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Systematic Theology (Volume 1): Grounded in Holy Scripture and understood in light of the Church (Systematic Theology (Mentor)) Hardcover – November 20, 2008
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If this first installment is any indication, Douglas Kelly's three-volume Systematic Theology is sure to set a new standard. Harvesting decades of steady scholarship and equally steady engagement in all facets of the church's life and ministry, Kelly displays the richness of the Christian Faith, particularly in its Reformed expression. Christians of all traditions will benefit greatly from the catholic breadth, appropriate but not bewildering depth, and exegetical insight of this remarkable work. (Michael Horton ~ J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, California)
"This is the fruit of decades of research, thought and teaching. Kelly's procedure is entirely sound; Scripture is his basis, the primary authority, but he engages throughout the past teaching of the church.. In this he follows in the footsteps of Calvin and the Westminster and the Westminster Assembly. His breadth of coverage is wide." (Evangelicals Now)
I just now completed reading through the entire book you wrote Systematic Theology, vol. 1. I want to express my sincere appreciation for the quality work you have done. You show that you know ancient languages (Hebrew, Greek and Latin) as well as modern languages (French and German). You delve into the Christian fathers of the first few centuries and are familiar with the works of the Reformers and the latest books and articles on Systematic Theology. This is eminent scholarship that lies back of numerous years of study. You have done the Church a favor by writing this book and I personally thank you for this contribution. Excellent work! (Simon Kistemaker ~ Professor of New Testament Emeritus, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida)
"Douglas F. Kelly is one of the English-speaking world's leading Reformed theologians. Here we begin to enjoy the fruits of his labors. What a feast it is. Few Protestant theologians in our day know the terrain of the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Person of Christ, as well as Professor Kelly... He is at his best when opening up to us the unrealized importance and glory of these foundational truths about our Savior God. For those who yearn for an orthodox Reformed catholicity, Kelly shows the way forward." (Ligon Duncan ~ Chancellor and CEO, Reformed Theological Seminary)
Professor Douglas Kelly's eagerly awaited Systematic Theology exceeds all expectation. This first volume is a comprehensive introduction to discussion of God's self-disclosure, Triune being, transcendent majesty, and covenant relationships. (Iain D. Campbell ~ (1953-2017) Minister, Point Free Church of Scotland, Isle of Lewis)
About the Author
Douglas F. Kelly is the Professor of Theology Emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina.
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This volume contains many noteworthy features. First place must go to Kelly's clear and extensive expositions of Scripture. He is particularly rich in his use of the Psalms. Throughout the work is also a prevalent emphasis on the need to understand and express theology in the context of the covenant community of the Church. This is also exemplified by Kelly's unparalleled use of extensive sources from the Church fathers, Medieval authors, and contemporary literature, transcending his own confessional tradition. Readers shall be exposed to such a broad range of authors, especially from the first four centuries of the Church, that they shall become practically acquainted with these authors.
Of nearly equal value with his emphasis on the text of Scripture is the manner in which Kelly's theology is saturated with the doctrine of the Trinity. The Church is in desperate need of becoming more self-consciously Trinitarian in every aspect of its theology and piety. Kelly has made great strides forward in achieving this. Additionally, he has used his mastery of French to provide a translation of Louis Gaussen's sermon on the Angel of the Lord (479-483). This is the best five-step argument that I have seen establishing that the Angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate Christ. The book closes with an appendix that navigates readers through the complex history of the "filioque" clause of the Nicene Creed in a simple, yet detailed manner that will be difficult to improve upon.
