A Year in PRRD (Week 3)

By Michael Lynch

Every Wednesday in 2018, Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here

Week 3 (1/15-1/21): I.1.2 (pgs. 85–146)

Most of us probably have not spent a lot of time thinking about the “prolegomena” of Christian theology. Sure, we might have Bavinck’s first volume of his Reformed Dogmatics entitled “Prolegomena”— but have we actually read, it or did we skip to the second volume? Yet, arguably the single most important development of Christian theology in the modern period has been theological prolegomena. From Brunner and Barth to Kaufman and Pannenberg, questions touching on 1) the nature of theology and revelation, 2) the source of revelation, and 3) theology’s relation to reason make up what has come down to us as the theological prolegomena. Muller’s first volume of PRRD, especially this second chapter, surveys the basic contours of theological prolegomena from Augustine through the Reformed orthodox in the early modern period. Muller’s thesis is that the development of theological prolegomena occurred well after the practice or the doing of theology was well under way. According to Muller, scholasticism (or school-theology) – both medieval and early modern – was a significant if not primary catalyst for such post-dogmatic reflection.

Reformed orthodoxy, unlike much of the theology of the Reformation, reflected deeply on the nature of Christian theology. As Muller points out, this reflection was not only in continuity with its medieval precursors, as found in theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus, but also underwent significant shifts in emphasis and even substance. Given the early Reformation debates over the interplay between Scripture and tradition, and their authority in determining orthodoxy, it is no surprise that the principia of theology (the foundations upon which theology exists) would soon be systematically configured. By the end of the 16th century, Franciscus Junius, in what was arguably the most significant prolegomena of theology in the early modern period among Reformed theologians, laid out and argued for a material, formal, efficient, and final cause of our theology.

Another area of theological prolegomena which received significant treatment in the early modern period was the relationship between faith and reason. Given the revival of Augustinian hamartiology and soteriology among the Reformers, and because prolegomena “develops in dialogue with basic dogmatic conclusions after the system as a whole has been set forth” (pg. 121), it is no surprise that the Reformed orthodox would emphasize the insufficiency of natural theology and the concomitant need for special revelation, especially in contexts where rationalists and Socinians questioned either the necessity of special revelation or sought to make reason the arbiter of Christian theology.

A third aspect of theological prolegomena developed in the early modern period relates to the philosophical eclecticism of the day. Take, e.g., the advice Richard Baxter gives to students who wish to study philosophy and his caution against following one particular philosophical sect (among the many different philosophical options of the day). Along with your standard Christian Aristotelianism (as modified by Neoplatonism), theologians had to wrestle with the Hermetic tradition, Cartesianism, the revival of ancient Epicureanism, and atomism, just to name some. And some of these latter philosophies, most notably Cartesianism and to a lesser extent the hermetic tradition and atomism, even influenced certain theological systems of the Reformed orthodox. With such philosophical wranglings, it is again, no surprise that the Reformed would be forced to examine the nature and even legitimacy of theological inquiry.

One area where each of the two former aspects of the development of theological prolegomena was exercised regards the question of how we know Scripture to be divine (and, hence, should be believed). This is one area, among many areas, where John Owen and Richard Baxter disagreed. And it is probably the only theological point at which William Cunningham takes Baxter’s side over Owen! Owen emphasized that we know Scripture to be divine principally on account of the inward testimony of the Spirit. Baxter, alternatively, emphasized that we know Scripture to be divine because of objective evidence which points to Scripture as being divinely authored. I am not especially interested in who got the better of the debate, though I think Cunningham is right. These questions of theological prolegomena have profound practical implications on how we do theology and vice versa – this is one area Cornelius Van Til has helped our tradition, no doubt, think through more carefully.

Muller’s survey of these developments will now look in more detail at each of the main topics of early modern theological prolegomena, beginning with the meaning of the term “theology” and “religion” in Reformed orthodoxy. Find out more next Wednesday—it’s not too late to join our reading group! 


