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Thomas Wenger: The New Perpsective on Calvin

July 7, 2007

[For more pre-20th century historiography on Calvin which is definitely pre-Barthian, which nonetheless correctly identified Calvin’s actual position on the extent of the atonement, go here, scroll down to this header: Pre-20th Century Historiography on Calvin on the Extent of the Atonement. For Calvin’s own stated position on the extent of the atonement, go here.]

There is a new article by Thomas Wenger, “The New Perspective on Calvin: Responding to the Recent Calvin Interpretations,” JETS 50 (2007) 311-328.

Wenger tackles the ‘Calvin versus the Calvinists thesis,’ but takes up the side of what I call the “continuity thesis.” It is an interesting article. Having scanned it, I have a few problems with some things he asserts.

First some qualifications. The article is focused on the question of Calvin’s ordo salutis and how that is, or is not reproduced by his later followers. However, in responding to those who gives a thumbs down on that question, Wenger invokes a series of arguments and claims essentially derived from Richard Muller’s responses to what some have called “the Barthian thesis” regarding the discontinuity between Calvin and the Later Reformers. What interests me here are those responses, not directly the issue of Calvin’s ordo salutis, real or otherwise. Further, Wenger’s main targets are Richard Gaffin and Craig Carpenter. My thoughts here have no bearing on their position.

1) The title. The argument for the “discontinuity thesis” has been around for a long time now.

It was proposed in the 17th C. It was revived in the 18th C. It had supporters in the 19th C (and in this I am not referring to any German Liberal from any century). Its just misleading to assert that the modern discontinuity thesis is primarily a new thing since Barth in the 20th C, or can only be located as arising from 19th C disgruntled liberal Germans. And of course that is the big problem. Normally this topic is discussed in the context of Barth’s early claims and then the claims by others like Torrance, Armstrong, Kendall etc.

Apart from the fact that all these proponents have different points of focus, all counter-polemics have wrapped the issues around these modern forms of the discontinuity thesis. That these arguments from the 1950s allegedly invoke an historiographical method inherited from the certain 19th C German liberals is still beside the point for some of us. Wenger, in this article, does discuss more recent scholars like Gaffin and Graig Carpenter, but he invokes Muller who is essentially still responding to the cluster of arguments tabled by men like Barth, and later by Torrance, Kendal, and Amstrong, et al.

Indeed, Wenger makes this bold claim:

Historiographically, these formulations are problematic on several fronts. First, it is difficult to believe that this late in the game there are still Calvin vs. the Calvinists assertions being made, especially from these scholars. [p., 315.]

Wenger acts surprised that someone may disagree with Muller and others. The danger here is falling into the expert-fallacy, a sort of “white-coat” syndrome.

2) The hinge categories on which the Calvin versus the Calvinists thesis turns are located in the wrong places. The real discussion should include a wider complex of ideas, namely the continuity or not, between nearly all of the original or early Reformers with the Protestant Scholastics. The reseach should be addressing the wider soteriological paradigms of Luther, Melancthon (on the Lutheran side), and of Zwingli, Bullinger, Vermigli, Haller, Oecolampadius, and so forth, with Calvin. The aim here should be to trace out the continuies of language, of exegesis and of theology between all of these men. And then, from this vantage one can then do a compare and contrast with pre-Reformation soteriologies, on the one hand, and then post-Reformation, soteriologies, on the other hand. Then and only then can a proper outline of the shifting (or not) theological expressions, exegesis and theology be set forth.

3) For some of us researching Calvin, the issue should be disconnected from these out-dated debates from the 1950s and following. And so to extend this, the debates should be removed from such questions as whether or not Calvin held to the later Protestant Scholastic ordo salutis. I can agree that in principle there was a basic continuity on this point. Though I cannot help wondering how Wenger does not seem to take into account that any doctrine that sees regeneration as a progressive event, never “completed” so to speak, in the life-time of the believer, as Calvin taught, can then say Calvin’s ordo was the same as the later Protestant Scholastic ordo. And the comment from Calvin I posted the other day does indicate that he follows more the historia salutis as normative for Scripture. But at the end of the day, this is not near the core of the real issues.

4) Wenger asserts:

Over the last three decades Richard Muller has significantly reshaped the contours of the discussion of Reformed scholasticism, culling massive amounts of original sources to prove that the previously accepted view of the Scholastics is in stark contrast to the evidence. For years the reigning paradigm claimed that Reformed or Protestant scholasticism was essentially a rationalistic movement that established its theology on reason, Aristotelian principles, and the central dogma of the divine decree rather than on an exegetically based, Christocentric, biblical theology like that of Calvin… [p., 315.]

