Remembering the Importance of Divine Justice–An Update from Dr. Tim Baylor

Dr. Tim Baylor of the University of St. Andrews was one of the recipients of the 2017-18 Davenant Fellowship. He used this support to continue his important post-doctoral research on the doctrine of divine justice in the early modern period. Below he summarizes his recent work.

Protestant theology has struggled to find its feet in a time when its distinctives are often very poorly understood. For that reason, I’m very grateful for the work of the Davenant Trust to renew and resource contemporary Christian thought by supporting research into the history of Protestant theology. This past year as a Fellow of the Davenant Institute has afforded me a number of very valuable experiences — most particularly, the chance to develop new friendships and to further my research.  

In conjunction with my research on the work of John Owen, the last several months have had me working on a treatise on divine justice authored by Jesuit luminary Francisco Suarez. This work is a very rich and nuanced treatment of a dogmatic topic central to many of the most controversial theological discussions of the early Modern period. But the work was authored in Latin, is over 100 pages long, and lacks an English translation, so it was necessary to devote a significant amount of time to the translation of it. I have now completed my translation and analysis of this text, and I expect it to feature substantially in my analysis of Owen’s Diatribe de Justitia Divina.  

Alongside this translation work, I have also undertaken an analysis of several early modern texts on divine justice in order to position Owen’s work relative to prominent Protestant accounts. This has involved examining the writings of figures like Piscator, Twisse, van Maastricht, and Rutherford. This survey has uncovered interesting and new insights into the nature of Owen’s own theology and the distinctness of its contribution to Protestant thought.

I have also begun framing the final chapter of my book, which will examine the crucial place of the doctrine of divine justice in Owen’s account of God’s relation to the world. In particular, it will turn on the sense given to the claim that God’s glory is the “common good” toward which God governs all things. I expect to complete the chapter in the coming months, and then to submit the book to the publishers for review.   

Finally, last month, with the support of the Davenant Institute and the help of Brad Littlejohn and Jared Michelson, I had the opportunity to organise a symposium at the University of St Andrews entitled “The Doctrine of Creation and the Legacy of the Reformation.” The symposium brought together a number of leading voices in systematic theology to discuss the function and place of the doctrine of creation within Protestant theologies. This is an immensely important topic at a time when Protestant theology is often criticised for its failures on this doctrine. I counted it a great joy to participate in it, and am glad that Brad and the Davenant Institute see the importance of this work and have been willing to lead in its development.    

This is a challenging time for the church. And as always, it is a challenge hear afresh that Word which God speaks to the church. Deep engagement with the Protestant tradition facilitates this kind of obedient listening. And I am grateful for the investment of the Davenant Institute so that the church might receive anew from the wisdom of this rich theological heritage.