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The Reformers and Tradition: Seeing the Roots of the Problem

Religions 2017, 8(7), 120;

Teaching the Reformations—Introduction
Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35229, USA
Received: 9 June 2017 / Accepted: 12 June 2017 / Published: 29 June 2017


This introduction to the Special Issue “Teaching the Reformations” summarizes the volume’s essays and discusses the conference at which they were presented.
Reformations; Martin Luther; John Calvin; Protestantism; Catholicism; humanities; the liberal arts; pedagogy; core and general education curricula
In October 2014, Samford University hosted its inaugural biennial conference on “Teaching the Christian Intellectual Tradition.” Drawing more than fifty scholars from thirty-plus universities, and supported by a generous grant from the Lilly Fellows Program in the Humanities and the Arts, “Augustine Across the Curriculum” was designed to help non-specialists teach the writings of Augustine more effectively in undergraduate core and general education classes. Anchored by plenary addresses from Peter Iver Kaufman and Kristen Deede Johnson, a selection of conference papers was published in a special issue of Religions in spring 2015, helping to disseminate the interdisciplinary insights of “Augustine Across the Curriculum” to a wider international audience. Building upon the energy and partnerships established at this conference, Samford developed a companion initiative: a biennial “Teaching the Christian Intellectual Tradition Summer Institute.” Led by faculty from the University Fellows Program, this week-long residential seminar met in June 2015 and focused on “Teaching Dante’s Commedia,” with more than a dozen faculty from the fields of history, classics, English, philosophy, and theology engaged in a close reading of Dante’s masterpiece. Both biennial initiatives—the conference and the summer institute—flow from a common conviction that Samford shares with many universities and colleges across the country: in this era of intense competition for resources, when the liberal arts are increasingly valued (or devalued) in terms of the “skills” and “measurable outcomes” they produce, it is more important than ever to support institutions and faculty committed to teaching the Christian Intellectual Tradition, and teaching it well.
The papers gathered in this special issue represent the work of “Teaching the Reformations,” the 2016 follow-up to “Augustine Across the Curriculum.” As Eamon Duffy has recently noted, 31 October 1517 marks “the fifth centenary of one of the few precisely datable historical events that can be said to have changed the world forever” (Duffy 2016). Of course, that precisely datable event is not complemented by a precisely understood theological, political, and cultural legacy, and the challenges of teaching that rich and contested legacy to today’s undergraduates was the focus of the 2016 conference. In the conference’s opening plenary address, which also serves as the opening essay to this collection, R. Ward Holder reminds teachers of the Christian Intellectual Tradition to resist convenient narratives about the Reformations. In “The Reformers and Tradition: Seeing the Roots of a Problem” (Holder 2017), Holder acknowledges how, when faced with the theological and ecclesiological complexities of the era and limited time to explore them, faculty “will trot out a number of old chestnuts, because as we have found, the old ideas got to be old ideas because people liked them and could remember them.” Among these chestnuts, “We will talk about the three Reformation solas—sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura. We will impress (or bore) our students by explaining the meaning of the ablatives and how that gives just the right amount of nuance to these formulae.” Moreover, “We will turn to the 17th century for a description of the Reformation—Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda—and consider that this was trying to capture a dynamism that sought to argue with the classicism of medieval Catholicism.” Finally, “At some point we will arrive at the difference between scripture and tradition” because, “although we know it not to be nuanced, we see great explanatory powers in bumper-sticker history.” Challenging “tradition vs. scripture” as a manner of distinguishing Protestants from Catholics during the early modern period, Holder’s essay argues instead for teaching undergraduates about how Reform movements exist on a “continuum of continuity with the medieval inheritance,” manifesting “genealogical and influential links across the eras.” Alert to how these movements negotiated the traditions they inherited from the patristic fathers and the medieval church, Holder pays special attention to Luther and Calvin, noting that their selective and intentional engagement with these traditions was not only a hallmark of their reforms but also, perhaps, a key to the survival and expansion of the new traditions they established (as opposed to, say, the Anabaptists, whose more thorough rejection of tradition put them at odds with the temporal realms of their day, making it much more difficult for their message to grow and spread.) Teaching these reform movements along a “continuum of continuity” with earlier church traditions relies on distinguishing carefully between “Traditions” (capital T) and “traditions” (small t). Borrowing this distinction from Yves Congar, Holder urges us to see “traditions” as “those habits of mind and pieces of received wisdom that the church constantly passes down to the next generation,” against “Traditions,” the “power of the Church, based on a conveniently oral source, to proclaim authority in a manner it saw fit.” For the Reformers, it was “Tradition” that was the problem, while “traditions,” which represented the “inheritance of the prior fifteen centuries,” were “the common birthright of Christians across Europe” and, rightly understood, were available to all. Clarifying this distinction has a threefold benefit. First, it “is simply better history”: access to fifteen centuries of church tradition “generally stood various reforming movements in good stead,” and to “argue otherwise involves historians in an attempt to bend history to justify doctrine.” Second, this distinction creates “a better typology of reform movements than some we presently use,” one which has “the increased value of being able to place all of the large ecclesiastical and ecclesiological reform movements of the era together” along a more nuanced continuum. Finally, this deeper understanding of the Reformers and tradition helps students to understand themselves better as “historically-situated” subjects who are living, like the Reformers were, in a “stream of tradition that helps to define them.” By examining what the Reformers did with “their mental and emotional inheritance,” our students not only come to know the Reformers better, but they also grasp more deeply their “own efforts at making progress on understanding the human condition.”
