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* Henning Graf Reventlow, The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World (trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985. xx, 668. $42.95).

The Authority of the Bible and the Rise of the Modern World by Henning Graf Reventlow is a massive book. It is massive in its scope, in its erudition, and, most of all, in the depths of the insights which it offers into English theological developments between 1550 and 1750 and the relationship between those developments and modern critical views of the Bible. It is, in a word, massively important.

The Foreword, written by James Barr, summarizes well the intent and the argument of the volume:

People often suppose that biblical criticism is a German innovation or invention, and those in the English speaking world who are hostile to it have often cited its supposed German origin in order to frighten people away from it. It is more true, however, to say that the cradle of biblical criticism lay in the English-speaking world: only from near the end of the eighteenth century onward did Germany become the main center for its development. Before that time England was the chief locus in which new ideas of the nature and authority of the Bible were fostered. In these respects Graf Reventlow redresses the balance in a striking way. [P. xii]

For American readers, Barr offers special incentive to master Reventlow's work: "But for the development here reviewed, after all, the Constitution of the United States, or the United States herself in the form in which she exists, could hardly have come into being" (p. xiii). Barr's observation here, in light of the arguments developed by Reventlow, will be of particular significance for anyone concerned about the question of the religious roots of America or about the debate over whether America was, at the time of its "founding" in the second half of the eighteenth century, a "Christian" nation.


Reventlow himself describes his purpose in the "Introduction" of the book:

In this study I have set myself the task of looking back at the beginnings of biblical criticism (in which the Old Testament plays an important part) to uncover the motives, the intellectual presuppositions, the philosophical assumptions, and last, but not least, the developments in church politics, which have led to the conclusions at which it arrived. [P. 2]

Still in the "Introduction," Reventlow argues that we must think in terms of two reformations with the latter being the reformation of "Humanism" which, he believes, must be understood in contrast to the Reformation proper and which must be seen as far more influential in the development of both English theology and modern ideas about the Bible.

Reventlow breaks his discussion into three major parts and, within each part, into a series of chapters. Part I is entitled "Preparatory Developments" and the first chapter of that part deals with what Reventlow regards as the appropriate starting points for his discussion. Specifically in this chapter, Reventlow traces through early Renaissance humanism and through the work of John Wyclif a number of ideas which he feels provide a foundation for later developments. Among these ideas are the following:

  1. Anthropocentrism, which emphasizes man more and more as the measure of all things (Pico della Mirandola and other humanists).

  2. An emphasis on inner spirituality and on the degree to which externals (even the sacraments and Scripture) are regarded as less important (Joachim de Fiore and other "spiritualists").

  3. Closely related to the emphasis on spirituality, an emphasis on morality and ethics and on poverty (the Franciscans).

  4. The Bible understood as a literal depository of truth largely in accord with human reason John Wyclif).

To a large degree, Reventlow's analysis of pre-Reformation developments is very helpful and very accurate. However, his treatment of Wyclif reveals a problem which becomes much more predominant as he proceeds later to deal with the English Puritans. In his concern to trace intellectual and theological developments, Reventlow tends to force all of the main thinkers and schools into his own categories so that they will be seen as developing the trends which Reventlow has detected. To be sure, there were elements in Wyclif's thought, for example, that did lead in the direction Reventlow has identified,


but there were also clear elements in Wyclif's teaching which ran counter to those same developments.[1] Reventlow, however, does not tend to deal as fully or as adequately as one might wish with those contrary elements.

To be specific, instead of emphasizing the continuity between Wyclif's understanding of Scripture and that of the Reformation proper (sola scriptura), Reventlow argues for a major disjunction in the view of Scripture between Wyclif and the Continental Reformers. Reventlow says regarding Wyclif, "Rather, his principle scriptura sola is meant in the sense of the lex evangelica: the whole Bible - not only the Old Testament (here above all the Decalogue, and not the time-conditioned ceremonial commandments) but even the New - is understood in a legalistic sense" (p. 32). Wyclif is thus compared to the Franciscans (p. 33) and is regarded overall as offering a moralistic view of the Bible" (p. 35). Reventlow discounts Wyclif's specifically theological concerns and makes him into very little more than a moralistic humanist.

Such a reading is, in this reader's opinion, a distortion of Wyclif. And it is the kind of distortion which creeps into Reventlow's work on several occasions. Nevertheless, in his analysis of "the starting point," Reventlow has correctly identified a number of trends (even if he misidentified some of the representatives of those trends) and such identifications are most useful as we move further into English theological history and into the developments which Reventlow wishes to trace.

Reventlow's second chapter deals specifically with the contributions and particularly with the hermeneutical theology of Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus represents a continuation and intensification of the basic spiritualist dualism between the letter and the spirit. OT ceremonies and the OT Law belong to the realm of the letter. What really counts is the realm of the Spirit. In Erasmus, this dualism is Christocentrically understood but its result is an emphasis on piety defined in terms of ethics and morality.

In Erasmus, this moralistic spiritualism is combined with typical Renaissance humanism in such a way as to produce an overall the-


ological perspective which is significantly different from the perspective of the primary Continental Reformers such as Luther. Just a couple of quotations from Reventlow's analysis will make it clear how he sees the relationship between these two giants of the Church:

But even if the notion of redemption through Christ is not fully absent front Erasmus' work, the role of Christ as teacher and model is by far the most important.... Here it now became evident that the opposition between Luther and Erasmus lay in their fundamentally different views of man: in Luther man is directed solely to God's grace, which is won on the cross of Christ and experienced in the forgiveness of sins; in Erasmus, too, man is directed toward grace, but he is left a remnant of freedom, the possibility of good works, and here the teaching of Christ, especially the Sermon on the Mount, can be a guideline, the way up from the sphere of the flesh to that of the spirit, in which man's real home is to be sought. [P. 42]

The Bible, in Erasmus' theology, is increasingly becoming more a source of ethical guidelines than a source of authoritative theology. It is this very specific trend, with its corollary changing emphasis upon the nature of man, that Reventlow marks out as the crucial pattern in English church history. It may seem somewhat arbitrary to deal with Erasmus in the context of the English church, but Reventlow's point is to be that elements within the English church picked up on these particular emphases and carried them forward into English Deism. Furthermore, it is a fact that Erasmus lived and worked at Queens College, Cambridge, during the second decade of the sixteenth century and that his ideas had major impact on the early English Reformers who met for discussion at the White Horse Inn there in Cambridge. So Reventlow's use of Erasmus in this context is fully justified.

