By Brad Littlejohn
When I was thinking about my master’s thesis and planned doctoral research, a senior scholar in the field of political theology quipped, “The trick to any historical dissertation is to try and dig up some neglected third-rate thinker and try to pass him off as a second-rate thinker.” And although he was at least half-joking, it has struck me since that this is an apt summary for how most of even the thoughtful reading public is likely to think of most exercises in historical resourcement.
Out trots the scholar enthusiastically brandishing a heap of manuscripts, and exclaims, “Hey, have you ever heard of so-and-so? You’ve really been missing out on this neglected genius!” The onlookers, unimpressed, are liable to retort, “If he’s such a genius, why has he been so neglected?” We tend to operate with an implicit Darwinian cynicism when it comes to the history of ideas—if someone or something has been consigned to the dustbin of history, there’s probably, we suspect, a good reason for it. At the very least, we figure, theology seems to be doing just fine without the contributions of this neglected genius, so he can’t be all that important.
There are of course any number of holes in this train of reasoning, which probably become obvious enough simply by making these implicit musings explicit. But let’s focus on the last one. Is it really the case that our theology today is “doing just fine”? A glance around in most any direction suggests otherwise. And I would suggest that one of the key reasons is that we seem to have lost the ability to pursue dialectical clarity and biblical saturation at the same time. Some quarters of the contemporary church are saturated in Scripture; they live and breathe Bible. They can rattle off Bible verses for any topic you might want, or else they’re tuned-in to the deep typologies and literary motifs of Scripture. But when you ask for a clear and crisp systematic explanation of what Christians ought to believe on some doctrine or other, you are apt to get, at best, an answer heavy on rhetorical hand-waving and light on clarity, or at worst, an indignant rejection of the premise that Bible people should feel the need for such narrow dogmatic precision.
And in part you cannot blame them, for in some cases this reaction is an allergic one, developed in response to narrow dogmatism of the worst sort, a dry and dusty love of logic-chopping that masquerades as theology, but would be equally happy doing Kantian philosophy—an empty shell of systematic theology that has been deprived of the beating heart of a love for the Bible. Read more…
There is not a shortage of books arguing against atheism propositionally. But what about trying to understand it on an emotional and existential level?
“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?” (Is. 40:18)
Our Modern-Day Golden Calves
Protestantism today has an idolatry problem. And by that I do not mean what countless Protestant preachers on both the left and the right can be heard thundering from pulpits every Sunday—that we have embraced the idol of Mammon, or of the State, or of personal freedom, or of gluten-free dieting, etc. This may all be true enough, and yet when we seek to make the pervasive biblical warnings against idolatry relevant to the modern world in this way, we manage to miss a central strand of the Bible’s teaching on the subject: that we can make an idol of Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel. Read more…
We are pleased to announce that we have updated and revised two of our earlier publications, For the Healing of the Nations and For Law and for Liberty. You will find descriptions of each work below. Read more…
We are pleased to announce the publication of the third installment in our Davenant Guides series, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense. Davenant Guides seek to offer short and accessible introductions to key issues of current debate in theology and ethics, drawing on a magisterial Protestant perspective and defending its contemporary relevance today.
In this volume, David Haines and Andrew Fulford, Canadian Reformed scholars, collaborate to explain the philosophical foundations of natural law, clear up common misunderstandings about the term, and demonstrate the robust biblical basis for natural law reasoning. In doing so, they help bring clarity to recent debates about how Protestants can understand the role of reason, the moral knowledge and ability of unbelievers, and how Christians can engage the public square.
The book has received warm praise from leading Christian philosophers. J.P. Moreland of Talbot School of Theology writes:
“Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense could not have come at a better time. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see that the increasing secularization of Western culture has lead to ethical, theological and behavioral chaos and relativism. Christians must speak clearly and convincingly about the messy issues of our day, but they, especially Protestants, are ill-prepared to engage the world of ideas without citing the Bible. Among other things, this implies that Christians should be laboring for a theocracy, but this is not what is needed and the state must have some sort of guidance to carry out its mission of punishing wrongdoing in Romans 13 without the scriptures. The existence, nature and knowability of natural moral law is what meets these needs.
