Blogging Bavinck 5 – Reformed Dogma

“Reformed Theology begins with Zwingli…in the radical dependence of humanity on a sovereign and gracious God…”

Chapter 6 (175-206) necessarily begins with the Lutherans in Germany and how the differed with the Swiss Reformation and Zwingli. The largest difference being the view of the Lord’s Supper. However, it grows to Reformed theology being focused on thinking theologically, while Lutherans think anthropologically. For the Reformed, election is the main doctrine, for Lutheran, it is justification.

Lutheran Theology takes hold in Germany, but the history of Reformed dogma is harder to pin down. It starts in Switzerland, but spreads to many other countries, France, German, Spain and finds strongholds in Britain and the Netherlands. He briefly notes the impact of scholastics and then the challenges of Rationalism and mysticism. I went dive too much into these because they were cover so much elsewhere.

He points to the importance of the Westminster Assembly and that the development of theology in the reformed churches in all countries were more or less constant. However, Presbyterians shrink of Westminster and there is a rise in Non-conformists, especially with John Owen, and Baptists, culminating in the London Baptist Confession of Faith, which really was only different from Westminster in church government and baptism. He makes an interesting point that Baptist grew and multiplied especially in America, but not necessarily though theologians, but rather great preachers. I don’t want to digress, but this is a very significant development in American Christianity that I will write on later.

Next come the decline of Reformed theology in the 18th century and the influence of the Enlightenment in the 19th century, particularly with Kant and Schleiermacher. Their influence in Germany so destructive he writes that at the time of writing there is in Germany, ‘not a single university…on the basis of the Reformed confession.’

He has a few thoughts on John Wesley and Methodism before moving on to North America. He calls Wesley a ‘mighty preacher’ who ‘individualized the gospel.’ This impacted and based Christianity on two ideas – a personal and sudden conversion and seeking the conversion of others. This focus leads to a reducing of dogma and theology. He put Wesley up there with Schleiermacher in calling his influence on Anglicans, Presbyterians, and Baptists ‘incalculable.’

Reformed Theology in North American starts with Anglicans in the Southern Colonies and the Dutch Reformed Church in New York. He states that of all religious movements in America, ‘Calvinism has been the most vigorous.’

Calvinism here come from many different places and churches, Dutch & German Reformed, Puritans, Baptists and Anglicans, to name a few. The differ mostly in Puritan Calvinism (Congregationalist) in New England and the Presbyterian Calvinism in the South. Both follow the Westminster Confession of 1647, but they soon split into the Old School and New School, which I will not get into here.

He calls Jonathan Edwards the first and most important Theologian of New England. He has hope in Princeton Theological Seminary (the Old School) and the impacts of Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge and A.A. Hodge as well as the Southern Presbyterians – Thornwell, Breckinridge, and Dabney (not as well known or remembered today do to their support for slavery).

New School is obviously the impact of philosophy and liberal theology, especially from Germany. He points to the very odd American charactization of universities as secular, finding it strange that they either have no departments of theology or that what they do have, we’d probably know as departments of religion now. He is concerned that no theological seminaries are strong enough to resist secular influence, let alone counter it.

Interestingly, in light of today’s theological landscape, he calls Princeton Seminary the exception to this rule. He ends saying that, ‘Reformed churches and theology in America are in serious crisis’ and there is ‘clearly no rosy future awaiting Calvinism in America.’ I wonder what he would think of the so-called ‘New Calvinism’ that would take prominence here, 100 years later.
Follow along with me, go buy the whole set here – Reformed Dogmatics (4 Volume Set)

Blogging Bavinck 12, 3, 4

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