Another source of input into the English church situation was the Anabaptists, what Reventlow calls the "left wing of the Reformation," which he discusses in his next chapter. In the Anabaptists, Reventlow finds a much more strongly developed dualism but a dualism which nevertheless has much in common with that of Erasmus and the medieval spiritualists.

On the one hand is the OT with its ceremonies, sacraments, and "externals." On the other hand is the NT and the world of the Spirit. The actual Scriptures themselves tend (in some Anabaptists more than in others) to be part of the world of externals. Reventlow's lengthy summary is most helpful at this point:


The result of our investigations so far may be summed up as follows. The attitude of the "left wing of the Reformation" to the Old Testament is predominantly negative and does not correspond with the popular picture, which is largely shaped by events in Munster. Granted, the Old Testament is not repudiated as part of the canon, but in its character as prophecy and typologv it is valued precisely as it is by the accepted interpretive tradition of the whole church. In controversy with the Reformers, the "left wing" strongly contests that the Old Testament is a directly binding force in the shaping of the life of the church and of politics. For ethical action it is the lex Christi from the New Testament rather than the Decalogue that is normative. Furthermore, among the Spiritualists there is a basic polemic against all outward forms of the church, against "ceremonies", against the whole of the cult, sacraments, temple, even including preaching and prayer, the sharply contested model for which is found in the cultic forms of the Old Testament. In the fight against the "Jewish" cult, the Spiritualists of the time of the Reformation take over the old legacy of the Spiritualist movement which reached them through Erasmus and certainly also through a broader tradition. [Pp. 62-63]

But there is an even more significant development. In rationalistic left-wing Reformers, morality, which is defined as the lived life of the world of the Spirit, comes to be seen as kind of absolute in itself, prior to Scripture, accessible to reason directly, and on the basis of which Scripture itself should be judged. This latter tendency, which has clear similarities to both Quakerism and Deism, is most clearly seen in the writings of Sebastian Castellio. Reventlow summarizes Castellio's work as a

... eulogy of reason: on the one hand it is a natural human capacity to be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood by senses and understanding even in theological questions...; on the other hand reason is identical with the "word" of God, which not only speaks from outside but is also given to men as an "inner word". The originally mystical doctrine of the verbum internum or inner light is thus identified with a kind of common sense; it is this which, together with morality, can serve as a criterion for judging the statements of Scripture. [P. 72]

The trend is clear. Not only are some parts of Scripture being seen as more important than other parts of Scripture and not only is Scripture's teaching increasingly being viewed as ethical rather than theological, but both of these tendencies are blending into a third, the tendency to regard what Scripture does teach about ethics and morality as being simultaneously available to the natural (even "unregenerate") reason of man.

Reventlow's discussion of the left wing of the Reformation is quite helpful in many ways. It highlights clearly some of the continuing


and developing trends in Protestant theology during the early part of the sixteenth century. However, for his particular purposes in this book, Reventlow has failed in one significant respect. He does not demonstrate at all how the influence of the left wing of the Reformation made its way into the English theological tradition. Such a case could probably be made - during their various sojourns on the Continent, many of the early English Reformers did come in contact with representatives of the Anabaptist movement - but Reventlow does not make it and, for what he is seeking to achieve in his volume, this is a significant weakness.

Reventlow moves then in Chapter Four of Part I to discuss the contributions of Martin Bucer. Bucer is, in Reventlow's understanding, a crucial transitional figure who brought many Continental ideas to England. Bucer retained in his theology a modified dualism between Word and Spirit but he, contra the Anabaptists and extreme Spiritualists, did not allow that dualism to split Word and Spirit completely or to devalue the Word in order to emphasize the Spirit. Indeed, Bucer saw the entire Bible as equally applicable in seeking to achieve what he called in "his most mature work" the Regnum Christi (see his De Regno Christi, published in 1550 after he was resident in Cambridge, England).

Reventlow identifies two crucial factors in Bucer's emphasis on the reign of Christ: (1) Bucer was a " Biblicist " in that he did not appropriately recognize the historical gulf between the world of the Bible and his own world, and (2) he emphasized the kind of ethical action which was later to become the chief currency of Deism. That, is, Bucer looked to the Bible to provide a definitive source of information for life in the sixteenth century world and he then extracted from that Bible specific ethical guidelines by obeying which we would be enacting the reign of Christ.

In his analysis of Bucer, Reventlow seems to be making essentially the same kind of error that he made in dealing with Wyclif. That is, he has already established the categories with which he will be working (categories which are in fact generally valid) and then when he comes to deal with Bucer, he squeezes Bucer to make him fit into those categories. There appears to be more concern to make Bucer fit the pattern than to deal fully and appropriately with Bucer's distinctive teachings. That is to say, looking to the Bible for specific guidelines about present ethical behavior does not necessarily mean that one is moving in the direction of reducing the Bible to its ethical


content. To be sure, Reventlow does not say that directly about Bucer, but he clearly implies it in the way in which he handles Bucer's teachings.

