method of teaching in a university and in the church and said specifically that what goes in the confessions must be from the latter and in its form and not the former. In the former, they employed existing Scholastic methods, in the latter they largely differ little from the way we do theology and exposition in the churches today. In order to make the charge of "rationalism" stick, Mr. Grow, you need to show us Muller's definitions of "rational" and "rationalism" and where he is saying that Aristotelean logic selects for particular content that is then carried through as a controlling principle over all of Reformed theology, rather than being employed in subordination to Scripture and invoked for content only where they felt it made for an ancillary, supporting argument.

Muller argues for continuity between the Reformation and the previous period and between High Orthodoxy and the Reformation, which is a CONTRADICTION of the thesis Mr. Grow wants to advance. To understand him as supporting the idea that RT is philsophially "rationalistic" is an exact reversal of his thinking. If that is his thesis, then why does he, in exact contrast to the thesis that RT is "rationalistic" beginning with Beza, argue exactly the opposite, that Beza did not write a prospectus for theology, nor did he begin with the concept of predestination and then order a whole theology based on this controlling idea, or apart from interaction with Calvin and others, nor did he do it apart from Scripture. In fact, he specifically argues that the Tablula is NOT a prospectus and the doctrine is to understood first from the order of knowing, which is Scripture. He takes much of his exegesis for granted, because he is writing against the backdrop of the Bolsec Controversy, and Calvin was part of that, and he had already provided "the order of knowing," and stated that the "order of being," should also be taught; Beza merely filled in that gaping lacunae, and he did it in dialogue with Calvin and several others. I'm sitting here with a copy of "The Use and Abuse of a Document: Beza's Tabula Praedestinationis, the Bolsec Controversy, and the Origins of Reformed Orthodoxy" in my hands, and he reference his work in Christ and the Decree several times in this regard, so, if Bobby thinks that he is asserting that RT is "rationalistic" theology he is grossly mistaken.

Rather, he describes the Reformers and their successors and beginning with a reappraisal of Scripture and then using this exegetical theology to develop a basic theological structure. In the ages that followed, whereas the first and second generation Reformers were unconcerned with interacting with the academies, their successors found it needful, in lieu of polemic controversies, the need for institutionalization in the university setting, and the desire to use supporting material if it was congruent with their already established exegetical theologies, to use the form and method of their forebears of generations past in the academy, so they wouldn't have to "reinvent the wheel." In fact, Muller says, "Even though the philosophical perspective of most of the Protestant orthodox was basically the modified Christian Aristotlianism that had dominate Western theology since the 13th century, the orthodox did not view their theology as bound to any particular philosophical system. (My addition: for example Ramism was an alternative). Any use of philosophical concepts by Protestant scholastics involved the REJECTION (my emphasis) of views noticably at variance with Christian doctrine....they refus(ed) these particular tenets (speaking of notions of the eternity of the world and destructibility of the soul) and ANY OTHER RATIONAL DEDUCTIONS AT ODDS WITH REVEALED DOCTRINE (my emph.) - such as the curious cosmology of Descartes or the occasionalism of Geulincx. This generalization extends even to the Cocceian theologians Heidanus, Burman, and Wittich, who were most influenced by the Cartesian views of truth and substance. (PRRD1, 143).

Mr. Grow seems unaware "rationalistic method" and "rationalism" are not convertible concepts. Muller argues for the former, not the latter, in relation to Protestant Orthodoxy. "The Protestant attempt to argue the ancillary status of reason ought no more to be called rationalism than the medieval attempt, nor ought it to be dismissed as a form out of touch with the exigencies of philosophical argument." (Ibid).

Rationalism, in the terms employed by the purveyors of the "Reformed Theology takes a metaphysical rationalism" (eg. takes predestination or metaphysical determinism or ideas about the sovereignty of God) and contructs its theology around it/them." That would mean that "reason" (namely these preconcieved notions) is/are the fundamental source of truth. "Rationalism" in the sense of historians like Bray, Armstrong, and Bizer is used in this sense and is not defined as the use of philosophical categories as a method or form of expression of ideas for purposes of organization or ancillary argumentation. Rather, they mean something quite different.

