Re-Thinking the Old Paradigm From Within

One of the reasons I wrote Recovering the Reformed Confession was to help professedly Reformed Christians re-connect to their heritage. When, in the early 1980s, I began researching the Reformed tradition I was surprised to learn not only how the Reformed theology, piety, and practice was viewed from outside that tradition but how it is often viewed from within that tradition. Wes Bredenhof is a child of that tradition, raised within the Canadian Reformed Churches. In a post today he writes about the way he was trained to think about Reformed orthodoxy (scholasticism). The story he was told about the tradition is very similar to the story that is often told about Reformed orthodoxy from outside the tradition. It sets Calvin against the Calvinists. Outside the tradition this scheme is part of the justification for the claim that Calvin was really a proto-Arminius, a proto-Amyraut or whatever. Until about 1978 there were only a small band of hearty historians who dared to challenge this approach. Since that time, however, there has developed a considerable body of literature, but in many case people do not seem to have taken the time to re-consider the received story.

As part of Wes’ reconsideration of the “Calvin v the Calvinists” story, he’s been reading Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment, a collection of essays that Carl Trueman initiated and in which he allowed me to participate. This volume now 10 years old, and a lot has been written since then, so it’s encouraging to see that people are still reading it.

It was an important collection of essays, in which a some notable scholars (e.g., David Steinmetz, Richard Muller, Carl Trueman, Bob Godfrey, John Platt, and David Bagchi to name but a few) made important contributions to the study of Protestant Scholasticism. Protestant Scholasticism along with Willem J. van Asselt and Eef Dekker, eds. Reformation and Scholasticism built on the foundational work of Richard Muller and others and helped to encourage the revisionist approach to Reformed orthodoxy.

This isn’t just an academic matter. Almost without fail, those who’ve set Calvin against the Calvinists have done so in the interests of promoting a less orthodox version of Calvinism, whether Bartianism, or Arminianism, or Amyraldianism. Lately, in conservative Reformed circles, the proponents of the so-called “Federal Vision” have also told this story.

As Wes mentions, in the controversy between the Schilderites and the Kuyperians, in the Netherlands in the 1940s, the adjective “scholastic” was used by the Schilderites as a pejorative to describe the Kuyperians. From an historical point of view, the Reformed scholastics were “onze volk” (Dutch for “our people”), but by the time Schilder began using “scholastic” as an epithet there was a long tradition of doing so dating back to the Reformation use of “scholastic” to describe Roman Catholic opponents in Sorbonne.  The sounds of the “Schilder” controversy still echo today. Perhaps Wes’ reassessment of the “Calvin v the Calvinists” story will spark a renewed interest in the CanRC and elsewhere in the NAPARC in recovering the Reformed Confession?

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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