Why This Controversy Now?

During this same time, there was also groundbreaking historical work done by Richard Muller and those who followed in his wake. Muller’s research definitively smashed the “Calvin against the Calvinists” thesis, and his undeniably strong scholarship produced a whole new generation of scholars who became acquainted with the thought and categories of classic Reformed orthodoxy. Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics is the standard for studies in thought on Reformed orthodoxy. Carl Trueman, Willem J. Van Asselt, and several others produced excellent studies at about the same time. Rather than being dismissed as too rigid and unbiblical, Reformed scholasticism began to be seen as a rich resource to be mined for positive systematic theology. For this reason, theologians and historians could no longer get away with the hasty dismissal of Reformed orthodoxy that was assumed in theological presentations in the past.

Because of this, there has emerged a set of scholars who are now able to critique novel evangelical ideas that arise in the Reformed/evangelical world by comparing them to the classical categories of Christian theology. This, I believe, is the reason for the current clash, and why I think that it was inevitable. There are increasing numbers of scholars who are capable of critiquing the relatively novel evangelical formulations through comparison with the Christian tradition. Those who have had their training based upon the novel evangelical approach to theology are incredulous that anyone would criticize their mentors. Such explicit or implicit appeals to individual authorities fail to be compelling to those trained in traditional dogmatic thought.

Christopher Cleveland

(HT: Rich Barcellos)

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  1. Over against the magisterial Reformers and the Roman Catholic theologians of the day, theologians like Michael Servetus, Giovanni Blandrata, Valentine Gentile, and Laelius and Faustus Socinus examined the text of Scripture in a strictly linguistic and non-traditionary exegesis and found no doctrine of the Trinity: on the one hand, in the name of a return to the original message of Jesus they and their followers leveled a biblical critique against the traditional churchly doctrine of the one divine essence and three divine persons. On the other hand, looking at the writings of the earliest church fathers, they could argue no clear doctrine of the Trinity. Servetus in particular argued the case for a pre-Nicene, non-trinitarian view—with the result that his theology and that of other antitrinitarians looked like nothing so much as a reprise of ancient heresies. It is difficult to identify the sources or grounds for these views. On the one hand, they can be explained as a coalescence of the humanistic philological techniques of the Renaissance with the rather typical Renaissance humanistic polemic against the scholastic tradition, here extended to the more intricate dogmatic developments of the late patristic period—and with a radical, a-traditional version of the Renaissance ad fontes and the Reformers’ sola Scriptura. That scholarly advocate of the antitrinitarians, E. M. Wilbur, could claim that their theology was merely a natural outgrowth of early Reformation thought and, in fact, evidence that the antitrinitarians, unlike the Reformers, followed out the implications of their reformist position to its logical conclusions. Certainly, the antitrinitarian position is characterized by a radical biblicism coupled with a renunciation of traditional Christian and philosophical understandings of substance, person, subsistence, and so forth, as unbiblical accretions. Yet, it is also hardly the case that the antitrinitarian stress on the utter and absolute unity of God to the exclusion of personal distinctions in the divine essence was utterly a-philosophical and simply a return to the basic biblical message, as one recent writer has proposed.

    Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy; Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 74–75.

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