"Some distinction needs to be made, therefore, between a "rationalism" defined as the rationalizing tendency in theology brought about in the transition from earlier exegetical and discursive models to fully developed scholastic system and "rationalism" defined either as the incorporation of a rationalist philosophy into Protestant theological system, or, indeed, as the use of reason as the fundamental source and norm of truth. Scholasticism can be identified as a form of the FORMER sense (emph. mine), particularly given the assumption of the most scholastic efforts that rational FORMS (emph. mine - e.g. a logical way of thinking, categorizing, and organizing material) must be used in exposition of doctrine and that reason can be employed as a tool or instrument in the formulation of theology (eg. as ancillary argumentation). The former, rarely used definition, is characteristic of Protestant Scholasticism, while the LATTER (emph. mine - which I described in the preceding paragraph) occured ONLY IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY (emph. mine, since Ursinus wrote in the 16th, and Turretin died in 1687!), following the demise of the Aristotlian-Ptolemaic worldview it presupposed. (PRRD1, 139).

I'll simplify this for him, since he can't seem to understand Muller. He is saying that RT is a "rationalistic" system, if, by that, you mean it is logical and orderly and employs philosophy in a subordinate status to exegesis, and where it coincides with doctrine that can be exegetically supported, but not as a control to determine what exegesis must conclude. Frequently, in the latter period, they will assume the reader already knows the exegetical foundation, since it was, at that point, a few generations old, but they will also write their Scriptural arguments first (as in Turretin), then "demonstrate from reason," where appropriate, and often after whole rejection and if not rejection modification of a philosophical idea - much like Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, and Iranaeus did in the Ante-Nicene period, and often with a polemic cast, for example to contradict the Remostrants or the Socinians. This is descriptive of its method, not its controlling principles. He even discusses the fact that the Cartesian covenant theologians he names were careful NOT to press philosophical demonstration into all the loci of their theologies. He concludes that "(t)he rationalization and intellectualization of theology into a system characteristic of the orthodox or scholastic phase of Protestantism NEVER SET THE STADARDS OF THE OF SCRIPTURAl REVELATION AND RATIONAL PROOF ON AN EQUAL PAR (emph. mine) and certain never viewed either evidential demonstration or rational necessity as the grounds of faith...(they) disavow evidentialism and identify theological certainty as something quite distinct from mathematical and rational or philosophical certainty. The also argue quite pointedly that reason has an instrumental function and NOT (emph. mine) a magisterial function. Reason never proves faith but only elaborates faith toward understanding (Ibid, 141, 142)

This is in contrast to rationalism in the latter sense, in which "this traditional view of faith and reason, an anthropology in which sin and the problematic nature of human beings plays a major role" is reduced and subordinated to reason on the "Enlightenment rationalist assumption of an untrammeled original constitution of humanity." (Ibid.) (With which, I might add, notions about libertarian free will are certainly at home).

This is all to say that there is a difference between a methodological process by which theology is done with exegesis as the sole, underwriting foundation and reason as philosophy as a help but not a magiterial authority vs. reason and philosophical ideas themselves used as controlling principles placed over revelation. This latter phenomenon is what you see whenever somebody posits ideas about God's justice and mercy and libertarian free will and the read them back in a controlling manner in your theology or when folks, like the Neo-Orthodox, take "revelation as encounter" and metaphysical ideas about the unknowability of God and contruct an entire theology; or if you, like Moltmann, take "Hope," and then do the same thing. Deism (Epicureanism revived) is "rationalistic" in the latter sense. Stoicism is also rationalistic in this latter sense. These were ideas revived in the 18th century and well into the next. Hyper-Calvinism is the epitome of rationalism, because it does begin with predestination and election or particularly the idea that the covenant of grace is unconditional with respect to both merit and instrumentality. Covenant Theology, if it becomes an over-riding controlling principle and sole method for doing, eg. constructing and explaining theology, is rationalistic in this sense (because the redemptive-historical hermeneutic becomes the controlling motif - Vos runs dangerously close to this at times), as is dispensationalism, or NCT. Those that think Reformed Theology is "rationalistic" in this sense, as apparently you do, have stared into the well of church history only to mirror-read, that is impute ideas to your opponents that are descriptive not of them, but yourselves.

"Scholasticism itself had been the result of a yearning for rational insight, of a desire to understand and to find reasons for what it believed...the goal of its search was fixed by faith: philosophy served as its handmaiden...They did no study the world as we study it, they did not pursue truth in the independent manner of the Greeks, but that was because they were so firmly convinced of the absolute truth of thier premises, the doctrines of the faith. These were their facts, with these they whetted their intellects, these they sought to weld into a system." (Thilly, Hist. of Philosophy, in Ibid,142). Protestant theology, Mr. Grow, of this period and RT as a whole is "neither an irrational fideism nor an incipient rationalism." (Ibid, 143).

