What Counts as “Biblical” Philosophy? Reflections from Dru Johnson’s Biblical Philosophy

N. Gray Sutanto
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary, Washington D.C.

When I first encountered the title of Dru Johnson’s book, my interests were piqued. Most of my research has been occupied with the Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition, known for its emphasis on drawing out implications for every area of life from Scripture. Philosophy, too, was no exception to this. Scripture has leavening implications for philosophy, even though it might not be a philosophical manual per se. As such, Scriptural claims should be taken as a key resource for philosophical construction and investigation.

Dru Johnson thus makes a welcome contribution in showing that Scripture should be taken seriously as presenting a philosophy. “We can detect a philosophical style by their use of logic, rigor, second-order reasoning, and advocating such reasoning.”[1] This approach recognizes that Scripture records the way in which the authors reasoned through revelation, and hence rejects the view – quite popular among philosophers today – that Scripture is philosophically (or metaphysically and epistemologically) underdetermined. Further, Johnson shows that philosophy should be taken rather broadly – conclusions and principles are drawn not merely from syllogistic or linear forms of argumentation, but through narratives, poetry, law, and authority. The history of philosophy itself attests to this – from the Socratic dialogues to Voltaire’s Candide and Confucius’s Analects, what counts as “philosophy” is remarkably broad, and one should not be surprised that the Bible itself models a philosophy. Johnson’s work is a masterful examination of the ways in which attentiveness to the granularity of the text showcases an advocated philosophy. I learned much from his exegetical reflections.

Moreover, though Johnson notes that the philosophical rigor of the Hebraic texts are more akin to the rigor of Hellenism than its Egyptian or Mesopotamian counterparts, one should study Hebraic philosophy on its own terms, and not succumb to the temptation that it should only be taken seriously insofar as it mirrors another style. Indeed, this “should also serve to reinforce that fact that Greek philosophy is not the standard by which all other traditions are measured.”[2]

The neo-Calvinist tradition would have added a hearty agreement to all of these observations, and would have echoed that theologians and philosophers alike should ensure that they develop a properly biblical theology or philosophy. However, one might detect a difference in that the neo-Calvinist tradition, more or less, affirmed that this is exactly what theologians and philosophers throughout the broad Catholic tradition has been doing. The main difference between past Christian theologians and the neo-Calvinists, Kuyper and Bavinck thought, was that the latter were more methodologically self-conscious about this task. Sure enough, some figures here and there, in their judgment, veered too much toward biblicism or syncretism, but as a whole, church tradition has proceeded precisely as an attempt to take seriously the philosophical and theological claims of Scripture. Hence, while Johnson is right that we often baptize our contemporary ideas by an appeal to Scripture to our peril, such a charge cannot be easily sustained against the broad catholic tradition(s) of the church – which includes Augustine’s critical deployment of Plotinus, Bonaventure’s use of Plato, or, more recently, Bavinck’s own use of romantic phenomenology. One might argue that one or the other does a better job in employing the biblical material – but none can be charged with lacking a desire for a biblical philosophy. So, when Johnson argues that “some in Christian philosophy and theology fund their ideas primarily from the discourses of their traditions and then secondarily find Scriptures that seem to support them,” one might have questions. If tradition here refers to the creedal and confessional heritage of catholic Christianity, I wonder if Johnson misses that the tradition itself is nothing other than the history of biblical exegetical reflection.[3] To employ tradition, then, is to stand upon a deployment of Scripture’s philosophical and theological resources.

Hence, if Johnson’s book begins with the task of broadening our sense of what counts as philosophy, my task here is to reflect on what counts as biblical philosophy. Is biblical philosophy limited to advocating the Hebraic mind, as Johnson describes it, or can one remain biblical even if one does not follow the same?

