Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism: A Brief Review

By Ryan Patrick Hoselton

Many historians and theologians have described Scholasticism as dry, stodgy, and mechanical. Although Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism has not necessarily convinced me that the Scholastic literature is more exciting than reading Augustine or Jonathan Edwards, it has shown me that understanding Scholasticism is worth my time. Written by Dutch scholar Willem J. van Asselt with three other contributors, the work was translated into English from its original publication, Inleidung in de Gereformeerde Scholastiek.

The authors challenge the historiographical scheme that pits Calvin versus his Scholastic heirs. Following Richard Muller, they counter that Calvin was not the sole shaper of the Reformed tradition and thus should not represent the standard by which the rest are judged. Secondly, they argue that Scholasticism refers to a method rather than a doctrinal system. Theologians from a variety of traditions—including Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Arminian—all employed the Scholastic method but adhered to different doctrinal content. Thus, the authors define their study by narrowing it to Reformed theologians who employed the Scholastic method.

In the first half of the book, the authors provide a brief history of nineteenth and twentieth-century scholarship on Scholasticism, arguing that many have erred by either reducing the tradition to a Centraldogma or dismissing it as rationalism. They then examine the impact of the Aristotelian tradition on their method and the Augustinian tradition on their content. In chapters five through seven, they explain how Scholasticism operated in Medieval and Renaissance universities, outline the scholastic method and style of argumentation, and they define much of the difficult jargon like quaestio, disputatio, and fontes solutionum.

The second part of the book describes the eras of Reformed Scholasticism. Van Asselt follows Richard Muller’s classification of early (1560–1620), high (1620–1700), and late (1700–1790) orthodoxy, showing how Reformed Scholasticism developed from confessionalization and codification in the early stage to a sophisticated academic system with active debates and diverse schools of thought by the high and late stages. He highlights characteristics of each era, the positions represented in the leading universities and regions, and a theologian who is representative the period. The appendix offers a helpful study guide on how to access and navigate the primary source material of the Scholastics.

The work is accessible and comprehensive. I found the chapter on late orthodoxy especially useful in guiding one through the Reformed reaction to the Enlightenment. The work even addresses the role of Baptist theologians—like John Gill (1697–1771) and Andrew Fuller (1754–1815)—and their use of Reformed Scholastic categories in the debates during the period of late orthodoxy. Becoming familiar with Scholasticism is vital for understanding medieval theology, the Reformation, and the Puritans, and I highly recommend Van Asselt’s work as an introduction to the subject.

______________________ Ryan Patrick Hoselton is pursuing a ThM at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, KY with his wife Jaclyn, and they are the parents of one child.