The Reformed tradition has endured many stereotypes over the years. Perhaps one of the most common in our own day is that of the angry Calvinist (what some jokingly call a “cage-stage Calvinist”) who is always on the lookout for theological dissension and debate. As W. Bradford Littlejohn of the Davenant Institute writes in the introduction to the book Beyond Calvin: Essays on the Diversity of the Reformed Tradition:
“If Reformed theology is associated with anything nowadays, it is often with a factiousness and dogmaticism that seems ready to leave a church or denomination (or better yet, kick your opponents out of one) over almost any offense, real or imagined. But it was not always so.”
Part of the burden of this book is to show another way forward for the Reformed tradition. By hearkening back to the irenic theology of leading Reformers the authors seek to explore and model the kind of theology we should pursue in our own day. They do this without postulating a golden age or pretending that our forefathers always attained to peace in their own day. As Carl Trueman writes in the forward to the book:
“[T]he past is the church’s past and something from which we need to draw help for the present in an appreciative, thoughtful, and critical manner. These papers individually, and this collection as a whole, exemplify how this can be done. Read, learn and go and do likewise.”
As Truman mentions, Beyond Calvin, is a collection of papers each of which explore the topic of diversity in the Reformed Tradition. Some (such as Andre Gazal’s essay George Carleton’s Reformed Doctrine of Episcopal Authority at the Synod of Dordt, and Michael Lynch’s essay Confessional Orthodoxy and Hypothetical Universalism: Another Look at the Westminster Confession of Faith) explore the theological diversity of the Reformed tradition. Other essays (such as E.J. Hutchinson’s excellent essay Written Monuments: Beza’s Icones as a Testament to and Program for Reformed Humanism) explore the diverse mediums in which Reformed Theology was discussed and disseminated. Still other essays (such as Stephen Wolfe’s Pagan Civil Virtue in the Thought of Francis Turretin) consider how traditional Reformed theology can differ from it’s contemporary expressions. Each of the essays in the book are scholarly and stimulating. Not all were convincing (to me) but all were constructive examples of sound historical and theological reflection.
There is little doubt that the issue of defining the limits and boundaries of the Reformed tradition will continue to be a pressing task. With so many applying the term “Reformed” to their churches, ministries, and theologies there will no doubt be rigorous ongoing discussion about what can, and cannot, rightly be known by that name. This book falls short of resolving such weighty questions, but it does point us towards some productive paths in search of an answer.