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The aftermath

The general decline of Protestant Scholasticism from its theological dominance near the end of the eighteenth century has been linked to the effects of pietism, rationalism and historical-critical methods of interpreting Scripture. In Germany and Prussia in particular, the language and logic of Aristotle was largely replaced by that of Kant, Hegel and the Romantics. Yet even those theologians who attempted to mediate between Protestant thought and the philosophies of the Enlightenment often dealt with faith as knowledge, assent and trust, even if critically. The so-called ‘modern theologians’, such as Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889) and Wilhelm Herrmann (1846-1922), tended to seize upon faith as trust in the promise of God’s forgiveness and either criticized or downplayed understanding faith as knowledge or assent. By emphasizing faith as trust, a self-consciously modern Protestant theology could still accept the insights of contemporary intellectual culture, particularly higher criticism of Scripture and secular accounts of church history, while not falling into scepticism or rationalism. Conversely, characterizing faith as knowledge, assent and trust still continued on in influential theologians such as the Dutch Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)[1] and the American Presbyterian Charles Hodge (1797-1878),[2] past principal of Princeton Theological Seminary and leader of the Princeton Theology.

Study questions

  • 1. What does distinguishing faith as knowledge, assent and trust help to illuminate?
  • 2. What does distinguishing faith as knowledge, assent and trust hide or obscure?
  • 3. Which one of these three do you think is the ‘principal part’ of faith?
  • 4. How might one see faith as one or as unified within this framework?

Further reading

Chemnitz, Martin, Loci Theologici, trans. J. A. O. Preus; vol. 2. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1989), pp. 490-499.

Melanchthon, Phillip, ‘Justification and Faith’, from Loci communes. One readily available edition is Melanchthon and Bucer ed. Wilhelm Pauck (Philadelphia: Westminster John Knox Press, 1969), pp. 88-108.

Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr.; trans.

George Musgrave Giger. (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1994), pp. 560-564.

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  • [1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, Holy Spirit, Church, New Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans.John Vriend (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008), pp. 126-132.
  • [2] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (New York: Scribner and Sons, 1873), p. 91.
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