Response to Lane's Review Pt 2 – updated


Part 1 of the response is here.

Lane’s review is here.

Eight responses to his five questions and then I have to get back to work.

1. One should not overplay the fact that Olevianus was Calvin’s student. He also studied in Zurich. He was only in Geneva briefly. Certainly he was deeply influenced by Calvin as he taught through the Institutes annually and made his own epitome (abbreviated version). He probably had as much direct interaction with Beza or perhaps more than he had with Calvin. 

2. Lane seems to be suggesting that  “Calvin taught x, Olevianus was Calvin’s student, ergo Olevianus taught x.”  If Lane wants to say that I’m misreading Olevian he shall have to do the research into the primary texts.

3. I can’t find my copy of Garcia’s book just now (I’m buried under about 100 books on the library table for my current project) but as I said, I “peeked” (at the index) and saw only a reference to a footnote. I read the footnote and saw a page or two of discussion.  I look forward to reading it when I finish this project and can find the book. I don’t know if Cornel critiqued Garcia before or after Garcia finished his book, but they seem to be contradictory views of Calvin. Garcia seems to be revising or rejecting Venema’s work thus he owes the reader a thorough historical explanation of why Venema was wrong.

[3a – okay I found my copy of Garcia. I stand by my first comments. The discussion of Venema starts on p.12 and is really a survey of Venema’s work, for those who haven’t read it. Survey isn’t substantive interaction. There is no serious interaction with Venema’s understanding of Calvin’s doctrine of union and why it’s wrong. There’s a hint in fn 8 and a bit more in fn 34. I can understand why he didn’t interact with Venema in the same section as the literature is surveyed, but I’m surprised that it doesn’t come up again for more substantive interaction.]

4. Discussing  Calvin’s doctrine of union isn’t anachronistic per se but asking him to answer contemporary systematic questions is anachronistic. This is what happens when people go to dead writers to ask them to answer questions in a form that arose after the writer’s death. For example, to ask Calvin where he stands on the Dortian form of limited atonement is anachronistic. Asking Thomas about air travel is anachronistic.

5. The most serious problem I have with Lane’s response is his suggestion that we ought to mix systematic and historical theology. However we come out on Calvin’s doctrine of union this is a hill on which I am prepared to die. The great sin of the Barthians, too many of the older WTS influenced writers, R. T. Kendall, Alan Clifford and that whole lot is that they refuse to distinguish systematics from historical theology. 

In the nature of the beast, systematics asks what people ought to believe. In the nature of the beast, historical research asks what was. The only “ought” in historical enquiry is “what ought we to believe about the past?” To refuse to separate (yes, I said separate) the two is to sentence the discipline of historical theology to the rubbish bin. Intellectual history is already marginalized in the academy as it is by the social historians who run the joint. If intellectual historians insist on conducting internecine theological arguments under the cover of history they shall only add to the skepticism that many historians already have about the whole business of the history of ideas.

What the historian thinks one ought to believe about some theological issue is of no consequence whatever to his historical investigation. His vocation is to tell the truth, whatever his personal views on a given theological topic. His vocation is NOT to score dogmatic points under the cover of history. One brilliant example of such history is Muller’s study of Arminius’ doctrine of God. I doubt that even the most sensitive Arminian could find bias in Muller’s treatment of Arminius. The historians job is to help the systematician by telling him or her the most accurate, most sympathetic account, the most contextual, the clearest and most compelling story about the past possible. To do history with a view to doing anything else is to queer the whole thing from the start.

Had Kendall committed himself not to vindicating his own theology but to telling the truth about the past he might have been able to find fellows who fit his paradigm, but that was not his task. His task was to show how the orthodox corrupted pristine, biblical, warm, evangelical Calvinism. As a consequence of this inferior approach Kendall’s research is virtually worthless today. Take a counter example. My tutor, John Platt did work on Dutch Reformed orthodoxy, at the same time as Kendall but before Muller. He was somewhat influenced by the reigning Calvin v Calvinists approach but not overly so. Because he had a good method in principle, even though he erred in some ways (by his own admission–his first exhortation to me was, “Follow Muller!” His second exhortation to me was not to do the sort of work that Kendall and Clifford et al were doing) his work is still valuable for filling in the picture of the development of Remonstrant theology after Dort. The same is true of David Steinmetz, whose essay in Protestant Scholasticism represented a sort of “about face” on the Calvin v Calvinists question. He was able to do it because he was committed to a good, throughly historical method. 

