Archive Philosophy Reformed Irenicism Simon Kennedy

What We Mean by Renewal and Retrieval

One of the aims of the The Calvinist International is the ‘renewal of Christian wisdom’ to re-invigorate the Church. The method for this renewal is a principled retrieval of classical Protestant Christianity. The retrieval is not a bigoted one, which pushes aside ideas and sources not directly stemming from magisterial Reformation. Far from it. The pages of this website should be ample evidence of that. It is also quite the opposite of much that passes for evangelicalism these days. It is the conviction of those who contribute to this website that contemporary evangelicalism tends to be a reflection of its’ lack of historical awareness. Hence the need to recapture of classical Protestant ideas.

Of course, what this retrieval involves is not merely a direct interaction with 16th century sources, as if that alone could get us where we needed to go. What this retrieval involves is re-engagement with sources, ideas, and convictions, which are in essence consistent with the best retrieval of biblical Christianity ever accomplished: the magisterial Reformation, which birthed classical Protestantism. So we at The Calvinist International are wanting to retrieve a previous retrieval. We are wanting to stimulate debate, discussion and activity surrounding the historical Protestant convictions of men and women who themselves reached back into history in order maintain the Church’s faithfulness to the historic Faith.

All of this retrieving (and I will now lay off using that word for the time being) is firmly connected to the concept of ‘history’. History, and historical inquiry, is defined as a study of past events. Some people think history doesn’t matter. Henry Ford said something along these lines; ‘It’s bunk’, or something eloquent like that. However, for the Christian history is never ‘bunk’. While the God we worship is timeless and un-historical (in the sense that he is not bound by history), he has chosen to act in human history. He has made Himself a part of, and an agent in, events of the past. Indeed, if God had not acted ‘in the beginning’, there would have been no history whatsoever.

It is history that is at the core of the work of The Calvinist International. We are wanting to re-capture the importance and legacy of historic classical Protestantism. We also want to think thoughts which are consistent with, or are in the spirit of, that most excellent expression of biblical Christianity. How are we to think about these historic expressions of our Christian faith? Why should you, dear reader, bother to engage with history? Isn’t God already here with us now? Isn’t that enough? I think I have shown that it is not. Christianity is deeply historical, and God has acted in history. We read about this primarily in the scriptures. It is the question of how to approach this most primary of primary sources, which spurs us to consider other sources from the history of the Church. As a result, if you are a Christian you are unavoidably a historian. That means you are either a good historian or a bad one. So how do you be a good historian?

Allow me to quote R. G. Collingwood, who is asking the same question about historical inquiry more generally. He defines all historical inquiry ‘the history of thought’. He then asks:

But how does the historian discern the thoughts which he is trying to discover? There is only one way in which it can be done: by re-thinking them in his own mind. The historian of philosophy, reading Plato, is trying to know what Plato thought when he expressed himself in certain words. The only way in which he can do this is by thinking it for himself. This, in fact, is what we mean when we speak of ‘understanding’ the words. So the historian of politics or warfare, presented with an account of certain actions done by Julius Caesar, tries to understanding these actions, that is, to discover what thoughts in Caesar’s mind determined him to do them. This implies envisaging for himself the situation in which Caesar stood, and thinking for himself what Caesar thought about the situation and the possible ways of dealing with it. The history of thought, and therefore all history, is the re-enactment of past thought in the historian’s own mind. 1

Collingwood is saying that when you engage in historical inquiry, you are in fact re-enacting thoughts from the past. Whether they are God’s thoughts, Augustine’s thoughts, Martin Luther’s thoughts or E. J. Hutchinson’s thoughts, you are participating in thinking the same things. Collingwood goes on to say that the historian not only re-enacts the thoughts, but that he must necessarily criticise them and form judgements about them. Historical knowledge, says Collingwood, is ‘the knowledge of what the mind has done in the past, and at the same time is the redoing of this, the perpetuation of past acts in the present.’ (p. 218) So, when we suggest you consider the writings and ideas of classical Protestantism, the Church Fathers, and the Bible, we are suggesting you perpetuate these past thoughts and acts in the present. When we retrieve these sources, we are asking you to actively participate in the renewal of Protestant Christianity and perpetuate truths from the past.

Christian, you are a historian. Christianity is historical, so Christians must necessarily be historians. As a historian, you must necessarily participate in critical engagement with the thoughts of the past. As Collingwood says, all history is the history of thought. What we hope for in you in reading this journal is not only that you give us page hits, re-tweets, and intelligent comments. We want Christianity to be renewed. One way that renewal will occur is that Christians will engage in historical inquiry, think the thoughts of the past, and make changes based on critical engagement with those thoughts in the future. Retrieval is not just cutting and pasting quotes and translations of old texts; it must always involve activity while engaged in that retrieval. And if the retrieval is faithful (as we believe it is), then we can only hope that the Church’s faithfulness can be increased as a result.

  1. The Idea of History, Oxford University Press, 1980, p.215

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.

One reply on “What We Mean by Renewal and Retrieval”

Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a blog from the reformation times and to see how many were left-of-center spiritually? I’m thinking about such persons as Erasmus and Thomas Müntzer. One irenic the other fiery in disposition.

Comments are closed.