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous posts in this series, see:

Week 1: I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)

Week 2: I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

Puritan Sayings (2)

By Patrick Ramsey

Contemporary Christian sayings are not necessarily new. In the last article, I pointed out that Edward Reynolds, an important member of the Westminster Assembly, encouraged us to ask what would Jesus do in a particular situation. Reynolds is not alone in building a bridge between the Puritans and contemporary Christian sayings; he is joined by Anthony Burgess, another important member of the Westminster Assembly.

Justification is a very important biblical-theological concept that Christians, including very young ones, need to understand. How do we teach it to them?  One catchy and memorable way is to say that it means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned. This is helpful insofar as it captures a key aspect of justification. The Westminster Confession of Faith 11.1 correctly teaches that justification involves forgiveness (“pardoning their sins”) and a declaration of righteousness (“accounting and accepting their persons as righteous”).  The “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned captures the forgiveness component of justification.

At one point in his book, The True Doctrine of Justification, Anthony Burgess discusses the meaning of remission of sins.  The first proposition that he lays down is this: “That when God doth pardon sinne, he takes it away so, as that the party acquitted is no more looked upon as a sinner.”  In light of this, Burgess does not hesitate to say that the forgiven man is not a sinner.  His sins are taken away—indeed, he says that they are utterly abolished.  At the same time, however, he is also quite willing to say that the forgiven person is a sinner and that his sins are not utterly abolished.  

Burgess uses the distinction between liability (reatus) and pollution (macula) to explain how both statements are true at the same time.  The liability to guilt and punishment of sin is completely taken away, but the pollution of sin is not.  He writes:

“Therefore in different respects we may say, That pardon of sin is an utter abolition of it, and it is not an utter abolition of it. It is an utter abolition of it, as it doth reflect upon the person, making him guilty, and obliging him actually to condemnation; in this respect a man is as free as if he had never sinned; but if you speak of the inherency of sin, and the effects of original corruption, that do abide in all, which are also truly and properly sins; so pardon of sin is not an utter abolition…”

A justified person, therefore, is “as free as if he had never sinned” with respect to guilt and punishment (condemnation) because pardon utterly abolishes these effects of sin.  He will also be free as if he had never sinned with respect to the pollution of sin because Christ, as Burgess says, doesn’t apply half-cures (semiplenam curationem) but fully heals “diseased persons.”  But that doesn’t happen immediately because Christ “works by degrees in the grace of sanctification.”  And until that day when the presence of sin is completely cast out, a forgiven person will both be a sinner and not a sinner.

 What is justification?  An important component of our justification is the forgiveness of our sins.  Forgiveness completely removes our guilt and liability to punishment.  There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).  Whoever believes in Jesus does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).  Thus, Justification, at least in part, means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned, or in the words of Burgess, it means that I am “as free as if [I] had never sinned.”


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

For previous posts in this series, see:

Puritan Sayings (1)

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

39 Articles—The Visible and Invisible Church (1)

By Henry Jansma

Article 19 marks the third division of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Built on the two articles that precede them, articles 19-22 define the marks of the true church, its visible and invisible character, the nature of its authority in relation to Scripture, and the hallmark of a false church that seeks to overthrow the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness.

The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

At the time of the Reformation it was essential to define the doctrine of the church against the error of Roman Catholicism where too much emphasis was being placed on the visible church. Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum tells of “the insanity of those who think that the Roman church was founded on a rock of such a kind that it has neither erred nor can err” [Bray, 209]. Article 19 is also similar to article 7 of the Augsburg Confession of 1530 reflecting the shared concern of the Reformers.  