My argument is thus a direct response to Johnson’s call at the end of his book. Here is the call, or, perhaps better, challenge:

IF the Hebraic philosophical tradition is as robust and rigorous as anything found in Hellenism,

AND IF this biblical philosophy explains the real world more adequately to embodied humans,

AND IF we no longer need to accommodate the Scripture to the theological philosophies of Hellenism,

THEN should we not think, to some extent, about the work of theology and philosophy as a retrieval of biblical philosophy?[4]

To the three premises and conclusion above: I say yes indeed, we should think about the world of theology and philosophy as a retrieval of biblical philosophy. However, I ask: when have theology and philosophy in the broad creedal and confessional tradition of the church been something other than a retrieval of biblical philosophy? In other words, I wonder if Johnson implies that the tradition’s theologies and philosophies should be raised as an alternative to, rather than an extension of, biblical philosophy – but this is an assumption that needs to be proven, not assumed.

The rest of my reflections here follows three steps. Firstly, I shall argue that a catholic (creedal and confessional) dogmatics has been and is in fact consonant with Johnson’s own criteria of what makes a philosophy biblical: that it is pixelated and networked in its mode, and mysterionist, creationist, transdemographic and ritualist in its convictions.[5] Because I am most acquainted with the Reformed tradition, I shall argue that the Reformed orthodox are in line with these criteria. Secondly, I suggest that even when particular theologians or philosophers use non-Hebraic terminology and patterns of reasoning, they can still remain within the bounds of a biblical philosophy. Biblical philosophy, in other words, is broader than merely emulating the philosophical style of the bible, and can be considered as an extended reflection on those second-order principles discovered by attending to its narrative and communitarian logic. Along the way, I shall discuss the importance of principled philosophical eclecticism, the doctrine of creation, and subversive fulfillment for the construction of a biblical philosophy. Hence, a rejoinder to Johnson: to the extent that one limits biblical philosophy to the Hebraic mind, I wonder if we would be restoring a new kind of classism – the very classism that Johnson rightly rejects – for only those who imitate the Hebraic mind can be considered truly biblical. I suggest that if grace restores nature, and if a diversity of philosophical styles are embedded in the creation of human beings as God’s image bearers, than the more diversity displayed in biblical philosophy, the better.

Biblical Philosophy and Reformed Theology

A biblical philosophy, in Johnson’s understanding, is pixelated and networked in style, and mysterionist, creationist, transdemographic, and ritualist by conviction. In brief, to be pixelated and networked in style means that the particular advocated philosophy in question will be argued for by developing narratives, analogous examples, lists, that shore up similar traits to hammer a particular principle. Mysterionism embraces the finitude of the human mind and one’s epistemological dependence on God; creationism recognizes YHWH as the creator and sustainer of all reality, such that the flow of history is pivotal for a proper understanding of that reality; transdemographic and ritualized convictions mean that this philosophy is available to all who apply themselves to the community and the skilled practices prescribed therein by its authorities, for the corporate good. These traits are meant to contrast the Hellenistic style, which is linear and autonomist, and Hellenistic convictions, which are domesticationist, abstractionist, mentalist, and classist. (I will return to these Hellenistic traits below).

For the sake of space, I can only pick out four (or so) examples in which the confessional Reformed tradition(s) meets this criterion, and should thus be counted as exemplifying a retrieval of biblical philosophy: the distinction between archetypal/ectypal theology, the theoretical-practical definition of theology, reformed catholicity, and covenant theology.

Firstly, the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology showcases the tradition’s mysterionist and creationist convictions, and dovetails well with Johnson’s discussion of creation and knowledge, which draws from particular texts in Genesis and Deuteronomy. In Johnson’s analysis, these texts convey that one should not reason from created items to God in a univocal fashion. These “bottom-up” approaches, so to speak, misses the point that there is none like God (Deut. 4:35), and that though creation reflects God, and God acts in creation, Israel is dependent on God to give her ears to hear and eyes to see Him through creation (Deut. 29:2-4). Further, the things revealed to her still preserves the mysteries of the divine realities disclosed (Deut. 29:29).[6]

