Giving Direction To Theology: The Scholastic Dimension -- By: Richard A. Muller

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 28:2 (Jun 1985)
Article: Giving Direction To Theology: The Scholastic Dimension
Author: Richard A. Muller


Giving Direction To Theology:
The Scholastic Dimension

Richard A. Muller*

Theology in our time has been plagued by a disastrous severance of traditional correctness in formulation from successful contemporary expression. This problem was Reinhold Niebuhr’s ground for complaint against both poles of the theological establishment. Niebuhr wrote that “orthodox Christianity, with insights and perspectives in many ways superior to those of liberalism,” had failed to address modern society because of “outmoded” scientific perspectives and because of the “dogmatic and authoritarian” language of its pronouncements. On the other hand Niebuhr saw that liberal theology almost invariably “capitulates to the prejudices of a contemporary age.”1 If Niebuhr came to this problem primarily from the point of view of ethics, it is nevertheless a general problem in modern theology-a problem that, I believe, can best be resolved from the side of orthodoxy, with the methods and tools of orthodoxy. I speak specifically of the scholastic mode of theological thinking.

Protestants commonly assume that scholasticism represents a profoundly medieval and Roman Catholic phenomenon. Scholasticism is dry. It is a useless jumble of metaphysical issues totally unrelated to piety. It was set aside by the Reformation. It cannot be evangelical and, for Protestantism, is therefore rightly dead.

There can be only one complaint with this view of scholasticism. It is false. Luther did break with much of the substance and many of the metaphysical speculations of medieval scholasticism, but within a half century of his death his successors had reintroduced into Protestantism the forms of the scholastic system adapted to the substance of Protestant theology and piety.

A slightly more sophisticated antagonism toward scholasticism manifest recently among Protestants would view the phenomenon of Protestant scholasticism or orthodoxy as an unproductive and unnecessary recrudescence of the dry philosophizing of the middle ages and as the moment in Protestant theology in which reason triumphed over faith. If it were so, it were a grievous fault. The truth of the matter is, however, that the Protestant scholastics—even the more rationalistic of their number, like Francis Tarretin—respected the Scriptural norm and limit of theology as determined by the Reformers of the sixteenth

*Richard Muller is associate professor of historical theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

century.2 Indeed it is Turretin who refused to accept the Thomist v...

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