There is a popular view of church history that tells a story in which there was a pure, believing church during the apostolic age and then, for all intents and purposes, there was not a church (except for the Waldensians who alone preserved the church like a manuscript in a clay jar). In this version of church history, the church reappeared either in the Reformation or perhaps not until the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. This history seems particularly to suit American evangelicals, who do not like history anyway and are distrustful of the past. One of the great motivations for the founding of this republic was to break away from ancient European entanglements and to start afresh, to establish a new “city upon a hill” (John Winthrop’s phrase). So it is convenient that the church should effectively recommence at the same time as the establishment of the American republic.
Even among Reformed folk, who should know better, a similar sort of story circulates. In this version, there was a glorious Reformation in which the church returned to God’s Word alone and was led by a warmly spiritual, authentic, godly, Christ-centered visionary, John Calvin. This story says that in the early twentieth century, we were delivered from the darkness and cruelty of Reformed orthodoxy (“scholasticism”—cue the “Snidely Whiplash” theme) by a return to the genuine spirit of the Reformation. Of course, that genuine spirit was defined by whoever was telling the story. This is why so many folk use the phrase “always reforming” (semper reformanda) who have little sympathy with John Calvin’s theology, piety, or practice.
There is another way of telling the Calvin story. In this version, Calvin was part of a broader patristic, medieval, and Protestant tradition, and he taught students and worked with colleagues, and those students and colleagues understood Calvin’s principles and hermeneutic (way of reading Scripture) and they carried on those principles and approach to Scripture during Calvin’s life and after. They applied that theology, piety, and practice to their own circumstances and to new challenges faced by the Reformed churches.
In the spirit of the “More Than the Institutes (and More Than Calvin)” series, here are some recommended titles to introduce you to Calvin’s (and the Reformed) theology, piety, and practice after Calvin. Like the list of Calvin titles, this list is not exhaustive.
Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (PSER). This volume, the brainchild of Carl Trueman, is not light reading but it is accessible. It remains a valuable collection of seminal essays that seeks to place sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed (and Lutheran) theology in its context. In this volume, David Steinmetz, Richard Muller, W. Robert Godfrey, David Bagchi, John Platt, Carl Trueman, and others offer a coherent alternative to the account of Protestant theology that dominated the scene until about 1978. It begins with Luther and continues through to the early eighteenth century.
Since the publication of Protestant Scholasticism, two newer introductory volumes have appeared. The first is by Willem J. van Asselt, Theo Pleizier, P. L. Rouwendal, and Maarten Wisse, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism. This is a fine, coherent, well-written introduction. Since its publication, I have used it in place of PSER as a survey text in my lecture course. In 2020, Ryan McGraw published Reformed Scholasticism: Recovering the Tools of Reformed Theology. I intend to read and review, in this space, this work in the coming months.
Richard A. Muller, After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition. This is a collection of a very important series of journal articles by the scholar who, more than any other, has revolutionized the study of Reformed theology over the last thirty years. Prior to Muller, with a small number of notable exceptions, the dominant story about Reformed theology was some version of the Snidely Whiplash history, wherein Reformed orthodoxy and scholasticism was the villain in the melodrama, and the audience hooted and hollered whenever Reformed scholasticism came on stage. Here is a fairly complete bibliography of Muller’s work.
Richard A. Muller, Christ and the Decree. With this 1986 volume, Muller initiated a revolt against the Calvin vs Calvinists approach that dominated the study of Reformed theology, piety, and practice. Was classic Reformed theology dominated by the doctrine of the divine decree? Did the Reformed Orthodox deviate from Calvin by starting with a (superlapsarian) doctrine of the eternal decree from which they deduced the rest of their theology? Prior to this book, most people said yes. After this book, it was no longer possible to read the tradition that way, at least not easily.
Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics. What Robert Preus did for Lutheranism, Muller’s four-volume series did for the study of Reformed theology. It is the definitive study of the methods and aims of Reformed theology in the periods of early, high, and late orthodoxy (from c. 1540–c. 1700). For decades English readers could only access classic Reformed theology through an English translation of Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics. As valuable as Heppe was, his compressed treatment was idiosyncratic and sometimes left the reader with a misleading impression of the nature and theology of Reformed orthodoxy. This series does not cover the entire system, but it is more than enough to get one oriented toward a lifetime of recovering classic Reformed theology.
