Fantastic Entry Into the Field

For those who are scared by the word “scholasticism,” or who wish to run entirely the other way, there is now a new introduction to Reformed Scholasticism by one of the greats in the field. Yes, Muller is of crucial importance. However, many people find Muller a tough introduction. If you want something easier to introduce people to the field this book is it.



  1. Sirmon Hicks said,

    April 27, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I jis want you to kno Im usin my coursin’s compooter and emale address, but I gotta say you edumucated fellers think you done known it all, but ya dont. All yer convoluted theologizin and philosiphizin’ dun fouled up erythang.

  2. Josh Hicks said,

    April 27, 2011 at 9:49 am

    I must sincerely apologize, Dear Pastor Keister. My cousin’s, well, against Academia in general. ;)

  3. Josh Hicks said,

    April 27, 2011 at 9:49 am

    P.S. – Feel free to delete these comments, I was just being playful. :)

  4. greenbaggins said,

    April 27, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Now, why would I do that, Josh? Who says theologians can’t laugh?

  5. Josh Hicks said,

    April 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Sirmon’s against that, too!

  6. proregno said,

    April 27, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    “Appendix 2: The Use of Reason in Matters of Faith”

    It is tragic that such a chapter/article is even needed, but ironically theological irrasionalists uses … ‘reason’ to deny the use of ‘reason’ in ‘matters of faith’.

    What else is their to use ?

  7. Lee said,

    April 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    This book is a great introduction into the field, but it is a very positive review of Reformed Scholasticism (which the book tells you up front). I think it would have been helpful for him to interact more with the dissent from Reformed Scholasticism. I still am not sure that Reformed Scholasticism is overall a good thing. I await people to write a volume on Reformed Ramism or Reformed Humanism and how they are opposed to Reformed Scholasticism.

  8. Todd Rester said,

    April 29, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    @ Lee: Fair point/question. By way of introduction, I am a doctoral candidate in historical theology under Dr. Muller. Please permit me to mention a few things about a few resources on Ramism and then generally on Reformed Scholasticism that may help.

    As to resources on Ramism, I have a brief section in my introduction to “A Sketch of the Christian’s Catechism” vol 1 of Classic Reformed Theology Series with Reformation Heritage Books on how Ames’ Ramism affects his (scholastic) method (p xviii, xxvii-xviii). But a much more exhaustive treatment of Ramism can be found in the works of Howard Hotson: (1) Commonplace Learning: Ramism and its German ramifications; as well as his book on the Reformed theologian (2) Johann Heinrich Alsted. Unfortunately much of Kuyper’s work has not been totally translated, but a good resource on Ramism and its usage in theology is Kuyper’s theological encyclopedia (there is one of the three volumes in English). (Encyclopedia here is the cycle or relationship between God and creation and its importance for theology)

    Yes there has been quite a bit of reaction against Scholasticism (whatever that may be) among the Reformed. For example in the 20th century, thinkers like Vollenhoven, Dooyeweerd, Schilder, and Van Til would say “scholastic” theology in whatever form was always problematic and would frequently claim the other was still a scholastic. Yet in a pinch, these theologians would quickly resort to older scholastic distinctions still articulated in someone like Bavinck when at a loss for a term or distinction. Some of this is sketched in a recent 200+ page ThM thesis completed at Calvin Seminary by L. O’Donnell on the relationship of Van Til’s theology to Bavinck, and Van Til’s shared assumptions with other theologians at the Free University of Amsterdam in the early 20th century. It is a good piece for setting the context in which Van Til developed his thought as well as to what he was reacting.

    The methodological irony of modern theologians scrapping older scholastic theology wholesale is that they have only set a course to repeat the same troubles of developing their own distinctions divorced from previous conversations. Of course, every Christian should want a pure biblically based theology, but once one starts asking questions of the text, we begin a conversation with not only other Christian theologians of the ages, but all thinkers of the ages Christian and non-Christian. The result is we have to make distinctions, qualifications, circumscriptions, and coin terms by force of necessity. The word “Trinity” for example comes to mind as a biblically based but necessary theological term. Scholasticism formally speaking arose in the medieval period at the University of Paris and Oxford via biblical studies as a method for lining out exegetical questions arising from the overlap of theological and philosophical questions. For example, how does a Christian respond to a true Aristotelian that thinks matter is eternal and god is a demi-urge? Well, a Christian responds with Genesis 1 of course and the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, or rather creatio post nihil, to establish the point about the createdness of matter, the pre-existence and distinctness of God, and highlight an ontological distinction between the Creator and the creature. What biblical Christian will deny that? And in the medieval period, much of the use of Aristotle was primarily to defend theologically and philosophically against Islamic uses of Aristotle against the Christian doctrine of God.

    This general method however had good and bad practitioners. In the early to mid 16th c. the Reformed biblical exegete/systematic theologian Wolfgang Musculus actually compliments Lombard for his “simple scholasticism” in his Sentences when interacting with the text of scripture and other theologians whereas this same Musculus would rip Scotus for asking speculative questions regarding transubstantiation without grounding his doctrine in the text of Scripture but in the subtleties of philosophy. So at one and the same time, he is using a proper scholasticism and critiquing its abuse at the same time. This isn’t hypocrisy, rather it is a question of best methods. I find that example helpful. One can see this in Luther’s scholastic “disputation on Scholasticism” … a “disputation” which is by definition a scholastic form. What emerges from the sources then about quite a bit of bombastic rhetoric against scholasticism in the 16th-18th century among Protestants is actually a critique of doctrines derived via speculation, being detached from exegesis that does not honor the text of Scripture. Such critiques however are not denying scholasticism’s proper use and place.

