- Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation by Richard A. Muller
In Calvin and the Reformed Tradition, Richard Muller weaves together eight earlier essays on Reformed theology of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and its interpretation in recent decades. The focus is, on the one hand, on the errors of later interpreters of Calvin’s theology and influence and, on the other hand, on several topics related to Christ’s work and human salvation in early Reformed sources. Muller shows, as always, [End Page 284] a remarkable depth and breadth of knowledge of the sources, and an equally imposing critical acumen about later interpretations.
Readers of Muller’s many previous works will find familiar driving concerns here. He strives to free the Reformed tradition from the label of ‘‘Calvinism.’’ He does this by reminding readers that Calvin was not the originator or authoritative guide to the tradition. Rather, he was a second-generation organizer of a well-developed theology who came to be one of the diverse independent theological voices in a tradition bounded, not by one theologian’s work, but by confessions and catechisms. And along the way he gleefully dismantles the work of later theologians who have either overemphasized Calvin’s authority or have imposed anachronistic theological concerns on their interpretations of Calvin’s theology.
It might be tempting to misconstrue Muller’s attempt to battle the common overemphasis on Calvin’s singular authority with a disparagement of Calvin as a theologian. Nothing could be further from the truth. The book is often at its best when Muller dives into Calvin’s work, both because of his thorough and fair-minded analysis of Calvin’s main theological genres, and because of his wide-ranging knowledge of other sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Reformed theologians.
The early essays explore a cluster of ideas about the work of Christ, including a helpful presentation of the problems inherent in using the English word atonement in discussions of theology written in Latin about Greek and Hebrew texts. He argues that the term satisfaction is more ‘‘limited atonement,’’ the L of the familiar tulip acronym. Examining the vocabulary and the sources with care on limited atonement and the related issue of hypothetical universalism, Muller shows that Calvin was in harmony with a range of Reformed theologians, whom one would expect to differ with each other on the issue. They do not take up limited atonement as we have come to think of it, but rather they taught that Christ’s sacrifice was of sufficient merit to pay for the sins of all, that faith is required for a person to appropriate that gracious gift, and those who believe do so because of God’s gracious gift.
The essays later in the book discuss the order of salvation, a concept whose kernel Muller finds in Calvin and other sixteenth-century reformers, though the term gained prominence and systematic precision among seventeenth-century Lutherans. He presents a helpful survey of Reformed theologians on the key text (Rom 8:28–30), and on the concept of union with Christ, which he shows to be much more prominent in seventeenth-century Reformed theology than some recent studies of Calvin have indicated.
The book shines in its discussion of the biblical interpretation of Calvin and others in the Reformed tradition. Instructively, Muller goes to exegetical theology to make significant points about Reformed perspectives. His statements about confessions and catechisms as the defining features of Reformed theology remain less developed. I would enjoy hearing his reflections on this, and on the possibility that it is really a shared priority on and approach to biblical exegesis and interpretation that defines the early Reformed tradition.
Most essays were originally lectures given at seminaries in Korea and at the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies at Calvin College and Seminary, and one was previously published as an article. The ordering of the essays...