On Real Reformed Theology: Getting Past its Reception-Thomist Orthodoxy

At this point I’ve been at it online since 2005. My bread-and-butter writing has revolved around issues pertaining to Reformed theology, with a particular focus on critiquing what I like to call ‘classical Calvinism’ (as a riff on its informing ‘classical’ theistic theology). I was mentored in seminary, and after, by a Puritan expert, and historical theologian (for whom I also worked as a teaching fellow). I have published two edited books, with Myk Habets, on what we identify as a mood in the history of theological ideas known as ‘Evangelical Calvinism.’ This is my way. Clearly, I have interests, many, in various other theological loci, but the issues orbiting around the scholastic Reformed theology will probably always serve as a sort of mainstay for me; at least in the background sound of my theological life.  

You might ask why? Well, on the negative side, I wanted to understand my own informing theological background. I didn’t grow up as a 5-point Calvinist, but instead a Calminian Baptist; or what we endearingly liked to call: a Biblicist. Nevertheless, the fall-out produced by the binary debate between Calvinism and Arminianism was the playground that etched my life as a Christian, for better or worse; it was for worse. Once I was introduced to historical theology, I came to realize that theologies didn’t form in a vacuum, they have a history. Once I came to know that history (as I continue to work at) I was able to achieve sufficient distanciation, to the point that I could critically engage with the superstructural ideas that gave rise to the popular debates that took and take place between Calvinists and Arminians; instead, I became a Barthianish-Torrancean LOL. Even as I note my current influences, as alternative to the classical debates, what shouldn’t be presumed in this, is that you have to be a Barthian or Torrancean in order to come to the insights I have in regard to the history that stands behind so-called classical Calvinism. For example, aforementioned mentor, is not a Barthian or Torrancean in any way; he is, if anything, a Sibbesian.  

What I continue to see in the young crop of budding-theologians, those with interests in these areas, is a failure to grasp the contours present in the history and development of Reformed theology proper. The Deus ex machina narrative that they are being fed is that scholasticism Reformed, or what I like now to call Reception-Thomist theology, is in fact the only or dominant iteration of what in fact the total Reformed theology is. What Evangelical Calvinists, like Myk and me, have been intent on showing is that this is an absolute revisionist understanding and presentation of the Calvinist history. My mentor, Ron Frost, has been showing this, although mostly only in teaching settings, for decades; and like I noted, his critique has been from a non-Barthian perspective. Until the youngins get their heads around the fact that they’ve been being fed a fake-narrative about Reformed history, in regard to its character and development, they will continue to fight battles, and make statements that have no correspondence to the concrete depth reality of the matter.  

My hope is that younger theologians will come along, and recognize what I’ve come to recognize about the development of Reformed theology. Life is short, so it’s best to get to the facts as quick as possible. Otherwise, one might spend their whole days doing theology in an eclipse of the actual realities. I did this for a long time as a dispensationalist. It isn’t that the Lord can’t work in spite of bad theology, and bad ideas, it’s just that it’s better to work from good theology and good ideas. If you sense some triumphalism in what I’m saying, you’re just sensing it.  

I was going to write a post on Luther’s Disputation Against Scholastic Theology; maybe next time.   

2 thoughts on “On Real Reformed Theology: Getting Past its Reception-Thomist Orthodoxy

  1. Life IS short… by the grace of God I’m now into my seventh decade, and it appears I have experienced much the same journey as you describe, Bobby. Over this past “seven” of years I have enjoyed freedom to devote much time to study, and I’ve experienced the Spirit’s blessed freeing from many fetters of thought and action. Even so, actual realities are yet often concealed by a veil of understanding and perceptions woven in false narratives, including “bad theology and bad ideas.” Yes, at long last the matrix is now thinning and weakening to the point that I have a faint perception of the reality which lies beyond… by the way actually performed and inaugurated in Christ for us through this curtain, that is, his flesh. There has been much, much ground to cover in attaining the realization of having “crossed over” from death unto life… and from my present vantage, HIS triumph is marked by many “Egyptians” dead on the shore. Suffice it to say, this setting leaves me without a personal sense of triumphalism… for I, too, have died… and rather, I am overcome… by awe.


  2. Richard, amen, thanks for sharing some of your background. It is amazing what the passage of time can do for perspective. In my case I’m 47, but being pressed up against my own mortality with my incurable terminal cancer diagnosis over a decade ago now, this too accelerated my perspective in regard to what matters. To me each day seems like a gift. I don’t presume that I’ll be here for any amount of time, today could be the day. This sense of transitoriness can become unhealthy too, but when conditioned by the translation of Christ’s life for us, as you note, maintaining this perspective is only healthy and good.

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