In the conference’s other plenary address, G. Sujin Pak also asks us to reconsider the Reformers as historically-situated subjects. In “The Protestant Reformers and the Jews: Excavating Contexts, Unearthing Logic” (Pak 2017), Pak highlights the important task of understanding how Luther and Calvin developed their views of and teachings about Jews and Judaism within particular immediate contexts and specific theological frameworks. Acknowledging that this topic is “both ethical and personal…because it involves actual persons and actual bodies,” Pak nonetheless warns us against the “temptation to move immediately to ethical judgments” about the views held by Luther and Calvin. Instead, we must seize upon this fraught topic as an “opportunity for critical self-reflection,” embracing the “historian’s task” to “unearth the logic that drives any given person or group, regardless of the moral judgments one might feel compelled to make.” When we do so, we not only help undergraduates to understand better the “wider historical and intellectual landscapes” within which Luther and Calvin operated, but we also help our students to draw implications for the present about what Christian faithfulness might look like in response to “the other” in light of the long and troubled history between Christian and Jews. Noting that relations between Christians and Jews were always in flux—cycling through times of “peaceful coexistence” and “intellectual collaboration” against moments of “outright persecution”—Pak establishes that, for Christians, the “key point of tension” in their history with the Jews was the fact that “the vast majority of Jews, to whom the promises of the Old Testament were made, rejected Jesus Christ and the promised Messiah,” a rejection that “threatened to undermine the legitimacy of the Christian faith.” On this point of tension, then, the Reformers introduced nothing new to the history of Christian-Jewish relations, operating within a “prior tradition of Christian anti-Jewish teachings and actions.” While this context does not excuse the Reformers, it is a “a point that should [not]…be lost upon us,” particularly in light of the secondary literature on Luther, some of which presents him “as the father of anti-Semitism, drawing a direct line from Luther to the Third Reich.” Perhaps because Calvin did not, like Luther, write treatises devoted specifically to the Jews or Judaism, his legacy is more ambiguous, with some scholars treating him as a “firm antagonist” of the Jews, yet others haling him “as one of the least anti-Judaic figures of his time.” Although Pak is attuned to the many socio-cultural contexts that contributed to how both men viewed Jews and Judaism, she places at the heart of her analysis the “centrality of biblical interpretation” and the Reformers’ defense of Scripture’s perspicuity. For Luther, Jews and Judaism were “a central concern…across his lifetime,” and his anti-Semitism developed in large part because he was defending a theological framework that rested on a “christological exegesis of the Old Testament and key reformational teachings that he genuinely believed were the perspicuous content of Scripture.” For Calvin, a theological framework was also at work in the development of his ideas about Judaism: because of his strong affirmation of the unity of the covenant, Calvin “read Jews of the Old Testament as participants in God’s eternal covenant”; thus, the rejection of Christ by contemporary Jews threatened to “endanger the very exegetical principles that Calvin maintained for the preservation of the perspicuity of Scripture.” In the end, Pak, like Holder, would have faculty and students draw lessons from this deeper understanding of a historically-situated Reformations. For Holder, that lesson goes to our own “situated-ness” as agents in a stream of inherited traditions that are always defining us. For Pak, that lesson goes to the heart of Christian identity in a pluralist world. Called always to proclaim and defend the faith, Christians would do well to remember the history of Christian-Jewish relations, and particularly the examples of Luther and Calvin, which can “demonstrate what can happen when Christians care more about the content of their defense than whether their method is ethical and faithful.” An ethical and faithful defense of the teachings of Scripture would not, in light of this history, be any less convicted; rather, such a defense would keep in mind always the difference between “to convert” and “to witness,” and in doing so recall that we must “let God do what God may with that witness,” holding to our convictions “in a manner consistent with the belief in a God who would die on a cross and take the sin and violence of the world onto God’s very own Self, precisely to end all violence and oppression.” This kind of Christian witness would draw deeply from a historical understanding of our fallen nature, resting upon a “profound humility” that is necessary for “negotiating truth communally with an openness to the image of God even in the ‘other.’”