It is significant to note that of all the controversies of the period, the marks of the true church defined by Cranmer in 1553 remained unchanged when the articles were promulgated in 1571. His genius here is to look beyond the various practices of the apostolic era. The source of unity is not an outward ecclesiastical unity, but unity is grounded upon the one who is true: God himself. If we are to have true unity with one another in the church, then we must have true unity with the one who is the Truth which means then that we need to ground the doctrine of the church in election. If we were to lay the Reformation confessions side by side we would see that the doctrine of the church arises out of the doctrine of election. Once again, we must pay attention to the narrative of the articles. Article 17 and 18 on election and on the uniqueness of Christ for salvation must logically precede this article. As we are united to the Lord Jesus Christ, the necessary consequence is that his pure Word is preached by legally authorized and properly trained ministers (article 23), and the sacraments administered according to his command: the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper (article 25). Cranmer echoes Ephesians 4 here. The essence of the church is that a congregation of faithful people must be in union with this one God, this one Lord, through his ordinary means of grace.

Cranmer fixes the gaze of the visible church on the invisible church. He was well aware of this visible/invisible Church distinction, as is evident in the Thirteen Articles (1538), where we read in article 5 that “true believers, who really believe in Christ the Head” make up the invisible Church, and the visible Church comprises “all who are baptized in Christ, who have not openly denied him nor been lawfully and by his Word excommunicated” [Bray, Documents of the English Reformation, 189]. True unity begins with the one who is true, and that unity must cohere with our union with him. It is interesting to note how in an age when the Roman Catholic Church pushed hard toward the visible, Cranmer pushes hard toward the invisible and he indirectly sets up what is to follow in the succeeding articles concerning the foundation of the visible church in a series of “nots”. 

  • The true church is not in one government system (article 23 – clergy are lawfully appointed, not necessarily ordained by a bishop). 
  • It is not found in unity of worship (article 34 – it is not necessary that customs and forms of worship be the same everywhere). 
  • It is not found in church councils (article 21 – Councils have indeed erred, even in things relating to God). 
  • It is not found in human succession (article 20 – the church is the witness and guardian of Holy Scripture). 

The article towards its close mentions the three historic patriarchates of the Eastern Church, “Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch”, powerful churches, which, though founded by apostles, had still fallen into error. How then is the true unity of the visible church understood? It is the common testimony of the truth in a biblically faithful confession like the Articles of Religion (pure Word of God) and the order of worship that Christ commands like the Book of Common Prayer (sacraments administered according to Christ’s ordinance). Cranmer returns to the Scriptures in which all knowledge and things pertaining to salvation reside to flesh out the hallmarks of his ecclesiology. In so doing he also acknowledges that it is God’s providence that takes time to bring the church to its fulfillment. The church is moving toward its consummation. There is an almost eschatological flavor to it.  Cranmer sees a distinction between the existence of the church and its perfection in Christ Jesus through the lens of the Scriptures. 

When you begin to see as Cranmer did how the existence and perfection of the visible church are founded upon a God who is true who is bringing us into union with himself, then this becomes the foundation for the existence and perfection of the visible church. We need not be concerned to be under one organizational umbrella or a human succession. We should be concerned with the truth. When we are concerned with the truth, then we can come together to discuss differences between us. We are not to minimize the truth so that we can come together to feel good.

Which brings us to the modern, pragmatic “feel good” description of the church within the Anglican Church of North America masking as doctrine, the so-called “three streams of the church”: Catholic, Evangelical (or Protestant) and Pentecostal (or Charismatic) traditions or “tributaries” being channeled into a single “river” to create some kind of doctrinal synthesis. Such a synthesis has abandoned Cranmer’s biblically faithful doctrine of the church in its common testimony of the truth. Two of the three streams, for example, reject the classical Pentecostal teaching about a post-conversion baptism of the Holy Spirit or the normative practice of glossolalia and prophecy. Two of the three have historically repudiated the Roman Catholic understanding of the ordained ministry as sacerdotal and would have a very different view of the nature and number of the sacraments. And one of the three does not understand justification as primarily the gracious imputation of Christ’s righteousness to individual believers received through faith alone. It reminds one of Philip E. Hughes observation on Roman Catholic and Anglican dialogue during the early 1970s, that to resort to fine-sounding but ambivalent terminology is to paper over the cracks and then to call attention to the attractiveness of the wallpaper. Without a thorough revision of its doctrine of the church along biblically faithful lines, the Anglican Church of North America has merely turned back the clock to restart in the early 1970’s when concern for the truth had already been abandoned and is set to repeat the tragic history which followed. 


Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

Puritan Sayings

By Patrick Ramsey

One of the interesting things I have discovered in my reading is a link between the Puritans and contemporary sayings. Statements that we put on bumper stickers, repeat to ourselves and others, or use to teach biblical truth—I have found these, some almost verbatim, in puritan writings. I will share one of them with you in this article.

Do you remember the WWJD craze from the 1990’s? WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” and was plastered everywhere: wristbands, mugs, T-shirts, bumper stickers, necklaces and earrings. The start of WWJD movement is generally attributed to Janie Tinklenberg, a youth leader in Holland, Michigan. After reading and then discussing Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps: What would Jesus do? with her youth group, she abbreviated the subtitle and had them printed on wristbands. The rest, as they say, is history.

Asking the question, what would Jesus do, however, did not originate with Charles Sheldon. Two hundred years earlier, Edward Reynolds was exhorting his hearers to do the same. Reynolds (1593-1676) was an important member of the Westminster Assembly, vice-chancellor of Oxford University and after the restoration, Bishop of Norwich. In his work, The Life of Christ, Reynolds elaborated on “the doctrine of our conformity in holiness to the life of Christ.” At one point, he warned against “a will holiness,” that is, governing our lives according to our own rules and ways. Instead, he gave this advice: “Whatever action therefore you go about, do it by rule; enquire out of the Scriptures, whether Christ would have done it or no,—at least, whether he allow it or no.” Reynolds added the qualification “at least, whether he allow it or no,” because he understood that there are some things that are “lawful and expedient with us, which were not suitable unto the person of Christ.” One example that he gave is marriage. Reynolds then gave concrete illustrations of how to use this rule (WWJD) in everyday life. He wrote:

“When thou art tempted to looseness and immoderate living, ask thy conscience but this question, Would Christ have drunk unto swinishness, or eaten unto excess? Would he have wasted his precious time at stews [brothels], stages, or taverns, or taken delight in sinful and desperate fellowship? Did Christ frequently pray both with his disciples, and alone by himself,—and shall I never, either in my family, or in my closet, think upon God? Did Christ open his wounds, and shall not I open my mouth? Was his blood too precious to redeem, and is my breath too good to instruct, his church? Was Christ merciful to his enemies, and shall I be cruel to his members? Again, For the manner of Christ’s obedience; Did Christ serve God without all self-ends, merely in obedience, and to glorify him; and shall I make God’s worship subordinate to my aims, and his religion serve turns? Shall I do what I do, without any love or joy, merely out of slavish fear, and compulsion of conscience? Thus if we did resolve our services into their true originals, and measure them by the holiness of Christ, and have him ever before our eyes, it would be a great means of living in comfort and spiritual conformity to God’s law.”

If he had been a youth leader, if he had been surrounded by the proper marketing team, and if the technology had existed, then Edward Reynolds may have been the one to spark a popular trend!

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

Book Giveaway: Puritan Treasures for Today

By Danny Hyde

Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books, Meet the Puritans has a number of copies of The Fading of the Flesh by George Swinnock, Stop Loving the World by William Greenhill, and Triumphing over Sinful Fear by John Flavel to give away. One entry per household please. Deadline to register is Friday, January 19, 2018.

Enter the giveaway here!

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

Book Giveaway: The Faith We Confess

By Danny Hyde

Today we are promoting our new giveaway: The Faith We Confess by Gerald Bray. Follow this link to Reformed Resources and enter to win! Thank you to Latimer Trust for providing the book for this drawing.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.

Meet the Puritans is the Alliance’s voice of Puritan and Reformed Theology. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Meet the Puritans and the mission of the Alliance.

