In arguing that their views are within the "Reformed tradition," the primary tactic of the Neolegalists is to dredge up and cite foolish statements by generally sound Reformed theologians of the past, and to recommend entire books by those who are not generally sound. So they quote John Calvin, for example, saying some foolish thing about the sacraments, and they recommend books written by 19th century American theologians John Williamson Nevin and Horace Bushnell.
Of course, the question of whether the Neolegalists are in the "Reformed tradition" is a red herring. It is a deliberate distraction from the real question: Are their views Biblical? They have attempted to shift the debate from Scripture to tradition for two reasons: First, they know that they can dredge up foolish statements from Reformed theologians that support or seem to support their heretical views; and second, they hold a view of tradition which makes it, not Scripture alone, the authority.
One wonders if one of these days the Neolegalists will be courageous enough to cite James Arminius as one of their forerunners, for he certainly was in the "Reformed tradition," and in several ways their views are similar to his.
But two can play this game of citing foolish statements from past Reformed theologians, and I hasten to do so. I cite these foolish statements in order to destroy the primary argument of the Neolegalists – their appeal to "Reformed tradition" – by showing that there is a "Reformed tradition" for many errors, and that only Scripture is authoritative. From time to time I intend to provide foolish quotes from Reformed theologians for that purpose. I begin today with a quotation from Benjamin Warfield, Professor at Princeton Seminary in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, whose status as a Reformed theologian is without challenge.
Warfield wrote: "I am free to say, for myself, that I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Gen. I & II or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution" (Lectures on Anthropology, 1888).
In his essay on "Calvin's Doctrine of Creation" (Princeton Theological Review, 1915), Warfield referred to Calvin's doctrine of creation as "a very pure evolutionary scheme."
There you have it: There is a "Reformed tradition" of endorsing evolution. And so we see the worthlessness of appealing to "Reformed tradition" to establish theological truth.
We Protestants are not traditionalists. We are radicals for Christianity, and that Root is Scripture alone.
The Trinity Foundation
April 18, 2005