19 May 2002

I picked some books last week that look like they should be interesting.

The first is Trinity and Truth by Bruce D. Marshall (Cambridge, 2000), which is part of the series Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine. In this study Marshall deals with two fundamental questions: what is truth? and how can we tell whether what we have said is true? The first question is primarily a metaphysical one, while the second is epistemological. In answer to both questions, Marshall suggests that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity provides an answer, particularly as God is identified as Trinity within the context of the Christian church, particularly through liturgy, narrative, and community. Thus, God is Truth and the God who is truth is the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ.

The book is obviously an ambitious one, drawing upon a range of Christian theologians from Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas to Barth, Rahner, and von Balthasar. It is also a book that constantly dialogues with figures in recent philosophy (particularly in the Anglo-american analytic tradition) such as Quine, Tarski, Dummett, Plantinga, Davidson, and others. I haven't read the book yet, but look forward to what looks like a challanging argument and one that takes the claims of Christian theism seriously as profoundly shaping epistemology and metaphysics.

The other book I purchased was Protestant Scholasticism: Essay in Reassessment, edited by Carl Trueman and R.S. Clark (Paternoster, 1999). It is a historical work, collecting together a variety of essays each examining some aspect of how scholastic methods and categories came be appopriated and transformed within Protestant theology. The books ranges over a significant time period, from continuities with the medieval tradition, through 17th century High Orthodoxy, into the Enlightenment. Figures examined include Luther and Calvin, Beza, Vermigli, Melanchton, Zanchi, Ursinus, Olevian, Perkins, Voetius, the Turretins, and Gerhard, among others.

I wanted to read this book in part because I'm told that it answers many of the typical objections and accusations that are lodged against Protestant scholasticism: discontinuity with the original Reformers, rationalism, unnecessary proliferation of theological distinctions, etc. I am also particularly interested in the continuity with the medieval traditions. In recent years I've become increasingly convinced that the scholastic theology of Aquinas and others came to be skewed in light of later developments, particularly those of Duns Scotus and Ockham and their heirs, so that by the time one comes to Renaissance theologians such as Saurez, the whole Thomistic tradition is beginning to be seriously misread through decidedly scotistic and nominalist lenses.

I have also become suspicious that this is equally true of Protestant theology, which, in reaction against nominalisms such as that of Gabriel Biel, still retained many the categories of those whom they were opposing and thus became complicit in some of the very trends they were attempting to correct.

Thus much of post-tridentine Catholicism and Protestant scholasticism were, in many respects, the mirror images of one another, both caught within the same nominalistically threaded web, constructing theological systems that were reflective of the very same assumptions that formed the basis for the modernist and Enlightenment philosophies they both opposed and paralleled. Thus neither Catholicism nor Protestantism were able to fully draw upon the Fathers or the great medievals in a manner that was authentic and genuinely counter-modern, though certain isolated figures did so with some success, particularly when we come to the 20th century nouvelle theologie within Catholic thought (de Lubac, von Balthasar, et al).

I'm hoping Protestant Scholasticism will assist me in substantiating and, where necessary correcting, my suspicions. If so, that might serve an important role in helping tell the story of Protestant theology and finding a better way forward.