Complementing these plenary addresses, this special issue also contains eight additional essays, each one selected for how well it enriches the ways in which a key text, issue, or controversy from the Reformations can be introduced into the classroom. The first four essays cluster around Luther and Calvin, building upon the insights of the two plenaries while introducing new points of entry, and the final four essays expand beyond these two major figures to introduce new writers, as well as new hermeneutical and disciplinary issues. In “Martin Luther and Lucas Cranach Teaching the Lord’s Prayer” (McNair 2017) Bruce McNair examines how, in a diverse set of writings and sermons on the Prayer spanning a twenty-year period, Luther found “new ways to express his most fundamental theological principles, such as justification by faith alone, the alien and proper work of God, the corruption of the will and the hiddenness of God.” Particularly helpful to understanding this developing expression of principles are the Cranach woodcuts that Luther included in the Large Catechism of 1529. Intended to reinforce specific interpretations of the Prayer in the Large Catechism, Cranach’s woodcuts “also reflect the ways in which…[Luther’s] interpretations of the Prayer changed as the historical context changed,” thus helping students to see that “Luther’s reforms were not static” and his teachings were responsive to political and historical developments. Moving systematically through six of the Prayer’s seven petitions, and exploring how each of these six petitions are addressed in the Large Catechism as well also other seminal works (beginning with An Exposition on the Lord’s Prayer for Simple Layman [1517] and concluding with A Simple Way to Pray [1535]), McNair provides a helpful way of tracing the development of Luther’s core theological principles, principles that Luther wanted to make “easily accessible to an audience of laypeople” and yet pertinent to specific historical circumstances (such as “the economic and social problems of the mid 1520s and the failure both of Protestant unity and reconciliation with the Catholics by the 1530s”).
For Beth and Scott McGinnis, teaching Luther presents a different challenge. Like Pak, they are interested in Luther’s writings on Jews and Judaism, and they too call for a historically-informed approach. Acknowledging that using “morally or otherwise offensive materials in the classroom has the potential to degrade the learning environment or even produce harm if not carefully managed” (McGinnis and McGinnis 2017), the McGinnises urge professors to approach Luther’s anti-Semitism as an “opportunity for constructive dialogue.” To create this dialogue, they place Luther’s writings alongside two works by Johann Sebastian Bach, arguing that a proper contextualization of Luther and Bach within their historical moments can teach students to appreciate the ethical issues and insights raised by historical study. For instance, how do we address Luther’s shift from That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (1523)where he expresses a “welcoming attitude toward Jews”—to the “thoroughgoing hostility” of On the Jews and Their Lies (1543)—which “stands as one of the most explicit anti-Semitic statements of the Reformation era, a period that had no lack of vitriol.” One way to do so is through a historically-informed reading that can account for Luther’s shift as “one of style, not substance.” Believing in 1543 that he was living in the last days, Luther “saw the enemies of Christ coalescing around him: the Jews joined papists, Turks, Anabaptists, and others as those who impeded the spread of the gospel and thus exposed themselves to the final, wrathful judgment of God.” From Luther’s perspective, then, the Jews’ “evangelical moment seemed to have passed, and he channeled what he believed was the divine disgust, using the most vituperative language he had at hand.” Additionally, professors can place Luther’s anti-Semitism against “the larger backdrop of processes by which societies established boundaries and maintained social control through the identification of the ‘Other.’” What these historically-informed readings cannot do, however, is “consider the weight of these texts as they come into our own age and classrooms” where students “encounter texts and ideas and understand them through their own interpretative contexts, and crucially, they do so in the presence of other students who may or may not share their context.” This challenge is made clear in the McGinnises’ discussion of Bach’s St. John Passion, a 1724 work composed on a libretto from Luther’s translation of John’s Gospel, a translation which “specifically identifies the people who taunt Jesus and cry out for his crucifixion not as the ‘crowd’ or ‘mob’ but as the ‘Jews.’” Exploring contemporary objections to the performance of the St. John Passion, as well as the role of historically-informed approaches to this work in Bach criticism, the McGinnises make a strong case for a two-fold approach to teaching potentially offensive materials: first, faculty must provide a proper historical context for understanding these materials and, second, they must clear a “space for students to consider and address the ethical questions that arise from the study of such works.” Students “inevitably make moral judgments,” and “bringing those judgments into the discourse of the classroom is the hard work of education, not without risk, but rich with potential benefits for all.”