This reflects my basic problem with Muller’s arguments on this point. We can all agree that the Protestant Scholastics did not imagine that they were sourcing their knowledge in autonomous human reason, like some proto-Kantian of a later century. Take note of the key phrase there: “established its theology on reason.” We agree, that is a fallacious charge. However, what did happen was that a set of rationalist a priories did kick in, which determined what is and is not theologically possible for the Protestant Scholastics. Every self-conscious Van Tillian should be aware of the import of the phrase: ‘the autonomous man determines what is and is not logically possible.’ If we modify the phrase to: ‘what is and is not theologically possible [for God]’ the rationalism charge now has teeth.

This is so obvious I don’t know why many cannot see this. Because some like Beza operated by an almost axiomatic lapsapsarian a priori, and set of assumptions regarding God, what is and is not possible for God, his exegesis was inexorably determined. That is my claim. I grant that Beza never thought he was sourcing his knowledge or grounding it in autonomous human reason, even Aristotelian reason at that. To defend this, we can examine the interpretation of critical verses like John 3:16, Matthew 23:37, 2 Peter 2:1, and 2 Peter 3:9, to name a few. These verses as exegeted by Calvin are incompatible with a supralapsarian (and infralapsarian) precommitment. The Muller thesis, to my knowledge, cannot account for the sweeping exegetical shift that occurred post-Calvin. And the Muller thesis acts as if Calvin’s exegesis of these verses entails no paradigmatic conflict with the later Protestant Scholastic Lapsarian paradigms. (As an aside the idea that Calvin was a supralapsarian is easily refuted by reading Calvin himself.)

And so, Wenger cites McGrath as saying:

The Starting point of theology thus came to be general principles, not a specific historic event. The contrast with Calvin will be clear. . . . Calvin focused on the specific historical phenomenon of Jesus Christ and moved out to explore its implications . . . . By contrast, Beza began from general principles and proceeded to deduce their consequences for Christian theology. [p., 315.]

To this Wenger replies:

Contrary to this, Muller has provided indisputable evidence that the Reformed scholastics founded their theology on careful, meticulous exegesis, “produced biblical commentaries, critical texts, translations, hermeneutical studies” and “pioneered the use of Judaica in the study of Scripture.” Their use of reason and scholastic categories was simply their means of explaining and organizing their exegetically founded theology; for the Protestant scholastics reason was ministerial, not magisterial. Thus, there is no “contrast” between their theology and Calvin’s in either method or content. There is a great deal more involved in this debate, and since there has been such a vast amount of work done in this area, surveying it here is unnecessary. [p., 315-6.]

To this one can easily grant that the Protestant Scholastics considered that they were engaging in a proper exegetic process. The problem is that some of us think some of their conclusions are the results of an a priori rationalism and theological pre-commitments, which, for example, were not shared by the early Reformers.

5) Nor is about method. The issue in no way hinges on method of argument. If one writer prefers to use a syllogism (as in Ursinus or Vermigli) so what? Again, to locate the debate at this point is part of the out-dated way of seeing this issue.

6) The real issue is not about central dogma questions [p., 317ff.] It is not about finding the central architectonic apex (to mix metaphors) from which Calvin, allegedly, derived or organised his doctrines. Let us grant that Calvin’s ordo docendi is not right or superior just because Calvin used it. But, nonetheless, may be it would have been better had we stayed with it. I think that is a better way of looking at it. I think Calvin was on to something which we may have missed.

7) Wenger, like many, assert that readings of Calvin which contradict the Muller-Nicole thesis are, more or less, grounded in central dogma theses which originated in the 19th C, which were first established in 19th C German liberal theology. What does one do with that? We can grant that there perhaps was not one (or even two or three) theological apex from which Calvin hierarchically spread out his system. But would Wenger grant that there could have been certain definable doctrines in Calvin which were later excised from Calvinian soteriology?

8 ) Once again, the question of ordo docendi has been tabled [p., 318ff]. I know there is some weight that suggests the arrangement can affect the emphasis and direction. Go here for a very interesting article.

It seems to me that the best way to describe the problem by way of analogy. Imagine that there is this discipline of landscape painting. This discipline expects that when painting landscapes a set number of elements must be included. These elements can be anything from mundane choice of colours, to locations of scenes and scenery. Calvin, not being formally trained in the discipline of landscape painting, comes along and paints a magnificent landscape. He has decided to make key elements his focus, whole ignoring others. Later, some of his students, who have been trained in the classic and disciplined way of painting landscapes, want to copy Calvin’s work. But now they include all the elements that should be there, according to the rules. They do this to keep the “balance” etc. It is true that Calvin’s magnificent ideas are included and reproduced, but now they are there in balance with all the other elements.