Franciscus Junius reasons from similar passages (and the book of Job) in developing the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology. Archetypal theology is the “divine wisdom of divine maters…we stand in awe before his and do not seek to trace it out,”, while ectypal theology is fashioned from archetypal theology, rendering it communicable and communicated to finite creatures, “according to the capacity of created things themselves.”[7] This distinction recognizes that human knowledge of God is dependent on God himself, and that the things revealed do not domesticate the realities disclosed. God alone knows all things, and theology has its starting point in God’s revelation, as he accommodates this knowledge to finite creatures. God deploys creaturely analogies throughout history so that human beings can have communion with him by grace. God alone has archetypal wisdom. Relatedly, the recognition in the scholastic tradition of the lack of composition in God between genus and species is a further implication of what Johnson sees as the concern to guard against false worship in the biblical witness. There is none like God, and hence God does not belong in a category – all inferences to the effect that God is like a created image is to domesticate God, missing his utter uniqueness.[8]

Secondly, the classical Reformed tradition also showcases an aim for the practical ends of theology – living unto God and the pursuit of wisdom, which dovetails well with Johnson’s emphasis on knowledge as ritualized and skilled. Junius defines theology as “wisdom concerning divine matters,” which means it is “the most complete starting point of all sciences both theoretical and practical, and the wisest judge of all actions and reasons, greater than every limitation.”[9] Junius goes on to admonish those who divorce skill from intellectual reason: “our definition of theology encompasses all of these simultaneously. It includes the intellect of first principles, the knowledge of conclusions and ends, and I is the most beneficial skill of our work, by which we strive toward God.”[10] This conviction is carried through by later Reformed scholastics – Peter van Mastricht, to take one example, further defines theology as theoretical and practical, or more precisely as the “doctrine of living for God through Christ.”.[11] These emphases on wisdom and of doctrine as directing one’s self toward God show that the scholastic emphases on doctrinal precision and fine distinctions were never meant to be “mentalist” or “abstractionist” in principle, but were rather geared to aid believers in pleasing God. Indeed, the organization of Mastricht’s prolegomena performs this in distilling the exegetical, dogmatic, and practical dimensions of each particular locus under discussion. As he writes, “theology must be taught according to a certain method, and I must be the kind of method in which theory and practice always walk in step together.”[12] Notice, that though the terms “theoretical” and “practical” are taken from Aristotle’s taxonomy of the sciences, they are put to service in a theological direction, and the theoretical is not elevated above the practical.

Thirdly, current recognitions of Reformed and Protestant catholicity further shore up the emphasis on knowing as communal and ritualized.[13] Reformed catholicity recognizes that doctrine is known through, in Johnson’s words, “embodied social structures” and “embodied processes that disposes the subject to apprehend.”[14] Tradition is not a barrier to biblical exegesis, but is rather that communion of saints through which one is apprenticed to read the biblical material well. Thus, to read Scripture through the creeds and confessions of the church is not succumbing to Hellenism or an abstracted exercise, but is rather to sit with that normed social and ecclesial location of the people of God. This is a task that finds its warrant in a reading of the biblical material – from one generation to another, the people of God will praise God’s name and works (Ps. 145:3-5); and the church will be known by its teaching of a pattern of sound words (2 Tim. 1:13). To read within creedal and confessional bounds is akin to reading the Word in the context of the local church – it recognizes that the church extends itself to the past and to the present. This emphasis on catholicity also witnesses to the transdemographic availability of biblical philosophy and wisdom: anyone at any point of time, regardless of gender, class, and race can receive the means of grace provided by the church catholic in order to nurture their own obedience unto God.

Finally, though the development of the doctrines briefly discussed above do depend on pixelated and networked readings of the biblical material, this pixelated and networked style is perhaps most apparent in the development of covenant theology. Codified in confessional texts like the Westminster Standards, the Reformed tradition recognizes that a “representational principle”exists in the biblical narratives.[15] The people of God are represented by particular prophets, patriarchs, kings, and priests, which all foreshadow the representative work of Jesus Christ. Covenant theology infers from the way in which God condescends to promise rewards and administer curses on the basis of a people’s obedience through a federal representative. Moreover, it draws inferences from the networked events and rituals throughout biblical history: from the signs and seals of circumcision and baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the prophetic claims themselves, the pixelated and networked material of the Bible form the overarching distinction between the covenant of works (made with Adam), and the covenant of grace (with Christ, the second Adam).[16]

Though much more can be said, these brief examples show that the Reformed tradition, as a permutation within the broader catholic church with its creeds and confessions, should indeed be considered as a retrieval of biblical philosophy.

