Here is a quote from T. F. Torrance, from the preface of his book Scottish Theology. This really captures the distinction and nuance that I am trying to make through this blog for the uninitiated (thus far). That indeed there is a rift between what has been called Federal Calvinism (or what I’ve been calling “Classic”), and Evangelical Calvinism (or “Scottish Theology”). TFT is introducing his book, and giving some of the rationale for writing it.
In Chapter One on John Knox and the Scottish Reformation, I have offered a general account of the deep doctrinal change that took place, but in the succeeding chapters I have tried to focus on the main issues that arose as a result of the adherence of the Church of Scotland to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Following upon the teaching of the great Reformers there developed what is known as ‘federal theology’, in which the place John Calvin gave to the biblical conception of the covenant was radically altered through being schematised to a framework of law and grace governed by a severely contractual notion of covenant, with a stress upon a primitive ‘covenant of works’, resulting in a change in the Reformed understanding of ‘covenant of grace’. This was what Protestant scholastics called ‘a two-winged’, and not ‘a one-winged’ covenant, which my brother James has called a bilateral and a unilateral conception of the Covenant. The former carries with it legal stipulations which have to be fulfilled in order for it to take effect, while the latter derives from the infinite love of God, and is freely proclaimed to all mankind in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the imposition of a rigidly logicalised federal system of thought upon Reformed theology that gave rise to many of the problems which have afflicted Scottish theology, and thereby made central doctrines of predestination, the limited or unlimited range of the atoning death of Christ, the problem of assurance, and the nature of what was called ‘the Gospel-offer’ to sinners. This meant that relatively little attention after the middle of the seventeenth century was given to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and to a trinitarian understanding of redemption and worship. Basic to this change was the conception of the nature and character of God. It is in relation to that issue that one must understand the divisions which have kept troubling the Kirk [church] after its hard-line commitment to the so-called ‘orthodox Calvinism’ of the Westminster Standards, and the damaging effect that had upon the understanding of the World of God and the message of the Gospel. . . . (Thomas F. Torrance, “Scottish Theology,” x-xi)
This encapsulates the motivation for the blog here; my desire is to alert folks to the reality that TF is speaking to. Here TFT highlights the development of a tradition of Calvinism that is particular to Scotland; but, also want to note that this phenomenon was not unique to the Scots. This kind of development was also, contemporaneously, at play in England as well; Janice Knight has identified this branch of development within Calvinism, as The Spiritual Brethren (as opposed to The Intellectual Fathers — the Westminster Divines).
Calvinists of today, need to know, that they aren’t the only Calvinist ‘orthodoxy’ around; that history is not on their side, per se. Even more importantly, beyond history, I really do not believe that scripture is on their side — by and large.
Anyway, I hope this quote gives you more insight on where many of my cues have been and are coming from. I also hope that if you are into ‘federal theology’ that this will at least make you pause.