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When History Teaches Us Nothing: The Recent Reformed Sonship Debate in Context [Paperback]

By Tim J. R. Trumper (Author)
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Pages   94
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.96" Width: 6.16" Height: 0.28"
Weight:   0.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 1, 2008
Publisher   Wipf & Stock Publishers
ISBN  1556353030  
EAN  9781556353031  

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When History Teaches Us Nothing: The Recent Reformed Sonship Debate in Context by Tim J. R. Trumper

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More About Tim J. R. Trumper
Tim J Trumper I am a native of Wales but reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My chief privilege in life is to know God as my Creator and, through Christ, as my Redeemer. My chief pleasure and purpose is to pursue knowledge of God and to serve Him. I serve as Senior Minister of Seventh Reformed Church (2007-). West Michiganders can hear the sermons from Seventh twice weekly on radio (WFUR, Sundays 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.). They are also available on-line ( Since December 2008 I have also served as a monthly panelist on TCT's internationally-broadcast television program "Ask the Pastor," and am a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and the World Reformed Fellowship. My writings include When History Teaches Us Nothing: The Recent Reformed Sonship Debate in Context (Wipf and Stock, 2008) and Preaching and Politics: Engagement without Compromise (Wipf and Stock, 2009). Currently, I post a series of blogs (Adoption Nuggets) at . The collection of these Nuggets and other writings and information may be found at my shared on-line ministry center Previously, I pastored in south east Pennsylvania (2003-2007), serving as Guest Chaplain at the Pennsylvania State Senate in January 2007; and taught systematic theology at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia (1999-2003). My Ph.D. ~ "An Historical Study of the Doctrine of Adoption in the Calvinistic Tradition" (2001) ~ was awarded by the University of Edinburgh. It has been a privilege to preach and teach the Christian faith since 1989, and internationally since 1993. I came to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins in August 1981, the story of which can be read of in "God Found Me" (Fearn, Ross-shire, Christian Focus Publications, 2000). One of my favorite quotations is from John Newton: "I am not what I should be or what I could be. I am not what I shall be hereafter, but I am not what I once was. And what I am, I am by the grace of God!" I am gladly married to quality woman and best friend Brenda (nee Dunn). Together, we share a love of the Lord, his church, and enjoy travel, kayaking, cross-country skiing, hiking, cycling, and include in most things our dogs Worcester and Sadie, not to forget our feline pal, Dexter, formerly known as Sir Dexter Da Paw (name inherited!)

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Sonship Review  May 10, 2008
This short booklet includes far more than its modest title might suggest. Trumper delves deeply into the history of the development of reformed theology (especially Calvin & the Westminster Confession of Faith). He examines the underlying explanations for the faithfulness with which reformed doctrine has been transmitted, and conversely the unresponsiveness of the system to continuing reform. Trumper's `constructive Calvinism' proposes a new way forward. As opposed to unbending `orthodoxy' or neo-orthodox `revisionist Calvinism', Trumper proposes `a healthy discussion profitable for all' without ` differences'. This fresh discussion would be stimulated "not by the lazy regurgitation of the iconic figures of the past, but by the ongoing biblical renewal of their thought". Trumper is particularly interested in seeing the insights of biblical theology increasingly applied to the `traditional systematization of the Bible's theology'. Sonship becomes a case in point.

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.


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