39 Articles—The Visible and Invisible Church (2)

After setting out the nature of the church in Article 19, the next three articles underline the sufficiency of Scripture in its application to the church’s polity and practice. Articles 20-22 thus take up several aspects of the church’s authority in light of the doctrine of sola scriptura, that was set out in articles 6-8. Article 20 makes it very clear that Anglicanism affirms the supreme authority of Scripture. “It is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written….it ought to not decree anything against the same.” The Church remains under the authority of Scripture, neither above it nor equal to it.  


The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

Article 20 is three simple sentences which set out in more detail what was stated in article 19, that the church’s obedience to Christ’s command is in a biblically faithful order in word preached and sacrament administered. As we saw in article 19, the source for the wording in article 20 also comes from Cranmer’s Reformatio Legum

For this reason, the church may not determine anything which is contrary to the Word of God written, nor may it so interpret one passage as to contradict another. Therefore, although the church is a witness, guardian, and keeper of the divine books, yet this prerogative must never be granted to it, that it should either decree anything contrary to these books or that it should make any articles of faith without the witness of these books, and impose them on Christian people as requirements of faith [Bray, 181].

The article guards against two common errors: one negative, one positive. Both errors are equally lethal to the life of the church:

  • Subtracting from Scripture. To ordain anything contrary to God’s word written is to lessen, even reject Scripture’s authoritative teaching.
  • Adding to Scripture. The church does not have the authority to add to the biblical Gospel anything as a requirement for salvation. To do so obscures the Gospel.

The first sentence, the Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith was added by Queen Elizabeth after it had passed the convocations of Canterbury and York. It affirms the freedom of the church in setting orders of worship and retaining a vital judicial authority in matters of church discipline. This means the church as a body can make decisions and judgments in matters of controversy and disagreement from the parish to the national level.

The second sentence sets out two statements. The first statement clearly affirms that Anglicans submit to the ultimate authority of Scripture, it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written. The second statement, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another, explains the reason.

The reason is the unity of Scripture and that it does not contradict itself (unlike human reason, which may err). Therefore we must not interpret or expound any part of Scripture in a way that contradicts other parts. Articles 7 and 8 are particularly relevant here, because in these articles Anglicanism recognizes the progressive nature of God’s unfolding plan of salvation as far as the Old Testament is concerned. Article 7 reminds us that Scripture’s own internal authority testifies as to why the ceremonial laws and civil regulations given in the Old Testament are no longer binding, but the moral law is. Therefore the church has the freedom to write confessions that clarify the errors discovered in contemporary controversies of doctrine and to systematize its teaching for education and catechesis. It is clear that the article affirms the development of a systematic theology. We must have an understanding of the whole if we want to avoid expounding one part of Scripture in a way that contradicts another. We should take note that, as early as 1553, Anglicans anticipated the great Reformed Protestant systematic theologies of the late 16th and 17th centuries. Those who would suggest that systematization is contrary to the nature of Anglicanism simply show that they do not know what they are talking about. 

The third sentence summarizes the church’s relationship to the Scripture;  the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ…. The Church is a witness and a keeper of Scripture (or the Reformatio Legum: a “witness” “guardian” and “keeper” of Scripture). The church has no authority over Scripture but is to bear witness to Scripture’s authority. As a witness, it testifies to the truth that the Bible is God’s word. Therefore, the church’s ministry is not priestly but a prophetic ministry, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of salvation. As a keeper and guardian, it is called  to protect the integrity of the biblical canon, to pass it on to the next generations, and to contend for it when it is assaulted by an enemy that would seek to corrupt its teaching.

Meet the Puritans is a conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting us.

A Year in PRRD (Week 1)

Every Wednesday in 2018 Michael Lynch (PhD candidate at Calvin Theological Seminary) and our own editor Danny Hyde (PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) will be blogging through Richard Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 4 vols. (2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003).

