15 December 2023

Editorial – Issue 85

By Dr Donald John MacLean

DJ is the Editor of Foundations. He is also an Elder at Cambridge Presbyterian Church and Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” (Isa. 40:9, ESV)

This edition of Foundations brings together a number of articles which focus on contemporary theological issues and historical theology. 

Sarah Allen’s article on Sarah Coakley most overtly engages with contemporary theology as she considers Coakley’s 2013 work God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay on the Trinity. Engaging contemporary theological perspectives from a reformed and evangelical stance is important. Allen provides us with a helpful model to do that, interacting with Coakley charitably yet robustly. The theological topics touched on are important e.g. gender, desire, Trinity and, as such, Allen’s review article repays careful reading.

Tom Underhill considers a matter which has been the subject of recent debate, namely a “Reformed Catholic” approach to theology. Underhill’s contribution to this debate is to seek to provide “a theological justification for a presumption of trust towards tradition that is both consistently Protestant and persuasive to evangelical readers.” He aims to do this via an in-depth interaction with the publication Reformed Catholicity by Michael Allen and Scott Swain. As a church historian who values highly the work of the Spirit through the ages, the overall case resonates. However, for me, questions remain around the contemporary applications to interactions with theological traditions (e.g. Roman Catholic) which have foundational divergences with reformed and evangelical belief on both the principium cognoscendi externum (the external principle of knowledge, namely revelation) and the principium cognoscendi internum (the internal principle of knowledge, namely faith). And questions remain around the balance of the “presumption of trust” and the ability to say with the Scots Confession, “if any man will note in this our Confession any article or sentence repugning to God’s holy word, that it would please him of his gentleness, and for Christian charity’s sake, to admonish us of the same in writ; and We of our honour and fidelity do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God (that is, from his holy Scriptures), or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss.” I would welcome further exploration of these questions.

Stephen Steele’s article is in the realm of church history, as he takes us back in time to the 17th century to consider how some key theologians at the Westminster Assembly responded to increasing knowledge of, and access to, variants within copies of Scripture in the original languages. Steel argues that there is evidence leading members of the Westminster Assembly were unperturbed by the emergence of divergent texts of the New Testament. This suggests that any attempt to “fix” the text of the New Testament to that known at the time of the Reformation and ignore new manuscripts is historically as well as theologically misguided. Again, this is an area of contemporary interest and relevance.

John Ferguson continues the theme of church history and introduces us to the theology of one of the most brilliant of the theologians of the 19th century Free Church of Scotland, Hugh Martin. Martin is one of my personal favourite theologians to read; there is a freshness and power to his exegesis that few possess. Ferguson is a safe guide to Martin, and I hope this article encourages many to take up and read Martin. It will not be wasted time.

An article by Gary Brady closes out the article section of Foundations. In a sense is it unlike most articles in Foundations, in that it introduces us to a number of men in a specific time and place, who are largely forgotten and some of whom we can know little about. The question might be asked, what is the value of this? Well, primarily to remind us that God’s work largely advances through unknown men and women who labour faithfully and whose reward is great in heaven. I hope this article is an encouragement to us all.

I trust these articles, and the book reviews in this issue, are all of help for the church.

Dr Donald John MacLean
Editor of Foundations
Elder, Cambridge Presbyterian Church and Assistant Professor of Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary (UK)

December 2023