In “John Calvin and John Locke on the Sensus Divinitatis and Innatism” (Clanton 2017), J. Caleb Clanton outlines an exemplary strategy for teachers who want to place the concerns of the Reformers in dialogue with the larger Western Intellectual Tradition. Noting that “Reformed thinkers have long disagreed about whether knowledge of God’s nature and existence can be or need be acquired inferentially,” Clanton concludes that “they have nonetheless traditionally coalesced around the thought that some sense or awareness of God is naturally implanted or innate in human beings,” a position rooted firmly in Calvin’s influential discussion of the sensus divinitatis in the opening book of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Juxtaposing Calvin’s “treatment of the naturally implanted awareness of God” with John Locke’s polemic against innatism in Book I of An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Clanton situates the Institutes among “the great canonical texts…[of the] early modern period” and helps students to see some of the larger epistemological issues at stake for the Reformers, drawing their theological concerns into a more comprehensive interdisciplinary conversation. Moving systemically through the most helpful passages in Calvin and Locke (chapters 1–6 of Book I of the Institutes, as well as chapters 2 and 4 of Book I of the Essay), Clanton does not argue that Locke is responding directly to Calvin’s Institute; rather, it is Clanton’s contention that “reading Calvin in tension with Locke helps shed light on both thinkers, as it provides a useful framework for undergraduates to explore the limits of Calvin’s treatment of the sensus divinitatis, as well as the limits of Locke’s rejection of innatism.” Moreover, such an approach has “the historical pay-off of introducing students to two of the most towering Protestant figures of the Christian intellectual tradition,” as well as setting “the stage for a philosophical and theological inquiry of ongoing significance”: “Are we born blank slates, for example, and are all the contents of our minds derived of some sort of prior experience? Can we have knowledge of God’s existence, and if so, by what means? Can belief in God be properly basic? How should we interpret key passages in Romans 1 and 2? And so on.” Clanton is careful to acknowledge that scholars disagree as to the nature of Calvin’s innatism (is it more occurrent or dispositional?), and he understands that students will want to be told clearly “whether Locke’s polemic against innatism, in the end, poses a fatal threat to Calvin’s treatment of the sensus.” However, in this essay so attuned to effective teaching strategies, Clanton rightly concludes that “It remains, as it always does, for students to wrestle with these issues for themselves.”
