Van Asselt, William J. Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011.
Imagine someone taking Richard Muller’s four volume Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics and condensing it to an affordable single volume, and this would be what Van Asselt has done. His thesis does not differ significantly from Muller in that “Reformed Scholasticim” was a legitimate outgrowth of Calvin’s own theology. Van Asselt takes his work beyond that statement and posits this book as a “how-to do” historical theology. He covers the basics of Reformed Scholasticism, the important players, the necessary bibliographies, and ends with a few appendices on how to write an historical theology essay for a post-graduate class.
Several doctrinal highlights: these aren’t entirely necessary to the book itself, but they are quite interesting:
Nature, Necessity, and Free Will
Contrary to Arminian and Catholic charges, the Reformed view of a “necessary” will is not incompatible with “freedom,” provided both terms are understood correctly. Francis Turretin provides six different types of “necessity,” four of which the Arminian/Romanist must affirm are compatible with freedom: 1) necessity of dependence of the creature on God; 2) [Asselt intended to list the second type of necessity, but I don’t think he did], 3) every creature is dependent on God in terms of the future per God’s foreknowledge and decree. 3a) Asselt writes, “However great the creature’s freedom may be, these acts are still necessary from this perspective, otherwise God’s foreknowledge could be false and his decree changeable.” 4) free will must go with rational necessity, for must not a free action be a rational one? 5) Free will relates to moral necessity, or that of habit. If you do an action enough, whether good or bad, it becomes a habit, making it easier to do this action. Few will deny this observation. 6) The necessity of an event or the existence of a thing. If a thing is, it is necessarily.
In short, freedom can be determined because freedom is not absolute (Asselt, 162-163).
Necessity of the Consequent, Consequence
The necessity of the consequent is the necessity of a proposition behind the “then” in an if…then statement. The necessity of the consequence is the consequence itself. Ie, the implicative necessity. In the implicative necessity, neither the antecedent nor the consequent needs to be necessary. Only the necessity of the implicative relation counts. Take the two propositions:
(1) If I marry Marian, then Marian is my wife.
(2) It is necessary that Marian is my wife (if I marry her).
In proposition (1) it is contingent that I marry Marian. I did not have to do so. Only the implication between the antecedent and consequent is necessary. In proposition 2 it is the result of the conditional proposition that is necessary.
Proposition 1 does not imply proposition 2. Therefore, in an argument of implicative relation of necessity, both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. According to the Reformed scholastics, the necessity of the consequence corresponds with absolute necessity and the necessity of the consequent with hypothetical necessity. In this distinction, the Reformed scholastics combat the charge that the divine decree destroys the contingency and freedom of the world. Therefore, necessity and contingency are compatible and not contradictory.
Most important in this distinction is that it depends on God’s will ad extra. If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be eternal (198-199).
The book, with a few minor stylistic issues, is outstanding. The current Reformed seminary scene in America, with a few exceptions, has failed miserably. The students, outside of some reading Calvin and the Puritans, know next to nothing about their Reformed Scholastic heritage. They know nothing of the distinctions made in theology in response to Catholic, Arminian and now Orthodox critics. As a result, they are woefully underprepared to deal with these challenges (and not a few cross the Tiber). Van Asselt, happily, has presented Reformed Scholasticim in a strong and engaging manner, and has pointed the student in the direction that he may also become a Reformed Scholastic.