In fact, the decline of Orthodoxy after the death of Francis Turretin is attributed to the demise of the Ptolemaic worldiview from which their method was derived. His sucessors adopted Amyraldianism first, then Cartesianism, through J.A. Turretin and Louis Tronchin. Then Arminian and Socinian tendencies under Jacob Vernet, and by 1814, they had so dumbed down their theology that they did not say you must worship Christ. Oh, and let's not forget that Arminianism and Socinianism made fast friends on the Continent, and nearly killed the General Baptists. Sorry, Bobby, you can't trace liberalism through Calvinism, but just about every time, it crosses through Arminianism. You have to leave the twin principia of Reformed Theology and drop the doctrine of inspiration and your soteriology to get Barthianism out of RT. All you have to do is follow Arminianism's own philosophical rationalism to its end, since it begins with a truly rationalistic principle or principles and constructs itself accordingly.

As for Orthodox theologies of the 18th century, you'll find a return to simplified forms in many places, as theology for a time was divorced from the Academies. The churches largely took it up. Gill, Ridgely, and Boston (and for that matter a great many who would be called "Ramists" as well if they had lived a few generations before) were largely aphilosophical - so latter Reformed theology of this period incorporates little if any philosophy at all, bar in polemics. You'll see the Presbyterian tradition in particular continue in the old forms in part, but if you pick of Charles Hodge in the 19th century, you'll see that while he follows form and refers to the old traditions, he largely writes in polemic dialogue against the rationalistic philosophies and theologies of his own age. James Boyce, in the SBC, as well as P.H. Mell and John L. Dagg incorporate a fair amount of polemics, but if you can identify a single overriding theme that Boyce uses for his theology, you are welcome to make the attempt. The Presbyerians and Dutch Reformed churches had their own divinity schools, and in the late 19th century we Baptists added ours. In the 20th, Princeton and Westminster split. The Baptist seminaries are still with us. In addition, the curriculum at the Reformed seminaries is organized largely to reflect the now mature form of RT into its exegetical, biblical, systematic, pastoral, and polemic components - a form that is largely reflective of the integrated form of RT as a whole.

While we're at it let's talk a bit about the UnMoved Mover, Ursinus, and Turretin.

Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics is largely a greatly expanded version of Christ and the Decree which was simply Dr. Muller's Ph.D. thesis. CATD was his first attempt to refute the historical thesis you have tried to put forth, indeed, which you have seemingly tried to invoke him as affirming. Let's take quick tour.

Apparently, Bobby does not understand his overall thesis.

"For the most part, early Orthodox Protestant theologians doubted the new cosmology and REJECTED rationalist philosophy, resting content with the late Renaissance revisions of Christian Aristotelianism at the hands of Roman Catholic Philosophers like Zabarella and Suarez and of Protestant thinkers like Ramus and Bugersdijk. (PRRD, 71)

In addition he writes, the understanding of the relationship of philosophy to theology propounded in the Reformed prolegomena and in various apologetic works of the era of orthodoxy assumes a view of philosophy as ancilla and subordinate both in a purely hierarchical sense among the forms of knowing and in a historical sense, regarding it as a derivative form of knowing.

To connect the dots for Bobby, what's being said here is that philosophy is the handmaiden of Scripture and only invoked for FORM and method in the university setting in particular, for content where it was believed to coincide Scripture and be useful for explanation/demonstration/illustration.

Under "Defining the Relationship" in PRRD1, speaking of the claims that there was a return to "Aristotelean thinking" after the early moments with Luther, he says, "Such claims are the natural, albeit unforntuane, outgrwoth of the older Protestant scholarship that marked out a neat break between the Middle Ages and the Reformation and another neat break between the Reformation and Protestant orthodoxy; that strictly identified scholastiscm as an Aristotlean form of philosophy and theology rather than as primarily a method; that offered a vague and generalized identification of "Aristoteleanism" without either a precise statement of the philosophical concepts that make one Aristotelian or a distincition (quite necessary to the understanding of the thought of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation) between logic and rhetoric on the one hand and metaphysics on the other; and assumed that both scholasticism and Aristotelianism were brought to an end or should have been brough to at end (at least for Protestants) by the Reformation.