It seems to me that what Muller does is argue that the same ideas in Calvin are still present in the later Calvinists, but now balanced out and rearranged a little differently, but in such a way that nothing is adversely affected. But the problem is, I think, is that the focus is shifted. For some reasons many cannot see this. So for example, one could use this approach. In Calvin the focus was on vital union with Christ, but in Beza, the focus shifts to decretal union with Christ. I do not know how any could seriously deny this fact. It is not that Beza has denied or neglected vital union, absolutely, but that he has shifted the focus of the landscape. The observer’s gaze and attention are now redirected to other parts of the portrait.

The question is, was this shifting of focus the “right” thing to have happened?

But at the end of the day, this is still part of the out-dated discussion which arose out of the 1950s debates. Let us grant very readily that the ordo docendi question in no way justifies the Calvin versus the Calvinists thesis. We can agree that the issue is not hinged on theological arrangement of the Institutes and so forth. I prefer Calvin’s ordo docendi, but I also enjoy reading Musculus who uses a traditional ordo docendi.

9) Wenger discusses the “problem” of proof-texting Calvin [p., 321.] Wenger:

I said earlier that in addition to problematic historiography, the NPC utilizes erratic readings of Calvin to establish its case. As all too frequently happens in debates of this sort, each side can seemingly “out-prooftext” the other, often leading to futile stalemates. So my goal is not merely to provide contrary quotations, but rather to show that the way in which the NPC selects its evidence from Calvin is just as flawed as its historiography and that it proceeds to a large degree from it [p., 321.].

I can easily see that proof-texting Calvin can be dangerous. However, the problem is, everyone needs to start with the empirical data from which one derives general deductions. My problem with many of the supporters of the Nicole-Muller thesis is that they reverse this. They start with broad deductions and them retroject them into Calvin. And when others claim that we need to derive our conclusions inductively, we are often shouted down. And Wenger himself examples this type of response:

Rather than a proper exegesis of Calvin, the NPC frequently culls quotations from various and sundry locations in his work and then arranges them without proper concern for their original proximity. In addition, its proponents often give less than objective interpretations to his words which do not do justice to his actual position. To a degree this occurs, it seems, because of the artificial interpretive grid these scholars have brought to the text, which has not arisen out of an impartial comparison of elements within Calvin’s broader corpus. [p., 321.]

What this amounts to is that any text from Calvin adduced to challenge the Nicole-Muller thesis is rejected on the grounds that it is out of context. My problem is, people never tell me why it is out of context, other than to assert things like, “well Calvin did not mean that, because he believed in this…” I find this sort of response as dangerously circular.

And so the claims go, those texts cannot be adduced because his wider theological assumption precludes a reading of that text which would contradict this assumed theological paradigm. When folk tell me that I am taking Calvin out of context and that I must interpret him according to his (alleged) overall theological paradigm, I find that this means it is not possible to critique or correct or evaluate this alleged calvinian paradigm. There is no way to test their interpretive model of Calvin because they refuse to allow empirical or inductive data to have a proper bearing upon their interpretive model. And course though, it is quite acceptable for others to lift proof-texts from Calvin without being challenged.

The only way around this, as I see it, is request or demand inductive evidence from proponents of the Nicole-Muller thesis to support their interpretive paradigm. This though, requires patience, time and a willingness to converse. It requires that one allows his or her arguments to be evaluated. Thus, evidence from the one side is tabled, and then evaluated. If the paradigmatic claims of that one side cannot be inductively established from the Calvinian corpus, honesty says these paradigmatic claims cannot then be used to ground any attempt to preclude any reading of Calvin which contradicts this same wider theological paradigm. Thus the “proof-texts” are then allowed to have their true force. Make sense?

So to conclude, overall, the article is interesting, but at the end of the day I do not think it gets the heart of the issues, but applies an out-dated cluster of responses to a new set of thinkers (eg Gaffin and Carpenter), who for their part, apparently essentially agree with the Muller thesis.

What I do no see Wenger doing is critiquing Muller. Of course, that is because he has already assumed Muller to be a completely reliable interpreter of Calvin.

David

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2007 8:08 pm

    It shouldn’t be overlooked that Muller doesn’t spend nearly as much time comparing Calvin’s views on the atonement and the church with the later C’vinists as he does with theology proper.

    I suspect the discontinuities would more clearly come to light in those loci.