John MacInnis’s “Teaching Music in the Reformed/Calvinist Tradition: Sphere Sovereignty and the Arts” (MacInnis 2017) provides a fitting conclusion to the group of essays in this collection that cluster around Luther and Calvin. Like the McGinnises and Clanton, MacInnis wants us to place these Reformers in dialogue with post-Reformation texts and issues. In particular, he shares strategies for engaging students in a Reformed/Calvinistic vision of the arts generally, and music specifically. Grounding this vision of the arts in a series of lectures delivered by Abraham Kuyper in 1898, MacInnis asks his students at Dordt College, a confessional Calvinist institution, to form “their own opinions and to develop insights for living productively and faithfully as musicians and people invested in musical cultural, wherever God may call them.” In a team-taught core curriculum class populated by students from across the disciplines, MacInnis structures his allotted eighteen class periods around topics his students find most relevant: “music for films, television, and interactive media, popular music, and church music.” In addition to emphasizing such topics as “musical meaning and intertextual relationships, the craft of making music, musical form, and music’s functions in various settings,” he must also “keep clear for students the intent of the class and its purpose within the college’s core curriculum.” To do this, he repeatedly foregrounds the question, “Are we able to discern and articulate what God intends art and music to be in this good world, here and now?” This major question is complemented by two subsidiary questions: “(1) What does God intend for art and music in my life personally?; (2) What should be the place of the specialized artist in my community?” Essential to these questions is the concept of “sphere sovereignty,” which is “rooted in John Calvin’s own distinguishing between the powers of the church and the state, both free to assert appropriate authority within their own spheres.” According to MacInnis, sphere sovereignty should develop in students a “respect for diversity”—and thereby a respect for the field of “aesthetics”—because it requires them to acknowledge that “different arenas of human endeavor deserve space to do their work well” and “that care must be taken to preserve the integrity of each sphere…[so] that no sphere may impose its principles upon another…for they all exist directly under the rule of God.” Admitting that there are “different perspectives” in the Reformed tradition when it comes to specifying creational laws for artists, MacInnis does assert that, generally speaking, the tradition is “resolute in affirming our rootedness in the material world, the physical universe in which we are called to action and accountability,” and that, therefore, “artistic endeavor in this tradition is often a wrestling with material reality and our extraordinary existence as physical beings coram deo, ‘before the face of God,’ rather than a striving after an otherworldly, immaterial ideal.” To bring this idea home, MacInnis concludes with a song cycle entitled The God of Material Things, composed by recent Dordt graduate Jonathan Posthuma, a work that helps his students to embrace “the comprehensive vision [of the arts] articulated in the Reformed/Calvinist tradition, a vision that allows believers to be faithfully engaged in every field of human endeavor because it presupposes that Christ is concerned with it all, even music.”
The final four essays in this collection take the concerns of the conference in multiple and fruitful directions, appealing to faculty who teach across the liberal arts in disciplines as varied as theology, literature, and the sciences. In “Dirk Philips’ Letter and Spirit: An Anabaptist Contribution to Reformation Hermeneutics” (Schubert 2017), Aaron Schubert brings attention to a lesser-known figure who deserves greater recognition, one who “provides perhaps the most systematic explication of an Anabaptist hermeneutic of the Scriptures.” According to Schubert, Philips’ Enchiridion offers students a clear view of this hermeneutic at work, as Philips “reads all of Scripture to center on Christ and the Church, a reading established in the dichotomy of the letter and the Spirit of the text through a hermeneutic of obedience.” For Philips, Scripture “can be read for the meaning of the letter, as presented in the Old Testament, and the meaning of the Spirit, as presented in the New Testament.” The “meaning of the letter” represents “the historical reading,” taking the “events portrayed in the Old Testament as historical events recorded by men through the work of the Holy Spirit.” However, this reading for the meaning of the letter alone is “insufficient” because it “sees the types and figures without perceiving their object, the shadow but not the person” behind the Old Testament, who is Christ. According to Philips, because “all things are changed in Christ and are transfigured and made new by him, that is, changed from the letter to the Spirit,” a “letter reading” of the Old Testament, while not incorrect, is not what brings life to Scripture. Instead, as Schubert notes, what brings life is found only “in the Spirit reading,” one that “sees the symbolic and figurative reality of the Old Testament pointing forward to Christ and the Church.” For Philips, this “guiding hermeneutic allowed for both concrete, literal interpretations [of Scripture] as well as spiritual allegorizing, as long as the former were interpretations of the New Testament and the latter of the Old.” Reading Scripture in the letter of the Spirit is not, of course, the work of man but of the Holy Spirit, for only the Spirit can reveal how the figures of the Old Testament symbolize the reality of God’s full revelation, and not just human opinions about that revelation. However, as Schubert carefully notes, this position “merely raises a new question for many students”: “How can one know what is taught by the Holy Spirit and what is human opinion, either in one’s own reading or in the teaching of others?” Philips’ answer to this is a “hermeneutic of obedience,” in which the “origin of an interpretation, human or divine, is evidenced the person’s life.” For Philips, “the obedient life, which is also the work of the Spirit, is inseparable from a right understanding of the Word of God, which must be understood spiritually, not merely in its letter….[and therefore] obedience is a necessary prerequisite to understanding.” As Schubert concludes, this hermeneutic, in “which the life of the interpreter plays a key role in validating his interpretation,” will be “unfamiliar to most students”; therefore, by recovering it, we introduce students to a “significant, if often forgotten, contribution of the Anabaptist theologians to the study of the Reformation and to later evangelical and pietistic movements.”