Richard A. Muller, Grace and Freedom: William Perkins and the Early Modern Reformed Understanding of Free Choice and Divine Grace. Few figures are as important to Reformed theology in the English language as William Perkins. This is an important volume from the dean of the modern study of the history of Reformed theology.
Willem J. Van Asselt, The Federal Theology of Johannes Cocceius. A great deal about Cocceius has been written by those who have never read him. This is not true, of course, of Van Asselt. This is a brilliant study of one of the most important figures in the history of Reformed theology. I recommend this title partly because it is a study in how historical theology should be written and partly because it fundamentally undermines the old story about the nature of Reformed covenant (or federal) theology.
Festschriften are rarely required reading. They are typically uneven in quality, but the Festschrift in honor of Richard A. Muller is a delightful exception. Jordan J. Ballor, David S. Sytsma, and Jason Zuidema, eds. Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition.
One of the most important developments, in the English reading world, in the study of Reformed orthodoxy and scholasticism is the plethora of English language translations. Among these are the six volumes in the Classic Reformed Theology series, which includes important texts from the classic period of Reformed theology including Johannes Cocceius, The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God, Caspar Olevianus, Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed, Robert Rollock’s Commentary on Ephesians, and most recently, treatises by Theodore Beza, Amandus Polanus, and Francis Turretin, collected in Justification By Faith Alone. We also have translations of Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, The Synopsis of A Purer Theology, Petrus van Maastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology, and the entire Works of William Perkins (10 vols) and the Works of John Owen (16 vols). Here is a list of other works available in English and our resource page on Reformed scholasticism.
When I began to try to figure out the history of Reformed covenant theology, Lyle Bierma’s The Covenant Theology of Caspar Olevianus was one of the first works I read (when it was still a PhD diss. long before publication). He does an excellent job of dismantling some of the older histories of covenant theology (e.g. the “two streams” approach) and of introducing the reader to an important source of Reformed federal/covenant theology. To Lyle’s foundational work, I added a more comprehensive study of Olevianus’ theology, Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant.
Willem J. Van Asselt and Eef Dekker eds., Reformation and Scholasticism: An Ecumenical Enterprise. Another valuable collection of essays growing out of a movement in the Netherlands that parallels the development in the English-speaking world of a renewed interest in the actual sources of Reformed theology in the classical period.
Carl Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man. John Owen must be ranked among the most important theologians of English Protestantism. Neglected because his side “lost” in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Owen has enjoyed a renewed appreciation in the twentieth century, and this volume, along with his earlier work, The Claims of Truth: John Owen’s Trinitarian Theology. To this should be added Sebastian Rehnman’s terrific study, Divine Discourse: Theological Methodology of John Owen.
There are other excellent titles to be read; among them is Mark Dever’s work, Richard Sibbes: Puritanism and Calvinism in Late Elizabethan and Early Stuart England. This is another hard-to-find work, but worth the effort. Before he was the “nine-marks” guy, Mark produced a very readable and truly outstanding study in English Puritanism and Calvinism. This volume may have been the final nail in the coffin of the Calvin vs. the Calvinists approach to Reformed theology.
Gijsbertus Voetius was a central figure in the development of Dutch Reformed Scholasticism and orthodoxy, and the literature surrounding his work has grown considerably in recent years. Andreas J. Beck is a leading contributor to the renewed interest in Voetius, and his 2022 work Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) on God, Freedom, and Contingency: An Early Modern Reformed Voice, is a significant example of the new work on Voetius.
For many modern students of Reformed theology, especially those influenced by neo-Calvinism (that movement coming out of the Kuyperian Reformed movement in the Netherlands and North America) Thomas Aquinas has been a frequent whipping boy. For those, however, with open minds and a willingness to engage the Reformed tradition carefully, it is clear that the Reformed writers of the classical period did not regard Aquinas the way that many in the neo-Kuyperian traditions have. Engaging with Reformed orthodoxy (and reading Aquinas) for the last thirty years forced me to revise my understanding of Thomas. In that light, the 2018 volume edited by Manfred Svensson and David VanDrunen, Aquinas among the Protestants is a valuable contribution as they chronicle the Protestant use of Thomas. Check out this interview with David VanDrunan on this work.
There are a few handbooks designed to guide students into various aspects of Reformed theology, one of these is Paul T. Nimmo and David Fergusson, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Reformed Theology. Another valuable work is H. J. Selderhuis, A Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy. Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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