Why You Should Change Your Mind about Reformed Scholasticism

Why you should change your mind about Reformed Scholasticism: Scott Clark explains what’s at stake with Pilgrim theology
Dr. R. Scott Clark (DPhil Oxford University) is a historical theologian who has taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Concordia University, Irvine, and Westminster Seminary California. He is the author of several books including Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice and Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant: The Double Benefit of Christ. Additionally, he and Carl Trueman co-edited Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment. In this interview with Credo’s executive editor Timothy Gatewood, Clark discusses the Reformed scholastics, the benefit they offer the modern church, as well as help to correct some popular misconceptions about the Reformed tradition.

Who are the Reformed Scholastics? Is there any difference between the Reformed Scholastics and the Reformed Orthodox?
Strictly speaking, the Reformed scholastics were academic theologians, i.e., those who taught theology in the classroom and who wrote theology in an academic context. Reformed orthodoxy is a broader category, which includes the academic theologians but also includes those who had been educated in a theology faculty or who were influenced by academic theologians. The line between them can be fuzzy since many of the theologians were also preachers and moved between the academy and the church or continued preaching while they were also lecturing in a university or a theological school.

Scholarship concerning the Reformation and the Reformed scholastics has grown significantly over the last few decades. What is one area of research, whether an author or a particularly Reformed idea, that still needs to be retrieved?
We have a reasonably good idea of the systematic theology and even the covenant theology of most of the major figures in Reformed orthodoxy but we do not have a sufficiently clear picture of their use of Scripture. Because only a tiny fraction of their biblical commentaries and biblical studies monographs we have an incomplete picture of how closely and carefully they worked with Scripture.

How would you describe the relationship between the Reformers and the Reformed Scholastics? Is there continuity between the medieval scholastics, the Reformers, and the Reformed Scholastics?

I like to speak of the magisterial Protestants (e.g., Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bucer, and Calvin) and their orthodox successors. There were areas of strong continuity and areas of development. The Reformed orthodox saw themselves as carrying on the great achievements of the pioneering Protestant theologians.

They spoke and thought of Calvin and Luther as “our” theologians. It was a Reformed orthodox theologian, J. H. Alsted, who, in 1618, called the doctrine of justification “the article of the standing or falling of the church.” The orthodox stoutly defended sola Scriptura and salvation sola gratia. By the early 17th century, however, the Reformed orthodox faced a much more sophisticated critique of the Reformation from Roman Catholic scholars. In turn they had to engage more carefully and fully with the fathers and the great medieval scholastic theologians than the magisterial theologians were able to do. They had to answer questions that were not faced by the sixteenth-century Protestants and by the middle of the century they were also facing the early stages of the Enlightenment, which posed challenges that the earlier Reformers did not face, at least not in the same way.

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R. Scott Clark and Timothy Gatewood | “Why you should change your mind about Reformed Scholasticism” | April 12, 2023 · Vol. 14, Issue 1


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