Patristics and Reformed Orthodoxy: Some Brief Notes and Proposals -- By: Carl R. Trueman

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 12:2 (Summer 2008)
Article: Patristics and Reformed Orthodoxy: Some Brief Notes and Proposals
Author: Carl R. Trueman


Patristics and Reformed Orthodoxy: Some Brief Notes and Proposals

Carl R. Trueman*

*Carl Trueman is Academic Dean and Professor of Historical Theology and Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Previously, he served as Lecturer in Theology at the University of Nottingham and as Editor of Themelios. He has written numerous articles and is the author or editor of a number of books, including The Wages of Spin: Critical Writings on Historical and Contemporary Evangelicalism (Mentor, 2005) and John Owen: Reformed Catholic Renaissance Man (Ashgate, 2007).

The renaissance of studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Protestant theology over the last three decades has helped to put to death a number of caricatures, dogmatic and methodological, which had been perpetuated by the older traditions of scholarship. Foremost among these was the idea that Reformed Orthodoxy was increasingly driven by a speculative metaphysical principle, specifically that of predestination, and that the older dogmatics had no interest in biblical exegesis, preferring instead to do theology via proof-texting and crude dogmatism.1

While the overturning of these old misconceptions is important, it should also be noted that a further aspect of the reassessment of Protestant Orthodoxy has been an emphasis upon its essential catholicity: Reformed Orthodoxy did not represent a break with the past, either in terms of content or even its own self-understanding; rather, its exponents operated within a framework where the significance of the theological, exegetical, and polemical labors of previous generations were assumed as dialogue partners in the contemporary exposition of the Christian faith. Indeed, Reformed Orthodoxy was, in a very important sense, catholic in terms of both sources and intention, as will be clear from this discussion of John Owen, an outstanding, yet in many respects entirely typical, theologian of the Reformed Orthodox tradition.2

John Owen and the Patristics

At the outset, we should note that the standard category of patristics was not one that the Reformed Orthodox would have recognized. The standard historical division with which we now operate (patristic, medieval, Reformation, and post-Reformation/modern) are of later vintage. A writer such as Owen thought rather in terms of earlier and later writers, and of earlier and later schoolmen. Nevertheless, when we examine Reformed Orthodoxy in the light of our later taxonomy, it is very clear that what we refer to as patristic authors played a significant role in the theological construction of Reformation and post-...

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