Richard Muller's Thesis of continuity

I have often, often, often made the assertion — to my Classic Calvinist Brethren — that the informing philosophical grid that underlies their exegetical and systematic work is Aristotelian (or Thomist) in orientation. This reality neither speaks against or for the validity of the articulations found within the stream of ‘Reformed orthodoxy’ — obviously, I think in the end “Aristotle” hybrids Christian theology instead of serves it; to the chagrin, again of my “CC” counterparts. Just to add more weight to my assertion (the one on Aristotelianism), let me quote THE prominent scholar for the CC camp; prof. Richard Muller:

. . . The development of Protestant system, therefore, resulted in a theology that was neither the theology of the Reformers nor the theology of the medieval scholastics. Just as the continuity of Christian Aristotelianism is characteristic of the historical path of Western philosophy from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries, so the continuity of a dialectical and argumentative scholastic method is a feature of both Catholic and Protestant theological system during the same period. The impact of the Reformation on this development must not be minimized by a view of Protestant scholasticism as a departure from or distortion of the theology of the Reformation, as if continuity with the Reformation can be identified only in cases of simple duplication of its theology. Instead, the impact of the Reformation must be considered in terms of the massive reworking of system as undertaken gradually by post-Reformation Protestants. (Richard A Muller, “Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725 [second edition],” 52)

There is no argument, historically, that Reformed orthodoxy (and its various instantiations/hybrids) has taken shape through the categories and emphases brought to bear by Aristotle’s framework. But even more interesting, per this quote, is Muller’s insistence that there is indeed continuity between the magesterial Reformers; and her codifiers in the period of post-Reformation development. Prior to this quote, Muller has been outlining the criteria that should be used to establish continuity relative to the whole of Protestant Reformed dogma; in a nutshell his basic premise is that the “criteria” is really one of conceptual continuity, but not methodological (although I’ve read elsewhere where he seems to even say that there was also methodological continuity vis-a’-vis the ‘Ramist method’). You know what, as I read Muller (besides some of his apparent contradictions), I can applaud his points herein. But, and this is my primary critique of Muller’s thesis, he, in an ad hoc fashion delimits particular confessions and persons — relative to his “criteria” — in order to establish a rather monolithic version of what constitutes ‘Reformed orthodoxy’ relative to her confessions and articulations. In other words, he seems selective in the “streams” that he emphasizes in order to sustain his points on continuity.

Evangelical Calvinism, in part, seeks to expand on the players and confessions which should be included toward understanding the development of “Reformed orthodoxy.” For example, Muller, as I’ve read and understood him, thus far, fails to acknowledge the differences between how “Calvinism” developed in England versus Scotland. He misses the opportunity to develop the themes and emphases developed under the Calvinian rubric by someone like John Knox and his successors. My hunch, is that the reason Muller ignores this stream is because it does not easily fit into what he believes to be the magesterial fruition of dogma — viz. the Westminster ‘conclusion’. Thus the rift, sectarian too, which has obtained between those who follow Muller and Westminster; and those who don’t (at least in qualified ways).

10 thoughts on “Richard Muller's Thesis of continuity”

  1. I would love to read something along the lines of “the themes and emphases developed under the Calvinian rubric by someone like John Knox and his successors.”



  2. Thanks Bobby.

    I have to say, reading through descriptions that Barth does not interest me all that much, though I have not read him myself. I love reading the COvenanters and some of the Puritans. I am very cautious about the more modern teachers.


  3. Justin,

    I wonder who you have read on Barth? Most conservatives demonize him, but they haven’t really read him either.

    When you refer to the Covenanters, who are you referring to; the ‘Marrow Men’?

    I also wonder why folks are more cautious with modern teachers, and absolutize say the Reformation and post Reformed orthodox periods; as if Jesus quit teaching his church in the 16th and 17th centuries of Protestant Western Europe?


  4. I understand Barth’s Christianity and view of Scripture to be a-historical. I deny this, and wonder if this poisons the well.

    By “Covenanters,” I refer to the Scottish church in the 1600s that resisted both Popery and prelacy, as well as the king’s claims to be the head of Christ’s Church. Especially valuable to me are the Scots Worthies, esp. Gillespie and Rutherford.

    I tend to admire the men of the post-reformation orthodox period, and see a lot of harm in the follow-on rationalistic/humanistic “enlightenment.” While I do not doubt the value of modern teachers (there are many I like!), and I do not absolutize and admire all of the theologians from that period, I am very cautious about the influence of modern humanism and rationalism on teachers today.

    Some people see modern evangelicalism as the apogee of Christianity. I do not. I see our time as one of great and widespread apostasy.


  5. Justin, this view of Barth is thoroughly unfounded. My friend, Dr. Darren Sumner, has written on Barth and history here:

    Okay, yes, I am a fan of Scottish Theology, but as Torrance has sketched that in his book.

    Evangelicalism has blossomed, and is blossoming consistently with its roots.

    I can understand your resonance for some of the post-Reformed orthodox. But I have some real problems with a lot of the theology produced then; especially in re. to a doctrine of God.


  6. Bobby,

    Thanks for that link. I have started reading it. That, along with the books (Yours and Torrance’s) you suggested should prove helpful.

    Thanks for the suggestions. I do not like to misrepresent others’ views, and it does no good to attack or discount a position that is not held by someone. I have been guilty of this (more than once!), and I am trying to eliminate this in my reading, thought, and study.


  7. But I have some real problems with a lot of the theology produced then; especially in re. to a doctrine of God

    Have you written further on this?


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