Alongside these positive highlights, there are several features that hinder the use of this volume, some of which are cause for concern. For simplification, I have reduced criticism to seven categories:
1. Structure and outline. The peculiar organization of this volume make it difficult to navigate. Kelly's nine chapters do not make the scope of his topics readily apparent, since they do not explicitly follow the traditional "loci" of theology. His reasoning is relatively easy to follow, but the path shall be unfamiliar for many. The outline in the table of contents could have been much more full and user friendly. There is too little detail for chapters that average sixty plus pages each. For instance, is the topic of revelation or the attributes of Scripture addressed? Are the decrees of God included in this volume? With regard to the former, Kelly states that he shall deal with Scripture in volume two. Subjects such as the decrees are not dealt with at all. Yet the chapter headings as they are listed give little indication of the contents of the volume.
2. Sources and Authors. One of Kelly's great strengths may also prove to be a weakness. His learning is practically unfathomable, however, there is a tendency to include too many block quotes from too wide a diversity of authors. Many times Kelly proves his point adequately, only to follow up with several pages of more block quotations. This has a tendency to overkill. It raises the additional question as to when the line is blurred between Systematic Theology and Historical Theology. Though there is significant overlap between theological disciplines, in many ways, this volume at points comes closer to the latter. Kelly's primary authors appear to be (without competition) T. F. Torrance, Novatian of Rome (who was the subject of Kelly's doctoral dissertation), John Calvin, Dumitru Staniloae (who is Eastern Orthodox), and Karl Barth.
Sometimes Kelly appears to be interested in sources for their own sake rather than for their usefulness to theology. The clearest example of this is his treatment of John Duns Scotus' argument for the existence of God (100-118). Not only does Kelly take a form of "presuppositionalism" in which he asserts that the Christian faith is not provable, but he states that Scotus' argument is so complex that it makes "one wonder at its value" (102). Moreover, Kelly chose Scotus' argument as one of only three representative theistic proofs. Scotus' reasoning will test the limitations of even the most attentive reader. Why then has Kelly spent nineteen pages of small print and substantial research on an argument that most readers will not be able to use, and of which he doubts its value?
3. Speculation on whether or not pagans were saved before the gospel came to their cultures. Kelly states that the limits of our knowledge would lead us to assert that there is no salvation without Holy Scripture (cites WCF 10.3). After noting that it is probably best not to speculate, he argues that there are two reasons to conclude that there have always been people who were saved before the gospel had come to their culture. "These two grounds are God's relationship to the time and space in which he created his image-bearers to dwell" (211). Since the application of the cross is not limited by time, and because Christ's death applied retroactively to the Old Testament saints, God may apply the cross retroactively to others apart from the covenant community. On the basis of the fact that Adam was redeemed, Kelly asserts: "chosen individuals outside the covenant of the Lord with his chosen people Israel, were also somehow in saving contact with the redemptive being and activities of the Triune God. Must they not have been included in the applicatory work of Christ by the eternal Spirit, generations before Christ's incarnation and sacrifice?" (213). The second plank of his argument is that since Christ is not constrained by spatial limitations, he is able to minister to people outside of the covenant community (218-220).
It is difficult to see how Kelly's argument proves his point. That it is possible for God to save people who were outside of the covenant community prior to the coming of Christ is beyond doubt. That it is a fact that he did so is an unwarranted logical jump. Adam's redemption through the gospel promise was not outside of the covenant community; rather it inaugurated the covenant community. Kelly admits that if God redeemed those outside of the covenant community, this redemption must have come through supernatural revelation. Yet Psalm 147: 19-20 states, "He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them." Concerning the Gentile world, Paul asserts, "that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). If Kelly's theory were true, then it would be accurate for Paul to address only some Gentiles in this manner. Would we not be safer to abide by Paul's exhortation: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? . . . So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:14-15, 17).
As a qualification, Kelly closed this section with an exhortation to fulfill the Great Commission as well as with a vehement rejection of Karl Rahner's "anonymous Christian" theory (221). Kelly does not believe that sinners may frame their lives according the principles of natural religion in order to be saved. His sole fault lies in extending supernatural revelation beyond the bounds set by Scripture.
