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When History Teaches Us Nothing: The Recent Reformed Sonship Debate in Context Paperback – May 1, 2008
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Contrary to the title, Trumper's first chapter is deeply sensitive to the historical context for the neglect of sonship and the broader paralysis of reformed theology. Beginning with John Calvin and the Westminster divines Trumper demonstrates the appropriation and importance of the doctrine of adoption and it various methodological developments. Trumper demonstrates that the inclusion of adoption in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms was to be the high water mark of the doctrine. Due to its neglect in Turretin's popular Institutes of Elenctic Theology and the onslaught of modernity the growth and development of adoption would be stunted by a variety of intervening factors. Rationalism, Deism, Arianism and Socianism, Neonomianism and Arminianism, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Industrialism together all but calcified the reformed tradition stifling what Trumper calls `creative orthodoxy'. Adoption was a casualty of this calcification, prohibiting the contribution of the rich `familial' language of salvation alongside the forensic. The lopsidedness of theological development in the tradition was bound to have consequences warranting Trumper's call for a fresh approach to reformed theology, which he calls `constructive Calvinism'.
In Trumper's second chapter he records the backlash against the under-development of the familial models in Scripture. John McLeod Campbell serves as the first reactionary figure in this analysis. He challenged the `legalistic joylessness' of his parishioners with the intimate and paternal love of God and the call to sonship. But sadly, in reactionary zeal he abandoned the forensic elements of the atonement in favor of `vicarious penitence for sin' leading to his expulsion from the Church of Scotland and his marginalization from the reformed community. The sad double effect was Campbell's isolation from the tradition, and the tradition's dismissal of his legitimate protest for the familial aspects of the Scripture. This was a sadly wasted opportunity to recover the intimate familial dimensions of the New Testament. The bitter fruit of this was a Victorian liberalism that favored the universal Fatherhood of God, and a conservative reaction that increasingly limited the gospel to its legal dimensions. Fast-forward to the present, Jack Miller's son-ship curriculum stresses similar pastoral concerns to McLeod Campbell's (in an orthodox fashion), and is also facing resistance along different lines.
Ironically, neither Campbell nor Miller seriously wrestles with the various theological models of sonship in Scripture. Campbell and Miller come with very pastoral concerns to revitalize the faith of those stuck in dead legalism with the amazing truth of God's paternal love in adopting orphans, but they both use adoption like an extended pastoral illustration rather than a biblical and theological model. Campbell imports a herterodox version of the atonement, and Miller uses adoption as an illustration for the gospel as a whole (specifically its implications for progressive sanctification). The upshot is while both parties have a pastoral desire to bring the truths of the fatherhood of God and adoption to bear, neither wrestles with the development of the biblical theological implications behind their exhortations.
This book is worth the price for the insights in chapter 3 alone. Here Trumper begins to wrestle with what a mature doctrine of sonship might look like. He focuses particularly on the relationship of adoption to the applicatio and ordo salutis (application and order of salvation). He notes that the neither reformed dogmatics nor the Westminster Standards have established an agreed upon ordo salutis, and that biblical theology and questions of historia salutis are shedding new light on the organization and explanation of the application of salvation. He observes that there is not yet a consensus on the relationship of adoption, union with Christ, regeneration, justification, and sanctification. In light of this ambiguity he reviews the positions of Calvin, the Westminster Standards, and Turretin. This evaluation alone makes the book a worthwhile read by proposing the areas for constructive thinking concerning the relationship of adoption to the more traditional schemes of the ordo salutis.
In conclusion, Trumper brings welcome attention to the much neglected famial tenor of the New Testament, and its neglect in reformed theology. This work certainly whets the appetite for his in depth exegesis of adoption in its diverse biblical theological models elsewhere. Trumper's `constructive Calvinism' is a breath of fresh air in the stifling atmosphere of some reformed circles. This work should bear much pastoral and theological fruit both in the renewed discussion of adoption and in the broader discussion of the application and order of salvation.