Institutes of Elenctic Theology: 3 Volumes Hardcover – 22 Jun 2004
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About the Author
Academic Dean of Northwest Theological Seminary in Washington, where he also serves as Professor of Church History and Biblical Theology. He is the author of The Market Day of the Soul, editor of Kerux: The Journal of Northwest Theological Seminary, and has also edited various books including Francis Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Geerhardus Vos's Old Testament Eschatology, and The Letters of Geerhardus Vos
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This large 3 volume work is a gold mine of precise and careful thought. Turretin has been the object of odium in some (even Reformed) theological circles, but the one who takes time to read Turretin will find such sentiment to be unwarranted. Turretin was not a rationalist, merely rational. He was a seventeenth century Reformed pastor and theologian who clearly articulated Reformed doctrine in the midst of those who were opposing such doctrine. I have found Turretin to be biblical in his doctrine, delicate and precise in his thought, clear in his articulation, and powerful in his argumentation.
Turretin organized his Institutes into 20 topics (loci) that range from "Prolegomena" (that is, very necessary introductory considerations) to "The Last Things." Each topic (locus) is organized by specific questions. For example, locus 20 is divided into 13 questions. Question 2 reads, "Are the same bodies numerically which have died to be raised again? We affirm against the Socinians." Turretin raised this particual question because he wanted to defend the biblical doctrine of the bodily resurrection from an error that was being taught in his day. Turretin's theology is indeed elenctic (that is, polemic or argumentitive), for a great portion of his Institutes is written against the Roman Catholics, Arminians, Socinians, Anabaptists, and others. Turretin's Institutes is not merely a negative work (exposing the errors of unbiblical doctrine), but is positive. He builds up and defends biblical doctrine in every locus.
As for the edition, Dr. Dennison has blessed us all in editing and indexing the whole work. He has also provided a 19 page biography of Turretin, the message given at Turretin's funeral, and a short biography of George Giger (the translator). These volumes are sturdy and will last for decades.
As for the translation, this edition is a publication of George M. Giger's translation of the Institutes. Giger died in 1865 having produced this translation at the behest of Charles Hodge. The translation strikes me as unduly bulky and difficult at times, yet clear and quite understandable at others. There are other translations of particular loci, but one cannot find the entire work in English except in this translation.
Along the way I learned some very interesting things about Charles Hodge, Old Princeton and 19th century American Presbyterianism--though I was and am a confessional Reformed Baptist. Case in point--Charles Hodge did not write his famous SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY until he was well into his 70's. Until then, students at Princeton Seminary were assigned to read large sections of the three volumes of Swiss Reformed theologian Francis Turretin in Latin! For many students, especially those who did not keep up their High School Latin, it was an arduous task.
A friend of Charles Hodge, Charles M. Giger translated Turretin into English as a labor of love. A professor of Classics at Princeton College, Giger gave the seminary students 8000 pages of handwritten translation of Turretin into clear English. It became the clear choice until Hodge's own SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY became available in the 1870's. Finally, Charles Giger's labor of love has been edited and published so that the English speaking world can enjoy the fruits of one of the greatest of the post-Reformation theologians. Turretin is systematic, biblical, practical, experiential and he makes clear distinctions. That is the work of a good theologian and Turretin was a great theologian.
To quote R. C. Sproul on Turretin: "He was the master of fine distinctions that make for precision...If we hold sacred the notion that God has created us with minds for the purpose of seeking understanding then we will delight in the clarity and precision of thought Turretin's work presents to us."
What's more, Turretin presents his theology in the classic QUESTION & ANSWER format. This allows for greater precision and stimulates thought. Turretin covers all the major subjects of theology and asks the right questions. Students of modern theology are not adequately prepared if they do not make use of older theologians like Calvin, the English Puritans Owen and Goodwin, the Dutch 2nd Reformation theologian A'Brakel and the Swiss Post-Reformation giant, Francis Turretin.
Let me give you a taste of his three volume systematic theology by walking you through just some of the extensive TABLE OF CONTENTS for VOLUME ONE:
FIRST TOPIC: THEOLOGY
I. Should the word "theology" be used in the Christian schools, and in how many ways can it be understood?
II. Whether there is a theology and its divisions.
III. Whether natural theology may be granted?
IV. Is natural theology sufficient for salvation; or is
there a common religion by which all promiscuously may be saved? We deny so against the Socinians and Remonstrants (Arminians).
THE OBJECT OF THEOLOGY
V. Are God and divine things the objects of theology?
THE GENUS OF THEOLOGY
VI. What is the genus of theology?
VII. Is theology theoretical or practical?
VIII. Is human reason the principle and rule by which the doctrines of the Christian religion and theology (which are the objects of faith) ought to be measured? We deny against the Socinians.
