Adriaan Neele’s volume on Petrus van Mastricht’s theological method is a significant addition to the burgeoning literature examining post-Reformation Reformed orthodoxy. The author’s aim is “to demonstrate the relationship between exegesis, doctrine, elenctic, and praxis in the doctrine of God of Mastricht’s Theoretico-practica theologia” (p. vii). In this way Neele endeavors to overturn the popular conception of Reformed orthodoxy as excessively concerned with abstract doctrine and too little concerned with careful exegesis or with the practical application of exegesis and doctrine. Seventeenth-century Reformed exegesis has often been pilloried as amounting to nothing more than proof-texts for rigid scholastic dogmas while Reformed piety has been characterized as mystical subjectivism, detached from both exegesis and dogma. Throughout the four parts that comprise this volume, Neele shows that, for Mastricht, exegesis, doctrine, elenctic (or polemic), and praxis form core theological components that cannot be neatly isolated from each other.
Part I (chs. 1–2) offers a detailed portrait of Mastricht’s life as a pastor, professor, and polemicist. The purpose of this section is not strictly biographical, but rather to show that Mastricht’s interests and expertise cannot be easily reduced to that of scholastic dogmatician. As a divinity student he was exposed to biblical studies, medieval scholasticism, the Reformed loci method, and the practical theology of his teachers, Voetius and Hoornbeek. After five years in the pastorate he commenced his academic career first as a professor of Hebrew and practical theology and later as professor of theology and philosophy. Through his writing and teaching, he gained a reputation as a renowned philologist, careful theologian, astute anti-Cartesian philosopher, and a reliable guide to the practical application of doctrine. Neele observes that many of Mastricht’s works manifest the fourfold division in which he proceeds from biblical exegesis, to doctrinal formulation, to elenctic (though sometimes this is omitted), to practical application. This fourfold procedure is most perfectly followed in Mastricht’s magnum opus, Theoretico-practica theologia (TPT).
Part II (chs. 3–4) examines Mastricht’s chief premises in the TPT: prolegomena and faith. In his prolegomena Mastricht treats both the nature of theology and Scripture. He stresses that theology must be orderly and proposes that this order may be found in his fourfold method of exegesis, doctrine, elenctic, and praxis. Scripture, he insists, is the first integral part of theology, rather than an ancillary study. Touching faith, Mastricht makes the uncommon move of treating it immediately after discussing Scripture and before the locus on God. Neele regards this as evidence that Mastricht’s piety is both exegetically based and inextricable from the way one approaches the various loci that follow, most notably that notoriously “abstract” Reformed doctrine of God.
Part III (chs. 5–8) offers a cross-section examination of Mastricht’s doctrine of God as found in TPT, focusing in turn on exegesis (ch. 5), doctrine (ch. 6), elenctic (ch. 7), and praxis (ch. 8). Exegetically, Mastricht exhibits a close and careful reading of the Hebrew and Greek text; doctrinally, he develops his conclusions as expositions of the exegetical sections prior to providing reasonable arguments and a definition for the locus; elencticly, he is relatively concise and follows a quaestio method that draws conspicuously on his exegesis and doctrine and is formulated to strengthen the piety of his readers; practically, he roots his counsel in the primary biblical texts used to establish the locus and articulates his applications in biblical language. Throughout this section Neele is not so much concerned with the actual dogmatic content of the TPT as he is with elucidating the fourfold theological method of its author. I suspect some readers may find this ubiquitous emphasis upon method to be a bit tedious at times.
Part IV (chapters 9–11) provides a more focused consideration of some salient aspects in Mastricht’s locus on God. Neele asks whether Mastricht’s doctrine of God really yields nothing more than the static “metaphysical idol” reputedly endorsed by Reformed orthodoxy, and he concludes that it does not. Following a brief discussion of the structure of the doctrine of God as found in Mastricht’s Reformed predecessors and contemporaries (ch. 9), Neele explores his use of the fourfold method in his treatment of divine simplicity (ch. 10) and the Holy Trinity (ch. 11). Rather than following the strict metaphysical account of Aquinas, Mastricht seeks to ground God’s simplicity in the biblical revelation of his spirituality. True, many of Aquinas’s metaphysical ingredients are still present, but they have been made subsidiary to the biblical data. Also, Mastricht emphasizes the soteriological implication of simplicity and spirituality in a way foreign to the medieval scholastic treatments of the doctrine. Polemically, he uses simplicity to counter those opponents he perceives as most dangerous to the church in his own day—Socinians, Cartesians, and the Remonstrants. His handling of the doctrine of the Trinity is intensely exegetical, which leads him to stress the economy of the Trinity with a particular accent upon the christological and pneumatological dimension. In this way the biblical God of covenant, rather than the God of the philosophers, is the primary focus. Neele concludes, “[T]he God of Mastricht is not a metaphysical construct but a Triune God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all His people throughout the ages: the God of the covenant” (p. 278).
All told, Neele’s volume is a valuable continuation of the project begun by Richard Muller and others to reassess Reformed orthodoxy through an intensive and extensive investigation of its historical context, intellectual sources, and primary documents. In this Neele succeeds admirably, and his book whets one’s appetite for the forthcoming English translation of the Theoretico-practica theologia.