Regarding Ursinus:

"On these grounds, the maintenance of Aristotleian logical and dialectic and the rejection of Ramism by such writers as Ursinus and Beza ought to be viewed as a point of continuity with the curricula instituted by the Reformers - and NOT as some writers have indicated, aa a sign of resurgent Aristotleanism." (PDDR1, 372)

Also, nobody denies that as the end of the era of High Orthodoxy ended, RT took on rationalistic overtones, as the theologies of the Arminians, hyper-Calvinists, and the Amyraldians demonstrated. This led to the softening of Calvinism after Francis Turretin who was the last. His son J.A. Turretin is the one that was the philosophical rationalist; it was not the result of following the principia of Reformed Scholasticism, but the result of a departure from them. That's Muller's point. However, the confessions themselves predate the period of High Orthodoxy, as the antecedents to the WCF and the LBCF1 and 2 were written in the previous period and simply duplicated with a few changes for each denomination. The period of High Orthodoxy proper ca. 1640-1725), but it did not create the Reformed system, rather it only elaborated the extant system in relation to the changing intellectual climate. (PRRD1,74). It did this, in part to answer the Remonstrants, Socinians, Lockeans, and others on their own terms. It was part of their polemic theology, not their exegetical theology. There was also concern that the federal theology of the Cocceians was "rationalistic" because it used CT as a controlling pattern to be used in theological method; but covenentalism is not itself "rationalistic" as the Voetians were using it too, and the language went back into Calvin and Zwingli, and from them well into the Ante-Nicene era. Golding picks up on this in Covenant Theology: The Key to Reformed Theology.

Regarding the use of Aristotle, Dr. Muller states that one can view it as the metaphysical model in which a finite unmoved mover acts primarily as the final cause and actualization of all things out of an infinite and eternally existing material substaratum, it would be difficult to find an Aristotelian theologians in tat any point in the development of Western or Latin Christianity (PRRD1, 372) But if you definite it as the view of the universe that affirms both primary and secondary causality, that assumes the working of first and final causality through the means of instrumental, formal, and material causes, and that, using this paradigm, can explain various levels of necessary and contingent existence, then a large number of Aristotlians appear on the horizon." (Ibid).

After discussing the reticence of the pastoral theologians of the early Orthodox period's reticence to employ philsophical categories in theology, he also notes that

"the orthodox of the 17th century drew on philosophical categories and recognized the presence of fully developed models in academic dialogue with their theoologies. Nonetheless there is a continuity in the development as well...writers like Keckermann and Alsted, Maccovius and Voetius, worked to maintain a sense of the boundaries of legitimate Christan philosophy, boundaries that had largely been set in the debates of the Reformation era. This continuity is particularly evident by the adversaries chosen by the Orthodox: Epicureanism, Skepticism, Stoic fatalism; emananationiic and pantheistic dimensions of Platonism, and what might be called the pagan as distinct from the Christianized Aristotle."

Regarding the use of philosophy and reason in relation to theology and its use: Reason is at it were the eye of the mind; while Scripture is the standard, by which this eye measures the objects under examination. Reason in the instrument used by the faithful in examining the objections of belief presented by Scripture, as the infallible norm of truth...but reason itself is not the norm of these objects of belief.
(Pictet, in PRRD1,400).

Muller also discusses Turretin and notes;

"Turretin views all of the essential attributes as rationally arguable, but he never introduces the rational argumentation principally: he always introduces his Scriptural argumentation first and then, only by way of confirmation, does he use rational argumentatiion. A similar model is followed by Mastricht. The system NEVER (his emphasis) moves from reason to revelation or from natural to supernatural theology. The Reformed orthodox recognize, however, that the use of philosophy must be carefully defined so that the potential compatibility of the disciplines does not become the basis for a principal use of human reason in theological matters. Turretin distinguishes between 2 basic errors concerning the use of reason; the Socinians err in excess, the Lutherans in defect - the former assume that ntothing can be believed that is not founded upon reason, while the latter refuse to permit rational judgment between these extremes by affording the proper place to rational judgment in theology."