Nevertheless, one can, because of Reventlow's analysis, begin to sense how appropriate, biblical insights (about the relation of Word and Spirit, for example) may fit into a broader pattern in a given historical context and may later be picked up and twisted into error and heresy. If Reventlow had handled his analysis of Bucer in this way, it would have been much more accurate.

As in his dealings with the Anabaptists, Reventlow might have provided somewhat fuller information regarding the way in which Bucer's ideas entered the mainstream of English theology. In Bucer's case, the evidence is much clearer than even in the case of the Anabaptists. In 1549, Bucer, fleeing persecution in Strasbourg, arrived in England, immediately was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and preached frequently during the next two years (before his death) at Great St. Mary's Church which was the University Church of Cambridge. Bucer also entered the debate over the First Book of Common Prayer in 1550 and early 1551.[2] So the evidence is there that he acted decisively in the English context at a crucial time, but Reventlow does not point out these details as he might have.

His discussion of Bucer having concluded the first part of his volume, Reventlow then moves in Part II to discuss "The Crisis over the Authority of the Bible in England," and his first chapter in this section, entitled "The Age of the Puritans," is the most massive in the entire book. The chapter is some 93 pages long and, while it is broken into two main sections, Reventlow has a total of 832 footnotes to the entire chapter. Needless to say, it can take the reader longer to make his way through this chapter than it does to get through entire volumes written by other authors.

This chapter is so overwhelming in both its scope and detail that only a few of the high points can be mentioned. Reventlow argues first of all that the Puritans contributed to the stream leading toward Deism by opposing ceremonies and vestments (thus representing part of the medieval spiritualist tradition which rejected matter and the external in favor of the Spirit and the internal), by emphasizing


the importance of obedience far more than, for example, Calvin did (by using the entire Bible as a source of information about how to behave, the Puritans were handling the Bible moralistically and were thus leading towards Deistic ethicism), by emphasizing in humanistic fashion the notion of returning to the original sources through their development of the regulative principle, by developing covenant theology in a direction that made obedience the key to blessedness and that thus made God more reasonable (as Perry Miller has argued in his analysis of New England Puritanism), and by all but identifying Mosaic law with "natural law."[3]

There are obvious problems with all of these things which Reventlow has to say about the Puritans. First of all, as has been noted above, it is hardly fair historical analysis to make it seem as though one party is guilty of a second party's sins when that second party takes the first party's ideas and moves with them in a direction which the first party would have rejected vigorously (and, in this case, actually did). And yet that is what Reventlow does with regard to the Puritan attitude toward ceremonies and vestments. He argues that such an attitude led inexorably to the Deists' determination that the letter of Scripture was insignificant in comparison to the "spirit" that God was revealing. This makes it seem as though the Puritans were moving toward a position of skepticism regarding biblical authority. Nothing could be further from the truth. These were the Christians who thought of themselves as "men of the Book" and who sought to live by sola scriptura.[4] But Reventlow makes it sound as though they were incipient biblical skeptics.

A second problem in Reventlow's reading of the Puritans is his wholehearted endorsement of Perry Miller's understanding of the role of covenant theology in Puritanism. To regard covenant theology as a means of rationalizing God and making him more reasonable and as a means of making obedience the key to the Christian life and to eternal blessedness, is to misread terribly the Puritans themselves as well as such of their predecessors as John Calvin.


Though he refers to scholars such as George Marsden who have demonstrated the fallacy in Miller's approach to covenant theology, Reventlow seems not to have benefited from their perspectives at all and he, much to the discredit of his overall argument, writes as though Miller's approach were the standard and acceptable one which it certainly no longer is.[5]

A third difficulty with the way in which Reventlow proceeds in this area is his entire handling of the relationship between the Puritans and the OT. He does correctly point out that the Puritans wanted to use the entire Bible as a source of information about how to behave in the modern (sixteenth and seventeenth century) world. In other words, they were clearly not dispensationalists. But Reventlow goes on from this point to argue that, in seeing any relevance between the OT and their world, the Puritans were regarding the OT typologically. Reventlow here makes a very fundamental error in understanding the Puritan attitude toward the OT, and it is, unfortunately, a misunderstanding which many other scholars seem to have as well. The Puritans did clearly see that God's revelation in the OT was relevant to them. They even sought out and demonstrated specific parallels between the way in which God dealt with his people then and the way in which God deals with his people now (for example, God expected his people in the OT to obey him and God expects his people now to obey him). But the Puritans did not see themselves as the fulfillment of OT events and prophecies. They did not see themselves as the antitype of OT types. To see continuing relevance between a biblical situation and oneself is not necessarily to be involved in typological exegesis. But Reventlow makes this fundamental error and it colors much of the rest that he has to say about the Puritans.

Fourth, Reventlow has made a similar error in his dealing with the Puritan concept of law. For example, Reventlow makes much of the following quotation from one of the leading Puritan spokesmen of the seventeenth century, Henry Ireton:

There are still some things of perpetual and natural right, that the Scripture of the Old Testament cloth hold forth, wherein it does bear a clear witness to that light that every man hath left in him by nature, if he were not depraved by lust. There are some things of perpetual right in the Old Testament, that the magistrate hath a power in before the coming of Jesus


Christ in the flesh. And unless you can show us that those things are not a perpetual right you must give us leave to think that the magistrate ought according to the old institution to follow that right. [Quoted on p. 178]

Reventlow interprets this statement by Ireton in the following manner:

If we weigh the importance of the arguments, we can see that among this group, which in some respects stands close to the Presbyterians, the proof from Scripture has maintained its role, and along with it the Old Testament still has a central position, but natural law still provides the real standard by which the statements in the Old Testament are measured. [p. 178]

This is a drastic misreading of Ireton. Reventlow makes it sound as though Ireton is arguing for a sort of Platonic concept of universally recognized truth which is prior to Scripture and which, later in the Deists, will come to judge Scripture. That is not at all what Ireton is saying. In the first place, his main point is continuity between the OT and the NT. He is furthermore reflecting on the teachings of Romans 1 and 2. But to suggest that Ireton is advocating the use of any standard outside the Scriptures to judge the Scriptures is a gross misreading of Ireton.