For Christopher A. Hill, the forgotten legacy that needs recovering is the theological and ecclesiastical pamphlet warfare that erupted in Reformation England after the publication of Fields and Wilcox’s 1572 Admonition to Parliament. In “Spenser’s Blatant Beast: The Thousand Tongues of Elizabethan Religious Polemic” (Hill 2017), Hill focuses on the final two books of the 1596 edition of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. These two books are dominated by the presence of the Blatant Beast, a “formidable adversary” who, in Hill’s reading, “represents the worst excesses of [the] caustic and satirical rhetoric” that characterized these disputes, in particular the Martin Marprelate pamphlets and the flood of anti-Marprelate pamphlets that emerged between 1589 and 1591. Acknowledging that the 1596 Second Part of The Faerie Queene appeared “far too late to serve as a direct intervention into the specific controversy to which it seems to refer,” Hill argues that “the discursive and rhetorical concerns highlighted by the brief Martinist pamphlet warfare are very much on Spenser’s mind”; thus, teachers of Elizabethan history and culture “can profitably use Spenser’s allegorical method” to draw links between the excesses of the Blatant Beast and “the burgeoning market for cheaply printed religious polemic.” Like many of his contemporaries, Spenser believed these polemics did more to regenerate themselves and their own rhetorical excesses than they managed to resolve disputes. Alerting students to Spenser’s “heavily allegorized presentation of polemic and pamphleteering in the figure of the Blatant Beast—and the travails of the Knights of Justice and of Courtesy in bringing the beast to heel”—can help to illustrate not only the degradation of this public discourse but also “Spenser’s call for the timely application of ‘well guided speech’ as the solution to these reckless disputes.” For Spenser, “immoderate language,” no matter the theological or doctrinal motivation behind it, “forecloses the possibility of any meaningful resolution” to such disputes, and the “repeated use of harsh invective, satire, and mockery can only break the communal bonds that make a church possible in any sense, regardless of the particularities of theological controversy.” Ultimately, it is the “social virtue of courtesy,” represented by Calidore, that Spenser champions. As a “combination of so many other virtues,” courtesy necessarily generates “moderate and apt speech,” providing a remedy to “profitably counter and even overcome the grievous proliferation of vain and destructive speech” that prevented the church from becoming one body.
In “Reformation Leads to Self-Reliance: The Protestantism of Transcendentalism” (Griffis 2017), Rachel B. Griffis also demonstrates the value of using literary works to teach the complex and expansive legacy of the Reformations. According to Griffis, nineteenth century American literature “reflects the far-reaching effects of the sixteenth century European Reformation, which distantly yet significantly inspired the literature of the United States to function as a moral voice in the lives of the people.” Through figures such as William Ellery Channing and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who “idealized literature as the conduit for the values and concepts of individualism, freedom, and self-government,” early American literature became a “powerful agent for Protestantism,” finding its “best expression [in]…contemporary iterations of self-reliance.” Beginning with Channing’s and Emerson’s readings of John Milton, Griffis shows how a distinct literary tradition developed by combining “Protestant-inflected ideals” with “American principles.” In particular, Channing and Emerson interpreted Milton as “an apostle of freedom,” an interpretation that complemented their “high view of human nature, … [which] they believed had its roots in the Protestant cause, but had been obstructed by Calvinism in America.” Moreover, for Emerson, “perhaps the most studied and influential of the transcendentalists,” the Protestant Reformation and the American Revolution were “steps in the path to self-reliance, the ultimate form of human freedom.” It is not surprising, then, that having embraced this view of the promise of the Reformation, “many American writers in the nineteenth century viewed themselves as stewards of Protestantism in the New World and not necessarily apostates who sought to liberate others from religion.” This sense of stewardship led, in turn, to a growing emphasis in the latter half of the nineteenth century on a “right of private judgment” in both the sacred and secular spheres, a logical development of our nation’s “Emersonian Protestantism” of self-reliance. Attuned to how this vision continues to shape American cultural and intellectual life, Griffis concludes by reminding us how this fully-internalized legacy of self-reliance presents pedagogical challenges, particularly when faculty want to introduce students to a different kind of “moral language.” In an environment that encourages students, when they interrogate texts, to above all else “arrive at their own interpretations and thus their own beliefs,” teachers will necessarily have a difficult time communicating “with their students about…moral traditions to which they may be indocile.”
