Recently I have been interacting with a rather distinguished commenter (I think I know who he is [using my inductive tools], but he prefers to remain anonymous, that’s fine, but his ideas are now public, so I will respond to those), his name is Kenneth P. He believes that I am too rushed, too premature, in fact immature in my analysis of the ‘Reformed tradition’; that “my history” does not comport with history in reality. Thus he believes, by implication, that the premise of my blog is aloof — e.g. a non-starter if you will. Given who this commenter is, I want to show his ‘ideas’ all due respect — he’s done the research, he’s spent the time. Here he critiques my apparently nascent understanding of the history:

. . . But the fact is that you have not drunk deeply enough at the wells of the tradition you are aiming to reclaim/revise/critique in some way. An example: “We have Lutherans, Anabaptists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, etc., etc.; all could bear the name of ‘Reformed’ — it’s all of our heritage.”

The problem here is that you confuse Reformation traditon with Reformed tradition. Out of your list, only Presbyterians are actually Reformed even while they are all Reformation theologies – and that’s because Reformed theology is creedally/confessionally based, not simply on one person or an electic pick and mix of doctrines. That’s just a historical fact of terminology, before we start asking any evaluative questions. Any Lutheran in the C17 would NOT want to be called Reformed! This is one example of your revisonism (I think it’s unintended rather than deliberate?). Elsewhere, conversely, in other instances on this blog you draw lines of discontinuity within the tradition which are far too premature.

To this I respond that I agree and disagree. First I disagree that I have misunderstood, maybe overstated, what in fact Reformation tradition encompasses. My point was to generalize, assert that to say that one is ‘Reformed’ could be construed in polymorphous ways. What I was intending to communicate is that we need more pinpointedness in distinguishing someone from the ‘Reformation tradition’; other than just saying the ‘Reformed tradition’ — Kenneth doesn’t like the designation, Calvinist, which I think, historically, is a viable label.

I agree that there is the distinction that Kenneth is making, but I think it is unhelpful to label it ‘Reformed’; without further nuancing it with “Calvinist.” Kenneth himself makes the point that the Lutherans of the 17th century would not take the label ‘Reformed’, which signifies to me that there was somebody, some group who the Lutherans did not want to be associated with — i.e. the ‘Reformed’ or the ‘Calvinists’.

Really though, this point on ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinist’ is to quibble — even if Kenneth wouldn’t think so. In other words, relative to the premise of this blog, to make Kenneth happy we would change the name to: The Evangelical Reformed. I could live with that, I actually like the label ‘Reformed’ better (although I’ve found it to be imprecise, at points); but this isn’t really the point of dispute, at least for me.

The point of dispute revolves around this statement from Kenneth:

. . . Elsewhere, conversely, in other instances on this blog you draw lines of discontinuity within the tradition which are far too premature.

Of course it is hard to offer much defense against this, since Kenneth doesn’t cite any solid examples; but I get his point.

This all gets at the nub of what this blog is about; viz. identifying a wrinkle, a substantial nuance within the ‘Reformed/Calvinist’ tradition. My operating assumption is that there is most certainly a competition of sorts within the ‘Reformed’ tradition. It is too easy to say that I prematurely draw lines of discontinuity between apparently competing movements within the ‘Calvinist tradition’. Of course the burden is to demonstrate that there in fact is a mutually exclusive trajectory at work within the Calvinist tradition; one that is at odds, and does not cohere with what we know of the ‘Reformed tradition’ today (e.g. Westminster).

It seems, according to Kenneth’s comments, that he accepts the methodology and premises at work in Richard Muller’s work. I like to think of Muller’s approach as analogous to a steamroller. I say this because the way Muller presents things, is that what we have in the Protestant Reformation (magesterial and post) is this “movement” that incorporates all kinds of strands and trajectories (Thomist, Augustinian, Nominalist, etc.) — except of course, the ‘Scotist trajectory’. Muller says:

. . . Beyond the issue of medieval background, there is also the issue of the ongoing examination, discussion, appropriation, and rejection of Aristotle and Aristotelianism in the philosophy and theology of the Renaissance, Reformation, and post-Reformation eras. It is simply not the case that, at the moment of Luther’s protest against Aristotle, Aristotle and Aristotelianism disappeared from the map of European intellectual history or were universally banned from the thought-world of the Reformation. Whatever one decides about the implication and result of Luther’s early attack on Aristotle, there remains a history of Aristotelianism in the universities and in the thought of the Protestant as well as the Roman Catholic world both during and after the Reformation. That is a fact of history-to ignore it is to prejudice the analysis of period.

Here he is responding to a former prof of mine (Ron Frost) in a dispute they had in the Trinity Journal. While there certainly is a ‘Reformed’ tradition, to frame it the way that Muller (and then Kenneth apparently) does is to misrepresent the material divergence within this broader Reformed tradition. Muller, as illustrated in the quote, frames the history of this whole ‘Reformed’ tradition as represented by its Aristotelian/Thomistic/Scholastic form. This is not correct, this is to misrepresent the ‘Reformed tradition’; it is to misrepresent by failing to identify substantive distinctives represented by the continuum that we call the ‘Reformed tradition’.

The goal of this blog is to correct this caricature by Muller, I say caricature because he fails to give account to the part of the Tradition that took shape under John Knox, and others — the Scottish tradition. This ‘tradition’ represents the set of beliefs that shapes what we have been calling Evangelical Calvinism. Unlike what Muller would say is ‘The Tradition’ (which is best exemplified by the Westminster divines), the Scottish tradition worked from Scotist assumptions — Scotist metaphysics. Muller’s tradition is shaped by Thomist assumptions, these are exclusive from eachother; and therefore this has ‘drastic’ theological implications for how we understand a Doctrine of God, and then subsequent dogma.

So, far from engaging an binary biurfacating of things — as Kenneth claims I’m doing — the Tradition, so called, is multifocal. If we are really going to talk about the Reformed tradition (my ‘Calvinist’); then we ought to include its whole tradition. This is the contention of my blog, Scottish theology has not been given a credible place within the ‘Tradition’ (as far as I can see); simply because it has been deemed as ‘heterodox’ because it does not fit into what the gatekeepers of the ‘Tradition’ has said the ‘Tradition’ is. And this is because the ‘Tradition’ and ‘Thomism’, as evinced in Muller’s construction, cannot allow this to be.

I realize Muller is supposedly doing ‘history’, but if he was doing sound non-revisionist history he would include the Scotists within it; instead he lets theological commitments subvert his interpretive work, and thus in his accounting Scottish theology does not deserve to be included at the table of what it means to be ‘Reformed’ or ‘Calvinist’ — let alone Evangelical Calvinist.