Biblical Philosophy: On Creation and Linear Reasoning

If the previous section suggests that the Reformed tradition fits the bill with respect to the criteria of biblical philosophy, this section asks the question: what if a particular philosopher develops a linear and autonomist mode of reasoning, that is, modes of philosophical argumentation that Johnson argues mark out Hellenistic philosophy? Would such a way of doing philosophy automatically cast one out of the bounds of a biblical philosophy? Though I believe that the classical traditions of the church have never been other than a retrieval of biblical philosophy, I want to suggest that even if the church adopts a so-called Hellenist style of philosophy (for the sake of argument), it can still be considered biblical.

To keep in mind Johnson’s discussion of these terms, it is worth rehearsing Johnson’s terms for describing Hellenistic philosophy. He defines a linear form of argumentation as that which is “traceable” and “deductive” – “As in Socratic dialogue and Aristotle’s description of forms, readers can directly trace he single flow of the argument backward from conclusion to premises.”[17] And by autonomist, Johnson does not mean the kind of purported neutrality with respect to reason characteristic of Enlightenment convictions, but the mode of philosophical reasoning that can treat arguments in relative isolation from other arguments or historical events – like the analysis of whether a particular premise within a syllogism is true or false, or a consideration of the form of the individual argument itself. Here: “Inductions, empirical evidence, and deductions are employed as stand-alone units toward a grander argument.”[18]

If the style of Hellenistic philosophy is linear and autonomist, its convictions are domesticationist, abstractionist, classist, and mentalist.[19] Briefly, domesticationism sees knowledge of reality as comprehensively attainable rather than imbued with mystery; abstractionism sees reasoning as independent from the flow of history and its events; mentalism sees the task of argumentation as a mental process with a psychological, rather than a social and corporate, goal; classism sees the task of philosophy and its goals as available only to a particular class of people.

I submit that a philosophy that advocates for a form of linear and autonomist reasoning (so defined) can still indeed be counted as biblical, and need not be seen as contradicting biblical modes of pixelated and networked argumentation. To defend my claim, I offer two arguments: (1) that linear and autonomist reasoning need not be taken as uniquely Hellenistic contributions, but as a systematized version of ordinary and creational reasoning and (2) that linear and autonomist reasoning might be employed to envision the logical connections and overall systematic shape of the second-order principles discovered in the biblical literature. To be sure, much of the convictions of Hellenism are incompatible with Hebraic convictions – domesticationism must give way to mysterionism, and classism to transdemographic catholicity, but there are ways in which the boundaries are porous.[20] An investigation on how Christians can use the linear and autonomist forms of argumentation will display these porous boundaries.

Firstly, then, linear and autonomist reasoning need not be taken as a peculiarly Hellenistic innovation, but rather as systematized versions of ordinary creational modes of reasoning. That is, instead of claiming that these modes of argumentation is particularly Hellenistic, we should look at these as creational first, and that the Hellenistic philosophical literature is one instantiation of developing creational/ordinary ways of reasoning into a systemic mode of philosophical discourse.

Here, I am following William Wood’s defense of analytic reason and its concern for propositional analysis and argumentative parsimony (not unlike the concerns of Hellenistic scholasticism). Wood offers a helpful analogy: just as the empirical sciences and their employment of the inductive scientific method are really a highly systematized and ordered version of ordinary inductive reasoning, so is analytic reason a highly systematized version of ordinary reasoning in general. In Wood’s words: “The hyper-precision that features in analytic thought is different in degree but not in kind from ordinary “person in the street” demands to say exactly what we mean (no more, no less).”[21] Indeed, Wood offers an analogy from the forager who eats small bites of fruit to determine whether the fruit is safe to eat as an ordinary way of inductive reasoning – a scientist is really doing a highly critical and systematized version of that.