    Gijsbert Voet, theologian at Utrecht for most of the 17th century, was simultaneously about as scholastic as they come, but was versed in all the biblical languages and their cognates. He was also known for his practical piety and exegesis. Someone like that is difficult to peg as either scholastic or humanist, I would say with respect to his method it seems he is the best of both. An uber-scholastico-humanist, if you will. After translating through the first 500k words of Voetius’ student, Petrus van Mastricht, in the Theoretico-Practica Theologia, I can assure you Van Mastricht can sling the scholastic distinctions with the best of them, frequently critiquing quite closely the Medievals. Yet, he is a Hebrew professor not simply interested in exegeting the text: he wants to construct and defend right doctrine as well as nurture the life of faith towards God and towards neighbor as well. Thus his method is exegetical deploying all the tools of a humanist and then some, doctrinal and polemical, and practical on every point of theology. Every edition of his systematic theology includes his essay on the best method of preaching which moves through the exegetical, doctrinal, polemic, and practical points.

    I think the most helpful thing on this point that Muller has said repeatedly is that scholasticism is a method and does not pre-determine content. Some have wanted to draw a straight line between piety and Ramism, or Ramism/humanism and covenant theology. But the fact is much broader than that. Many (not all) of the voices in the Dutch Further Reformation were “scholastics”. We find the scholastic theologian Johannes Hoornbeeck writing a dense and pious “practica theologia”. Even among Puritan Cambridge types, we also find Ramists like the Puritans Perkins and Ames invoking and defending scholastic distinctions with quite a bit of detail. In fact, it is Ames’ Bellarminus Enervatus (the size of a good phone book) which is a model of early 17th century Ramist/Scholastic argumentation against the theology of the Council of Trent.

    As to how Ramism is opposed to scholasticism, I would qualify and say that Ramism is actually a form of scholasticism. Where Ramus and Beza got into it at Geneva was in how Ramism seemed to cut the tie between logic and metaphysics in the way that one discussed the topic of substance. In Beza’s curriculum as well as in others like Ursinus at Heidelberg, the topic of substance was addressed in metaphysics and logic, in Ramism it was generally only handled in metaphysics. In other words, in the name of brevity Ramism had cut a curricular corner and had caused a deficiency in the preparation of theological candidates. The Reformed Aristotelians believed that human logic had purchase on metaphysical reality. Some of the later Ramists would actually begin their logic with a treatment on human perception. Now it is more complicated than that, but by the 1630s, in Holland because there was such diversity in the logic curricula of the young men coming into the University of Leiden, the States Holland tasked professor Franco Burgersdijk with standardizing the curricula. He settled on a Semi-Ramist approach as a compromise making sure that substance was handled in logic and metaphysics and yet accepted many of the pedagogical improvements offered by Ramism.

    Scholastic method does shape presentation, but it does not predetermine the exegetical results or content. So that being a scholastic does not mean that a thinker is necessarily orthodox or unorthodox, reformed or un-reformed, supra-lapsarian or infra-lapsarian, voetian cocceian or wittsian in federal theology, remonstrant or calvinist, nominalist or realist, simply due to academic method. Where Ramism was embraced among the Reformed scholastics generally speaking was its emphasis on pushing theory to practice, not so much as a self-sufficient philosophical system.

    Thanks for your patience and you raise an excellent point of study, hope this helps,


  9. greenbaggins said,

    April 30, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks very much for commenting, Todd. Can’t wait to have your translation of Van Mastricht in my hands!

  10. Lee said,

    May 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Yes, thanks Todd for that very much.

  11. May 6, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Reformed Scholasticism – a book and a question or two…

    I just finished reading a new book by Willem J. Van Asselt, called Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism. It is just coming out and has been highly touted by many around the blogosphere including some good friends whom I respect. However, upon reading…

  12. Matt Gardner said,

    June 10, 2011 at 12:13 am

    William J. Van Asselt’s new book is either written by academics who seek to delve into the depths of literature on the foundation of liberties which democracies, science, and reformed faith’s strength as it was governed by method or it is an attempt at ecumenical sophistry. The sense of the historical time or zeitgeist under consideration was pivotal in defining truth and all that was considered foundational for institutions, just what truth is offered in opposition to falsehood i.e. concept of Scripturalism. Some of the articles it would seem that the authors have done a disservice to Ramism which opposed nefarious aspects of how Aristotle was used in disputations and what against the reigning tyrannical educational system of his day whether that scholastic system controlled the interpretation of classics, rhetoric or theology for that matter. He was not martyred for drawing dichotomies as the authors so simply believe that he represented, but for offering a system to reform and overthrow civilization as it was known. This is because civilization is based on knowing and how one knows it. See the recent works the authors never mention –Ramus and Reform: Church and University at the end of the Renaissance by James Veazie Skalnik. The authors seek to hide the consequences in history of the “use” of various concepts of scholasticism.
    The authors deliberately ignore counter arguments against the only source they believe authoritative on Ramus, the Jesuit Walter J. Ong, Howard Hotson has written In Commonplace Learning: Ramism and its German Ramifications that Ong is and still represents as an agent of Catholic proclivities and has sought to purposefully dissuade further scholarship on Ramism by the use of half truths and leaving out important facts. So called Scholasticism is important, but theological and religious presumptions of the authors should be looked into.

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