These volumes are currently out-of-print but used copies can be found online here. For a schedule of weekly readings, go here

Week 1 (1/1–1/7): I.1.1.1 (pgs. 27–46)

The crowning achievement of Richard Muller’s work on early modern theology is undoubtedly his four-volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics which are currently in the process of being updated and expanded for a third edition. This year, marking the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the Synod of Dort (1618–1619) and the 501st anniversary of the Reformation, makes for a fitting time to read through Muller’s magnum opus. For those participating, these weekly posts will help to elucidate some of the more important or interesting points found in each week’s reading. It will also give us a chance to think critically about Muller’s interpretation of the Reformed orthodox (hereafter, RO), especially at those junctures where subsequent scholarship has either objected, or (more typically) further enhanced Muller’s sketch of early modern RO.

This week’s reading (it’s never too late to begin…it’s Muller after all!) is an introduction to the series as a whole as well as to the first volume focusing on the nature of RO prolegomena. A few brief remarks are in order.

First, I hope you read the two prefaces for the first and second edition. Prefaces can tell you a lot about both the author and the book! When Muller wrote the first edition of PRRD his access to primary sources was much more limited than in the early 2000s. By that point access to databases like Early English Books Online was available. One of Muller’s most important methodological points is that one can only truly understand and appreciate the theology of the RO when one has read widely—their contemporaries and their theological forbearers (the patristics and medievals). How can one give a “broad description of what Reformed orthodoxy in fact was” (I.16) unless he or she has read widely?

Second, in the preface to the first edition (I.20–21), did you notice that Muller thanked Brian Armstrong (d. 2011) “for hours of enlightening discussion and for several important references to Protestant orthodox authors and their writings?” Who was Brian Armstrong? He has been one of Muller’s favorite foils in light of Armstrong’s negative treatment of scholasticism. Yet despite such strong polemic Muller thanks him! Of course, there are numerous lessons here. You cannot blame Muller for not listening to Armstrong. He had, we are told, “hours of enlightened discussion.” In short, Muller listened to his detractors. But—and I find this to be even more notable—Muller clearly respected Armstrong as a scholar. Muller thanked Armstrong for making him a better historian. As a young historian of theology, I am thankful for both scholars.

Finally, one other element in these introductory pages is worth highlighting. Muller’s anti-“Calvin vs. the Calvinists” thesis is often (mis)characterized as presenting a monolithic Reformed faith that never changed, was never modified, and hardly allowed for any disagreement within the tradition. Those who say such things, apart from having completely ignored some of Muller’s most recent publications, must have also ignored these introductory sections. Not only does Muller (as we saw in the preface to the second edition!) attempt to paint a wide and diverse picture of early modern RO in its various ecclesiastical, geographical, and confessional expressions, but he, in fact, admits that the RO tinkered with the theology and method of doing theology bequeathed to them by the Reformers:

“If by [the use of the term] Calvinist, one means a later exponent of a theology standing within the confessional boundaries described by such documents as [list of some significant Reformed confessions] … then one will have the problem accounting for the many ways in which such thinkers [list of many well-known RO theologians] … differ from Calvin both doctrinally and methodologically.” (I.30)

Muller is sensitive to the ways in which the RO modified the theology of the tradition that came before them. The methodological point at issue in Muller’s PRRD is how one ought to go about identifying and tracing such discontinuities (and continuities).

I do hope these brief thoughts whet your appetite to read more Muller. More so, however, I hope that reading Muller’s PRRD whets your appetite to read the Reformers and RO themselves. After all, if that is not the outcome of reading through Muller’s four-volumes, I can assure you that he would find such an endeavor to read through his four-volumes largely useless—after all, there really is no substitute for understanding the RO than reading the primary sources. To that end, Muller is a helpful and able guide for navigating the often-complicated early modern Reformed theological world. Tollite legite.

Join us next Wednesday as Danny Hyde blogs through the reading for Week 2 (1/8-1/14): I.1.1.2–3 (pgs. 46–84)!

What is Puritan Theology?

Answering the question, “What is Puritan Theology?” may sound too much like attempting to define Puritanism, a slippery term that evades a crisp definition or at least agreement on one. Indeed, there exists a great deal of overlap between Puritanism and Puritan Theology, but I hope to add a little something to the discussion.