To give an example, suppose I learn, say, from watching the endings of the movies A Quite Place and Avengers: End Game, that the proposition “self-sacrifice is beautiful” is true. And then I might ask the question “Why is self-sacrifice beautiful?” – why was I so moved by watching the endings of these films? Then, later that day in my daily devotions, I read John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” I then deduce that self-sacrifice is beautiful because it is a loving act. Self-sacrifice is beautiful because love is beautiful, and self-sacrifice is an instantiation of love in action.

Notice that I inferred a second-order principle about the nature of reality from a pixelated and networked form of reasoning. I knew that self-sacrifice is beautiful because I saw two narrative exemplifications of it in the two movies I saw. I then reflected autonomistically by isolating that proposition, and traced that proposition to another from John’s Gospel, and deduced yet another proposition: that self-sacrifice is an instantiation of love. Ordinary Christians, I think, do this all the time, and I submit that they are not being unbiblical by doing so. These convictions, it is worth emphasizing, are predicated not on the generic goodness of reasoning in the abstract, but on the Christian doctrine of creation. Hence, linear and autonomist modes of reasoning need not be considered a peculiarly Hellenistic way of reasoning, but rather as rooted in creational rationality. Furthermore, the momentary abstractionist and mentalist exercise of seeking the cognitive comfort of figuring out why self-sacrifice was moving to me was for the sake of a ritualized end: incorporation into one’s own devotional life in the community of the church.

This leads to my second point: linear reasoning can be used to reflect upon the logical and metaphysical implications of the second order principles discovered by pixelated reasoning. This is what the church fathers tend to do in their defense of Jesus’s divinity, for example. A pixelated and networked reflection on the biblical literature, say, points to three principles: that “YHWH alone is God”, that “YHWH alone deserves all glory and worship” and that “Jesus receives glory and worship,”. These principles/propositions form further inquiries about the connections between them, and creedal orthodoxy was the result of a sustained philosophical (linear and traceable) reflection on their logical and metaphysical relations. The question here is: how can Jesus receive worship if YHWH alone can rightly receive worship? Who is Jesus in relation to YHWH? It is a reflection on these kinds of propositions and their logical relations that the patristics concluded for the consubstantiality of the Father and the Son – the Son shares in the glory of the Father because they share the same divine substance: “[The Son] must share in the glory of the uncaused, because he stems from the uncaused.”[22] While Johnson describes the early church as comprising a host of “synthetic-Hellenist Christian” apologists, what I’m suggesting is that what is happening is not a Hellenizing of Christianity but rather a Christianizing of Hellenism – that is, of the tools discovered by Hellenism.[23]

This is what systematic theologians are doing when they are drawing from church tradition and making “speculative” (better, reasoned) judgments about the nature of God, creation, and any other loci in Christian theology by an exercise of the sanctified intellect. Tradition is the history of biblical exegesis that cumulates the conclusions of the church’s best exegetes, and the task of theology surely presupposes exegesis – that pixelated and networked mode of reasoning Johnson notices the biblical literature performs. But it also builds on those conclusions and inquiries into the logical and metaphysical implications of those second order principles discovered by attending to the biblical material.

Hence, I would quibble with Johnson’s description of Augustine, for example, as an instance of a “Hellenistic Christian”[24] – sure enough Augustine was using and polemicizing against Hellenistic material, but in his judgment the Greeks were actually the ones depending on prior Christian revelation. When Augustine treats the use of (Hellenistic) syllogistic reasoning, for instance, he said this:

These valid rules of logic, however, have not been instituted by human beings, but observed and noted down by them, so that they can either learn or teach them, because they are inscribed in the permanent and divinely instituted rationality of the universe. Just as those, after all, who tell the story of successive ages do not themselves but those ages together, and those who point out the facts of geography, or the natures of animals or plants or stones, are not pointing out things instituted by human beings, and those who show us the stars and motions are not showing us something instituted by themselves or anybody else; so too the one who says “When the consequent is false, the antecedent must be false too,” is saying something very true, and does not make it to be so himself, but is only pointing out that that is how it is.[25]

My strategy is inspired by Augustine’s: linear reasoning that focuses on the logical relations between propositions is not indicative of Hellenism but rather of the rational order of creation, on which the Hellenists depend. To say that linear and autonomist reasoning is Hellenistic is to give them too much credit. Augustine, likewise, attributed these to God’s providence, and the Hellenists are depending upon the one true God that they deny: “All this is like their gold and silver, and not something they instituted themselves, but something which they mined, so to say, from the ore of divine providence, veins of which are everywhere to be found.”[26] To use a phrase commonly found in later neo-Calvinism: the Hellenists were living on borrowed capital.

