Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What is 'the' Reformed Theology?

“…it is very difficult to speak of the Reformed theology at all. Rather, Reformed theology appears to be not one, but rather a plurality of different theological positions. It is much easier to define what is meant by “Roman Catholic” or “Lutheran” than what is meant by “Reformed.” The Reformed tradition has no institution defined by infallibility and issuing dogmas binding the teaching of the church. Yet such a characteristic defines other Protestant churches along with the Reformed. […] The Lutheran Reformation began in Germany, and Lutheran theology was mainly shaped by German theologians during the confessional era. By contrast, Reformed theology, even in its beginnings, was not limited to the background of German culture. It was international, formed not only by Germans (in Germany, the Reformed churches played only a minor role), but also by Swiss, French, Dutch, English, and Scottish theologians. […] Finally, a third reason makes it difficult to speak of the Reformed theology—that is its history. When one compares the theology of Beza with the theology of a nineteenth-century theologian like Schleiermacher or Biedermann, one finds little in common between them. And despite Barth’s break with liberal theology […] and his return to Reformation theology and Reformed orthodoxy, Barth’s own theology is by no means a pure restoration of the latter. Only by taking into account the whole history of Reformed theology from Zwingli onwards does one get to know its full character. But in this case, the Reformed theology dissolves into a plurality of highly different theological positions all belonging to the same family.”
(Jan Rohls, “Reformed Theology—Past and Future,” in Reformed Theology: Identity and Ecumenicity, ed. Wallace M. Alston Jr. and Michael Welker [USA: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003], 34)

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