Yes, I will begin with the term, “Puritan,” and know we find more questions than answers initially when considering it. In this brief post, I will not even try to address such questions; John Coffey and Paul C.H. Lim in their introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (2008) provide a helpful discussion on the term, and I have gleaned much from them in my perspective.

In my discussion, I will start with the first part, “Puritan,” though in the process I cannot help but treat the second, “Theology,” at the same time.  In general, those considered Puritans were:

  1. Heirs of the Protestant Reformation in their focus on salvation by grace, through faith, in Christ, according to the Scriptures, to the glory of God – alone;
  2. Reformed rather than Lutheran in their theological convictions and part of what we consider Reformed Orthodox;
  3. Concerned, in the 17th century primarily and in the Church of England initially, with carrying the English Reformation beyond its semi-Reformed theology and partly-Romish liturgy;
  4. Vigorous proponents of personal reformation and practical divinity.

In connection with the description above, I believe Puritanism to be limited historically and geographically as a contextualized phenomenon. It arose in England within the national church in the late 16th century (during the reign of Elizabeth I), not long after the term “Puritan” was first used to mock those pushing for deeper reform. Puritanism grew up, but not without struggles, under James I and Charles I (up to the 1640s); flourished and fragmented during the rule of Cromwell (1650s); waned during the Stuart Restoration (1660s-1680s); and fizzled around the time of the Glorious Revolution (1688) and The Toleration Act (1689). This was at least the case for England. In New England, where Puritanism had been exported (along with other areas such Ireland and Wales), it thrived well into the 18th century.

My approach, then, does not employ the label “Puritan” for big British names of other centuries, who impact or were influenced by Puritanism (e.g. William Tyndale of the 16th, John Gill of the 18th , Charles Spurgeon of the 19th, or Martin Lloyd-Jones of the 20th). Likewise, Puritanism really does not encompass (even for the 17th century) the Scottish Covenanters (e.g. Samuel Rutherford) or “Further Reformation” of the Netherlands (e.g. Wilhelmus à Brakel). This by no means minimizes the vibrant Puritan connections in these countries.

Concerning theology, there exists no unanimity for the Puritans, with its ranks including (not without debate!) neonomians, antinomians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Erastians, Baptists, Arminians, and even possibly an Arian. Still, in general, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) provides the closest summary (along with support from the Larger and Shorter Catechisms) of a Puritan Theology with its: Foundation of faith and practice found in the Scriptures alone; historic orthodox understanding of the Trinity and Christology; Reformed soteriology highlighting union with Christ for his benefits as prophet, priest, and king; overarching covenantal structure of works and grace stressing a two Adam theology in relation to both the history and order of salvation; two sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper; requirement for church discipline; accent on the third use of the law; Sabbatarianism; and eschatological outlook concerning the Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead for eternal judgment or glory. The substance of such a theology was upheld by those called Puritans who nonetheless made minor changes to this confession in the Savoy Declaration (1658) highlighting congregationalism and the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) demanding believers-only baptism.

Finally, I want to discuss a pronounced theological emphasis for Puritans and, I believe, essential to understanding “Puritan Theology.” Joel Beeke and Mark Jones encapsulate this focus in the subtitle for their monumental Puritan Theology (2012), namely, “Doctrine for Life.” They stress how practical the Puritans were in their theologizing, which certainly connects to the foundational work of William Ames, in The Marrow of Sacred Divinity (1627). There, he says “Theology is the doctrine of living to God.” In this way, what God reveals to us in his Word serves to lead us back to him in our lives.  

Certainly, the Puritans were not the first to link the study of theology with piety. As heirs of a maturing Reformed theology, they no doubt knew of Calvin’s twofold knowledge of God and self, which was related to wisdom and intimately connected to our worship of and life unto God. Thus, the Puritans have been known for their “experimental” (experiential) Calvinism which saturated not just their sermons but all of their writings, even the most theological and academic.

Many criticize Reformed theology then and now as cold, dead orthodoxy, which it can at times and must never be. Puritan Theology shunned such a tendency. May we do the same.