  2. Flynn permalink
    July 7, 2007 9:44 pm

    Hey Steven,

    I agree. Muller in his Christ and the Decree hardly touches on that when it comes to folk like Calvin, Musculus and Vermigli, which is a shame and yet part of the problem.

    I have a lot of respect for Muller, he is a great guy to meet in person too.

    Thanks
    David

  3. Tom Wenger permalink
    July 17, 2007 12:49 pm

    David

    I appreciate your giving my article its forst official review. And while, as ou note, my main focus i son other issues that yours, I think that you misunderstood a few of the point that I made. I’ll reference your arguments using the numbers that you used.

    1. You referenced the title, “The New Perspective on Calvin”, and seemd to think that this was my way of calling the discontinuity thesis “new”. However if you look at the authors I footnote, I am well aware that this thesis is not new at all. I was calling the formulations of Gaffin, Carpoenter, Tumper and others on Clavin’s distinctions of Justification and sanctification new and grouping them together as the “New Perspective on Calvin.”

    2. The survey and research that you are recommending is exactly what shoudl be done and it has been done through more than just the scholarship of Muller. When you combine the efforts of Oberman, Steinmetz, Muller, Raitt, Van Aaselt, Bierma, Trueman, Clark, Schaeffer, Rehnman, Dever, Preus, Wengert, Maag, and a host of others, you see that this very thing has occurred and is continuing to do so.

    3. There are sever point to address here:
    a. You say that I argue for Calvin having the same ordo as the Scholastics, but one of my major arguments is that Calvin did not construct ANY ordo salutis.
    b. You suggest that I should not dwell on outdated scholarship, but I only mention the older arguments in passing. The vast amount of my article deals with PhD dissertations and article that have been written in the last decade.
    c. Make sure you take into account that when Calvin references the ongoing nature of regeneration he is using that term synonymously with sanctification.

    4. You really ought to examine the great work that Jill Raitt does on the issue of Beza and his alleged rationalism. Additionally, Muller has put this to rest in his articles, “Found (No Thanks to Theodore Beza): One ‘Decretal’ Theology,” Calvin Theological Journal 32.1 (1997): 145-151; “The Myth of ‘Decretal Theology,'” Calvin Theological Journal 30.1 (1995), 159-167. People are not gleefully disregarding the language of Beza, but it is irresponsible to look at its presentation and assume that it was arrived at through the means that you are suggesting.

    5-8. I’m not sure what exactly your complaints are here. You have said that I am overdoing the central dogma issue, but I am simply criticism those who have dwelt on it so much. Again, I did not write an article to interact with the broad scope of Calvin interpretation, but only focused on what these scholars are doing. So I agree, the main issue in the continuity argument is not the question of central dogma, but in this specific issue, every author I critique based their claims to some degree on their proposed central dogma.

    9. Obviously one can overdo the notions of context, but if you read the specific quotations that I criticized, they were easily shown to be out of accord with the immediate context of what as said. And when I referenced the notion of context most often, I was referring to the fact that these authors did not put Calvin in his historical context. This is evident form the fact that tye never even considered the reasons why he orders the Institutes the way that he did and overlooked the significant Lutheran influence that was there.

    Over all, what is odd is that you find my acceptance of the continuity thesis “outdated”. How could it possibly be outdated? Where is the scholarship that has rendered it so? It still occupies much of the cutting edge of historical theological scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic. Claims like this really ought to be substantiated. If I’m to be called into question for operating out outdated sources, then some kind of proof or even a remote example of scholarship to the contrary ought to be offered.

    But you won’t find published contradictions to the Muller thesis, or works that have forced those who adhere to change their course. People who operate contrary to the continuity thesis simply do so by choosing to ignore it. But there has not been any force that has challenged the continuity thesis to reexamine itself in light of better evidence.

    If you have it, I’d love to see it.

    So over all, I think you have taken arguments that were pointed at a specific issue and interpreted them as though I was aiming at the larger issue of continuity vs discontinuity. If ultimately disproving the discontinuity argument had been my concern I would have focused on much broader issues, and have written a significantly longer article.

    Thanks though for interacting with it and for taking the time to read it.

  4. Tom Wenger permalink
    July 17, 2007 12:53 pm

    Wow! Forgot to spell check, Sorry. Here’s a version that is actually legible.

    David,

    I appreciate your giving my article its first official review. And while, as you note, my main focus is on other issues that yours, I think that you misunderstood a few of the point that I made. I’ll reference your arguments using the numbers that you used.

    1. You referenced the title, “The New Perspective on Calvin”, and seemed to think that this was my way of calling the discontinuity thesis “new”. However if you look at the authors I footnote, I am well aware that this thesis is not new at all. I was calling the formulations of Gaffin, Carpenter, Trumper and others on Calvin’s distinctions of Justification and sanctification new and grouping them together as the “New Perspective on Calvin.”

