Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy

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Editor(s): 
W. Bradford Littlejohn, Scott N. Kindred-Barnes
  • Bristol, CT: 
    Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
    , March
     2017.
     355 pages.
     $99.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9783525552070.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Richard Hooker was once an Anglican, considered an exemplar of Canterbury’s via media between Rome and Geneva’s dogmatisms. However, scholarship in recent decades has done much to upend this picture, unmasking it as an anachronistic casting of later conceptions of Anglicanism retroactively onto Hooker. What has emerged is an understanding of Hooker as more in line with continental Reformers than the via media thesis let on, of the 16th century Church of England as a Reformed church, and of “Anglicanism” as a discernible tradition distinct from the Reformed only after Hooker’s death. Hooker, once quintessentially Anglican, now comes into view as a Reformed theologian—albeit an idiosyncratic one.

In Richard Hooker and Reformed Orthodoxy, editors W. Bradford Littlejohn and Scott N. Kindred-Barnes reap the benefit of this understanding of Hooker and further these conversations by investigating Hooker’s placement within the context of 16th- and 17th-century Reformed orthodoxy. This book begins with an editorial introduction that illuminates recent movements and issues in Hooker scholarship. The editors note three broad camps of scholarship: a traditional view, originated at least with the Tractarians of Hooker as epitomizing the Anglican via media; a revisionist school following Peter Lake’s claims that Hooker did not exemplify Anglicanism as much as invent it by subtly departing from continental reformers; and a revisionist school following Torrance Kirby’s claims that Hooker stands broadly in continuity with the continental reformed tradition. The issues at stake in these debates concern the interpretation of Hooker’s rhetoric, as well as questions of Reformed theology’s character and scope. This introduction alone testifies to the volume’s worth, initiating readers into the historiographical debates surrounding Hooker’s placement within Reformed thought.

The rest of the volume is divided into three parts. The first situates Hooker within the context of the 16th and 17th centuries. David Neelands’s contribution shows that Hooker’s theology can, in fact, be described as a via media. However, this via media is to be understood not as a methodological commitment to compromise, but as the rejection of error on two flanks. W. Brown Patterson’s essay challenges the common opposition of Hooker to William Perkins, instead arguing that Perkins shares an affinity with Hooker on questions of reform. A.S. McGrabe rounds out the section with a close reading of the structure of Hooker’s discussion of public worship.

The second part surveys Hooker theological and pastoral methodology, often challenging previous understandings of Hooker and Reformed thought. Paul Dominiak questions the common opposition of Thomism to Reformed orthodoxy, instead claiming that Hooker stands in both traditions. Kirby’s chapter corrects misunderstandings of the harmony between nature and grace work in Hooker’s epistemology, with particular reference to scripture and reason. David Eppeley challenges the idea that Hooker was principally an anti-Puritan apologist for the established church. Eppeley claims that Hooker is better understood in “loyal opposition” to the establishment, calling Puritans to the task of reforming the church from within. Rudolph Almasy turns to Hooker’s preaching and use of scripture, revealing Hooker’s congruence with the homiletical methods of more unambiguously Reformed English preachers. Finally, Kindred-Barnes focuses on Hooker’s use of arguments from fittingness (ex convenietia) for certain ecclesial practices not directly found in scripture, noting Hooker’s resonance with certain Reformed confessions on these points.

Where the first two parts were more contextually and methodologically focused, the final part turns directly to doctrinal issues. Many of these chapters are comparative. Andrew Fulford puts Hooker and Francis Turretin in conversation on the question of autopistos, Littlejohn compares Hooker and Franciscus Junius on law, and J.V. Fesko notes formal similarities between Hooker and John Owen on union with Christ. Luca Baschera questions John Henry Newman’s distancing of Hooker’s soteriology from Reformed views by demonstrating Hooker’s similarity with several continental reformed figures. Similarly, Michael Lynch shows how Hooker is not idiosyncratic in his hypothetical universalism, but in fact, stands in line with several continental and English Reformed theologians. Drew Martin concludes the volume on a note of relative discontinuity, noting how Hooker’s sacramentology constitutes a marginal position within the Reformed theology of his day.

While there is much value in this work, an unfortunate distraction is the somewhat uncharitable rhetoric concerning Anglicanism. We are told that seeing Hooker as exemplary of an Anglican via mediais a “transparently self-congratulatory” and “manufactured” extolment of a “golden mediocrity” (15). This tone is unnecessary in making the simple point that Hooker cannot be taken as representative of a tradition which had not yet clearly emerged. Meanwhile, theologians who look to Hooker for contemporary Anglican theology are chastened for “summoning Hooker to the bar of enlightened post-modern judgment to require that he offer up his reasons in order that he might be ‘rated’ for his usefulness to contemporary Anglican moral reflection” (138). I do not mention this simply out of concern for charity. Rather, such rhetoric undermines certain aims of the book, particularly those of broadening understandings of the scope of Reformed theology, and challenging rigid divisions between “Anglican” and “Reformed.” While this rhetoric is meant to scold those who read Hooker in light of Tractarian understandings of Anglicanism, it carries with it the unintended implication that Anglicanism and the Reformed tradition are mutually exclusive, that Anglicanism has little claim to Hooker. We are warned of scholars who are “quick to accuse colleagues of readings motivated by theological partisanship (they read Hooker as Reformed because they are Reformed, or evangelical because they are evangelical, etc.) rather than historical fidelity,” yet end up hearing a quite similar charge, only this time in regard to Anglicans (20). The book’s goals would have been better served by leaving aside such rhetoric.

Despite this point, the volume is of great value to scholars of Hooker, the English Reformation, Anglicanism, and Reformed theology. The introduction alone is an invaluable aid to understanding Hooker and his complex reception, while many of the chapters shed considerable light on the contested, and sometimes obscure, connection of Hooker to Reformed thought. Those encouraged by the promise of Hooker as a Reformed thinker and those made nervous by this prospect alike will find much of value in this volume.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Luke Zerra is a doctoral candidate in Theology and Christian Ethics at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
May 14, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

W. Bradford Littlejohn is the President of the Davenant Trust and teaches at Moody Bible Institute. He is the author most recently of The Peril and Promise of Christian Liberty (Eerdmans, 2017), as well as three other books and numerous articles and book chapters on Reformation theology and Christian ethics; his particular interest is in retrieving the legacy of the great English theologian and political theorist Richard Hooker.

 

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