It is those who are not committed to such a method, who refuse to set aside their own dogmatic program when doing history, who refuse to let their exegesis and dogmatics stand on their own two feet, sentence themselves to obscurity and deservedly so. One of my favorite historical writers is Beryl Smalley. I can’t tell you how much I’ve benefitted from Smalley’s work. The same is true of Irena Backus, G. R. Evans, Jill Raitt, John Farthing, and Peter Stephens. I don’t think any of those are confessionally Reformed and I doubt any of them have any real sympathy with Reformed orthodoxy but they’re all brilliant historians. They all do a brilliant job of telling the truth about the past. The same is true of Carl Trueman, Jeff Jue and many others.

I don’t care if the Reformers wouldn’t have compartmentalized history and theology. This isn’t the 16th century. They were wrong about politics. They were wrong about astronomy. They didn’t always even understand themselves correctly. To listen to the Reformers one would think that they never used any sort of allegory but plainly they did. Whom or what do we believe? A Reformer who disavows allegory or my eyes that see examples of allegorical hermeneutics? David Bagchi makes a similar point in Protestant Scholasticism when he notes how Luther used scholastic methods to argue with the scholastics while denying that he was a scholastic. That’s the point. The goal of good historical theology is not to prove that Calvin agreed with Barth or Gaffin or whomever. The point of good history is not theological polemics.

As a point of fact, however, Lane is partly wrong about the Reformers. A case study. Melanchthon and Oecolampadius wrote studies of the patristic doctrine of the Supper. See Pierre Fraenkel on this. Melanchthon did his at the behest of Luther to justify Luther’s view. Oecolampadius did his more independently. To his credit, Melanchthon realized that Oecolampadius’ work was superior to his own and that’s partly why Philipp’s views developed away from what became the classical Lutheran view. 

I’m not arguing for the sort of post-Kantian bifurcation of knowledge about which Lane is concerned. The Reformed orthodox were quite opposed to the bifurcation of knowledge, but that’s a different question than a clear methodological separation between history and theology. The crusade against the bifurcation of knowledge is a response to the Enlightenment epistemologies. What Lane seems to proposing is a rationale for corrupting history with systematic/polemic concerns. 

Our methodological disagreement may be rooted in different views of the two kingdoms. As a historian, I don’t think I have any superior insight into the second causes that I study. I know that everything that happens is the providence of God and that he operates by concursus in everyone and thing, without moral culpability for sin. That doesn’t tell me a great deal about the Thirty-Years War. I still have to do the investigation to explain the Thirty-Years War. The study of proximate causes and their relations, whether diachronically or synchronically is the work of the historian. The theological explanation of their meaning is the work of the theologian. Lane must decide whether he’s doing theology or history. 

Lane says that HT “is” done the way I advocate to which I reply: not nearly often enough. We’re it not for the Calvin v Calvinists school the FV would have had one less leg on which to stand.  

6. As to Calvin’s view of union, I don’t know what else to say. I use the adverb “logically” and Lane immediately transmutes that adverb to “temporally.” We seem to be using two distinct categories and it doesn’t appear than Lane really accepts the category: “logically.” The order of the decrees is logical not temporal. We may be forced to think of them temporally, but we must always realize that to the degree we think temporally we’re falsifying the order. Maybe it’s images of Christ. Some people mock the Standards for telling us, in effect, not to visualize Christ. Well, it can be done. If you don’t like at alleged and idolatrous pictures of Jesus it’s possible not to have a mental picture of him. In the same it’s possible to think in logical rather than temporal categories but it takes practice. It doesn’t help to deny that the category exists. As the guy says: do hard things.

It’s like the archetypal/ectytpal distinction. We know that, in God, there are no real distinctions between the attributes but we must discuss them distinctly in order to talk about them. When we do that, we falsify them a little and we need to be conscious of that fact. This was a commonplace among the 17th-century Reformed orthodox. 

7. I agree and argued in the book that the use of the covenants to describe Reformed theology is a development that distinguishes Lutheran and Reformed theology. What I’m trying to argue, however, is that the substance of the Reformed doctrine of justification, for example, was Luther’s. It does not appear to me that all the advocates of the Gaffin-school on union accept this identity. It seems to me that too many in this school are bent on driving a wedge between Luther and Calvin. This is poor history and the consequences of it are seen in movements such as the FV.

8. By asking the question about Calvin’s order of teaching (ordo docendi) I understand that Lane is suggesting that the pedagogical order says something about Calvin’s theology? Since it’s difficult to discuss justification and sanctification temporally simul, should we conclude that, for Calvin, justification flows from sanctification? I doubt that’s what Lane has in mind.

When Lane asks about Calvin’s ordo docendi he’s close to making a categorical mistake. Haven’t we all learned from Muller that the ordo docendi isn’t the ordo salutis? The order of teaching isn’t the order of salvation (the application of redemption). The Heidelberg touches on sanctification before it fully addresses sanctification but there’s no hint of the sort of logical simultaneity of justification and sanctification in it or in Ursinus or in Olevinus on which Lane insists. Pedagogy isn’t definitive for theology.

Part 3

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!