4. Unqualified references to unorthodox writers. This is particularly a problem with regard to Dumitru Staniloae and Karl Barth. With regard to Barth, Kelly often provides lengthy quotations without any caution or qualification, as though Barth was a solid representative of Reformed Orthodoxy. We tend to purchase and read books as they are recommended or used by those whom we respect. If Kelly's citations were my only exposure to Barth, I would conclude that he was an outstanding Reformed scholar who should be recommended to my congregation. Most of the sections cited from Barth become problematic only in the portions above and below those quoted by Kelly. Since a shepherd of the Church must keep the flock from ravenous wolves, some qualification would have been immensely helpful at this point.
5. Underdeveloped presuppositional apologetic. Kelly argues that presupposing the Triune God through faith may be a legitimate ground for knowledge, but he does not show why the God of Scripture must be the necessary presupposition for knowledge. He calls the traditional theistic proofs unnecessary (65), yet does not see anything faulty in them as they stand (99). Kelly rejects autonomous reason as a starting point for knowledge, but then accepts proofs that, to one degree or another, assume autonomous reasoning. Moreover, his "presuppositionalism" appears to come via T. F. Torrance rather than men such as Van Til. The result is that he fails to give a compelling argument for the absolute truth and necessity of the Christian world-view. Though he rejects the charge of "fideism," his version of presuppositionalism will gives the impression that he has not adequately evaded this charge. Kelly's position is further confused by his assertion that he may "vaguely" be referred to as "a Protestant peeping Thomist" (84). How can one consistently be a presuppositionalist and a Thomist? Instead of consistently developing one apologetic method, Kelly appears to blend several seemingly incompatible systems.
6. A Confused Covenant Theology. Kelly's emphasis on the covenant is almost as pervasive as his emphasis on the Trinity. He upholds the basic unity of the one covenant of grace through all the stages of redemptive history, and he maintains a basic distinction between "law covenants" and "promise covenants" (388). The difficulty arises with regard to how Kelly regards Adam's relationship to God. Kelly cites Dumbrell with approval to the effect that the one covenant of grace was instituted in Genesis 1:1 (406). This covenant is equated with the covenant of nature (392-393). A "law covenant" was added within the context of this gracious covenant, so that Adam partook of "both kinds of covenant" (395). The covenant of grace with Adam was continued after the Fall in the promise of Genesis 3:15, in which Adam and his believing descendents would be redeemed by the Lord Jesus Christ. The primary difference between Adam in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 is that grace before the Fall did not entail the forgiveness of sins. Thus God's relationship to Adam must be viewed in terms of grace, then law, followed by grace (396). Kelly asserts that this construction was the view of the seventeenth century theologians as represented by Turretin (393) and Witsius (399).
Aside from muddying theological waters, this view of God's relationship to Adam is contrary to the Presbyterian Standards. Westminster Confession of Faith 7.3 implies that Genesis 3:15 and everything thereafter represents a "second covenant" that must be distinguished from the "covenant of works" of Genesis 2. Contrary to Kelly's implications, this distinction appears to be equally clear in Turretin and Witsius. Confession 7.1 also asserts that this first covenant with Adam did not exist by virtue of creation, but by "some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he has been pleased to express by way of covenant." Laying aside the covenant with creation, "the first covenant made with man was a covenant of works" (WCF 7.2). This first covenant contained a gracious promise of confirmation in everlasting life, but the means of obtaining this promise was Adam's perfect obedience. The only covenant of grace known in Scripture is one that is made in Christ, who redeems sinners through the blood of the everlasting covenant. Adam was the federal head of all mankind in the first covenant; Christ is the federal head of his elect in the second covenant. If Adam's relationship to God in Genesis 2 and 3 are lumped into one broad category, how can Adam both be a covenant head and be subject to a covenant Head in the same economy? Would not Paul's parallel between the first and the second Adam naturally break down in such a case? (Rom. 5:12ff). Kelly clearly maintains the imputation of Adam's sin and he rejects the New Perspectives on Paul (412ff), but if I have read him correctly, he has significantly altered classic Reformed covenant theology.