Other than his direct comments about the Puritans themselves, Reventlow does make a number of other points in this lengthy chapter. He identifies William Tyndale as the first Englishman to develop fully the notion of national righteousness (p. 108). This notion was, of course, to be developed much more fully later in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and was to provide one of the major motivations for the migration of a large number of Puritans to New England.

Throughout the chapter, and indeed in the entire book, Reventlow is dealing with the way in which Scripture, especially the OT, is used. He argues that those who seek to use the NT as a model for church-state relations (as was the case in Geneva) are using a humanistic (ad fontes) approach to Scripture while those who use the OT as model (as Zurich did) are using medieval typological exegesis (pp. 135ff.). One problem with such an approach has already been noted above.

Reventlow also discusses at some length Richard Hooker and the Conformists in general who, Reventlow believes, represented the medieval, scholastic tradition with an emphasis on natural law and reason (pp. 117-18). Distinguished from the Conformists were the Puritans who represented more the Spiritualist and Humanist tra-


ditions with their emphasis upon a distinction between matter and spirit and on going back to the sources as the regulative principle mandated. In this part of his discussion, Reventlow seems somewhat inconsistent because he has at other places in the chapter argued that the Puritans (for example in their emphasis on the covenant) were moving in a medieval, scholastic direction with an exaltation of natural law and human reason. So it is finally unclear as to exactly how Reventlow sees the nature of Puritan theology.

Reventlow does offer an excellent analysis of William Chillingworth's The Religion of Protestants and of John Milton's Treatise on Divorce. He argues that both of these represent significant steps toward the triumph of natural reason and natural law and toward the situation in which human liberty and freedom are regarded as the highest of societal priorities (pp. 147ff., 16lff.).[6]

Reventlow suggests that one of the significant connections between the Puritans and the Cambridge Platonists was in the area of their common emphasis upon practical obedience (p. 176). The Cambridge Platonists, in their turn, moved this emphasis significantly toward the identification of biblical law with natural law. But Reventlow has raised some interesting possibilities here. It is particularly fascinating that one of the three colleges at Cambridge which was a center of orthodox Puritanism in the late sixteenth century became the center of Cambridge Platonism by the mid-seventeenth century. Emmanuel and Christ's Colleges were the two primary "nurseries of Puritanism" with Sydney Sussex College following closely behind. But it was specifically at Christ's College that the Cambridge Platonist movement came to its fullest expression during the 1640s and 1650s. A book remains to be written on how and why this development took place at Christ's College.

Reventlow argues that the next step after Milton and the Cambridge Platonists was the position (actually contemporaneous with Milton and with the early stages of Cambridge Platonism) taken by John Lilburne. Lilburne argued that since natural law is prior to the Scriptures and is accessible to natural reason, the state can become completely secular and independent of spiritual concerns (pp. 179ff.). It is important to understand, as Reventlow does point out clearly, where and in what context the notion of a secular state arises


on the English scene. It arises specifically from those sources that are in the process of transforming the Puritan vision into Latitudinarianism and Deism. Lilburne is thus a far cry from Tyndale and, for that matter, from most of the Puritans themselves. But it was his perspective that came to have tremendous influence during the period of the Commonwealth.[7]

After Lilburne, the next stage was open attack on Scripture and this became evident very quickly on the English scene (182ff.). Reventlow's perspective is that such open attacks on Scripture were the logical and inevitable outcome of the position taken by Milton in his later writings (for example, his treatise on divorce) and by Lilburne.

A few additional evaluative points may be made regarding Reventlow's arguments in this chapter. Reventlow may certainly be correct in tracing the Deistic emphasis upon ethics in some ways back to the Puritan emphasis on sanctification and obedience and in tracing the Deistic emphasis upon natural law to the Anglican emphasis on natural law and reason. But a much sounder understanding of the relationship between Puritanism and English society in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries continues to be that of William Haller in The Rise of Puritanism and Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution. In these two volumes, Haller argues that because the political situation kept the Puritans from achieving the kinds of societal goals which they believed Scripture set for them, the Puritans came to emphasize the freedom to preach and individual holiness. It was then, according to Haller, not too far a step from such a perspective to the argument which Milton made for his freedom to divorce his unpleasant wife.[8]

The point is that, if we are going to locate in Puritanism itself some elements which had an inherent tendency to lead in the direction that events later took, Haller is probably more accurate than Reventlow. As was stated above, it is, at the very least, questionable historical methodology to suggest an earlier period is guilty when a later period takes that earlier period's ideas and twists them in directions that are diametrically opposite to the direction in which the


participants in that first period would have wished to go. Thus, while it is certainly true that the Puritans emphasized sanctification and that the Deists emphasized ethics, it is questionable whether the Puritans should be said to have contributed to the stream that led toward Deism in this manner. On the other hand, the Puritan emphasis on the freedom to preach and on individual holiness did, as a matter of fact, seem to have later developments in these directions almost built into them.

Obviously, what we are describing here is a very complex and yet extraordinarily important historical matter. It is complex because the distinction that is being drawn is a very fine one and is easily overlooked. Reventlow does indeed overlook it and assumes that any idea in an earlier period which has similarities to ideas in a later period must have contributed directly to those later ideas. This represents a kind of historical fatalism according to which anything that we do may render us guilty of having contributed to future problems.

