One of the dangers in taking steroids while lifting weights is that despite all the gains, the level you reach is likely the highest you will ever reach. Once you get off steroids, and even the biggest “user” won’t take them perpetually (No one does steroids, or even creatine, during the regular season for risk of dehydration), it is unlikely you will ever reach those levels naturally again.
We see something similar in theological studies. Deciding which area to major in will determine how deep one’s theological knowledge can get. Here was my (and many others; and for what it’s worth, throughout this post substitute any Federal Vision term in place of a theonomy term and the point is largely the same) problem in institutional learning: I immediately jumped on how important apologetics was for the Christian life to the extent that I made apologetical concerns overwhelm theological concerns. While I believe Greg Bahnsen died entirely orthodox, and I do not believe theonomy is a heresy (only an error), focusing on Bahnsen’s method to such an extent, both in apologetics and ethics, warped the rest of theology. I essentially made theology proper (and soteriology and ecclesiology) subsets of apologetics/ethics, instead of the other way around.
I won’t deny: I became very good at apologetics and ethics, but I didn’t know jack about theology outside of a basic outline of Berkhof. Studying Reformed theology among sources, and worse, movements, who are only barely Reformed (Bahnsen excluded), limited how deep I could go in Reformed theology.
I’ll say it another way: when I was taking covenant theology we had to read sections of Gisbertus Voetius and Cocceius in class. I got frustrated thinking, “These guys are tying in the covenant of works with natural law. Don’t they know how un-reformed natural law is?” Problem was, I was wrong. But if you read the standard theonomic (or FV; by the way, the FV fully adopts the Barthian, and now historically falsified, Calvin vs. Calvinist paradigm) historiography, there is no way to avoid such misreadings. Even worse, said historiography fully prevents one from learning at the feet of these high Reformed masters.
By the grace of God I’ve repented of that misreading. I spent this spring finding as many Richard Muller journal articles and taking copious notes.