Fulford and Haines have provided an outstanding work that must get a wide readership if Christians are to re-engage the public square thoughtfully and appropriately. They follow a carefully developed order of presentation in this book. Before giving what may be the best recent biblical defense of natural law theory, they rightly are concerned to make very clear exactly what natural law is. Refreshingly, they ground natural law in solid metaphysical treatments of God’s relation to the natural law and in the metaphysics of the creation within which natural law makes sense. This is followed by unpacking the claim that natural moral law is knowable by human beings. Given this treasure-trove of background, the biblical defense of natural moral law is clarified. I am excited about this book! And I thank God for Fulford and Haines who took great effort and much time to serve the church with this resource.”
We are pleased to announce that The Davenant Institute has just concluded a contract with Truman State University Press to take full possession of the Peter Martyr Library. Effective Jan. 1, 2018, TSUP will transfer all rights, electronic files, and hard copies of the ten volumes of the Peter Martyr Library (including its accompanying Peter Martyr Reader) to Davenant, and Davenant will assume responsibility for their continued distribution as well as the publication of the final volume, Vermigli’s Commentary on Genesis, edited by John Patrick Donnelly, S.J. As part of this extraordinary gift, Davenant will gain possession of over 1,000 copies of the published volumes of the series, which we plan to make available to scholars, students, and libraries at significantly reduced prices beginning early next year. We will also be able to make widely available digital editions of these volumes, reissue them in inexpensive paperback editions, and excerpt from them for anthologies.
Although largely unknown today outside the circle of Reformation scholars, Peter Martyr Vermigli was a true giant of the 16th-century Reformation, a man who left an indelible influence on the churches of Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and England where he spent his pilgrim life, and who through his writings left an even wider legacy. Standing as he does at the intersection of humanism and scholasticism, with a profound concern for Biblical exegesis and the renewal of preaching, but also for linguistic study, educational revival, Christian philosophy, ethics, and political thought, Vermigli sums up the broad and bold mission of the Davenant Institute to renew Christian wisdom through resourcement.
Over the past couple years, we have sought opportunities for closer involvement with Vermigli scholarship, adopting the Peter Martyr Society in early 2016 and beginning a collaborative project to re-translate Vermigli’s Common Places earlier this year. We are thus immensely excited at the opportunity that this acquisition offers us to begin enabling the writings of this great Reformer to finally reach the wide audience they deserve.
Profs. Torrance Kirby and Gary Jenkins, the President and Secretary of the Peter Martyr Society and longtime contributors to the Peter Martyr Library project, had this to say about the acquisition:
“This transfer has been the culmination of efforts by several parties for the future of the Peter Martyr Library and the Society. It grew out of a mutual concern by both the Davenant Trust and the Peter Martyr Society that an established center devoted to the vital importance the Reformation, its thought and heritage, should be found to help nurture the scholarship of Vermigli and insure his rightful place in the continuing historical and theological pursuits of our own day. Placed now fully in the hands of those who not only care about such pursuits as part of an academic life, but value them as proper and virtuous ends in themselves, this can only harbinger good things for research and publishing in all things Vermigiliana. We are happy indeed.”
Stay tuned early in the new year for opportunities to purchase heavily discounted copies of the PML volumes, and for other developments on the Vermigli front.
