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Formato: Capa comum
Catholicity is as important as it is often misunderstood. In search of a deeper connection to historic Christianity, some study Roman Catholicism only to become Roman Catholic. Others study Eastern Orthodoxy and adopt that system of thought, in whole or in part. The great strength of post-Reformation Reformed theology is that it provides an example of how to glean from the entire catholic tradition of the church without adopting alternate theological systems. In Reformed Catholicity, Allen and Swain make a persuasive case why we need to learn to do the same thing today. They argue for building a distinctively Reformed theology, in conversation with the entire Catholic tradition of the church, under the authority of Scripture, in the church, and for the church. This is precisely the kind of theological maturity that Reformed churches need so desperately today.
This book points the church in the right direction with regard to doing systematic theology. It stresses primarily the meaning and application of the Reformed principle of sola scriptura in conjunction with confessional theology in formulating Reformed theology. The authors rightly note the importance of texts, such as Eph. 4:11, for establishing the necessity of teaching as an instrument by which Christ through the Spirit teaches the church and builds believers up to maturity. They make a biblical case for the special role of historic creeds and confessions in this process followed by an outstanding concluding chapter “In Defense of Proof-Texting.” This section shows the nuanced exegesis that ought to stand behind proper proof-texting in theology. The only weakness to this treatment is the absence of discussing theological inferences and their proper use in light of Scriptural example.
One thing that should be added is that recovering Reformed Catholicity highlights the necessity of Latin for Reformed theologians. English-speaking theologians draw predominantly from British and American texts, effectively cutting themselves off from the continental Reformed tradition. This is unfortunate, since most Reformed systematic theology in the Reformed orthodox period was written in Latin on the continent.
In spite of the many virtues of this work, the book highlights as well that Reformed Catholicity is easier to formulate than to practice. For example, appealing explicitly to the churchly context of theology would strengthen their treatment of “proof-texting.” They suggest that in order to keep theology biblically grounded, systematic theologians should engage in writing theological commentaries or articles on parts of Scripture. While this counsel is valid, if theology is truly a churchly activity, then what better place for systematicians to ground their theology in Scripture than ministering what they learn in the context of the church from the pulpit? Preaching naturally gravitates towards exegetical and biblical theology. However, systematic theology, if used properly, has the potential to make preaching more precise, edifying, personal, and practical. It is possible for professors to stress the churchly context of theology without giving a churchly solution to contemporary problems. In the past, the best ministers were the best professors. Laboring prayerfully in the study in the context of ministering to God’s people in the local church has greater potential to produce sound and useful systematic theology than writing theological commentaries, though both are important. It is telling that older forms of church order, such as the Scottish Second Book of Discipline, charged the doctors of the church with teaching in theological schools and with catechizing the youth. This is how it should be.
The generally excellent appendix by Todd Billings take a tragic turn when he appeals to City Church in San Francisco as example of what it means to be catholic-Reformed. He calls this congregation, “a distinctively Reformed church that seeks to draw upon the larger catholic tradition of theology and practice, for the sake of its mission and witness in the world. The felt needs of the culture do not drive its agenda” (157). Having recently moved from the San Francisco Bay area, this reviewer finds this assessment puzzling if not shocking, since City Church declared itself independent from an established Reformed denomination in order to ordain women elders, rejected ministerial vows to uphold historic Reformed creeds, and now accepts practicing homosexuals into their membership. It is hard to conceive how City Church embodies either catholic or Reformed theology and practice.
Reformed churches today desperately need to recover the theological maturity exemplified by their forefathers. This entails critical and appreciative engagement with the entire catholic tradition of the church, with the conviction that Christ has spoken and continues to speak to and through his bride. However, there is a fine line across the spectrum trying to repristinate the seventeenth-century, appropriating and adapting historic Reformed theology to a new generation, and transforming the content of that theology into something entirely new. The authors of Reformed Catholicity aim at the second option, but the appendix by Billings appears to drift into the third one. Yet in an age in which there are almost as many methods as there are systematic theologians, Allen and Swain provide much sage wisdom for students, professors, and scholars. In particular, this review hopes and prays that Reformed pastors would develop a healthy Reformed catholicity that will prevent believers from being tossed about by every wind of doctrine and build them up into unity and maturity in the Lord and with his church in all ages.
Ryan M. McGraw
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
(This review appears in Puritan Reformed Journal)
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Formato: Capa comum
To many modern Christian ears, "Reformed catholicity" sounds like an oxymoron. Reformed theology is often perceived as anti-catholic and pursuing catholicity can be seen as abandoning the tenets of the Reformation and returning to Rome. Reformed Theological Seminary professors Michael Allen and Scott Swain have written Reformed Catholicity to argue that "to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity, not to move away from catholicity" (4) and to provide a manifesto for a Reformed-catholic ressourcement for the sake of mission and renewal. Their thesis is that "there are Reformed theological and ecclesiological warrants for pursuing a program of retrieval, that we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles, and that pursuing this path holds promise for theological and spiritual renewal" (13).
