Some Helps for Studying Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics

Heinrich Heppe’s Reformed Dogmatics (revised and edited by Ernst Bizer) occupies an unusual bibliographic place in the Reformed tradition.

On the one hand it is a frustrating text to read because it is over-wrought with editorial bias and organizational difficulties . Heppe’s arrangement of certain loci is debatable, and his Reformed-Lutheran ecumenical interests hindered his analysis of Reformed orthodoxy at certain points (cf. Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1:129-131). Additionally Ernst Bizer, who revised and edited RD seventy years after it was first published in 1861, also had clear pre-commitments. Bizer was drawn to the “new orthodoxy” movement associated with Karl Barth and others. These biases pierce through the text at points, and render it problematic in certain ways.

On the other hand, Heppe’s RD is an incredibly useful text because it is, for all intents and purposes, an anthology of Reformed orthodoxy. It covers each locus of systematic theology, citing important Reformed scholastic theologians on each point. It is one of a very few number of sources in the English language that gives us access to those brilliant Reformed thinkers that came along after Calvin. For this reason, despite its weaknesses, it is a true treasure for us today. At least in my mind, until more Reformed scholastic works are translated into English, Heppe’s RD plays a very important role in bringing us in touch with classically Reformed theology.

However, an additional weakness of the work is that it lacks useful indices, footnotes, or really anything that might help one find a particular sub-topic within a given theological locus. The only way to read the book profitably is to start reading at the beginning of each locus and read until you find what you are looking for; obviously, this makes it a difficult reference work to use. What I intend to do is to work through Heppe’s RD and provide a brief ‘table of contents’ of each chapter, providing a brief description of each sub-heading, a list of significant theological terms found there, and the theologians that Heppe draws upon in that section. Hopefully this will be useful for others (I know that it will be for me).

Chapter 1, “Natural and Revealed Theology”          Chapter 2, “Holy Scripture”          Chapter 3, “The Foundation of Holy Scripture”  Chapter 4, “Holy Scripture”


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