On October 31st, The Davenant Institute published Reformation Theology: A Reader of Primary Sources with Introductions. Edited by Bradford Littlejohn and Jonathan Roberts, this work reflects the clarion call of the Protestant Reformers, “Ad fontes!—Back to the sources!” for our own generation. Just as they recognized that renewal of the church in their era depended upon a clearer understanding of the church’s past through the writings of its greatest early theologians, so renewal of the church in our era depends on grasping anew what the Reformation was all about, why it happened, and why it still matters. The best way to achieve that, we believe, is through reading the primary sources. Read more…
As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many Protestants, whether in the pews, the pulpit, or the academy, are apt to feel a bit uncertain about just how enthusiastically they can celebrate the Protestant doctrine of the church. After all, isn’t this doctrine the weakest link in Protestant theology, as modern-day Catholic apologists charge, and insecure Protestant theologians self-flagellatingly repeat? In The Davenant Institute’s newest publication, People of the Promise: A Mere Protestant Ecclesiology, our contributors argue, on the contrary, that the Reformers’ radical re-thinking of the definition of the church is one of the Reformation’s greatest treasures. Not only is “mere Protestant” ecclesiology firmly in concert with the multifaceted biblical witness, but it is also manifestly in accord with natural reason and the lived experience of Christians throughout the ages. This volume seeks to honor the Protestant heritage and encourage Protestant Christians today by remembering, reclaiming, and critically reflecting upon the relationship between the gospel promise and the community which it calls into being. Read more…
This article is taken from the first issue of Ad Fontes: a Journal of Protestant Resourcement. Subscriptions to the print edition are available for $5/month. This is one of two articles in our inaugural issue and is written by Bradley Belschner. Belschner is a systems analyst at Emsi, a determined generalist, and an enthusiast of Reformation theology.
Throughout Christian history there have been four main ecclesiologies:
- papal sacerdotalism (Roman Catholicism)
- magisterial sacerdotalism (e.g., Eastern Orthodoxy)
- magisterial evangelicalism (e.g., historic Protestants)
- anarchic evangelicalism (e.g., Anabaptists like the Amish and Mennonites)
First Distinction: Sacerdotal v Evangelical
The most important distinction above is sacerdotal vs. evangelical. Sacerdotalism refers to the role of the “priest” as a spiritual mediator between God and man, and also the notion that bishops represent the apostles by virtue of apostolic succession. In this view the clergy do not exist merely to promote good order in the church; rather, their offices are imbued with unique spiritual power that lay Christians do not possess. The church is conceived of as an institution, and the boundary of that institution is defined by the clergy. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox affirm different versions of sacerdotalism, since the former insists on a supreme Roman bishop within the clergy, but either way both churches share the same fundamental belief in the mediatorial role of the clergy. Read more…
Last month, New Saint Andrews launched their new Reformation translation program, Wenden House for Reformation Studies. This program aims to capitalize on the extraordinary Latin curriculum that NSA has had in place for many years, and its rigorous theologically-anchored liberal arts program, in order to equip the next generation of Latin scholars to bring key Reformation and early modern texts to the contemporary church. The project consists of three distinct elements. The first is a translation of Lambert Daneau’s Ethicae Libri Tres for the Acton Institute’s Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law; this will be undertaken by the college’s Latin professor, Timothy Griffith.
The second is a translation of Jerome Zanchi’s De Tribus Elohim, supervised by Dr. Benjamin Merkle, who used the text extensively in his Oxford dissertation (this dovetails neatly, it should be noted, with the Davenant Trust’s sponsorship of the Junius Institute’s digitization of Zanchi’s complete works). This project will be primarily carried out by two Davenant Fellows, Rachel Jo and Angela Filicetti, admitted to the College’s graduate program with scholarships provided by the Davenant Trust, along with the assistance of an undergraduate, Michelle Bollen. They will also likely translate occasional smaller texts alongside this multi-year project.
The third element is a rigorous curriculum of translation studies, including classes on Reformation theology and philosophy, Reformation-era Latin, translation theory, library science, and more, which the two Davenant Fellows will be required to take, in addition to their further studies. This curriculum is being developed with the assistance of Mr. Peter Escalante of the Davenant Trust.
Last week, Brad Littlejohn had a chance to interview Ms. Jo, and Ms. Filicetti, the two Davenant Fellows, about their studies and their participation in the program. Read more…