Innate Knowledge In The Thought Of Wilhelmus À Brakel -- By: Todd D. Baucum

Journal: Puritan Reformed Journal
Volume: PRJ 06:2 (Jul 2014)
Article: Innate Knowledge In The Thought Of Wilhelmus À Brakel
Author: Todd D. Baucum

Innate Knowledge In The Thought Of Wilhelmus À Brakel

Todd D. Baucum

The Baroque world of the seventeenth century brought a cacophony of new thinking into the life of the Dutch Reformed Church. Descartes’s famous axiom “cogito, ergo sum,”1 seeking certitude in that which is beyond doubt, re-ignited the old battles of epistemology that had been fought throughout the medieval age. How we know truth and the line between us and the eternal God were perennial issues; natural knowledge of God is a philosophical question that goes back to Aristotle.2 In light of this long history, it is crucial to see how Wilhelmus à Brakel stands not in isolation, but as part of a trajectory of orthodox thought. His work is both scholastic and biblical in method and in commitment. As a pastoral theologian, à Brakel engaged in theological disputes, but not with the eye of an academic. His purpose was aimed higher: he wrote theology for the glory of God and to move human hearts in loving obedience to Him.

In a preface, à Brakel wrote, “They are assaulted on the one side by people of a corrupt mind who propose reason to be the rule for doctrine and life; on the other side by people who, in striving for holiness and love, set aside truth and stray towards a religion which

proceeds from nature, revolving around the practice of virtue.”3 It is in this divergence of emphasis that we see balance and brilliance in the discussion of innate knowledge.

Historical Background Of The Further Reformation

As a representative of the mainstream of the Dutch Further Reformation, Wilhelmus à Brakel had enormous influence on his countrymen in the hugely popular publication of his De Redelijke Godsdienst.4 It is the object of this study to understand his view of innate knowledge and natural revelation in light of the broader historical context of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century and beyond. It is also important to see à Brakel in light of the Reformed tradition and its treatment of natural revelation in comparison with Calvin’s own view and other Reformed thinkers. Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), who had a strong influence on à Brakel, wrote against Descartes, but à Brakel took a more nuanced approach to the issue of natural theology. This would have implications for later theologians such as B. B. Warfield and Herman Bavinck, appearing in their positive approach to natural theology.

Theological controversy does not happen in a vacu...

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