In the collection’s final essay, Josh A. Reeves broadens the conversation beyond the disciplines and legacies previously addressed. In “How Not to Link the Reformation and Science: Reflections on Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation”(Reeves 2017), Reeves focuses on Gregory’s opening chapter, offering two critiques of its thesis about the Reformation’s influence on modern secular science. While acknowledging that The Unintended Reformation is a “work of enormous scope and scholarship” and makes a profound case for “why we all, secular and religious alike, should study the Christian intellectual tradition,” Reeves takes issue with Gregory’s argument that “the real blame for the rise of secular science lies with [the influence of] medieval philosophy” on the Reformers, in particular the influence of Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. For instance, according to Gregory, Scotus rejected Aquinas’s “analogical metaphysics of creaturely participation in God,” paving the way for an “’antisacramental’ view of nature, because the natural and supernatural cannot be active at the same time in the same event.” By bringing God “down to the same ontological order as the created world,” Scotus made it easier “to exclude God from explanations of the natural world.” The Reformers “inherited from Scotus these inferior metaphysical beliefs about God,” and when the “intractable theological disputes of the Reformation” proved to be “unsolvable theological disagreements,” these inferior metaphysical beliefs began to have “toxic effects.” In the end, “Unable to conceive of God as working through natural causes, disenchantment became the only option when empirical science was unable to discover God’s action in the world.” Unfortunately, Reeves claims, the “real difficulty with Gregory’s narrative is how little historical evidence he gives for it.” Lacking primary sources to back up its claims, and ignoring historical studies that refute the widespread influence of Scotus’ metaphysics on Reformed orthodox thought, Gregory’s argument simply “repackages a traditional Catholic metanarrative which blames Christianity’s problems on a deviation from the metaphysical scheme of Thomas Aquinas.” Moreover, according to Reeves, Gregory never makes it clear why a “mechanistic philosophy of nature should be equated with excluding God from the natural world,” ignoring the fact that “many…early advocates [of this philosophy] had strong theological reasons for supporting it.” Finally, Gregory is “overly optimistic” that Thomist metaphysics “could have resolved the major tension between science and Christianity, or could have headed off the rise of naturalism.” Because The Unintended Reformation is “a deeply pessimistic book, attributing most of modern ills to the Reformation,” Gregory is unwilling to consider “a more positive account of the way Christianity encouraged the rise of science,” such as the fact that the “Reformers’ literalism denied the symbolic capacity of objects to refer beyond themselves, which became a necessary ingredient of the Scientific Revolution,” or the way that “Reformed presuppositions can also be detected in the advocacy of experimental approaches to natural knowledge, where persons like [Francis] Bacon and Robert Boyle argued that the effects of original sin required a cautious, experimental approach to nature.” In a fitting conclusion to both his essay and to this special issue, Reeves reminds us that as “inheritors and teachers of the Christian intellectual tradition,” we are stewards of a rich legacy, one we are not only called to teach, but to teach well, and faithfully. The challenge, of course, is that the legacy we have inherited is as contested as it is rich, making our calling more difficult, but all the more important. It is my hope that the essays in this collection can offer some insights, and perhaps some inspiration, as we continue to take up the challenge.


The author expresses appreciation to the following individuals who assisted with the preparation of this volume: Karl Aho (Tarleton State University), Charlotte Brammer (Samford University), Caleb Clanton (David Lipscomb University), Walker Cosgrove (Dordt College), Peter Dykema (Arkansas Tech University), Steven Epley (Samford University), Rosemary Fisk (Samford University), Maria Poggi Johnson (University of Scranton), Peter Iver Kaufman (University of Richmond), Beth McGinnis (Samford University), Scott McGinnis (Samford University), Matt Moser (Loyola University Maryland), Jonathan Murphy (Texas A&M International University), Robert Olsen (University of Mobile), Bridget Rose (Samford University), Ken Roxburgh (Samford University), Dennis Sansom (Samford University), Bradley Sickler (University of Northwestern, St. Paul), Timothy Sutton (Samford University), and Bryan Whitfield (Mercer University).

Conflicts of Interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.


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