Regarding the statements of Ursinus, he used the Unmoved Mover in the proofs for the existence of God, in which the Unmoved Mover is employed not as a statement identifying God with the Unmoved Mover in Aristotle without great Christianization but an ancillary argument. Rather, his argument is adapted as a philosophical proof for the existence of God, not to ground the theology of God, but as supporting material. In Ursinus Catechism, which PRRD3 quotes (102) Muller writes that the first sets of questions were a series of proofs for the existence of God, the second sets were a place for both contrast of a purely philosophical defintion of God and a definition based on revelation and for a significant exposition of divine attributes. On page 172, he says,

"Ursinus, similarly, argues the proofs first in his introduction to the doctrine of God and then restates elements of the proofs as part of a philosophical argument, secondary to and supportive of arguments drawn from Scripture, that the world was created, and that by God.' We are impressed, here, as in the proofs offered by Melancthon and Chemnitz, with an absence of logical rigor and philosophical elaboration and with a mixture of logical and philosophical with purely rhetorical arguments." He also writes of his statements that show he was unwilling to import such purely philosophical concepts as the predication of "nature" to God if it meant God was identical with nature, the essence of pantheism. Rather, "God is not nature itself, nor matter (the element of a substance that receives form), nor form (the elements of a substance), but the efficient cause of all things; neitehr is His essence mixed or blended with other things; it is different and unlike anything else.

Regarding the way they related known Scholastic categories to revelation, we find that existing theophilosopical categories (eg. dogmatic categories) only served as a method by which to organize the attributes of God. Here, we see them taking predicated attributes of God, like wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, and then explicating first the Scriptures and then using philosophy as analogical argumentation, in other words the same way we do when we illustrate using natural theology, NOT to control their exegesis.

Muller also has some interesting things to say about the idea of the Unmoved Mover. Namely, it is NOT the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle.

Speaking of discussions of God's essential attributes, in this case eternity, Leigh stated that "The eternity of God ought not be defined merely negatively in view of the problem of temporal succession but also positively in view of the necessary relationship between God and the created order, namely, the relation between the infinite source of all good and the vast order of created goods. " If this is so, Muller says, we have once again encountered the phenomenon of Christianized Aristotlianism, as different from its ancient philosophical source as the scholastic conception of God as First or Unmoved Mover is different from the original Aristotlian conception. (PRRD3,360)

He also states rather clearly that this idea, related to the decrees of God and His will was employed because it provided a means of discussing the fact that there can be no final cause of the will of God, because "it is clear that anything that itself has a final cause cannot be the final cause of mediate or fine wills." (Ibid, 469)

In their theologies, they often discussed God's omniscience, and, once again the idea of the Unmoved Mover crops up, not as a controlling idea, but as a tool to explain the concepts they found in Scripture after their exegesis. The question arose, as it had in the Middle Ages as to whether or not God could know singular things, or only composite things. They answer that God knows both as well as counterfactuals, necessary things, and contingent things.

"The point is obviously necessary to Christian theology, inasmuch as teh God of the Bible, unlike the strictly Aristotlian First or Unmoved Mover, is the creator of the finite - and is, to borrow on the Aristotelian terms themselves, the first, efficient cause and not merely the final cause of all things. (from Copelston, Hist. of Phil, 314-317, PRRD, 429). Indeed this is one of several places in the doctrine of God at which all the Scholastics distance themselves from an unadulterated Aristotlian system not only as philosophically unacceptable but also as a source of a series of errors in theology both in and beyond the doctrine of God." (Ibid). They identify those very errors at being at the heart of Pelagian and Socinian (and thus Arminian) thinking about the nature of the will and the nature of the claim that God knows neither those individuals who will believe nor any future contingents, but merely decrees to save in general any who will believe and repent. Ibid, 409-410 After this, Muller runs over the Scriptural arguments to which the Reformed appealed in view of the rejection of this content in Aristotle).
So, ultimately, Arminian theology gets impaled on the horns of Aristotlean/rationalistic ideas defining content, not our own.

In fact, in relation to the historical thesis Bobby seems to wish to put forth, Muller (Ibid, 560) writes that "This understanding of the divine affections as movements or attractions in some sense defined by their external objection is a significant element of the Reformed orthodox system, both in terms of the implications of the concept for orthodox theology as a whole and in view of the frequently heard clam that the older theology was so caught up in an Aristotlian conceptuality of God as Unmoved Mover that it paid scant attention the biblical language of God in relation to his world. Quite the contrary, orthodox doctrine of the divine essence presses out into the rest of the theological system with the assumption of attributes requiring external objects and capable of being understood only insofar as they are relations ad extra." He then quotes at length from Leigh and, immediately prior Owen. The idea of course, is that this view of the affections of God is not philosophical in any respect, it is exegetical, and, in all their theology, philosophy is employed not a controlling or defining principle over the whole of theology, but an ancillary. This is particularly true in their doctrine of Scripture and their use of Scripture, which is the subject of Volume 2.

