If there is one thing that can be called a genuine breakthrough in the last half-century of Reformation studies, it would be the ‘discovery’ that the Reformation had a background. The reformers, all of whom were theologians, and a good number of whom had formal academic training in the discipline, emerged out of a theological landscape that profoundly shaped their horizons. Some elements from this late medieval theological bequest they rejected; some they appropriated; and still others they sublated by taking something old and fashioning from it something new. In other words, their ideas did not spring to life ex nihilo, or descend from above, or emerge full-blown from an ‘objective’ study of the Bible alone. They worked in the intellectual context of late medieval theology, and consequently, without some grasp of this context , there can be no adequate understanding of their theology. By today, this realization has had an impact on every area of Reformation studies. (Denis J. Janz, David Bagchi and David Steinmetz, eds., “The Cambridge Companion To Reformation Theology,” 5)The problem is, especially amongst the popular level, this “breakthrough” that Janz speaks to is unrealized. When folks conceive of God in terms of decrees, for example, they assume that this comes straight off the pages of scripture. There is little, or no recognition that in fact Reformed theology has an intellectual history (see Stephen Strehle’s: The Catholic Roots of the Protestant Gospel); and that that history is not necessarily self-same with scripture (i.e. there are competing intellectual histories).
Until this general thesis is acknowledged, what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism will never get a fair hearing. Why? Because Federal Calvinism (Classic) will continue to assume that their reading of scripture is scripture; without any critical recourse to the fact that maybe their perspective actually has background.
This is one of the burdens of this blog; to inform folks of the “background” within the “Reformed tradition.”