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Puritan Book Reviews - Institutes of Elenctic Theology

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Institutes of Elenctic Theology
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Institutes of Elenctic Theology Volume 1
by Francis Turretin
Volume One: First Through Tenth Topics
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, NJ: 1992
685 Pages, Hardback

What am I able to say of this fine work? It is OUTSTANDING. Francis Turretin was the headmaster of Geneva after the time of Calvin. He wrote extensively in this Systematics on almost every topic in systematic theology. He is called the best expounder of systematic theology and sound doctrine of the Reformed Church. I agree.

This volume is the first printing of his Systematics in English – a task well worth the wait. It is titled an “elenctic theology” which is a type of writing in “debate style”; not only setting forth that which is true, but refuting that which is false. It is not just that Turretin will teach what is right, but his will vividly and lucidly, and strongly, refute that which is wrong.

His writing style is classic of his time and of the logician’s mind; long sentences, big words, classical Latin quotations and definitions, Hebrew and Greek explanations and the like, all wrapped up in the teaching and rebuttal of each individual question. These works were originally to be used as catechism for heads of households to teach their families. Today most household heads would find it far to difficult and deep to use this work as such (which tells us where the people were at in Turretin’s time as compared to now).

He covers in this first volume (of three), ten topics arranged in sections and utilizing questions as a means to teach (as a catechism does). Topic one is “Theology”, topic two “The Holy Scriptures”, topic three “The One and Triune God” etc.

This is no doubt one of my favorite all time works besides the Bible. He is ranked in my top 5 “to read” authors. Though he be with the Lord, he has helped me significantly to sort out and systematize the various aspects of biblical theology in a systematic fashion. This volume is most helpful to those who desire to dig deep into the word and deal with all the issues and arguments surrounding any given theological topic.

No theologian is perfect, and Turretin himself knew this. His theology reflects the Bible for the most part, but there are certain aspects which are incorrect. However, for the two or three pages which seem incorrect, the rest is a delight to the soul and a hearty edification for the thinking Christian. I HIGHLY recommend this work.

Some Quotes:
“Are there conditional decrees? We deny against the Socinians, Remonstrants and Jesuits. No distinction of God’s decrees is more frequently urged by the Socinians, Remonstrants and others who contend for the idol of free will, than that of the absolute and conditional. Yet none is attended with greater absurdities or has fewer claims to acceptance. The design of the Socinians and their followers on this subject is to confirm the figment of middle knowledge (scientia media), to establish election from foreseen faith and to extol the strength of the human will.

The question does not concern the absolute or conditional decree a posteriori and consequently; or with respect to the things decreed and the objects willed outside of God (whether such decrees may be granted as either have no condition and means in execution, or include something). For in this sense, we do not deny that various decrees can be called conditional because they have conditions subordinate to them (although it must be confessed that it is a less proper way of speaking because the condition ought not to be confounded with the means; and it is one thing for a thing to be decreed under a condition, but another for it to be decreed as to be brought about through such means). Rather the question concerns the decree absolute or conditional a priori and antecedently on the part of the decree itself (whether the decrees are such as are suspended upon a condition containing power and of uncertain event outside of God; or whether they are absolute, depending upon his good pleasure alone). The Socinians and others assert the former; we the latter.

The reasons are: (1) every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11). Now a conditional decree is mutable because every condition is mutable (especially if not decreed by God, but placed in the free will of man-such as is meant here). Hence, the conditional decree ceasing, God would fail in his purpose and would be obliged to enter upon new counsels by a second thought (deuteras phrontidas). (4) It is repugnant to the wisdom and power of God to make such decrees as depend upon an impossible condition (which neither will nor can be because he upon whom alone it depends does not will to grant it). If this can take place in men weak and ignorant of the future, does it not follow that it can take place in God-the most wise, omniscient and omnipotent (to whom all things are not only foreseen but also provided for)?”

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