To be sure, my defense here is not to say that Hellenism possesses the perennial or natural handmaiden to theology, but rather that Hellenistic thought merely reflected upon a feature of the rationality of God’s creation. Other people everywhere, too, did this, and did so in a diversity of ways. Johnson recognizes this well when he argues that the Bible maintains “a stable and discernible philosophical style despite the employment of philosophical vocabulary and constructs from surrounding cultures” – in fact, this is what the Church catholic has been doing.[27] If Hellenism is merely reflecting on the rationality of God’s creation in their philosophy, so are other philosophies on offer throughout history, and if the biblical authors can utilize the philosophical vocabulary of their contemporaries, so can Christian theologians and philosophers utilize the philosophical vocabulary of our contemporaries. Grace restores nature: and nature manifests itself in a diversity of ways due to its richness and human finitude, so Christianity restores the many philosophies on offer today by way of subversive fulfilment.[28]

In other words, biblical philosophy is not uniform, but diverse: there are biblical (or biblicised) analytic philosophies, Aristotelian philosophies, phenomenologies, romantic philosophies and so on.[29] This is a properly transdemographic conviction – if Christianity is truly catholic, it can leaven any philosophical tradition, for every philosophical tradition itself arises from human beings made in God’s image, living under common grace, immersed in general revelation and dwelling in God’s creation.[30] To limit Christian philosophy to a ‘Hebraic’ mode of reasoning is, I am suggesting, to erect another form of classism – the very classism that Johnson identifies with Hellenism and so rightly rejects.

Conclusion: For Eclecticism and Against the Hellenization Thesis

To bring this essay to a close, my reflections here suggest that Johnson’s insights are best utilized in a “both-and” approach, rather than an “either-or” – the Hebraic philosophy that he has ably shown is best used as a launching pad to critically engage with and positively utilize other philosophical traditions, rather than as a way of castigating other forms of philosophy. Further, I argued that this is in fact what the church catholic has been doing in her theological and philosophical reflections. The alternative to this, I worry, is a renewed sort of biblicism that erects a new classism – only the few that repristinates the Hebraic style is considered truly biblical. I also at times worry, that Johnson’s insistence on the Hebraic style over “synthetic” thinking funds an incipient Harnackian spirit – the sort of false narrative that says that there was a pure, original Hebraic philosophy that has been infected by Greek thought as the Christian tradition develops. Johnson’s book, of course, does not go in that direction, but I do wonder if it might be utilized to nurture that narrative.

The “both-and” approach I am prescribing here is a sort of principled Christian eclecticism. Other writings have shown that this sort of posture can be found in Bavinck’s modus operandi.[31] When discussing Christianity’s use of philosophy, he argued that no one philosophical system should be prioritized over any other: “The question here is not whether theology should make use of a specific philosophical system. Christian theology has never taken over any philosophical system without criticism and given it the stamp of approval.”[32] Rather, Christian revelation provides its own criteria – the basic parameters of a philosophy and worldview, so to speak, and Christian theologians and philosophers stand on that criteria in order to put to use whatever they find useful in any given non-Christian philosopher. The oft-quoted statement is as follows:

Still, theology is not in need of a specific philosophy. It is not per se hostile to any philosophical system and does not, a priori and without criticism, give priority to the philosophy of Plato or of Kant, or vice versa. But it brings along its own criteria, tests all philosophy by them, and takes over what it deems true and useful. What it needs is philosophy in general. In other words, it arrives at scientific theology only by thinking. The only internal principle of knowledge, therefore, is not faith as such, but believing thought, Christian rationality. Faith is self-conscious and sure. It rests in revelation.[33]

Hence, my argument is not that Christianity ought to become Hellenistic, but again that Hellenism, like any other philosophical tradition, ought to be critically utilized while standing on revelation, for in the Christian tradition, the best of the other philosophical milieus find their organic home. Biblical philosophy is diverse, rather than uniform.