It is extraordinarily important precisely for this reason. As we seek to understand the relationship between ideas in various historical periods, we are trying to understand what led to what and how one group of individuals may be genuinely responsible for what happened in the lives of later individuals. The specific point being made here is that the Puritans should have been more careful when they began emphasizing the freedom to preach and individual holiness because they should have known that such emphases, if carried too far, could very well undermine their beautiful biblical vision of corporate righteousness and holiness before God. On the other hand, to blame them for their biblical recognition and preaching of the doctrine of sanctification simply because the Deists later reduced religion to ethics is an inappropriate procedure. We must certainly think about the implications of what we are saying and doing and we must be very careful not to adopt priorities, even implicitly, which are not fully biblical (it is not, for example, fully biblical to rank the value of freedom more highly than the value of holiness). But we cannot fail to teach anything simply because someone later may twist what we have said in an unbiblical direction. This is one of the lessons which might appropriately be learned from the experience of English Puritanism.

In Chapter Two of Part II, Reventlow turns his attention to "Lord Herbert of Cherbury: His Epistemology and Philosophy of Religion."


In this brief chapter, Reventlow argues that Herbert was really ahead of his time in the degree of his emphasis upon natural religion focused almost entirely upon ethics (the name of Christ does not appear even once in all of his published works).

According to Reventlow, Herbert's most important work is his De veritate (published discreetly in Latin in Paris in 1624), in which he offers his five famous marks of true religion: (1) God exists; (2) he should be worshipped; (3) virtue is the key ingredient in worship; (4) there should be repentance of sin; and (5) there will be rewards and punishments after this life. The similarities between this kind of religious reductionism and the kind of definitions of religion offered by John Locke and by the English Deists in the eighteenth century make it clear that Herbert deserves his title, "the father of English Deism."

In spite of the fact that Herbert was not particularly influential in his own day, he has had a tremendous amount of indirect influence particularly in the area of biblical criticism because of his tentative movements in the direction of subjecting the Bible to the judgments of natural reason and in the direction of distinguishing between the Bible on the one hand and the Word of God on the other hand. Herbert suggests very modern positions in this kind of distinction and in his insistence that the Word of God may be located within the Bible by the proper use of natural human reason. Reventlow's summary of Herbert's importance is helpful:

Thus already in Herbert we find a developed programme which is characteristic of the later Enlightenment and its criticism of the Bible. If we can say that the work is considerably ahead of its time, that is true less of its theological rationalism in itself which, as we have seen was widespread in various forms around 1640, than of the unqualified trust in reason in all instances where a verdict is called for on a specific revelation or the tradition of a revelation (like the Bible). [P. 193]

In Chapter Four of Part II, Reventlow analyzes the thought of Thomas Hobbes and puts it within the stream of English theology already being developed. Basically Hobbes was distinctive in the way in which he applied typological interpretation of the OT in order to argue in defense of absolute monarchy in England. Hobbes was, overall, a rationalistic moralist who, in his main works such as Leviathan (1651) taught that all that is necessary to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is obedience to the will of God (defined by natural law and by the laws of the political sovereign) and by the minimal confes-


sion that Jesus is the Christ (p. 214). Again Reventlow offers an excellent summary:

All Hobbes' basic theological statements are typical of Humanism. The creed necessary for salvation is limited to a central statement that Jesus is the Christ; the further explication of this, namely, that he is the king announced by the Old Testament prophets, ties this firmly in with the structure of his royalist system. In addition, there is his indifference to outward forms, and his almost exclusively moralistic understanding of religion as obedience owed to God and to his laws, direct and indirect (promulgated through the sovereign). His understanding of the Bible is connected with this: he sees the Bible above all as the source book for the law and additionally as testimony to a history of Israel, the ancient people of God, represented by its leaders beginning with Abraham, a people whose obligation to obey the commandments contained in the covenant was communicated by these leaders. The legalistic relationship to God was not done away with even by the coming of Jesus Christ, since the forgiveness gained through Christ relates only to past sins, whereas, from now on ("for the rest of our time") obedience to the law is once again required of all Christians. [P. 221]

Reventlow concludes Part II of his book with a lengthy (62 pages, 536 footnotes) and superb discussion of the Latitudinarians. As fascinating as any other aspect of this particularly helpful chapter is the fact that Reventlow includes both the Quakers and John Locke within his discussion of Latitudinarianism.

Indeed, Reventlow begins the chapter by discussing the role of the Quakers in the movement which he is tracing. He argues that, in their extreme rejection of "externals," they are heirs of medieval Spiritualism and thus also of left-wing Puritanism. But most importantly, Reventlow shows how the Quaker emphasis on the "inner light" is closely connected to "the light of reason" which is later to become the rallying cry of the Enlightenment (p. 229). The connection between the Quaker form of Spiritualism and the Enlightenment was Latitudinarianism proper. But the Quakers played a major and clear role in the development toward the Enlightenment.

One early expression of Latitudinarianism proper was Edward Stillingfleet's Irenicum (1659). Reventlow describes clearly how Stillingfleet claimed to support the authority of Scripture while radically decreasing the number of things Scripture purportedly speaks to and by then relegating all the rest to the arena of natural reason (p. 232). John Tillitson, Archbishop of Canterbury, carried this trend even further and, because of his position, sets the tone for the entire English Church (pp. 235-39). In the next major section of the


chapter, Reventlow moves to discuss John Locke who is obviously a pivotal figure. The first focus of Reventlow's attention is the Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) which addressed, not only epistemological questions, but also questions of the relationship between faith and reason, and it addressed these latter often in a way that suggests the exaltation of reason over revelation.

Reventlow believes that the position taken by Locke in the Essay on the nature of biblical authority vis-à-vis natural reason is very much in line with other theological developments in England at the time. But Locke's position fluctuated somewhat in the Essay and it is only later when he returned to the problem in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) that his position really solidified.

