Decretal Theology And The Development Of Covenant Thought: An Assessment Of Cornelis Graafland’s Thesis With A Particular View To Federal Architects William Ames And Johannes Cocceius -- By: Jan Van Vliet

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 063:2 (Fall 2001)
Article: Decretal Theology And The Development Of Covenant Thought: An Assessment Of Cornelis Graafland’s Thesis With A Particular View To Federal Architects William Ames And Johannes Cocceius
Author: Jan Van Vliet


Decretal Theology
And The Development Of Covenant Thought:
An Assessment Of Cornelis Graafland’s Thesis With A Particular View To Federal Architects William Ames And Johannes Cocceius

Jan van Vlieta

I. Introduction

In the final few paragraphs of his impressive three-volume treatise on the origins and development of covenant thought in that movement of the Reformed tradition known as Protestant or Reformed orthodoxy, Cornelis Graafland provides an excellent summary of the preceding 1,000 pages of his massive study.1 Through these pages, the reader is struck by the wide sweep of Graafland’s panoramic vista of the Reformed covenantal tradition, stretching from the Reformation period to the mid-eighteenth century. Because Graafland judges Reformed development of covenant doctrine to be essentially concluded by this time, the degree to which issues in this development remain controversial today is a function of the relative significance of contentious points of view raised through this post-Reformation period.2 Within the context of Graafland’s broader historical brush of covenant theology is an attempt to uncover the source of what he perceives to be the antipathy between the doctrines of predestination and covenant and how this polarity is resolved through the history of theological development.3 Graafland illustrates how some confessional traditions experienced ecclesiastical disruption because of this conflict—for example in the church life of the Nadere Reformatie in the Netherlands—and scholars of Reformed orthodoxy will immediately recognize this topic as just one aspect of the larger and much discussed “continuity/discontinuity” debate.

In this essay we first offer some general comments on Graafland’s work, leading up to and including his gloss on the covenant/predestinarian thought of key representatives of the Puritan tradition. Then comes a brief exposition of the views of John Calvin and William Ames on the relationship between these two heads of doctrine, followed by a more detailed examination of the unique

covenant theology of Johannes Cocceius. We assess the earlier (1957) ground-breaking work of Charles S. McCoy and the more contemporary (1988, 1997) scholarly investigation of Willem Jan van Asselt in order to determine whether these scholars perceive the predestination/covenant dialectic to create theological polarity in Johannes Cocceius’s development of covenant doctrine. How does Cocceius himself deal with the decree in his development of c...

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