Dissertation Note: The Reformed Tradition Always Reforming?

Jonathan Ray Huggins. “The Reformed Tradition Always Reforming?: A Historical-Theological Study of the Doctrine of Justification in the Works of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards and NT Wright.” PhD diss.,  Stellenbosch University, 2012. (note: Full-Text is available.)

Jonathan Huggins’s recent dissertation enters into highly controversial territory. As the title suggests,  he manages to to prepare a study that combines the debate over justification with Calvin, Edwards, and Wright along with the debate over what it means to be Reformed. It seeks to place John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and NT Wright in conversation on the doctrine of justification showing as Reformed theologians in continuity and discontinuity with one another. He writes as an historical theologian and forthrightly identifies himself as an evangelical theologian and a former PCA pastor. Observing recent debates among Reformed theologians and especially within the ranks of the PCA, he writes in order to better understand for himself what it means to be doctrinally Reformed and a member the of Reformed tradition. He asserts that the Reformed tradition is a living tradition, and its doctrine is an ongoing conversation subject to correction and improvement under the sole authority of Scripture. He writes critically yet sympathetically as he discusses all three of his main figures.

For those who are especially interested in Edwards, Huggins discusses in detail Edwards’s master’s Quaestio (thesis) and his two sermons on justification in 1738. He also details the recent literature concerning Edwards’s supposed Roman Catholic views of justification.

Readers who are interested in the recent dialogue concerning the doctrine of justification will have ample material to chew on. In the end, Huggins suggests that all three of these figures are arguably members of the Reformed tradition on justification even as they articulate their views quite differently. This study demonstrates (as others have done so recently, notably, Richard Muller) that the Reformed tradition is much more diverse than many have supposed. Being Reformed is not synonymous with rehearsing and repackaging John Calvin’s theology. Each of of the figures is shown to be Reformed and shown to work with a level of independence from the traditional confessions. Huggins has offered an admirable study on a terribly important subject. Even readers who disagree with Huggins should find his work useful for thinking through important issues of defining boundaries of theological traditions.