Posts Tagged ‘Dogma’

Why are we scared of Scholasticism? It seems few things are more difficult today than getting ostensibly Reformed people (seminarians in view) to read the Reformed Scholastics. And yet nothing could probably be more important.

Let us ask: Is it important that we as Reformed Christians know our tradition? Is it important that potential ministers (more specifically) understand and really grasp classical Protestant Orthodoxy as it is found in the historic, ecclesiastic, and dogmatic expressions of the Reformed Scholastics from the 16th and 17th centuries? These are the sources (founts) from which we have received the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Can we abandon our wells? Can we ignore church history? Can we scorn our mother who bore us? Or must we listen patiently (often painstakingly, and painfully!) to her instructions (Prov. 1:8)? The Reformed understood theology not merely as knowledge (scientia) but even more as wisdom (sapientia). The question before us is whether we will discipline ourselves to learn wisdom (Prov. 1).

Can we remain ignorant of classical Protestant Orthodoxy and still maintain Protestantism? I’m becoming more convinced the answer is, No.

Paul Tillich observed this when he commented:

Orthodoxy is great and more serious than what is called fundamentalism in America. Fundamentalism is the product of a reaction in the nineteenth century, and is a primitivized form of classical Orthodoxy. Classical Orthodoxy had a great theology. We could also call it Protestant scholasticism, with all the refinements and methods which the word “scholastic” includes. Thus, when I speak of Orthodoxy, I refer to the way in which the Reformation established itself as an ecclesiastical form of life and thought after the dynamic movement of the Reformation came to an end. It is the systematization and consolidation of the ideas of the Reformation… Hence, we should deal with this period in a much more serious way than is usually done in America. In Germany, and generally in European theological faculties—France, Switzerland, Sweden, etc.—every student of theology was supposed to learn by heart the doctrines of at least one classical theologian of the post-Reformation period of Orthodoxy, be it Lutheran or Calvinist, and in Latin at that. Even if we should forget about the Latin today, we should know these doctrines, because they form the classical system of Protestant thought. It is an unheard-of state of things when Protestant churches of today do not even know the classical expression of their own foundations in the dogmatics of Orthodoxy… All theology of today is dependent in some way on the classical systems of Orthodoxy. – “A History of Christian Thought” (pp. 276-77), cited in Michael Horton, “Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama,” (pp. 2-3). 

We cannot afford to remain ignorant of Reformed Scholasticism and hope for Protestantism to stay alive. That is, unless we plan on planting our theological feet firmly and confidently in mid-air… Clearly, an impossible and irrational supposition.


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