In Reasonableness, Locke had two clear goals: to demonstrate that the minimal confession that Jesus is the Christ is adequate for salvation and to demonstrate that the Bible is an authoritative source of ethical guidelines. Thus in these goals are seen numerous elements of English theological thought. Reducing dogma to the minimum and thus allowing "latitude" in other matters and using the Bible as an ethical source book were clear hallmarks of Latitudinarianism and thus identify Locke as a member of that camp. These particular goals of Reasonableness were brought together particularly in Locke's discussion of justification - we are justified, according to Locke, as we obey the moral law outlined in Scripture. Since no one can obey perfectly, faith (the confession that Jesus is the Christ) "fills in the gaps" in our obedience and achieves salvation for us (p. 266). Those who have not heard of Jesus can still be saved because enough is available to them through natural wisdom to provide salvation. Jesus is necessary, however, because there are so many hindrances to natural reason's dictates. Jesus has now shown the way, but Locke's theology clearly emphasized morality.

His theological positions inexorably shaped Locke's views toward the state and toward toleration. Since Christianity has been reduced to one simple theological affirmation and to morality, there is tremendous latitude in what should be allowed in the state. People should be allowed to believe whatever they want and to worship in whatever manner they desire since these items are all "indifferent." Since all men are (at least theoretically) "born free" (a political tabula rasa) and since all have the gift of natural reason, the role of government is primarily to protect that freedom, the freedom to act on natural reason.


Thus Locke did tie government to Christianity, but he has so reduced and redefined Christianity that the results are totally different from what they are in the case of classic Puritanism. As Reventlow points out (p. 283), the reader who does not understand Locke's ideas on government and toleration as a direct product of Latitudinarianism has totally misunderstood Locke. This is a crucial point in light of the fact that many conservative Christians in America tend to quote Locke with great approval as the architect of the American republic. They are probably correct in identifying one of the republic's architects, but much more attention must be paid to the theological foundations of that architecture. Reventlow has done us a marvelous service in demonstrating clearly that that foundation is Latitudinarian to the core and thus very much in opposition to orthodox Christianity.

In all of Parts I and II of his volume, Reventlow has been describing those trends which led up to the development of English Deism and the attitude toward Scripture which that movement represents. In Part III, "The Climax of Biblical Criticism in English Deism," Reventlow moves to demonstrate exactly where all of the preceding trends led. His introduction to the section sets the tone:

According to a phrase of E. Troeltsch's which has become famous, Deism is the "Enlightenment philosophy of religion". Deism and Deists "were originally self-designations of those who stood by the confession of natural religion (without always challenging the possibility of faith in revelation)". It was "the conviction of the Deists that there is a natural religion and that this precedes all religions of it they saw contained the objective conditions of the good pleasure which God can take in men. They therefore declared that it was sufficient, and that to follow the precepts of natural religion, which together and individually had moral character, qualified a man for eternal salvation." [P. 289]

Perhaps the first actual English Deist was Charles Blount who, as early as 1680, was publishing material reminiscent of Lord Herbert of Cherbury. In this material, Blount defended the adequacy of natural reason and attacked the necessity of revelation. In addition, he specifically rejected such things as the miraculous birth of Christ as being "unreasonable" (pp. 290-94). The tone of Deism is thus set quite early.

But it is, according to Reventlow, John Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) which is recognized as the first major work of English Deism. Heavily influenced by Locke, Toland wrote as a defender of Christianity, but he consistently sought to defend Chris-


tianity before the bar of reason which was considered to be the final and absolute authority (p. 295). The Bible, according to Toland, is to be read and judged just like any other book - it was true only to the extent that it conformed to human reason. By the title of his book, Toland meant to communicate that the Bible was dependable because, in its essentials, it does conform to natural reason. In all of this, Toland is constructing a critical hermeneutical principle (deal with the Bible just as with any other book) which provides the backbone of much of later criticism of the Bible.

Reventlow next moves to discuss the Third Earl of Shaftesbury whose Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, and Times (1711) was another significant step in the developing attitude toward Scripture. Shaftesbury, who had been taught by Locke, argued for an innate moral faculty which "senses" the beauty, harmony, and order of human action. This sense makes biblical revelation unnecessary and judges it. Shaftesbury was thus openly antagonistic toward those biblical passages which seemed to teach things contrary to the moral sense. In this, he was the first to adopt an openly antagonistic attitude toward assumptions of Scripture.

The final major figure on whom Reventlow spends time in this chapter is Matthew Tindale, whose major deistical work, Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730), was clearly a result of the debates which had been developing over the past several decades. Tindale's primary focus was on the matter of church polity and, in this area, he argued that ecclesiastical matters are time and culture-conditioned; thus Scripture itself is de-absolutized (p. 327). This leads in Christianity to the argument that it is the religion of nature, not the religion of revelation to which we owe allegiance.

Finally, Reventlow follows up his discussion of Tindale with a fascinating analysis of the political motivations of many of the leading Deists. As political Whigs (the rights of the people), many of the Deists came to their position on Scripture as a means of depriving the Tory High Church party (strong monarchy) of a biblical foundation for their position (p. 329). Reventlow's analysis here is most suggestive, not only for understanding developments in English Deism but also for understanding properly the theological framework and foundation of those political ideas which led to the American Revolution and which were then built into America's founding documents.


