Common Omission of Ecclesiology in Systematic Theology

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Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I am wondering why is seems to be common among many older American Presbyterian systematic theologies to omit any dedicated discussion on ecclesiology. Many people pick on Charles Hodge for it, but he is not the only one that does it. Archibald Alexander omits it from his Brief Compendium of Bible Truth. R. L. Dabney omits it from his Systematic Theology. So does A. A. Hodge from his Outlines of Theology. Even W. G. T. Shedd's Dogmatic Theology omits any dedicated section on it.

Why is this? Is it because of the Shorter Catechism's omission of any questions related to the Church (dealt with in the Larger Catechism)? It's just something I've come to notice more and more.
 

Andrew's Myth

Puritan Board Freshman
If I recall correctly, Charles Hodge intended to write another volume on ecclesiology, but died before he could.
 

Stephen L Smith

Moderator
Staff member
Why is this? Is it because of the Shorter Catechism's omission of any questions related to the Church (dealt with in the Larger Catechism)?
In Vos' excellent commentary on the WLC, Robert Godfrey has an insightful introduction. He laments that the WLC has not received the attention it should among Reformed evangelicals. In this introduction he has a section on the church. He says "The decision to eliminate a doctrine of the church for the Shorter Catechism may have made sense in a context where it was assumed that catechumens would move on to the fuller instruction of the Larger Catechism. Where the Larger Catechism no longer functions in that way, however, a very serious omission exists. The doctrine of the church is an integral element of true Calvinism. [Pg xiv - xv.]
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
I am wondering why is seems to be common among many older American Presbyterian systematic theologies to omit any dedicated discussion on ecclesiology. Many people pick on Charles Hodge for it, but he is not the only one that does it. Archibald Alexander omits it from his Brief Compendium of Bible Truth. R. L. Dabney omits it from his Systematic Theology. So does A. A. Hodge from his Outlines of Theology. Even W. G. T. Shedd's Dogmatic Theology omits any dedicated section on it.

Why is this? Is it because of the Shorter Catechism's omission of any questions related to the Church (dealt with in the Larger Catechism)? It's just something I've come to notice more and more.
Interestingly enough, James P. Boyce also omits any discussion of ecclesiology in his Abstract of Systematic Theology. And Boyce was of course a student of Charles Hodge.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Shedd is my favorite systematician and he is notoriously guilty on this point. Not just ecclesiology. He had half a page on heaven and fifty pages on hell. LOL
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I was reading in Martyn Lloyd-Jones this morning and, by God's providence, came across this comment:

"This doctrine [of the Church] is very often entirely omitted in books that deal with biblical doctrines, though it is difficult to discover why."​
—D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Church and the Last Things, vol. 3, 3 vols., Great Doctrines of the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998), 2.​
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
While not American, Brakel deals with it in Vol. 2 of his systematic.
Yes, I have consulted him many times. He is fantastic. My main curiosity is with these American theologians from 1846-1889 (Alexander-Shedd), none of whom have a discussion of ecclesiology in their systematics texts. In fact, it is not until A. H. Strong in 1907 and Geerhardus Vos in 1910 that we get a full treatment of the Church in a systematics text. That is a gap of over 60 years in which ecclesiology was not a treated subject in published systematic theologies. It's just so odd.
 

JP Wallace

Puritan Board Sophomore
I was thinking about this last week - and puzzled - given Calvin's huge treatment of the subject.

Also puzzling given they all, Hodge, Dabney etc. engaged in debates on eccelsiology throughout this period - so its not like it wasn't an important subject to them!
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
If it was considered a separate subject, and if (assuming) all these works omitting it were class lectures, could it be as simple as letting the ecclesiology prof do his own lecture book?
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
If it was considered a separate subject, and if (assuming) all these works omitting it were class lectures, could it be as simple as letting the ecclesiology prof do his own lecture book?
Would these nineteenth century seminaries have had a dedicated ecclesiology professor?
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I do not know; but I was was surmising a reason why Presbyterians of all people would omit it from their ST when we know they were quite ardent otherwise on the subject.
Perhaps Presbyterianism is so patently and indisputably biblical that it didn't really need addressing or defending? ;)
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
I do not know; but I was was surmising a reason why Presbyterians of all people would omit it from their ST when we know they were quite ardent otherwise on the subject.
Baptists were also very zealous about ecclesiology in the 18th and 19th centuries, but J. P. Boyce omits it from his Abstract and addresses it nowhere else. John L. Dagg is yet another theologian of the 19th century that separates ecclesiology from the larger body of systematic theology. He wrote A Manual of Theology, which omits any discussion of ecclesiology but then publishes, A Manual of Church Order, at a latter date. However, given that Dagg's formal education was very limited, it is hard to trace the reasons for this to any particular influence.
 

J.L. Allen

Puritan Board Freshman
Perhaps Presbyterianism is so patently and indisputably biblical that it didn't really need addressing or defending? ;)
Standing ovation for this right here. :) lol

I certainly agree with you and wonder how such an opportunity to clarify the Reformed and Presbyterian position especially given the debates at the time of westward expansion and the church’s response, the rise of the error of Dispensationalism, the controversies surrounding revivalism, and the issues of slaves as covenant members or not.

As others have said, it must relate to it being treated separately. Also, to the point about the neglect of the use of the WLC stated on this thread- this is something I’ve noticed. I find myself going to the LC before the SC to try and get a full picture in an answer. I’d like to see a trend towards its usage.
 
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