Richard A. Muller, “Directions in the study of early modern Reformed thought,” Perichoresis 14:3 (2016), pp. 3-16. [This essay is available on open access.]
Richard A. Muller has become the single most influential scholar of early modern Reformed theology. His early work on Christ and the decree and his book on Arminius have been followed by careful studies of Calvin and his prodigious Post-Reformation Reformed dogmatics. These interventions have facilitated and encouraged the publication of a growing body of scholarship that has largely overturned the older presuppositions about this intellectual field. It is largely due to Muller’s own efforts that, as he observes, “the study of early modern Reformed thought has altered dramatically in the last several decades. The once dominant picture of Calvin as the prime mover of the Reformed tradition and sole index to its theological integrity has largely disappeared from view, as has the coordinate view of ‘Calvinism’ as a monolithic theology and the worry over whether later Reformed thought remained ‘true’ to Calvin” (p. 3).
Muller notes the proliferation of available primary sources, pointing to the significance of the still under-used database provided by the Junius Institute, the Post-Reformation Digital Library. “The entire framework of research has changed, if only by massively multiplying documentation of individuals and institutions” (p. 5). Muller highlights several important new directions in scholarly approach. The new interest in friendship or scholarly networks has embedded early modern ideas within particular social or intellectual contexts, an important development in that it illustrates and goes some way to explain the variety within the European Reformed churches. Muller observes that “the study of post-Cocceian controversy developments in covenantal thought, examining such figures as Burman, Van der Wayen, Witsius, and Vitringa is a desideratum. In the case of Witsius, recent work has been done that has highlighted his international connection in the antinomian debates of the late seventeenth century (Van den Brink 2008, 2016),” a connection further elaborated in Chris Caughey’s recent PhD thesis (Trinity College Dublin, 2013). Biography remains a crucial medium, however unfashionable among historians, not least because, as in the cases of “Voetius, Francis Spanheim, Andreas Rivetus, Francis Turretin, and Jean-Alphonse Turretin, the last major biographical studies were written in the nineteenth century” (p. 8). Muller further considers work on the relationship between theology and other disciplines, and the relationship between protestant orthodoxy and the Enlightenment. The essay concludes with a bibliography of recent publications.
Muller offers a wide-ranging reflection on the state of scholarship on Reformed theology in the early modern period, with some awareness of its limitations and future possibility, but he should be thanked for the fact that so much has already been achieved in the revitalisation of this intellectual field.