Allen and Swain begin in Chapter 1 by arguing that the church is the context for doing theology. "[Christian theology flourishes in the school of Christ, the social-historical reality to which the apostolic promise applies...Because the anointing of Christ dwells within the church, the church is the school of Christ” (p. 18 emphasis original). In conversation with the work of Reinhard Hütter, Allen and Swain note two desiderata for a Reformed program of retrieval.
The next two chapters address sola Scrptura, addressing common misconceptions and retrieving the Reformation understanding of this doctrine. Chapter 2 begins by looking at critiques of sola Scriptura by Brad Gregory, A. N. Williams, and Alexis de Tocqueville. Then Allen and Swain provide a survey of texts of the early Reformation movement such as Martin Bucer's De Regno Christi and several confessions. They conclude with a brief look at three practices of the early Reformational movement - confessions, discipleship, liturgy. All of these demonstrate, contra the critiques of Gregory, Williams, and de Tocqueville, that for the early Reformational movement sola Scriptura was located within a wider catholic context. Next, in Chapter 3, Allen and Swain consider the biblical case for Scripture as ultimate authority within a catholic context of subordinate yet no less divinely inspired authorities. Attention is given to Psalm 145, the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, and 2 Timothy. Somewhat provocatively, they state that "churches and Christians have turned from sola Scriptura to solo Scriptura, a bastard child nursed a the breast of modern rationalism and individualism"(85). They go on to note that we must defend sola Scriptura from misunderstanding and reflect on the way in which we express the doctrine. Chapter 3 concludes with three dogmatic tools that link the Bible as ultimate authority and the church as the catholic context: the church as the creature of the Word, the church as the hearing church, and the church's authority as ministerial.
Chapter 4 argues for a "ruled reading" of Scripture on the basis of Reformed theological and ecclesiological principles. In answering the question of what the role of the church's confession is in biblical interpretation, Allen and Swain first look at the church as an authorized reading community and then the relationship between the rule of faith and biblical interpretation. They demonstrate that "[t]he rule of faith is an ecclesiastically authorized representation of scriptural teaching whose hermeneutical function is to provide not only a starting point for biblical exegesis but also to direct exegesis to its goal, which is the exposition of each particular text of Holy Scripture within the overarching context and purpose of the whole council of God" (99). In the last chapter of the book proper, Allen and Swain offer a defense of proof texting (which is usually only spoken of negatively). They argue that "proof texting is not necessarily problematic; furthermore, historically it has served a wonderful function as a sign of disciplinary symbiosis among theology and exegesis" (117). In addition,"proof texting demonstrates the Reformed catholic nature of sound theology" (118).
Finally, J. Todd Billings contributes an afterword that explores how to respond to the prevailing consumerist theology of Western Christianity with a theological vision that is both catholic and Reformed, and how this vision responds to the challenge in a way that rediscovers a biblical, Christ-centered path toward renewal. “[A]n approach that is both catholic and Reformed challenges the deep and often hidden assumptions that place the religious consumer in the center, and the drama of the Triune God on the sidelines...It gives a path toward church renewal in which our consumer priorities are gradually displaced by the Spirit as we are incorporated into Christ and his corporate body, fed at the Pulpit and the Table as adopted children of the Father” (144-145). Billings first compares the Heidelberg catechism with the "creed" of moralistic therapeutic deism (MTD); he then looks at several popular-level attempts to be biblical and Christ-centered that are actually counterproductive and actually even further feeds into MTD. Next he examines how a cathlic-Reformed tradition is the true alternative to MTD, and closes the chapter with a look at what it means to be catholic and Reformed today, examining the issue both at the practical (congregational) level and academic (further research) level. For congregational implications Billings compares Willow Creek Church (correlationist approach) and City Church of San Francisco (catholic-Reformed approach). For academic he notes especially Theological Interpretation of Scripture/History of Interpretation, movements to overcome false polarities in describing Patristic and Reformation-Era theology, and non-Reformed theologies of Premodern retrieval.
Reformed Catholicity is essential reading for budding theologians who identify broadly with the Reformed tradition. In fact, I fear some who would love and benefit from this book might not give it a chance because of the word "Reformed" in the title. In our day "Reformed" is often immediately associated with the doctrines of grace, but there's not a tulip petal in sight on these pages. Perhaps a more accurate title would be "Protestant Catholicity." I think many who do not hold to Reformed soteriology or ecclesiology would still enjoy this book and profit much from it. Reformed Catholicity is an important book for not just the Reformed, but for all Protestants who care about theology, the church, and renewal.
I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review.