Featured A Richard Muller Critique

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by bookslover, Mar 10, 2019.

  1. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    For those of you who like a vigorous read and are theologically and philosophically oriented, let me recommend to you a new article by historical theologian Richard A. Muller. The title is "Reading Aquinas from a Reformed Perspective: A Review Essay." It appears as the lead article in the latest (November, 2018) issue of Calvin Theological Journal (CTJ 53.2 [2018]), pp. 255-288.

    In a nutshell: two years ago, K. Scott Oliphant published his book, Thomas Aquinas. In his essay, Muller takes 34 pages to more or less completely eviscerate this book. He does so in a highly scholarly, academic way, as one would expect of Muller, but the devastation is pretty complete.

    There are many points of disagreement with Oliphant. To pick just one example: Oliphant apparently (I haven't read his book) agrees with the common perception among the Reformed that Aquinas was more of a philosopher than a theologian, that Aquinas was interested in dragging Aristotle's views into Christianity. Muller says that, actually, this is backwards, that Aquinas was more theologian than philosopher; that, in fact, in his huge Summa Theologica, Aristotle is only mentioned twice. Muller also says that, contrary to Reformed suspicions about Aquinas, there are actually more links between Aquinas and the Reformers, and Reformed thought, than is generally assumed.

    This is just one of many, many areas where Muller criticizes Oliphant's book. He goes on to say that Oliphant misunderstands and misinterprets Aquinas because his mentor, Cornelius Van Til, also misunderstands and misinterprets Aquinas. In his conclusion, Muller says that Van Til is one "who, by no stretch of the imagination, can be viewed as a competent analyst of the thought of Aquinas" (p. 288).

    It's been awhile since I've read such a scholarly take-down of a book. But Muller has long-since demonstrated his credentials as a careful and erudite scholar, and his views should be considered seriously.

    It's also interesting that the piece is part of what I think is a slowly growing trend in some Reformed circles to criticize Cornelius Van Til where it is felt he needs criticizing. Dr. John Fesko has a new book out, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019), 250 pages, in which he criticizes Van Til's approach to apologetics. (I just bought a copy and intend to read it soon.)

    It's interesting and educational to read orthodox scholars re-thinking views on theological subjects, challenging settled opinions of the past.
     
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  2. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Muller is an excellent historian, but he as is no Theologian. He even says of himself in the preface of "The Study of Theology" that in Biblical studies that he is a "dabbler" at best. (p. xvii) Everyone needs to stay in his own lane here. When Van Til or Oliphint reads the bible he trusts in the Holy Spirit's legitimization of it. WCF 1.4.
    For Muller, “at least for our times, the historical investigation must precede the doctrinal statement and in fact supply the information from which the doctrinal statement takes its shape and on which it rests” (p. 99).: From Biblical Interpretation to Contemporary Formulation (Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation 7; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.
    He goes on to say it is
    "doctrinally arguable to attribute the accurate preservation of the text of Scripture to divine providence… . Historical investigation cannot, however, rest content with the doctrinal explanation but must look to the process of the transmission of the text and examine the techniques and procedures of the Masoretes, the monastic calligraphers of the church, and the scholarly editors of later centuries, and find in the actual practice of these people the historical grounds for arguing whether or not the text has been accurately preserved"

    Oliphant and Van Til approach scripture using analogia fide, Aquinas using Philosophy, though he may not give Aristotle the credit he deserved, his main man being Pseudo Dionysius, and Muller using historical data. I prefer the apologetic approach that trusts the Holy Spirit. :2cents:
     
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Exactly.
     
  4. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    To be fair to Scott Oliphant (I speak as an avowed enemy of presuppositionalism), many of our Reformed forebears do fault Thomas Aquinas and other medieval scholastics for following Aristotle too closely on some matters.

    That observation is very true. The Reformers and post-Reformation Reformed divines generally adopted a critical appreciation for Thomas Aquinas. The modern rejection of Aquinas by the Van Tillians is one extreme, whereas the worship of Aquinas by some Reformed Thomists is another.

    In one Facebook discussion, which Jacob has alluded to elsewhere, I partially agreed with Scott Oliphant on Aquinas' exegesis and was met with "sad" reacts. Having read 14,000 pages of Thomas Aquinas (including all the commentaries on the Pauline epistles), you would think that I was at least tolerably well informed on the subject.
     
