Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Duncan on Conservatism and Theology

Quoting John Duncan is an enjoyable pastime, so I’m going to carry on doing it.

A week after the “Future of Protestantism” event I continue to mull over the themes that were raised, and I wonder how the following passage strikes readers vis-a-vis that discussion. There are elements of both a Leithart and a Trueman here; I wonder, does Duncan find the right balance, or is there a better way of formulating the issues when thinking, in the present, of how to relate past to future?

[Conservatism and Theology.]

There is a progressive element in all things, and therefore in religion; though I am much more of a conservative in Theology than in Philosophy, or in Politics, or in anything else. There we have a “foundation laid.” But we have no political Bible, no philosophical Scriptures, no scientific infallible writings. And yet we are now in an older age of the world than the apostolic. It is a mistake to look to the Fathers as our seniors. They were our juniors. The Church has advanced wonderfully since its foundation was laid. Polycarp would have stood a bad chance in an examination by John Owen. I think I could have posed him myself. Finest devout men these old Christians were. But what did they do? They came together, and prayed, and read a great deal of Scripture, and sang, and talked, and went away again, and fell to tent-making: then came back, and read, and prayed, and sang, and so forth.

And yet the conservative element is always good. Each age needs some men to go back into antiquity, and jealously to guard its treasures, that they be not lost; and this is always good if we are not bigotedly conservative–i.e. blind to progressive light. It is true that to many the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. But there is a destructive school of progress that I cannot endure. It would simply destroy the past to make way for itself. Conservatism alone, and by itself, is obstructive; Neoterism alone, and by itself, is destructive. (Colloquia Peripateticapp. 8-9)

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.