IX. Does any judgment belong to reason in matters of faith? Or is there no use at all for it?
X. May the judgment of contradiction be allowed to human reason in matters of faith? We affirm.
XI. Is there any use of the testimony of the senses in mysteries of faith; or ought it to be entirely rejected? We affirm the former and deny the latter.
THE USE OF CONSEQUENCES
XII. Are the doctrines of faith and practice to be proved only by the express Word of God? May they not also be legitimately proved by consequences drawn from Scripture? We affirm the latter.
XIII. Is there any use of philosophy in theology? We affirm.
FUNDAMENTAL ARTICLES AND ERRORS
XIV. Are some theological topics fundamental, others not; and how can they be mutually distinguished?
SECOND TOPIC: THE HOLY SCRIPTURE
THE WORD OF GOD
I. Was a verbal revelation necessary? We affirm.
THE NECESSITY OF SCRIPTURE
II. Was it necessary for the word of God to be committed to writing? We affirm.
III. Where the sacred Scriptures written only occasionally and without the divine command? We deny against the papists.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
IV. Are the holy Scriptures truly authentic and divine?
V. Do real contradictions occur in Scripture? Or are there any inexplicable passages which cannot be explained and made to harmonize? We deny.
VI. From what source does the divine authority of the Scriptures become known to us? Does it depend upon the testimony of the church either as to itself or as to us? We deny against the papists.
VII. Has any canonical book perished? We deny.
VIII. Are the books of the Old Testament still a part of the canon of faith and rule of practice in the church of the New Testament? We affirm against the Anabaptists.
THE APOCRYPHAL BOOKS
IX. Ought TOBIT, JUDITH, WISDOM, ECCLESIASTICUS, THE TWO FIRST BOOKS OF THE MACCABEES, BARUCH, THE ADDITIONS TO ESTHER AND DANIEL to be numbered among the canonical books? We deny against the papists.
THE PURITY OF THE SOURCES
X. Have the original texts of the Old and New Testaments come down to us pure and uncorrupted?
We affirm against the papists.
THE AUTHENTIC VERSION
XI. Are the Hebrew version of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New the only authentic versions? We affirm against the papists.
XII. Is the present Hebrew text in things as well as words so authentic and inspired in such a sense that all the extant versions are to be referred to it as a rule and wherever they vary, to be corrected by it? Or may we desert the reading it supplies, if judged less appropriate and correct it either by a comparison of ancient translators or by suitable judgment and conjecture and follow another more suitable reading?
We affirm the former and deny the latter.
XIII. Are versions necessary and what ought to be their use and authority in the church?
XIV. Is the Septuagint version of the Old Testament authentic? We deny.
XV. Is the Vulgate authentic? We deny against the papists.
THE PERFECTION OF THE SCRIPTURES
XVI. Do the Scriptures so perfectly contain all things necessary to salvation that there is no need of unwritten traditions after all? We affirm against the papists.
THE PERSPICUITY OF THE SCRIPTURES
XVII. Are the Scriptures so perspicuous in things necessary to salvation that they can be understood by believers without the external help of any oral tradition or ecclesiastical authority?> We affirm against the papists.
THE READINGS OF THE SCRIPTURES
XVIII. Can the Scriptures be profitably read by an believer and ought he to read them without permission (of the ecclesiastical authorities)? We affirm against the papists.
THE SENSE OF THE SCRIPTURES
XIX. Whether the Scriptures have a four-fold sense: Literal, Allegorical, Anagogical and Tropological? We deny against the papists.
THE SUPREME JUDGE OF CONTROVERSIES AND INTERPRETER OF THE SCRIPTURES
XX. Whether the Scriptures (or God speaking in them) are the supreme and infallible judge of controversies and the interpreter of the Scriptures? Or whether the church or the Roman pontiff is? We affirm the former and deny the latter against the papists.
THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH FATHERS
XXI. Are the writings of the fathers the rule of truth in doctrines of faith and in the interpretation of the Scriptures? We deny against the papists.
Turretin goes on through 18l topics in three volumes with a meticulous and judicious coverage of all the major doctrines of the faith.
Obviously this three volume set will not be in every Christian's library. But it should be in every pastor's library and seminarian's library. And if you are a layman who likes to read the best theology, this would be a set for you too.
As a primer to see how good a theologian Francis Turretin really is, purchase the short paperback excerpted from the three volume work: JUSTIFICATION with a great introduction by R. C. Sproul.
May the Lord bless you as you read and pray your way through these volumes.
Your Book Servant,
Pastor Steve Martin
[...] is my personal website where I have hundreds of posts and articles and a video or two to edify you. And my new e-book, 21ST CENTURY COMMENTING ON COMMENTARIES is available to download.