Archive Authors Jordan Ballor Nota Bene

Deviant Cartesianism

Frans Hals - Portret van René DescartesIn doing some looking for the causes of all the bad things associated with modernity, and an alternative narrative to that offered by Brad S. Gregory, for instance, I came across some references in Richard A. Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics of some relevance. On the philosophical and scholastic side of things, there was a breakdown of the general (eclectic and diverse within its unity) Christian Aristotelianism or peripateticism.

Thus, writes Muller, after 1725 Protestant orthodoxy was “increasingly influenced by various schools of rationalist philosophy” (PRRD 1:82). As the eighteenth century progressed, a reversal occurred in which the preeminence of confessional orthodox theology was replaced in intellectual and scholastic life with various rationalist and heterodox philosophical approaches. Muller contends that it is “the Cartesian model that, in its more extreme forms, elevated reason over revelation,” and that “in some cases, led to a departure from the balance of revelation and reason characteristic of the theology allied to the traditional Christian Aristotelianism” (PRRD 4:401).

One of Muller’s former students, Albert Gootjes, is doing post-doctoral work on philosophical contexts of Cartesianism at Utrecht University. Perhaps we can look forward to a future offering from him, with an appropriate nod to Oliver Crisp, on “Deviant Cartesianism”! See also Albert M. Gootjes, “‘A Smattering of the New Philosophy’: Étienne Gaussen (ca. 1638-1675) and the Cartesian Question at Saurmur,” in Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition, ed. Jordan J. Ballor, David S. Sytsma, and Jason Zuidema (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 583-596.

By Jordan Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012), and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous volumes. Jordan also serves as associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research of Calvin Theological Seminary.