A Masterly Analysis of the the Historical Calvin on Salvation,
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This review is from: Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On The Work Of Christ And The Order Of Salvation (Paperback)
Richard A. Muller, `Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of
Christ and the Order of Salvation', Baker Academic (Grand Rapids:
This is a nicely presented book which is well written, and which
engages in academic historical theology to the very highest standard
by one of the leading experts in the field.
The book has footnotes where they belong, on the bottom of the page
they are referenced on. These are mainly used to reference other
works, but sometimes contain comment on such referenced works. The
book has one general index which contains both names and topics
covered. It does not have a collected bibliography, nor a Scripture
The book has the following chapters:
Chapter 1. From Reformation to Orthodoxy: The Reformed Tradition in the Early Modern Era
Chapter 2. Was Calvin a Calvinist?
Chapter 3. Calvin on Christ's Satisfaction and its Efficacy: The Issue of Limited Atonement
Chapter 4. A Tale of Two Wills? Calvin and Amyrault and Du Moulin on Ezk. 18:23
Chapter 5. Davenant and Du Moulin: Variant Approaches to Hypothetical Universalism
Chapter 6. The Golden Chain and the Causality of Salvation: Beginnings of the Reformed Ordu Salutis
Chapter 7. Union with Christ and the Ordu Salutis: Reflections on Developments in Early Modern Reformed Thought
Chapter 8. Calvin, Beza and the Later Reformed on Assurance of Salvation and the "Practical Syllogism"
Chapter 9. Conclusions
Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with contemporary Reformed
theology will know that appeals are still made to what John Calvin --
the second-generation sixteenth-century Reformer who worked in Geneva
-- taught. Someone with more exposure will be aware that on a number
of issues Calvin has been claimed to be more in step with one or
another (modern or historical) insight that deviates from the
traditional Reformed position. Muller's book is masterly review and
rebuttal of these claims based on a number of crucial insights into
how historical theological scholarship should be performed, and an
extensive knowledge of the primary and secondary literature.
Muller's insights include:
i) The Reformed tradition was always a confessional tradition, and had
many teachers - not merely Calvin. Calvin himself worked within this
tradition, and the later tradition drew not only from Calvin but from
numerous other Reformed thinkers. The Reformed tradition never saw
themselves as "Calvinists" in the sense of being particularly
associated with Calvin himself.
ii) Calvin needs to be understood firstly in terms of his sixteenth-
century context, and not as answering questions which only arose in
later theological debate.
These two factors mean that the question of whether Calvin was
"against" or "for" later "Calvinism" is often deeply problematic.
In chapters 3-5, Muller tackles the complex question of the
relationship between Calvin and the later Reformed tradition over
whether Christ's atonement was for a particular people or was an
hypothetical universal atonement. Muller does a good job of showing
that "limited atonement" is an anachronistic and unhelpful term to
understand any of the Reformed positions in the early to mid sixteenth
century, and that there were other Reformed versions of hypothetical
universal atonement apart from Amyrault's version which was to cause
controversy with its talk of two "wills" in God.
In chapters 6 and 7 Muller turns his attention to the question of the
Reformed ordu salutis, and in particular to whether or not early
modern Reformed thought moved away from a Calvinian emphasis on
union with Christ to a causal ordu salutis which emphasised
predestination rather than Christ. Muller convincingly shows that
there were significant commonalities between Calvin and the later
Reformed theologians, including no attempt to add temporal aspects to
the ordu salutis other than the obvious ones, and the maintenance of
the emphasis of union with Christ.
In Chapter 8 Muller addresses R.T. Kendall's thesis that early modern
Reformed thought introduced legalism by grounding assurance of
salvation on good works rather than faith in Christ, which Kendall
claimed, was Calvin's approach. Muller succeeds in showing both that
Calvin did point to evidences of sanctification as evidences of a
eternal election, and that in Reformed theology this teaching avoids
legalism as the works in question are a result of being called and
hence brought to faith, united with Christ, justified, and renewed,
and not the cause of it.
This book demonstrates massive erudition, and convincingly demolishes
poor historical scholarship which has plagued this subject, as people
have tried to claim Calvin as their own. The arguments advanced are
not only based on better historical methodology, but are based on the
acquaintance of a vast amount of early modern Reformed theology by
diverse theologians (often in Latin). This book is a must read for
anyone planning to work in this field.
However, this book is not suitable for anyone hoping to learn theology
from - say - Calvin. Muller is writing for fellow experts, and often
assumes familiarity with the theological debate, and only focuses in
on aspects of it which are controversial. Furthermore, Muller is such
a good historian - placing Calvin in his context - that general
sweeping application to contemporary modern theological debates and
issues is missing. Indeed, it is exactly that kind of application of
Calvin that has distorted the understanding of the historical Calvin,
and this is exactly what Muller is fighting against. Nevertheless, by
being so focused on historical theology, it does mean that Muller has
failed to meet the needs of those of us who study historical theology
more for the theology than the history.
Overall, a masterly work that corrects numerous mistaken arguments
that have distorted what Calvin actually taught, and how the
Reformed tradition actually developed.
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