A couple of days ago, I mentioned this post by John Byl connecting some of the stuff at Reformed Academic with earlier missteps in the history of biblical interpretation. As I’ve been reading volume 2 of Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, I’ve seen confirmation of this. Let me give one example.
Francis Turretin is well-known as an orthodox Reformed theologian of the seventeenth century. His Institutes of Elenctic Theology are still in print and widely-respected. Francis had a son named Jean-Alphonse. Jean-Alphonse Turretin aimed to develop “an irenic theology, more attuned to the demands of reason but also more in touch with the needs of piety than that of the seventeenth century orthodox” (140). J-A Turretin was part of a movement that eventually resulted in near-total theological capitulation to the Enlightenment ethos. Muller goes on:
Despite the echo of his father’s strict orthodoxy, the tendency of the argument and the underlying sense of the conformity of Scripture and Christian doctrine to the light of reason both draw profoundly on the more rationalistic, apologetic, but nonetheless genuinely pious theology of Tronchin. The more rationalistic side of the younger Turretin’s approach to the text is seen, in addition, in his hermeneutics and in his theory of accommodation — which is a rather different view of accommodation than that offered by Calvin or by the orthodox writers of the seventeenth century, and occupies what might be characterized as a position, strongly influenced by Cartesian philosophy and halfway toward the view proposed later in the eighteenth century by Semler. The younger Turretin, for example, did not hold the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be a precise history or a scientific account: he was able to argue a valid theological and religious meaning to the stories of creation, fall, the flood and the Tower of Babel without feeling constrained to debate either matters of historical detail or of scientific cosmology. He saw no need to reconcile the narrative of Genesis with a post-Copernican view of the world. And, very much like Spinoza, Turretin could argue that Scripture was intended to lead people toward faith and obedience rather than to rational or scientific knowledge of the world order. (141 — emphasis added)
The great philosopher Yogi Bera was right: it’s deja vu all over again. There’s a lot of recycling that goes on in the history of theology.