A New Paradigm in Theology? -- By: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 56:2 (Fall 1994)
Article: A New Paradigm in Theology?
Author: Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

A New Paradigm in Theology?*

Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.

* Gordon J. Spykman, Reformational Theology: A New Paradigm for Doing Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992. xiii, 584. $39.95).

With the author’s death (on July 13, 1993) this book becomes his legacy for the church’s well being in its theological task. Eminently readable and thoroughly impressive in its design and execution, it is not just for professional theologians and pastors but seeks to familiarize and engage a wider audience with the issues at stake. Gordon Spykman has been valued by many as a person and colleague (my own contacts with him over the years, though brief and sporadic, were always engaging and stimulating). We will honor him best by giving careful attention to this bequest, particularly his challenging vision for the renewal of Reformed dogmatics.

This “new paradigm” contains elements that result in a significant recasting of both the foundations and the main body of systematic theology. I take these up in reverse order.


In formulating and reflecting on specific doctrines Spykman’s overriding concern is “to give the historical-redemptive pattern of biblical revelation a firmer place in Reformed dogmatics” and so to highlight that not just some parts of Scripture but “the entire biblical story line has an eschatological thrust” (p. 135). Accordingly, the key biblical motifs of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation structure the presentation as a whole; these categories, each in turn, provide the major sections of the book (Parts Two-Five). Throughout, a governing concern is to stress the inherent bond between creation and redemption—that the two are not divorced or in opposition but integrally related as the latter restores and perfects the former. By design (see the diagram, p. 135), a trinitarian pattern is also to structure the discussion (but that does not come through at all clearly, at least formally).

How should we assess this reordering of material in dogmatics?

(1) I agree thoroughly that systematic theology needs to give careful, methodologically self-conscious attention (more, certainly, than has been the case in the past) to the history of redemption/revelation. Ultimately, that demand resides in its nonspeculative, exegetically based character. If its source and norm is God’s inscripturated word, then its own formulations and ongoing reflection must exhibit unwavering sensitivity to the redemptive-historical, eschatological orientation of Scripture (the church’s record of that history) as a whole. Within a Reformed context specifically, the pioneering work of Geerhardus Vos and, more recently, of Herman Ri...

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