Tag Archives: John Byl

Deja Vu All Over Again

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.


Copernicus and Reformed Theologians

John Byl has some helpful interaction here with some of the latitudinarian neo-Calvinist thinking at Reformed Academic.  A couple of paragraphs that caught my attention:

Then, as now, the central issue concerned the nature of biblical authority and interpretation. The Cartesians argued that the Bible was not a source of knowledge in natural philosophy but that the Bible was accommodated to fallible human opinion. The orthodox Reformed theologians, on the other hand, insisted on a fully authoritative, inerrant Bible that must be interpreted in a literal, rather than allegorical, manner.

Upon reading the detailed account by Rienck Vermij The Calvinist Copernicans: The reception of the new astronomy in the Dutch Republic, 1575-1750 [2002, 452pp], one is struck by the remarkable similarity between the view of Scripture of the Cartesian theologians and that of the ReformedAcademic in its current attack on the historicity of Genesis 1-11.