A Disclaimer on Book Synopses
54. Bavinck begins his survey of the history of Reformed dogmatics by analyzing the difference between Reformed and Lutheran systems. He argues that the difference between them is perspectival in nature. Lutherans do theology through the lens of anthropology (emphasizing justification), while Reformed theologians do theology through the lens of theology proper (emphasizing the glory of God). Bavinck then turns to the development of Reformed theology from Zwingli in Zurich to Calvin in Geneva, then onto the rest of Switzerland, France, the Palatinate, the Netherlands, England, and Germany.
55. Bavinck surveys the development of Reformed theology in the Netherlands through Reformed scholasticism (a methodology which, he says, was greeted with mixed reviews among the Reformed), in England through theological controversies over church polity, Arminianism, and Amyraldianism, and in Scotland through the work of Rollock, Welsh, Gillespie, Rutherford, and others. Bavinck argues that Reformed dogmatics reached its “zenith” and “terminus” in the Canons of Dordt (1618-19), the Westminster Standards (1646), the Consensus Helviticus (1675), and the Walcherese Articles (1693).
56. Reformed theology met with stiff resistance throughout the first two hundred years of its existence. Not only did Luther and Calvin protest the Roman Catholic Church, so did humanists who argued not for a return to Scripture but for a return to classical Greek and Roman culture, thus rejecting Calvinist theology. Religious challenges came from Socinians and Anabaptists. Philosophically, Cartesianism sought to replace revelation with reason (Bavinck sees Cocceius as a Cartesian). In France, the Academy of Samur begot several “startling [theological] theses.” England saw different challenges arise from Independents, Baptists, and numerous religious sects, which all in one way or another paved the way for deism, rationalism, and, eventually, skepticism.
57. “Around 1750, Reformed theology everywhere fell into decay.” The Netherlands saw the Era of Toleration (1740-1770) which allowed Remonstrant and Socinian errors to run rampant. In 18th century France, the revocation of the Edict of Nanses (1615) meant the banishment of many strong Reformed theologians from France. In England, dogmatics had become completely pre-occupied with defending against deism, and developed a rationalistic bent. In Scotland, the “Marrow controversy” proved a stepping stone to neonomianism and rationalism.
58. By the 19th century, Reformed theology in the Netherlands, England, Germany, France, and Switzerland were all in decline, and modern philosophy and modern theological trends were on the rise.
59. In 19th century England in particular, several religious movements need to be acknowledged because of how they altered the religious landscape of England. First, John Wesley and Methodism whose ministry influenced virtually every Christian denomination. Second, the Oxford Movement which sought the establishment of Christian dogma, high Church liturgy, social renewal, and a united Protestant Church. Third, the unreligious effects of evolution (agnosticism, empiricism, and materialism). Fourth, the rise of many differing kinds of religious groups (Unitarianism, Buddhism, Islam).
60. On the otherside of the pond, Calvinism had a deeply influential effect in North America early on, though there were different ‘strands’ of it present there. However, even here conflicts arose (Old School v. New School, Old Lights v. New Lights, Orthodoxy v. Modernism); soon the Calvinism which had such a promising beginning in America was on the run. Bavinck, writing at the dawn of the twentieth century, prophetically declared, “There is clearly no rosy future awaiting Calvinism in America.”
1. The Science of Dogmatic Theology (Part 1) and (Part 2)
2. The Method and Organization of Dogmatics (Part 1), (Part 2), and (Part 3)
3. The Formation of Dogma: East and West
4. Roman Catholic Dogmatics
5. Lutheran Dogmatics