    2. The survey and research that you are recommending is exactly what should be done and it has been done through more than just the scholarship of Muller. When you combine the efforts of Oberman, Steinmetz, Muller, Raitt, Van Asselt, Bierma, Trueman, Clark, Schaeffer, Rehnman, Dever, Preus, Wengert, Maag, and a host of others, you see that this very thing has occurred and is continuing to do so.

    3. There are several point to address here:
    a. You say that I argue for Calvin having the same ordo as the Scholastics, but one of my major arguments is that Calvin did not construct ANY ordo salutis.
    b. You suggest that I should not dwell on outdated scholarship, but I only mention the older arguments in passing. The vast amount of my article deals with PhD dissertations and article that have been written in the last decade.
    c. Make sure you take into account that when Calvin references the ongoing nature of regeneration he is using that term synonymously with sanctification.

    4. You really ought to examine the great work that Jill Raitt does on the issue of Beza and his alleged rationalism. Additionally, Muller has put this to rest in his articles, “Found (No Thanks to Theodore Beza): One ‘Decretal’ Theology,” Calvin Theological Journal 32.1 (1997): 145-151; “The Myth of ‘Decretal Theology,'” Calvin Theological Journal 30.1 (1995), 159-167. People are not gleefully disregarding the language of Beza, but it is irresponsible to look at its presentation and assume that it was arrived at through the means that you are suggesting.

    5-8. I’m not sure what exactly your complaints are here. You have said that I am overdoing the central dogma issue, but I am simply criticism those who have dwelt on it so much. Again, I did not write an article to interact with the broad scope of Calvin interpretation, but only focused on what these scholars are doing. So I agree, the main issue in the continuity argument is not the question of central dogma, but in this specific issue, every author I critique based their claims to some degree on their proposed central dogma.

    9. Obviously one can overdo the notions of context, but if you read the specific quotations that I criticized, they were easily shown to be out of accord with the immediate context of what as said. And when I referenced the notion of context most often, I was referring to the fact that these authors did not put Calvin in his historical context. This is evident from the fact that they never even considered the reasons why he orders the Institutes the way that he did and overlooked the significant Lutheran influence that was there.

    Over all, what is odd is that you find my acceptance of the continuity thesis “outdated”. How could it possibly be outdated? Where is the scholarship that has rendered it so? It still occupies much of the cutting edge of historical theological scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic. Claims like this really ought to be substantiated. If I’m to be called into question for operating out outdated sources, then some kind of proof or even a remote example of scholarship to the contrary ought to be offered.

    But you won’t find published contradictions to the Muller thesis, or works that have forced those who adhere to change their course. People who operate contrary to the continuity thesis simply do so by choosing to ignore it. But there has not been any force that has challenged the continuity thesis to reexamine itself in light of better evidence.

    If you have it, I’d love to see it.

    So over all, I think you have taken arguments that were pointed at a specific issue and interpreted them as though I was aiming at the larger issue of continuity vs discontinuity. If ultimately disproving the discontinuity argument had been my concern I would have focused on much broader issues, and have written a significantly longer article.

    Thanks though for interacting with it and for taking the time to read it.

    Sincerely,

    Tom Wenger

  5. Flynn permalink
    July 17, 2007 2:23 pm

    G’day Thomas,

    I wondered if you would find a way to my comments. I saw you post an unrelated comment on another blog and I thought to myself, “ah I bet that is the same Tom Wenger.”

    I should say at the beginning, and I should have noted this originally, I was not attempting to be mean-spirited or to to misrepresent.

    I appreciate your giving my article its first official review. And while, as ou note, my main focus i son other issues that yours, I think that you misunderstood a few of the point that I made. I’ll reference your arguments using the numbers that you used.

    Ah, I doubt my comments were official.

    1. You referenced the title, “The New Perspective on Calvin”, and seemed to think that this was my way of calling the discontinuity thesis “new”. However if you look at the authors I footnote, I am well aware that this thesis is not new at all. I was calling the formulations of Gaffin, Carpoenter, Tumper and others on Clavin’s distinctions of Justification and sanctification new and grouping them together as the “New Perspective on Calvin.”

    Sure, Okay. I wondered why you were trying to play on the phrase, with NPP and all that. I read you as suggesting that the overall discontinuity thesis was new. I was saying, no, it is not. You seemed to then only cite the origins of the theory in 19th C German liberalism, as if thats all there was. See my point?