  5. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    He even cites Moises Silva ( I'm not knocking Silva, as I remember you recommended his work), "Has the Church Misread the Bible?", as a source to support a statement he makes that really strikes at the heart of the work of illumination by the Holy Spirit. Muller says, "Christian thinkers have always recognized, more over, the difficulty of moving from the text of scripture into the church's present with a doctrine and a preaching relevant to concerns of Christian congregations and Christian missions. Nevertheless, despite these difficulties, the church in past ages was remarkably successful in its work." (Ibid p. 20)
    Isn't it remarkable that these un- or misinformed old guys could convince the church, and those to which it ministered, the ignorant masses, to believe what they said. I wonder how God pulled that off. Remarkable!
     
  6. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Richard, please don't think I am questioning you at all. I respect you and your opinion. You are much more qualified than I and have probably forgotten more than I will ever know. That, is why I must trust the Spirit.
     
  7. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Bingo.
     
  8. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Senior

    Aquinas does not need to mention Aristotle for his influence to be seen. His entire metaphysical foundation is rooted in Aristotle.
     
  9. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    And Oliphant/Van Til are no historians. If Muller was doing constructive theology (he isn't here), then I would agree with you entirely. Otherwise it's not to the point. When Muller's doing historical theology, however, he is unmatched.
     
  10. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    Agreed! I love Muller historically! I don't like either side of that that debate.
     
  11. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    Indeed. Assuming that citations alone = influence is historically fallacious.
     
  12. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    Bill, I thank you for the compliment, but I must trust the Holy Spirit as well. I'm no genius. I just have done a lot of reading over the years. I'm sure there are subjects where you know much more than I ever will. We're both just sinners saved by God's grace.
     
  13. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    My critique of Muller is that all of his books are way too expensive.
     
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  14. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    He is also a rather boring writer. Hides for cover. :hunter:
     
  15. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Muller is great on finding out what Trecalus and Musclus meant. No point going to him for working with what the text actually says. His field isn't exegesis or constructive theology.

    Oliphint was the wrong person to go after Aquinas. Thomas is just too powerful a thinker. But because he is a powerful thinker, you can't isolate and pick and choose from his theology. His Summa builds upon each question. For Thomas, there is a direct connection between the following beliefs:

    1) Justification by infusion of grace (try spouting that one at Presbytery exams!)

    2) Universal supremacy of the Pope

    3) Purgatory

    4) God is a cookie
     
  16. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Senior

    Is that because he is not a scholar of Thomas. With the field getting so broad who can? The problem is most scholars of Thomas/thomism are Thomists by conviction. They are Roman Catholics or in any case not going to dedicate their lives to studying someone they disagree in large part with. Wippel, Gilson, Maritain, Garrigou-Lagrange, and Benedict Ashley all disagreed with one another on their interpretations of Thomas but think/thought the world of him.
     
  17. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Partly. I'm not saying Oliphint's general thrust is wrong. I'm sympathetic to it. But a couple hundred page refutation of Thomas ain't gonnna do it.
     
  18. Goodcheer68

    Goodcheer68 Puritan Board Freshman

    Excuse the ignorance but what does that mean?
     
  19. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    It is a reference to transubstantiation.
     
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  20. Goodcheer68

    Goodcheer68 Puritan Board Freshman

    Ok, now that you said it it seems so obvious.
     
  21. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    If it makes you feel better this one also stumped me. We can blush together. :rofl:
     
  22. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Senior

    So in other words, papists gonna pape.
     
  23. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    Thankfully the whole van Til cult has passed my denomination by.
     
  24. Bill Duncan

    Bill Duncan Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm glad to be in The Cult.
     
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  25. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Sophomore

    Well, that was certainly unnecessary, not to mention libelous, as it implies that Van Til and those who follow and propagate his thought are something other than Christian. I hope I am misunderstanding you, and if I am not, I would encourage on your part either clarification or repentance.
     
  26. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    There are some of us--such as myself--who reject Van Til's apologetic methodology yet revere the fact he was a fine churchmen and outstanding preacher. And NT scholars were able to build on his insights (guys like Gaffin).
     
  27. alexandermsmith

    alexandermsmith Puritan Board Freshman

    I would encourage you to lighten up and chill.
     
  28. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    We weren't the ones who said "Van Til cult."

    To be fair, there are a number of quasi-cultic reconstructionists, but I seriously doubt that most OPC pastors are in a cult.
     
  29. Taylor Sexton

    Taylor Sexton Puritan Board Sophomore

    If this is your serious and genuine response to being addressed for such harsh language against brothers and sisters in the Lord, then my outrage is beyond justified.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2019 at 2:50 PM
  30. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    I think that you have posted in the wrong thread, brother. Should this post not be in the one about Doug Wilson?
     

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