Book Review: Reformation Theology

Matthew Barrett, ed., Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 784pp. Hardcover. $45.00.

Reformed theology aims to be biblical. Yet being Reformed also describes historic branches of confessional Christian churches. This means that Reformed theology must be both biblically faithful and historically informed in order to retain its name meaningfully. This impressive volume includes essays from authors who seek to achieve both of these aims. Reformation Theology presents the entire system of Christian theology in light of the writings of sixteenth-century authors with an aim towards ongoing reformation. The result is a highly readable and interesting introduction to Reformed thought that should appeal to believers at every level.

            Reformation Theology is an excellent introduction to early Reformation thought. Its authors represent some of the most well respected historians and systematic theologians in the Reformation traditions, both Reformed and Lutheran (Kolb). Michael Horton’s stirring and insightful prologue alerts readers to the need for recovering Reformation theology at the present day. This material shows readers what to do with what they learn from all subsequent chapters. The following three chapters represent the most heavyweight scholarship in the work, especially Gerald Bray’s superb treatment of late-medieval theology and its relevance to the Reformation. These chapters establish the broader historical context of the Protestant Reformation and its theological developments, helping readers grasp better what is unique to Reformed theology while disabusing the common notion that the middle ages were merely the “dark ages.” This is an important point for those of us who believe that Christ faithfully preserved the truth in his church in great measure in every age. The rest of the volume outlines Protestant theology from the doctrine of Scripture through eschatology, drawing from primary source writings of early Protestant authors, with heavy stress on Luther and Calvin throughout. In addition to the opening chapters, the material on the person of Christ (Letham), the Church (Kolb), the sacraments, (Denlinger and Mathison), and the relationship between church and state (Lillback) stand out for depth of research, setting broad historical contexts. All of the chapters are interesting and edifying and readers will gain a stronger grasp of the theology of several first and second generation Reformers.

            Reformation Theology, however, illustrates the difficulty of blending historical and systematic theology. The challenge of writing historical theology is asking historical questions of historical figures rather than looking into the proverbial well of history in order to see our own reflections. Understanding past authors on their own terms and in the contexts of their times provides us with perspectives that sometimes differ widely from our own. Believers rightly desire to evaluate what they find from Scripture and appropriate ideas in their present generation. Doing so, however, entails at least three questions: What did Reformation authors teach? Is their teaching biblical? and, What should we do with their teaching today? Theologians need to distinguish such questions initially in order to bring them together effectively and accurately later. This is not as easy as it sounds. For the most part, the authors of Reformation Theology lean in the direction of answering the first question rather than the last two. While this reviewer believes that this slants the volume in the right direction, it is not easy to see why the editor’s stress on the authors’ holding to Reformation theology matters much in most cases. People can write good history whether or not they sympathize with their historical subjects. However, the few authors of this volume who attempt to evaluate and apply Reformation thought often blur the distinction between historical and contemporary theology. For example, Douglas Kelly spends a large amount of time asking what the Reformers would have thought about theistic evolution (289-293), even though such views became prominent in the nineteenth-century. A better approach would have been to ask what issues faced the Reformers in their own times in relation to the doctrine of creation, to evaluate their conclusions, and then to apply their ideas to present controversies. This some judgment applies to importing anachronistic terms, such as “sphere sovereignty” (687), into sixteenth-century theology. The only chapter that clearly combines historical analysis with clear and distinct biblical evaluations and contemporary uses is Korey Maas’ chapter on Justification by faith alone (511-548). While criticism should not detract from the usefulness of this work it sheds light on the kind of discernment that readers need to digest some of its assertions.

Reformation Theology is an excellent introduction to the theological developments of the Protestant Reformation. The large size of the book should not hinder broad readership. This volume has the advantage of placing theology back at the heart and center of the Reformation without neglecting the broader historical context (45). This reviewer agrees with the editor and authors of this book that we need to recover the depth, beauty, and power of the historic Protestant proclamation of the Gospel. May the Lord use this work to push the church in the right direction.