Throughout this first chapter of Part III, Reventlow has done an excellent job of showing where the earlier trends have been leading. And in doing so, he has also helped us to see quite clearly what may happen when biblical Christians begin to move away from the Scriptures as their final and sole authority. The shift that has taken place from someone like William Perkins for whom the Scriptures were the final and absolute authority to John Milton who, both in his defense of his own divorce and in his arguments for religious toleration, was slowly substituting natural reason for the final authority of the biblical revelation, to John Locke, who formally embodied the increasing preeminence of human reason over divine revelation in his treatises on epistemology, political theory, and religious pluralism, all the way to Matthew Tindale, in whom is seen the almost inevitable results of this kind of trend, should be most instructive to Christians today who genuinely do want to live under the authority of the Scriptures. Dangerous compromises may arise subtly in situations which seem relatively innocent but they, in their outworkings, produce theological disaster. In tracing this particular trend, Reventlow is on very solid ground and is most helpful in his analysis.

The second chapter of Part III contains Reventlow's survey of several "Forms of Apologetic" which arose in response to the developments already chronicled. First among those whom Reventlow regards as apologists is Sir Isaac Newton. While Newton, according to Reventlow, saw himself in all of his academic pursuits as a defender of Christianity (albeit a "reduced" Christianity like that of John Locke), his mechanistic view of the universe contributed directly to Deism. Reventlow summarizes:

In practice, in the long run the Newtonians only played into the hands of the Deists, against whom they wanted to fight, and the Atheists (who at that time were more a chimaera than a real danger, though their time came in the second half of the century). The Arianism widespread among them (which was accepted e.g. by Newton himself, Clarke, and most naturally by Whiston) is an indubitable sign that the view of God held by these people was primarily oriented on the "book of his works". Above all, however, moralistic ethics, already a living issue as a legacy of humanistic theology, gained an increasing foundation in the "new philosophy", which made it increasingly independent of the Bible and thus more and more independent of theology generally. [P. 341]

The second of the main apologists identified by Reventlow was Samuel Clarke whose Boyle lectures in 1704 and 1705 were specifically intended as a "defense of the faith." But Clarke sought to


defend Christianity by arguing that it was largely "natural" - that is, Clarke argued that Christianity is just largely what we all already know. This approach again, however, denigrated revelation and thus Clarke played precisely into the hands of the Deists. (It is of some significance to American Christians that Jonathan Edwards wrote one of his greatest treatises, Freedom of the Will, as a direct response to what he regarded as the Arminianizing tendencies of Clarke's position.)

The third main apologist upon whom Reventlow focuses in this chapter is Joseph Butler. Butler sought to defend orthodox Christianity against all of the trends identified thus far, but Reventlow sees Butler's apologetic system as contributing directly to those very trends. Butler accepted so many of the Deists' presuppositions about natural religion that he ended up supporting them rather than damaging them. Both Butler and Clarke tried to demonstrate, to use Locke's term, "the reasonableness of Christianity" and by so doing, they encouraged the view that only that which is reasonable can be accepted. Thus the role of revelation was reduced and that of reason was exalted.

Reventlow has analyzed and evaluated Joseph Butler in a manner reminiscent of the approach taken by Cornelius Van Til. Since this is such an important point, it is worth quoting Reventlow at some length.

The dilemma in which rationalistic apologetic finds itself through its line of thought based on the two "Books", natural and revealed religion, appears in another, equally illuminating way in Joseph Butler's Them Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature (1736).... Although it had been provoked by a need to ward off the Deists, in its approach this apologetic nevertheless shows so many features in common with its opponents that we can understand why it made so little impression on them. Indeed, in view of a work like Butler's Analogy, the question is often asked, whether because of the fragility of its arguments this apologetic did not help to hasten on the decline of the Christian religion which it sought to defend cannot easily be brushed aside. This uncertainty is evident today, so we can understand why Butler, who was highly respected during his lifetime and in part well into the nineteenth century, still arouses considerable attention today, at least in the history of ideas. However, the rise of radical Biblical criticism among the later Deists and their successors only becomes understandable when we consider the place which Butler assigns to revelation and know the arguments with which he sets out to defend its role. [P. 345]


Van Til has argued for years that rationalistic apologetics presents a radical danger to orthodoxy and Reventlow's analysis simply lends weight to that perspective.[9]

The final individual discussed by Reventlow in this chapter is Jonathan Swift, who served many years as the Anglican Dean at the Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. Swift should be seen in the context which has been developed as protesting, particularly in his Gulliver's Travels, against the increasingly optimistic and rationalistic humanism of his day. Reventlow offers some particularly insightful comments about the relationship between some of Gulliver's experiences and conditions within the Church of England during the first third of the eighteenth century. But, of course, Swift himself never made it out of Dublin (which was regarded at that time as a kind of Anglican "Siberia") and this makes it clear that his attitude toward the trends in the church was not a popular or widely shared one. Overall, the Deistic movement in English Christianity was gathering great momentum and most of its opponents (such as Clarke and Butler) managed to contribute, even if unintentionally, to its domination.

"The Heyday of Deism," Reventlow's topic in, Chapter Three of Part III, is almost anticlimactic. So much groundwork has been laid in the analysis of trends leading up to Deism that the discussion of actual Deists themselves really provides little new information other than the actual names of those who have been recognized as primary representatives of the movement. Among such leaders must be considered Anthony Collins (pp. 358ff.), William Lyons (pp. 362ff.), and Peter Annet (pp. 374ff.). Annet was the most extreme of the Deists, but he actually was doing nothing more than giving expression to the logical outworkings of a system which had been developing at least since the time of John Milton.

Reventlow does argue that the most representative and most influential work during the heyday of Deism was Matthew Tindale's Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730), which has been mentioned earlier. It is somewhat more moderate than Annet's most important work (The Resurrection of Jesus Considered, 1744), but it nevertheless vigorously argues that traditional Christianity simply does not pass the bar of reason (pp. 376-81).


Reventlow's final chapter deals with "The Late Phase" of English Deism. One of the crucial figures during this period was Thomas Chubb, The True Gospel of Jesus Christ Asserted (1738). Chubb argued in this volume that the moral example and teachings of Jesus are all that matters and he further defined carefully the specific criteria which human reason uses to determine the value of revelation (p. 392).