This conversation took place in response to statements by Dave Hunt relative to free will, and specifically in response to Frank Page's book currently popular in the SBC, in which the old prevailing historiographical thesis, including the "Calvin Against the Calvinist" thesis, is/are repeated as if there has been no work done in rebuttal, when in fact, you can find it going back to the time of its very inception in, for example, the work of William Cunningham in The Reformers & The Theology of the Reformation. No, rather than producing material on their own, these Baptist critics have proven themselves impervious to actually interacting with Helm, Nicole, Rainbow Muller, Mallinson, Clark, Trueman, Godfrey, Beeke, Klauber, Platt, Steinmetz, and others. It's not as if the list is that terribly short and their work unavailable. Rather, they draw on Bizer, Armstrong, Bray, Kickel, and the usual culprits, some of which have an odd tendency to reference each other and misquote the primary sources. "The Calvin Against the Calvinist" thesis is increasingly in dispute, and, having read the material from the other side, I must concur with Rainbow that it largely consists of quoting Calvin's discussions of the universal preaching of the gospel, then assuming this is related to the scope of atonement or neglecting his wider body of work for the Institutes and a few Commentaries. If Mr. Grow has problems with Rainbow, then I look forward to his detailed rebuttal of Rainbow's monograph, which is itself available from Amazon.


  1. Wow, I didn't expect a paper length response to my assertions over at the Gadfly. In fact at the moment I don't have the time to respond, in kind, to Gene's elaborate (and excellent) article on this issue (it's 4:25 am pst--just getting home from work, and heading to bed).

    Tomorrow, when I have the chance I will look for a few more quotables from Muller that will hopefully illustrate (substantiate) my original assertion.

    Btw, I do understand Muller's thesis--and I do recognize the difference between scholastic methodology and conceptuality (which is real). His "Christ and Decree" is out of pub., but my former seminary's library is fully stocked with many great theological works (such as Muller's represents).

  2. Yes, they were assertions without argument, weren't thank. I thank for this candid admission. I, for one, would love to see you attempt to adduce a book written to contradict the historical thesis you wish to put forth in favor of it. That would be quite the feat. I'd much prefer, for the benefit of your readers that you would produce material from work that is in print at present so that they can verify your quotations.

    In order to sustain your thesis, you'll need to find material from Muller that discusses the non-ancillary status of philosophy. Remember, you're the one that wanted to lay the charge of "rationalism" at the feet of Ursinius, was wrote in the 1500's and of Turretin, who died before the time when rationalism invaded the Reformed academies in the sense that he denies is in the Scholastics themselves. Incidentally, you might want to think about Ursinus. The Reformed rarely reference him for his scholastic doctrine of God; rather he's the explicator of the Heidelberg Catechism and he's also known for his contributions to Covenant Theology.

    You'll also need to find material that shows how the the forms and methods they employed selected for particular content. Muller's basic thesis is that to describe a theology as "scholastic" is to describe its method not it's content. It speaks to the way of approaching and arranging the material, not the use of ideas derived from natural theology or reason that are then read back into the exegetical content of the material. That applies to Moltmann, Barth, the Socinians, Arminians, and others.

  3. For readers, this is Mr. Grow's historical thesis in his own words:

    "Furthermore, I think you should take more time to understand the informing factors and historical milieu in which your theological position took shape. In other words, whose philosophical framework drives your interpretive tradition; I would argue Thomas Aquinas, through Beza, Olevianus, Perkins, Turretin, Hodge (of Princeton), Piper, MacArthur, etc."

    This of course would be characteristic of the older historical thesis that Muller is rebutting. It would also, if true, apply to theologies of the 18th century and beyond at most.

    The problem of course, is that Thomism does not select for a particular theological content and the very persons that he cites in his list had a robust doctrine of Scripture. What's more Thomism is not the only philsophical ancilla employed. Their approach was quite eclectic. There is a vast difference in saying "God is the Unmoved Mover" by a Protestant constructing a philosophical proof of God as an ancillary argument and "God is the Unmoved Mover" when uttered by a Deist or by Aristotle himself. Rather than running to Christ and The Decree, he shold weed through the 4 Volumes of PRRD, particularly Vols. 1 and 2. 1 deals with prolegomena; 2 deals with Scripture. He mentions Polanus, but is he even remotely aware of what Polanus had to say about Scripture, the use and interpretation of it, and the right place of reason?

