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Response to Review of The German Roots of Nineteenth-Century American Theology

I wish to thank Daniel Ritchie for his helpful review. I am especially pleased with his acknowledgement of the importance of 19th-century American Reformed theology in a transatlantic context. I appreciate his comments about my book’s viewpoint and his illuminating outline, though some of his statements invite a reply.

In his review Ritchie writes: ‘The theological method of the Princeton divines was deeply indebted to Scottish Common Sense Realism and Baconian theories of induction’. I want to clarify that this is the common view of the scholarship on Old Princeton and not precisely the view of my book. My book qualifies this thesis and demonstrates how other influences besides the Scottish philosophy shaped Old Princeton. Taking into account transatlantic dialogues, any examination of Princeton’s views must also consider the broader intellectual context in which the Princetonians were educated, and the different sources they read and engaged with.

Concerning the reviewer’s comments about Schleiermacher, my point in this chapter is not to label Schleiermacher as liberal, but to explore his theological views in his historical and intellectual context, particularly his engagement with Immanuel Kant. My book insists that any proper ‘evaluation of [Schleiermacher’s] work must acknowledge that his theology was simultaneously “traditional and innovative”’ (p. 39). As the father of modern theology, Schleiermacher attempted to mediate between traditional Christianity and progressive culture and was thus the forerunner of mediating theology.

Ritchie poses the question of ‘whether or not Mercersburg Theology deserves to be considered as constituting a significant modification of Reformed divinity?’ and answers in the affirmative. Though according to Ritchie’s reading Gerhart rejected various Reformed doctrines, my book shows that Gerhart did not reject Calvinistic doctrines but did modify them in light of his mediating and Christocentric approach. Gerhart's reading of the Heidelberg Catechism also helped him to express a more objective theology.

Ritchie questions the validity of the statement I made in a footnote that ‘Hodge anticipated the Biblical Theology of Geerhardus Vos’ (p. 312n). It is true that Hodge did not define biblical theology in the words of Vos as: ‘the exhibition of the organic process of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity’.(1a) I elucidated my views further on Hodge and Vos on page 405 n. 180. ‘While Geerhardus Vos and Hodge stressed the correlation between biblical theology and systematic theology, Vos studied biblical theology not as a collection of facts as Hodge did, but Vos recognized it as the analysis of the genuine self-revelation of God in history’.(2a) It is, however, interesting to observe that Vos was not opposed to the collection of facts as such. For example, in his Inaugural Address he said: ‘Dogmatic Theology is, when rightly cultivated, as truly a Biblical and as truly an inductive science as its younger sister. And the latter needs a constructive principle for arranging her facts as well as the former’.(3a)

With gratitude for Ritchie's review, I close, however, with a final word about the format of the book, and that is to note that throughout it intentionally offers summaries to help those readers who read only parts of the book navigate the argument.

Notes

  1. Geerhardus Vos, Inauguration of the Rev. Geerhardus Vos As Professor of Biblical Theology (New York: A. D. F. Randolph, 1894), 24.Back to (1a)
  2. See also Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993), 183-84.Back to (2a)
  3. Vos, Inauguration, 39.Back to (3a)