Thomas Morgan, in The Moral Philosopher (3 volumes, 1738-40), took Chubb's line of argument a step further and suggested specifically that, when submitted to the bar of reason, the OT comes up very short and must certainly be rejected. Morgan's distinctive contribution, therefore, lies in his particularly vigorous attack on the credibility of the OT (p. 398). Morgan, like many of the other Deists, also demonstrated his "Spiritualist-Puritan" heritage in his attack on formal church structure. It was, according to Morgan, the priests of the OT who led to the denigration of the pure primal religion of the Patriarchs and it is the priests today (he meant the eighteenth century but he would certainly want to make the same statement about the twentieth century) who seek to maintain that corruption. While Reventlow sees both Spiritualist and Puritan elements in Morgan, Morgan, of course, repudiated the Puritans with the same vigor that he did the OT. And it is probably the case that Morgan was more nearly correct than Reventlow in terms of the degree to which he (Morgan) should be seen as a product of some of the emphases in Puritan theology.

However, Reventlow's overall analysis continues to be most helpful, and never more so than in his continued insistence upon the degree to which the rationalistic apologists of this period, by adopting Deist presuppositions in order to answer the Deists, played right into the hands of their opponents and contributed to the difficulties experienced by orthodox Christianity. For example, the Presbyterian preacher M. Lowman sought to respond to Morgan in a book entitled A Rational Ritual of the Hebrew Worship in which he specifically quoted Lord Herbert of Cherbury in order to try to demonstrate that the OT is, in fact, in accord with natural human reason. Lowman even went so far as to utilize Herbert's five marks of religion in his attempted defense: "You see here the Doctrines of the Hebrew Church well agree with the Essentials of Religion according to Lord Herbert, taught by the best light of Reason, and confirmed by general Consent of Men of sound Minds" (quoted by Reventlow, p. 407). Reventlow's


response is apropos: "It is indeed remarkable that a century after his death the 'father of Deism' should be cited as the key witness against the Deists of the eighteenth century" (p. 407).

What Jonathan Swift could not do through biting sarcasm and satire, Reventlow suggests that David Hume did accomplish at the very end of this period by means of a severe and successful philosophical attack on the capabilities of human reason (p. 410). But, of course, Hume's "accomplishment" only produced further responses such as that of Thomas Reid and the Scottish Common Sense Realists and, even more significantly for the history of philosophy, Immanuel Kant.

Reventlow finally provides an excellent summary and conclusion in which he points out both the impact of English Deism on America and the German Enlightenment and the relationship between central Deistic concerns and modern biblical criticism:

Despite its disappearance in the land of its origin, Deism remained important round about the middle of the eighteenth century because of two far-reaching effects which it had. One of these developments leads to the United States, where Deism came to be extremely important for the constitution of the new state through figures like Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.... The direct and indirect influences of English Deism on the German Enlightenment, which represents a late phase in the general development of ethical rationalism, are great, especially since the German Enlightenment differed from that in France by sharing the same basically apologetic position as English Deism.... However, we cannot overestimate the influence exercised by Deistic thought, and by the principles of the Humanist world-view which the Deists made the criterion of their biblical criticism, on the historical-critical exegesis of the nineteenth century; the consequences extend right down to the present. [Pp. 411-12]

Reventlow has written a phenomenally learned and incredibly useful volume. He has helped us to see where modern biblical criticism comes from and thereby he has helped us to understand what kinds of tendencies and presuppositions tend to destroy the authority of God's Word.

The primary weakness of Reventlow's work is his tendency, best seen in his analyses of John Wyclif, Martin Bucer, and the Puritans, to try to squeeze too many diverse people and ideas into the specific stream of thought which he is developing. If he had made a clearer distinction between ideas which genuinely tend in a certain direction and ideas which may be picked up and twisted in that same direction, his overall analysis would have been much stronger. Because he fails


to make this difficult but very crucial distinction, Reventlow ends up distorting more than disclosing Wyclif, Bucer, and the Puritans.

Nevertheless, this is a marvelously rich and helpful volume. Not only does it teach us where many modern theological errors originated; it also powerfully reinforces Paul's words to Timothy, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15). Few warnings are more appropriate today.


[1] For example, Wyclif's emphasis on Scripture was theocentric, not anthropocentric, in both its orientation and influence. See David Edwards, Christian England: Its Story to the Reformation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983) 223. See also G. H. W. Parker, The Morning Star (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965) 42-45.

[2] David Edwards, Christian England From the Reformation to the 18th Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983) 39, 50.

[3] See Perry Miller's analysis of American Puritan covenant theology in his "The Marrow of Puritan Divinity" in Errand into the Wilderness (ed. Perry Miller; New York: Harper and Row, 1964) 48-98.

[4] William Haller, among many others, demonstrates clearly that the ascription of biblical skepticism to the Puritans could not be further from the truth. See his The Rise of Puritanism (New York: Harper and Row, 1957) esp. chaps. 4 and 5.

[5] See George Marsden, "Perry Miller's Rehabilitation of the Puritans: A Critique," CH 29 (1970) 91-105.

[6] See William Haller's similar analyses of Chillingworth and Milton in his Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955) 3241, 17888, 23744, and in his Rise of Puritanism, 236-42.

[7] See Haller's lengthy discussion of Lilburne in Liberty and Reformation, 256-358. See also Christopher Hill, God's Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 1972) 105-40.

[8] Haller, Rise of Puritanism, esp. chaps. 5 and 10, and Liberty and Reformation, esp. chaps. 2, 3, and 5.

[9] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1955) esp. chaps. 510, and Christian-Theistic Evidences (unpublished classroom syllabus) 32-35.