    What pray tells it the philosophical metaphysic for what Thomism, for example, might select that is then so obviously read back through Reformed exegesis in a controlling fashion, and where are the supporting arguments for it in the primary sources?

  4. Gene,

    I am currently reading Muller's Christ and Decree just to read, not necessarily research purposes (i.e. I didn't plan on doing a paper on it).

    I, once again, do realize that much of what I'm saying is assertion; and as you've noted requires much more rigorous defense, than at the moment, I am able to muster (given time constraints). I am in process on my own theological views (soteriologically speaking--leaning Augustinian). Also much of my thesis is borrowed from my prof in seminary (Dr. Ron Frost)who in the late 90s in the Trinity Journal debated Muller on this very issue (the articles are online--go to

    You've got me curious, though, Gene; you assert that there is a Christianized version of the unmoved mover out there--I'd like to see how that is fleshed out a bit further. I'll interact more with you over at my site, and the comment you made.

    In Christ

  5. Btw, Gene,

    you speak of ancillary usage of thomism by orthodoxy; who determines when it should be used in an subsidiary way, and how does the exegesis integrate into the mold of the ancilliar thomistic framework w/o being reduced to something else (i.e. the scriptures revelation). It seems you would need a magesterium to determine when and how this ancillary usage should be engaged--oh yes the Synod of Dordt. Also this understanding of the relationship between exegetical theology and dogmatic assumes an anthropology that places a high premium on the "rationality" or intellect of man--i.e. this serves as the ontological basis for making your epistemological judgement of how and when philosophy should be engaged to articulate scriptures revelation. This seems circular.

  6. Here's my last response to Gene on this issue. This is a quote taken from Dr. Ron Frost and an article he wrote on this issue for the Trinity Journal. Frost comments then offers a summative quote on Muller that should at least throw Gene's analysis on Muller into relief; Frost said:

    In particular, historical theologian Richard A. Muller has been the most vigorous proponent in a movement among some Reformation-era scholars that affirms the works of seventeenthcentury Protestant scholasticism-or Protestant Orthodoxy-as the first satisfactory culmination, if not the epitome, of the Reformation as a whole. Muller assumes that the best modern Protestant theology has been shaped by Aristotelian methods and rigor that supported the emerging structure and coherence of Protestant systematic theology. He argues, for instance, that any proper understanding of the Reformation must be made within the framework of a synthesis of Christian theology and Aristotle's methods:

    It is not only an error to attempt to characterize Protestant orthodoxy by means of a comparison with one or another of the Reformers.... It is also an error to discuss [it] without being continually aware of the broad movement of ideas from the late Middle Ages.... the Reformation ... is the briefer phenomenon, enclosed as it were by the five-hundred-year history of scholasticism and Christian Aristotelianism.2 (this is Richard Muller [parenthesis mine])

    The implications of Muller's affirmations may be easily missed. In order to alert readers to the intended significance of the present article at least two points should be made. First, Muller seems to shift the touchstone status for measuring orthodox theology from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas. That is, he makes the Thomistic assimilation of Aristotle-which set up the theological environment of the late middle ages-the staging point for all that follows in orthodox doctrine. It thus promotes a continuity between Aquinas and Reformed theology within certain critical limits3-and this despite the fact that virtually all of the major figures of the early Reformation, and Luther most of all, looked back to Augustine as the most trustworthy interpreter of biblical theology after the apostolic era. Thus citations of Augustine were a constant refrain by Luther and John Calvin, among many others, as evidence of a purer theology than that which emerged from Aquinas and other medieval figures. Second, once a commitment to "Christian Aristotelianism" is affirmed, the use of "one or another of the Reformers" as resources "to characterize Protestant orthodoxy" sets up a paradigm by which key figures, such as Luther, can be marginalized because of their resistance to doctrinal themes that emerge only through the influence of Aristotle in Christian thought.(quote taken from: Dr. Ron N. Frost, "Aritstotle's Ethics: Luther's Real Reason for the Reformation?," Trinity Journal Spring 1997)--online at:

    Either Bridges is mistaken, and has mis-read Muller; or Frost has. I believe Frost's analysis is on point vs. Bridges. Frost provides further argument in the remainder of his article which I believe substantiates his point.

    What Gene needs to do is interact with Frost's analysis on this issue, and provide a point by point rebuttal. Until then "my assertions" stand.