Thursday, September 25, 2014

Richard Muller, “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”, Volume 2: Scripture

This is the beginning of Volume 2 of Richard Muller’s “Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Scripture: The Cognitive Foundation of Theology”. Elsewhere, I’ve been working through Volumes One (“Prolegomena”) and Three (“Doctrine of God”) of the four-volume series.

The theological or intellectual movement from the question of theological prolegomena to the issue of the doctrine of Scripture is very slight, if it can be called a movement at all. The doctrine of Scripture was, after all, not an independent locus or quaestio in theological system until the second half of the sixteenth century and, even then, it remained closely linked to its systematic place of origin, the prolegomena.

There is also a near contradiction in the phrase “doctrine of Scripture,” granting that Scripture itself is doctrina, teaching, and that a doctrine of Scripture is a doctrine concerning doctrine, a teaching about teaching. Such a doctrine is, by nature, propaedeutic [preliminary] and not precisely of a piece with the rest of the doctrines belonging to theology.

The formulation of a doctrine of Scripture virtually presupposes the formulation of the other doctrines in the theological system and assumes an exegetical, hermeneutical, and methodological analysis of those doctrines from the perspective of their relationship to and use of the text of Scripture. To state the matter in another way, the creation of a doctrine of Scripture assumes a distinction between Scripture as source and doctrine as result—and such a distinction itself took centuries to arise.

The rise and development of the doctrinal discussion of Scripture, then, parallels and in a sense belongs to the development of theological prolegomena and, therefore, not merely to the era of the Reformation but, instead, to the development of theology as a discipline from the twelfth through the seventeenth centuries.

The Protestant doctrine of Scripture and its relationship to the movement from Reformation to orthodoxy have received more attention than virtually any other theological issues in the early history of Protestantism. The implications of the Reformers’ views on Scripture for theology and church have been subjected to intense scrutiny, and the character both of the Reformation and of Protestant orthodoxy has been assessed by numerous authors in the light of comparisons and contrasts between sixteenth- and seventeenth-century approaches to Scripture.

Despite all of this attention, however, historians and theologians have come no closer to a convincing presentation and analysis of the Protestant orthodox formulation of this doctrinal point than they have to a clear and balanced discussion of other elements of seventeenth-century theological system. Altogether too much of the discussion of the Reformation and Protestant orthodox doctrines of Scripture has approached the subject from theologically biased perspectives and with the specific intention of justifying one or another nineteenth- or twentieth-century view of Scripture.

This problem of a theological grid for understanding the older Protestant view of Scripture is fundamental to the distinctions made in most of the older histories of Protestantism between “formal” and “material” principles of the Reformation and to the related notion of central dogmas.

Of course, a discontinuity between the Reformers and the Protestant orthodox on the doctrine of Scripture ought not to give theologians an excuse for rejecting one view and adopting the other as a basis for their present-day theological musings—any more than a continuity between the teachings of the Reformers and the doctrines of Protestant orthodoxy can become a legitimate reason for accepting the doctrines of older Protestantism in and for the present without any further ado. The historical and the theological tasks must remain separate.

Muller, R. A. (2003). Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise And Development Of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 2: The Cognitive Foundation Of Theology (2nd ed., pp. 23–24). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

My hope is to continue to provide large chunks of Muller’s works (and that of other writers writing about the Post-Reformation period), as a way of bringing to mind, during what I’ve been calling “Reformation Season”, the many things that we owe to the Reformation.

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