So this interesting and important discussion continues. In his latest post, Lee accuses me of wanting “repristinate” 17th-century orthodoxy. To this all I can say is that evidently he hasn’t read my published work. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of advocating repristination in Caspar Olevian and the Covenant of Grace, or in Protestant Scholasticism or in any of the essays I’ve written and published.
Quite to the contrary, in class I argue against this very thing and I explain why in the forthcoming book, Recovering the Reformed Confession, the substance of which is available in free lectures.
That said, I think we can learn a good deal from the Reformed tradition, and, as I’ve written here many times, these lessons are both negative and positive. We don’t want to embrace the majority 17th-century view on science, politics (most of them were practical theocrats—have I not defended and advocated the Two Kingdoms often enough in this space?), or Bible translation. These are areas where we’ve figured out better approaches and where we’ve either become more biblical or confessional.
When it comes to theology, piety, and practice, however, there is a great deal we need to re-learn. Thus, I don’t think we can avoid the sort of chronological snobbery implied in Lee’s post. Take the current justification controversy for example. Virtually every issue we faced with the FV has already been addressed by the Reformed tradition. The same is true regarding the question of middle knowledge or the current arguments over worship. We could do a lot worse than to recover the older Reformed understanding on these issues.
Repristination isn’t the issue, however. Indeed, it’s a red herring. The Reformed confessions are not just anybody’s 17th-century Reformed orthodoxy. By equating the confessions with private dogmatics published by the Reformed in the period of classic orthodoxy Lee is doing exactly what I warned against in the previous post. The confessions are public, binding, ecclesiastical summaries of God’s Word. Polanus’ Syntagma is a marvelous piece of work worthy of devoted and devotional study (and the works of the orthodox period are essential for understanding our confessions correctly) but it is not the confession of the churches.
Second, he ignores the update to the post in which I noted that our form of subscription (at WSC) equates the “system of doctrine” with the Reformed confessions. The language does not suggest that there is a system within the confession but that the confession is the system of Scripture.
Am I critical of Hodge and Old Princeton (and implicitly Old Westminster) on this point? Yes. Semper Reformanda. As I say, history shows that the attempt to keep together a national church based on Hodge’s confessional minimalism (see the previous post) failed and we got the sort of fragmentation he feared. Confessional minimalism didn’t work so let’s try confessional maximalism. We can’t do any worse than we have for the last century.
Would this approach have created difficulties for Meredith Kline? Well, Meredith’s later views on the Sabbath were different than those I learned from him when I was a student, but he wasn’t teaching here when his latest views were published so it wasn’t an issue. Could it have become an issue hypothetically? Sure! I’ve also said that I think that it would have served the churches well to test, in the courts of the church, Mr Murray’s departure from the WCF on the covenant of works. Seminary profs are not above they church. They serve the church. I don’t accept the implicit premise of Lee’s post, which seems to be, that somehow it’s unthinkable that the views of even a revered prof might be tested in the courts of the church. They can and should be when there is good reason for such a process.
Now I don’t see Meredith’s views on creation as a departure from the WCF. The Framework falls within the understanding of the Scriptures and confession as received by the American Presbyterian Church. Still, some believe that Meredith’s views on creation were contra-confessional. In that case they had a duty to test their concerns in the courts of the church. Meredith’s critics failed miserably. They carped but they never acted on principle. The shame in that case it that those who objected used to complain to us vigorously about the fact that he was here teaching the framework view. We used to ask those OPC critics who complained, “Is he a minister in good standing in the OPC? Have you filed charges against him for his views?” Invariably the calling critics went silent. I heard that there was a dreadful move late in Meredith’s life to charge him — if this is true, despicable is not too strong an adjective for waiting until he was ill and quite old when his views (for the most part) had been public knowledge for 50 years!
I’ve sworn fidelity to the confessions as part of my ministerial vocation. I’ve sworn submission to the churches. I’m here as a teacher because of my vocation by Christ administered through the churches. If the churches want to call me on the carpet, as it were, that is their right.