After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition

By Richard A. Muller | Go to book overview

2
Scholasticism and Orthodoxy in the Reformed Tradition
Definition and Method

Toward Definition

The Problem of Scholasticism and Orthodoxy—An Invitation to Discussion

In the last quarter century, the study of Protestant scholasticism has evolved from a neglected, almost nonexistent subject into a fairly broad and increasingly defined field of study. The evolution and development of the field have been shaped by revisionist approaches to the study of the Reformation and its medieval background, and by the development of a broader scholarly perspective on the history of the post-Reformation era. It can certainly be said that, in the last twenty years, there has been a shift from an almost entirely dogmatic study of the thought of the period to a more contextualized historical analysis—a movement that parallels, in considerably less detail and far fewer studies, the development of scholarship on the Reformation. 1 The parallels, moreover, between these two fields of study are methodologically significant—particularly inasmuch as comparable revisions in outlook have characterized both fields and inasmuch as the revisionist approach to Protestant orthodoxy or scholasticism has reflected revisionist approaches to the Reformation and, in fact, has been methodologically as well as substantively dependent on them. In what follows, I propose to offer definitions of the terms of discussion (scholasticism and orthodoxy in the post-Reformation context) and then to offer an overview of the methodological issues and problems involved in the study of the era.

To someone acquainted only with the older scholarship, the title “Scholasticism and Orthodoxy in the Reformed Tradition” might seem a bit strange or obscure; to others it might seem a reference to things better forgotten. The older scholarship, exemplified by the writings of Ernst Bizer, Walter Kickel, Brian Armstrong, Thomas Torrance, and others has typically modified the term “orthodoxy” with the pejorative terms “rigid” and “dead”, and modified references to “scholasticism” with the equally pejorative terms “dry” or “arid. ” Such assessment bespeaks bias, but it also reflects a rather curious sequence of metaphors. The implied alternative to such a phenomenon as “scholastic orthodoxy” would, perhaps, be a flexible and lively methodological muddle of slightly damp heterodoxy. Less facetiously, it is worth asking why “orthodoxy”, which means

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After Calvin: Studies in the Development of a Theological Tradition
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