    2. The survey and research that you are recommending is exactly what shoudl be done and it has been done through more than just the scholarship of Muller. When you combine the efforts of Oberman, Steinmetz, Muller, Raitt, Van Aaselt, Bierma, Trueman, Clark, Schaeffer, Rehnman, Dever, Preus, Wengert, Maag, and a host of others, you see that this very thing has occurred and is continuing to do so.

    [Ill change this a little:]
    I have read some of these. I like Oberman, what title? I honestly do not see a lot of discussion dealing with the specifics. So far, Trueman, Clark, et al, like to stay with broader methodological issues. I scanned the catalogue. Saw some of these authors. I feel a little pepper-blitzed by a vague undefined list of names here. Can you be specific with regard to titles?

    3. There are sever point to address here:
    a. You say that I argue for Calvin having the same ordo as the Scholastics, but one of my major arguments is that Calvin did not construct ANY ordo salutis.

    Okay. I will rethink your argument there.

    b. You suggest that I should not dwell on outdated scholarship, but I only mention the older arguments in passing. The vast amount of my article deals with PhD dissertations and article that have been written in the last decade.

    To be clear, I said out-dated arguments. I know there is still plenty of ink being spilled here. And “in passing,” that is not the impression I got. But that was not my point. It was just that these old arguments were being cited again. It is to them that I wanted to comment about. Here I mean that so many rely out-dated arguments and conclusions. To me a lot of what Muller says is just beside the point.

    c. Make sure you take into account that when Calvin references the ongoing nature of regeneration he is using that term synonymously with sanctification.

    Good point. Does he ever make a distinction, such that the former is instantaneous?

    4. You really ought to examine the great work that Jill Raitt does on the issue of Beza and his alleged rationalism. Additionally, Muller has put this to rest in his articles, “Found (No Thanks to Theodore Beza): One ‘Decretal’ Theology,” Calvin Theological Journal 32.1 (1997): 145-151; “The Myth of ‘Decretal Theology,’” Calvin Theological Journal 30.1 (1995), 159-167. People are not gleefully disregarding the language of Beza, but it is irresponsible to look at its presentation and assume that it was arrived at through the means that you are suggesting.

    5-8. I’m not sure what exactly your complaints are here. You have said that I am overdoing the central dogma issue, but I am simply criticising those who have dwelt on it so much. Again, I did not write an article to interact with the broad scope of Calvin interpretation, but only focused on what these scholars are doing. So I agree, the main issue in the continuity argument is not the question of central dogma, but in this specific issue, every author I critique based their claims to some degree on their proposed central dogma.

    Well I have read some of those titles you mention. I have not found them persuasive. But let me say again, for my part I was bouncing off the “arguments” you cited. What is good is that we agree in principle on at least one part. All I was doing was highlighting that argument as one of the tabled responses to the discontinuity thesis.

    9. Obviously one can overdo the notions of context, but if you read the specific quotations that I criticized, they were easily shown to be out of accord with the immediate context of what as said. And when I referenced the notion of context most often, I was referring to the fact that these authors did not put Calvin in his historical context. This is evident form the fact that they never even considered the reasons why he orders the Institutes the way that he did and overlooked the significant Lutheran influence that was there.

    I can appreciate your point here. My point was here is an example of such and such being tabled (for the purposes of tabling an argument) and here is why I think it is really beside the point.

    Your direct arguments to Gaffin et al, and what you cited to that end were not the focus of my post. My post was to highlight those recurring themes, like the alleged ordo docendi, central dogma claims etc.

    Over all, what is odd is that you find my acceptance of the continuity thesis “outdated”. How could it possibly be outdated? Where is the scholarship that has rendered it so? It still occupies much of the cutting edge of historical theological scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic. Claims like this really ought to be substantiated. If I’m to be called into question for operating out outdated sources, then some kind of proof or even a remote example of scholarship to the contrary ought to be offered.

    Sure. I believe that Muller has tackled the various elements of the Barthian thesis, along with Armstrong’s thesis, but to that, I say, thanks that helps us a little. But lets move on. Lets look at the specific doctrines, or ideas present in Calvin, but excised later, or not. Having read Muller, Trueman, Clark, and quite a few others, I just think for the most part they are really talking around the issues, still reacting to claims made in the 1950s. Lets get passed out-dated disputes about the ordo docendi. That element can only have a small bearing on the matter. But let’s not make a central issue. I know that a few are still arguing it, but to me it’s all old news.

    And I also do think that Armstrong is on stronger ground when he connects Calvin’s particular educational humanist background versus the medieval scholastic background. I think that helps us to understand Calvin. But it is not helpful to then ground arguments on it.

