One thing that is evident from the discussion going on over at Jeffrey Steel’s blog is that authentic Calvin scholarship has not yet penetrated the collective mindset of pastor-theologians. Steel and Al Kimel both serve as good examples. Both men are well educated and articulate. Both have a clear interest in the life of the Church. However, both also suffer from a distorted, albeit not uncommon, view of what it is that they have and are rejecting in Reformed/Protestant theology.
I have never met Jeff in person, however a good many congregants at the church I attend once sat under his leadership. I know many of his old pastor friends. I believe that I understand his trajectory, if I can say such a thing, and again, I think that much of it could have been improved, dare I say prevented, by a better understanding of history.
Now I can’t lay criticisms anywhere without laying them at the Reformed’s own feet. 20th century North American Calvinism has been, for the most part, an unreliable guide in pointing out the Reformed tradition. This is not to say that it is of no value, but it is to ask it to fess up. Much of the diversity of former Calvinism was simply not present in the 20th century, the sacramental-liturgical aspect was almost wholly absent, and the pop-Calvinism of J I Packer and Banner of Truth was near duplicitous in its relaying of “Puritanism.” I remember reading one of Packer’s books where he put forth John Owen as the Puritan par excellent, right in the mainstream of things, while chiding Baxter as a “train-wreck” of a theologian. Now whatever we think of these two men, it should be noted that Owen was the independent polemicist, holding certain minority and exclusive views, whereas Baxter was the author of Catholic Theology. As I understand it, Baxter was the more popular of the two by a good bit.
Furthermore, why was there no mention of men like Davenant and Polhill among the pop-works? Why doesn’t every Presbyterian know about Edmund Calamy’s The Lord’s Supper Is a Federal Ordinance Implying a Covenant Transaction between God and Us, and Supposing a Renewal of Solemn Vows to be the Lord’s? In it Calamy writes:
Further, as the Jewish feasts were upon the flesh of the sacrifices they offered to God, so is our holy Supper a feast upon the sacrifice which Christ once offered for us. And as their feasts upon their sacrifices were federal rites and bands of federal communion between God and them, so the Lord’s Supper, which is also a feast upon a sacrifice, must be a federal feast between God and us, whereby, eating and drinking at His own table and partaking of His meat, we are taken into a sacred covenant and inviolable league of friendship with Him…
I could list more examples. Names like Zanchius, Ursinus, Pareus, Polanus, and Vermigli might raise faint notions of recognition, but few Reformed could confess having actually read them.
This is one reason why I have been drawn to Church history. Had Steel’s RTS training exposed him to these names, he might have more respect for Calvin now. He might find himself less open to Anglo-Catholicism. In fact, I bet he first came interested simply because of the liturgy or the sacraments, as if those things were unReformed.
But the sad fact is that they are, in the day-to-day Reformed community, considered unReformed. Steel’s gut-reaction isn’t wholly unjustified. He was probably taught everything he believes about the Reformed tradition from Reformed people! It ought to be our desire to alleviate this problem, though.
So Reformed teachers and pastors, do you want to keep folks from going to Rome? Do you want them to appreciate the Reformed tradition? Well then pick up the books! Talk about the actual history! Show the sacramental, liturgical, catholic theology of the Reformers! Only then will you have an effective apologetic.