7. Incipient ecumenical interest toward Eastern Orthodoxy (?). Kelly's use of Eastern Orthodox writers is prevalent throughout the volume. Yet in his last few pages, he asserts that if the West abandoned the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed "nothing significant would be lost" as long as the Trinity is understood in light of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria. If the West did this, it would "constitute healing for the entire Church" (577). Does this not overstate the case? Is the Trinity the only substantial difference between Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy? What about Soteriology? What about Ecclesiology? We must desire a deeper unity with all who call upon the Lord Jesus Christ, but we must desire unity only with those who call upon Christ as he is freely offered in the gospel. Is the recent interest in Eastern Orthodoxy by some leading Protestants a potential back door to accept many of the same theological problems that are prevalent in Roman Catholicism?
The fact that the above criticisms have constituted the bulk of this review should not diminish the value of this book for those who use it well. Douglas Kelly's Systematic Theology Volume One is a rare compendium of substantial historical and exegetical theology. Hopefully reading this work with knowledge of its limitations shall enable readers to profit more from its better qualities.
Ryan M. McGraw
First OPC, Sunnyvale, CA
(This review first appeared in Westminster Theological Journal)
1) Knowledge of God: God Reveals Himself
2) Knowledge of the Triune God Through Creation and Conscience
3) Wester Rejection of God's Testimony to Himself in Creation and Conscience (The Continuing Heritage of the Enlightenment)
4) The God Who Is: the Holy Trinity as One Lord
5) What Kind of Lord He Is: His Transcendence, Beauty and Majesty Mean that His Sovereign Control is 'Good News'
6) The Triune God Makes Himself Known in the Covenant of Grace
7) The One Lord Exists as Three Persons
8) The Christian Church Thinks Through How God is One Being and Three Persons
9) The Full Co-Equality of the Trinitarian Persons: No Subordinationism
One of the first things that I noticed is that Kelly has pulled in quotes and thoughts from a broad range of people. As Kelly states himself, "I have not hesitated to draw from its rich resources a wide array of denominational traditions, who have often vehemently disagreed among themselves on important issues, but nonetheless, have ultimately agreed on far more than divided them." A quick browse through his Bibliography will show the range of people that he draws from. At the beginning of each section Kelly puts forth a thesis statement that will be expanded on throughout the entire chapter. I found this to be very helpful as some of the chapters are quite long and this proves to be a good reference point to come back to.
Kelly also focuses on (as the subtitle says) how these doctrines about God relate to the church. This can be clearly seen in the opening statement for his first chapter. Kelly states that "God reveals Himself in the light os who He is by means of His Word and Spirit personally within the context of the covenant community." From the start of this volume it is clear that Kelly is intent on helping his readers to see that God's desire to make himself known has always been both individual and corporate. We miss a big part of knowing God if we fail to be incorporated and active in His Body.
Kelly is very clear in his presentation on the Covenants. He draws a lot from John Murray and O. Palmer Robertson in their thinking of the covenants. As a Reformed Baptist I do differ on his view of the Abrahamic Covenant being unconditional and "the very heart of the Covenant of Grace in Holy Scriptures," but his presentation is well done. One does not have to agree with the author to appreciate the clarity in his thoughts. I think that there is a clear dichotomous nature to the Abrahamic Covenant, but I was well aware of Kelly's views, so I will not critique them. Those who agree with him will be blessed by his writing and those who disagree will be better informed.
A very helpful addition to this book are all of the appendices. There are 14 total and each one covers some sub-point that is related to each chapter. In one appendix titled, 'Contemporary Challenges to God's Lordship' Kelly rebukes the church for how quickly and easily it sold out to evolutionary thought without hardly putting up a fight in many circles. Another one focuses on Feminist Theology and the Fatherhood of God. These serve their purpose very well as they focus on some key areas of thought in the world and how they relate to God.
I received a free copy of this book from Christian Focus Publications in exchange for an honest review.
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