    But you won’t find published contradictions to the Muller thesis, or works that have forced those who adhere to change their course. People who operate contrary to the continuity thesis simply do so by choosing to ignore it.

    [Emph mine]

    “simply do so by choosing to ignore it”: You are expressing an opinion, which is what I was doing. Published contradictions? I am not sure what you mean there: Bell, Clifford, Lane, Kennedy, Thomas, Daniel, to name some.

    But there has not been any force that has challenged the continuity thesis to reexamine itself in light of better evidence.

    Ah, well what can I say to that? :-) The advocates of the continuity thesis simply choose to ignore any counter-factual evidence. :-)

    If you have it, I’d love to see it.

    Its not that hard to prove it, Tom. I am more than willing to discuss this further on the C&C list.

    But for now I’ll ask a question, leaving aside all the points of contention I have disregarded on the grounds that they are irrelevant, such that I see no value in them for either side:

    For you, what sort of argument-evidence from Calvin would you believe would count against the continuity thesis?

    In other words, if you wanted to play devil’s advocate, what sort of arguments or evidence would want or need to find in Calvin and others, in order to falsify Muller’s continuity thesis argument?

    I see that unless this is established, discussion is generally to no end, as many will not table an objective and public criteria which could be used to evaluate both evidence and arguments.

    So over all, I think you have taken arguments that were pointed at a specific issue and interpreted them as though I was aiming at the larger issue of continuity vs discontinuity. If ultimately disproving the discontinuity argument had been my concern I would have focused on much broader issues, and have written a significantly longer article.

    Well I thought I did state my assumptions. I took a few general principles you adduced (for a specific end) and challenged them. I intended to make no statement about your polemic with regard to Gaffin et al. My lead on that was your surprise that some are still advocating a discontinuity thesis because of all the work by Muller. I have seen time and time again people say “well have you read Muller?” Well I have. You basically repeated that same claim. I don’t agree with Muller. I think he has missed it. He is a brilliant man. But I honestly think he has missed the point on some critical issues. It was to that sort of general assumption that Muller has refuted all counter-claimants that I wanted to say, “hey, lets look at these and see if they are really relevant.” I don’t think they are. I don’t think focusing on broad claims dated from the 19thC really helps. It does not help to say the origins of the discontinuity thesis are sourced in the 19thC, etc etc

    Thanks though for interacting with it and for taking the time to read it.

    If you want to pursue this further, please join the C&C list.

    Thanks and take care,
    David
    ps, that ending sounded a little rough. I appreciate the interaction and would encourage you to interact more. It is easier to do so at the list and not here. Thanks.

  6. Tom Wenger permalink
    July 18, 2007 10:59 am

    David,

    I appreciate your thoughtful interaction here.
    I think that ultimately a lot of our disagreement comes down to this:
    you’re tired of the same issues being brought up again in this debate such as ordo docendi and 19th century historiography, and you see my article as dredging all that up again.

    Well I’m tired of it too, to be honest. But when I read current publications continuing to operate on these outdated methods of interpretation, I am forced to bring up again how these old methods have been put to rest in. McGrath STILL writes this way, and so does Bouwsma, and Mark Garcia. And the authors I critiqued seemed to think that they could simply deduce from the Institutes themselves, with no historical background, why Calvin wrote in the order that he did. So I read these and what do I have to do? I have to dust off yet again, the ordo docendi evidence, as well as the Lutheran influence evidence because of the historically irresponsible work that’s out there.

    So I would love to get away from these things and actually break new ground. But when influential people continue to fill the minds of lay people and young seminarians with these poorly researched ideas, I feel obliged to do something about it.

    Does that make sense?

    I’d love to take a look at the C&C list but I’m not familiar with it. Could you send me a link to it and give me a bit of a description?

    Thanks again for your interaction here,

    Take care,

    TW

  7. Flynn permalink
    July 18, 2007 11:19 am

    Hey there Thomas,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. It has been my experience that lots of times when supporters of either side of this particular debate speak to each other, there is a lot of impatience, on both sides, and a lot of talking passed each other.

    I appreciate your thoughtful interaction here. I think that ultimately a lot of our disagreement comes down to this: you’re tired of the same issues being brought up again in this debate such as ordo docendi and 19th century historiography, and you see my article as dredging all that up again.