[1] Dru Johnson, Biblical Philosophy: A Hebraic Approach to the Old and New Testaments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 24.

[2] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 34. Emphasis original.

[3] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 34.

[4] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 321.

[5] The terms pixelated and networked (literary), mysterionist, creationist, transdemographic, and ritualist, are Johnson’s own identity markers for biblical philosophy, in Biblical Philosophy, 84.

[6] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 157-63.

[7] Franciscus Junius, Treatise on True Theology, trans. David Noe (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 107, 117.

[8] “On composition from genus and difference, we deny this of God very easily because God is not in a category, nor does the notion of genus and difference properly pertain to him.” Gijsbertus Voetius, “God’s Single, Absolutely Simple Essence,” trans. Ryan Hurd, Confessional Presbyterian 15 (2019): 15.

[9] Junius, Treatise on True Theology, 100.

[10] Junius, Treatise on True Theology, 101.

[11] Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 1, Prolegomena, trans. Todd Rester (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 64.

[12] Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, 67.

[13] Michael Allen and Scott Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015).

[14] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 237.

[15] D. Blair Smith, “Post-Reformation Developments,” in Guy Waters, Nicholas Reid, John Muether (eds.),  Covenant Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 251-78. See also Part 1 of this volume on the biblical covenants.

[16] Michael Horton, “Covenant,” in Michael Allen and Scott Swain (eds.), Oxford Handbook to Reformed Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 436.

[17] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 41.

[18] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 42.

[19] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 154-6.

[20] Though even these two points can be further nuanced – one can form an argument, I believe, to the effect that the analogous forms of reasoning that Johnson points to in his analysis of the biblical material is one sort of domestication (e.g. Biblical Philosophy, 106-8). That is, they seek to communicate lofty and heavenly realities in terms that are pedagogically useful and comprehensible to the everyday listener (e.g. the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed). To be sure, there is still mystery involved, such that to offer an analogy is not to render all of reality comprehensible to human reason. Further, there is a sense in which pastoral and scholarly training is necessary for the teachers of the church to be competent. Knowledge is available to all, but there are parameters that mark out a learned ministry – this is not to revive a sort of classism, but a recognition that knowledge is mediated by authorities (as Johnson himself recognizes: Biblical Philosophy, 239).

[21] William Wood, Analytic Theology and the Academic Study of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 101. On the same page, Wood shows that this defense extends to the common practice in analytic theology of offering “what-if” thought experiments: “We do something similar every time we wonder about the future.”

[22] Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius (Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Press, 2002), 79.

[23] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 46.

[24] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 46.

[25] Augustine, Teaching Christianity (Hyde Park: New City Press, 1996), 155 (Bk. 2. 50).

[26] Augustine, Teaching Christianity, 160 (Bk. 2. 60).

[27] Johnson, Biblical Philosophy, 46.

[28] On subversive fulfillment, see Daniel Strange, Their Rock is Not Like Our Rock: A Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015), and Scott R. Swain, “God, Metaphysics, and the Discourse of Theology,” Pro Ecclesia 30 (2021), 279-90.

[29] For further reflections on this, see Nathaniel Gray Sutanto “Confessional, International, and Cosmopolitan: Herman Bavinck’s Neo-Calvinistic and Protestant Vision of the Catholicity of the Church,” Journal of Reformed Theology 12 (2018), 22-39.

[30] Herman Bavinck, “Catholicity of Christianity and the Church,” trans. John Bolt, Calvin Theological Journal 27 (1992): 220-51.

[31] Cory Brock and Nathaniel Gray Sutanto, “Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Eclecticism: On Catholicity, Consciousness, and Theological Epistemology,” Scottish Journal of Theology 70 (2017): 310-32; N. Gray Sutanto, God and Knowledge: Herman Bavinck’s Theological Epistemology (London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2020). 

[32] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1, Prolegomena, trans. John Vriend, ed. John Bolt (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 608. Hereafter RD.

[33] Bavinck, RD, 1. 609.