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Muller’s Calvin and the Reformed Tradition

Over at the Gospel Coalition, Julian Gutierrez reviews Richard Muller’s latest book, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation. The book seems to be a sort of summary of Professor Muller’s overall working historical thesis, and this paragraph could adequately sum up Prof. Muller’s career project:

Overall, Muller accomplishes his goal of demonstrating that—contrary to popular belief—the Reformed tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries, far from being a monolithic tradition ruled by the theology of one figure, was a movement that experienced internal developments resulting in legitimate doctrinal nuances. Additionally, Muller rejects what he considers to be a mistaken use of terms like “Calvinism” and the popular but misleading acronym “TULIP” to describe how Calvin’s theology relates to the rest of the Reformed tradition. Muller is right in pointing out that indiscriminate use of the word “Calvinism” in modern theological and philosophical discourse has led to a distorted view of the Reformed tradition. Similarly, he warns of the perils involved with not controlling our anachronistic impulses when reading ancient theologians; for example, when the remote question of “limited atonement” is pressed too much for answers in Calvin’s theology. Indeed, Calvin occasionally addressed the subject of Christ’s redemptive work in its objective extent and subjective applicability. He does so by recognizing—with certain qualifications—the medieval distinction between the sufficiency of Christ’s saving work for all and its efficiency for the elect alone. Calvin’s thought here is best explained by framing it within the idea that Christ’s sacrifice is “propounded” to all without distinction but “extended only to all the elect.” As prominent as Calvin is for the Reformed tradition, Muller rightly contends based on the historical evidence that Calvin’s formulation is but one out of several ways of explaining Christ’s sacrifice in the Reformed tradition.

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.

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