    Sure, as long as “tired” is not seen as just an emotional reaction. I would like to thank all the parties who have tabled the “method” problems, from Barth, to Kendall, to Muller, to McGrath. I mean that sincerely. Each contribution has helped us all understand the complexity here. What I am disturbed over is that somehow certain responses have apparently exhaustively satisfied all intellectual concerns and issues. That’s the impression I get when I am told to go read Richard Muller. :-) Don’t get me wrong, I like Muller. I have read him but I am not persuaded. I think there are lots of evidences on the other side which he does not, in print, deal with.

    Well I’m tired of it too, to be honest. But when I read current publications continuing to operate on these outdated methods of interpretation, I am forced to bring up again how these old methods have been put to rest in.

    Ah, I see. I can agree. The ordo docendi issue is over-played by all sides. But here is my perspective. I read Calvin–and I have read a lot of Calvin–along with Bullinger, Zwingli, and others of that era, and then I read certain high profile Protestant Scholastics, and I do see a change in exegetical and theological emphasis, which I cannot deny. But I do see a lot of down-playing these theological shifts from some writers. In these high profile Protestant Scholastics, do see a subtle schematic deductivism, wherein topics are exegetically and theologically subordinated to an over-arching schema. And it does appear to me that these schemas are not present in the earlier Reformation writers, or were not operatively present in the same way.

    I totally agree that it is wrong to treat the various “generations” of Reformation theology as a unified monolith and then issue sweeping pronouncments. It is tempting to do that, I admit.

    McGrath STILL writes this way, and so does Bouwsma, and Mark Garcia. And the authors I critiqued seemed to think that they could simply deduce from the Institutes themselves, with no historical background, why Calvin wrote in the order that he did. So I read these and what do I have to do? I have to dust off yet again, the ordo docendi evidence, as well as the Lutheran influence evidence because of the historically irresponsible work that’s out there.

    Okay, I can appreciate that. I think the ordo docendi issue is way over-played. Musculus uses the same basic traditional ordering based on the Apostle’s Creed, as does Bullinger. Its not the way they organised the topics, but how they understood respective topics. Calvin is a fascinating predestinarian. In terms of theological categories, he is on the same page as Augustine, Aquinas, and Vermgli, for the most part. His language is not as refined for sure, but his “tone” is way accelerated. And yet all the while is never operated on a ordered-lapsarian schema or is his (overly) exegesis affected.

    So I would love to get away from these things and actually break new ground. But when influential people continue to fill the minds of lay people and young seminarians with these poorly researched ideas, I feel obliged to do something about it. Does that make sense?

    I can see that.

    I’d love to take a look at the C&C list but I’m not familiar with it. Could you send me a link to it and give me a bit of a description? Thanks again for your interaction here,

    Can I take the liberty of using the email address you submitted and correspond that way? If not, scope out the right column, the blog-roll. The link is there. It is a small focused discussion list for discussion Calvinist soteriology. It’s a low-key, low-traffic, but a friendly list. We aim to present our research to others of like mind to read or talk about. We work hard to exclude folk who just want to come along and shout out anathemas at us.

    Thanks
    David

  8. Flynn permalink
    July 18, 2007 4:56 pm

    Hey Thomas,

    I was searching the www for something else when I came across this. This fellow exhibits part of my own experience. I will italicize the key lines I am interested in. Context is given simply to help the reader. And, I am not making any commitment regarding the broader issue of this online article:

    The fundamental “identity” motivation in this theological conflict is demonstrated as well by the seeming political and ideological alliance between various strands of the Reformed world. Somehow, Steve Wilkins is sacerdotal while Michael Horton is completely orthodox. Somehow Shepherd is on the road to Rome when he speaks about faith while John Gerstner is safe at home in Geneva. John Robbins can publish Mark Karlberg as completely orthodox and declare Van Til (a hero of Karlberg) a heretic. If anyone brings up the Reformers to oppose recent Reformed thinking, a typical response is that they have not read Richard Muller’s works and therefore don’t even have any right to talk about historical theology.[255] They, it is said, illegitimately pit Calvin against the Calvinists, succumbing to a totally refuted “Barthian” reading of the Reformers. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that almost all of those criticized are heirs of reconstructionist forefathers, even though they do not adhere to the old system. All this paints the following picture; there is nothing in FV theology that cannot be observed in scholars who seem to be immune from charges of heresy.[256]

    I can sympathize with his angst here. There does seem to be a lot of arbitrary selection at times. I just don’t think a lot of the way discussion is carried on is helpful in resolving some of these academic issues. It just strikes me as some folk have stopped thinking and what is more, have tried to suppress others from independent exploration. As an academic, that’s irritating. :-)

    David

  9. Tom Wenger permalink
    July 18, 2007 5:01 pm

    Feel free to e-mail me at this address, but I can take a look at the column as well.
    Thanks again,
    TW

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