Theological Spectacles And A Paradigm Of Centrality: A Reply To Marcus Johnson -- By: Thomas L. Wenger

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 51:3 (Sep 2008)
Article: Theological Spectacles And A Paradigm Of Centrality: A Reply To Marcus Johnson
Author: Thomas L. Wenger

Theological Spectacles And A Paradigm Of Centrality:
A Reply To Marcus Johnson

Thomas L. Wenger*

* Thomas Wenger is assistant pastor at Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Annapolis (PCA), Annapolis, MD. He resides at 625 Lion’s Gate Lane, Odenton, MD 21113.

I am grateful for the time, effort, and charity that Marcus Johnson has put forth in responding to my article. In doing so he has demonstrated aspects of my thesis that could benefit from some clarification and has given a voice to some helpful questions which typically arise in this discussion. I appreciate his fairness and his desire to assess many of the pertinent issues involved in order to avoid arriving at hasty conclusions. Having said this, however, I believe that he has misunderstood several aspects of my article, namely, the thrust of my thesis and its implications. Though he raises some true and helpful points, I believe that many of them refute an argument that I do not make and in some instances address wholly different issues. At the root of the misunderstanding, I believe, is a difficulty to relinquish an interpretive paradigm which relies on discovering architectonic principles and central motifs in both Calvin and in his interpreters. To a degree, I believe, this is caused by some blurring of the methodological distinctions between historical and systematic theology.

Johnson levels the following criticisms: my argument downplays the importance of union with Christ in Calvin; it seeks to establish forensic justification rather than union with Christ as central to Calvin’s soteriology; it precludes justification and sanctification from being gifts simultaneously bestowed in Christ by imposing a cause and effect relationship between the two gifts; it mistakenly equates “controlling principles” with central dogmas; it prohibits Calvin from discussing soteriological order in the Institutes, Book 3; and, finally, it errs in describing this view as a “new perspective.” In addressing these concerns, I will explain the sources of misunderstanding, clarify my general thesis, and deal with several of Johnson’s individual arguments.

I. The Sources Of Misunderstanding:
Historical Vs. Systematic Theology And A Paradigm Of Centrality

Richard Muller’s assessment of much of recent Calvin scholarship deserves serious, self-critical attention from all who would study the Reformer:

“Calvin’s thought has been avidly deconstructed by” those “in search of a theological or religious ally or, occasionally, in search of a historical source for the theological trials of the present.”1 These word...

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