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'From about 10.30 at night until about 12.30. FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. ... Let me never be separated from him.' Most people have an idea of what God is like and the inputs to that idea are investigated in the doctrine of God. Generally speaking, we arrive at the characteristics ascribed to God factually through religious traditions and logically through testing their purported conceptual coherence. According to the different strains of theism, the ultimate reality and highest being is necessarily ontologically independent, self-conscious, and transcendent. But according to the quotation above, in which Blaise Pascal formulated an experience he had in 1654, there is a radical difference between the god of philosophy and the God of the Christian religion. There is, according to Pascal, a God, and that God can be known through the Christian revelation, not through metaphysics.
My object in this article is to trace the method by which one of Pascal's contemporaries developed his concept of God. My aim is not to state Francis Turretin's (1623-1687) understanding of the several divine attributes but something which is logically prior to that, namely his views on the compatibility of scriptural exegesis and metaphysical argumentation. Turretin does not set out this explicitly and formally so it will have to be derived from his doctrinal exposition. Whether philosophy is applicable to God is itself a philosophical issue which is beyond the limits of this article. (1) Instead Turretin's affirmative answer will be supposed, and perhaps his practice will say something to the applicability of metaphysics and epistemology to the divine being. I will preface this with a historical section and then develop the theoretical basis for the integration of scriptural exegesis and philosophical argumentation from Turretin's views on the rationality of religious belief and an analogical understanding of religious language.
Let me begin briefly with who Francis Turretin was, since he may be unknown to many readers of this journal. (2) Following studies at the leading centres of learning in Europe in the seventeenth century, Turretin became pastor in Geneva 1648, was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Geneva in 1650 (but declined), and professor of theology at the same university in 1653. He is generally considered to epitomize Reformed theology in that age, and an authoritative scholar writes that his name 'is virtually synonymous with the term "Protestant Scholasticism"'. (3) Turretin's major work is the Institutio Theologicae Elencticae (1679-1685), a tightly argued three-volume folio work that interfoliates theological and philosophical argumentation.
Although this is not the place to characterize the movement of Reformed scholasticism (and I have tried to do that elsewhere), it is necessary to say a few words about it in the light of the present stage of scholarship. (4) Earlier, it was claimed that the doctrine of divine predestination assumed the role of central dogma and metaphysical principle in seventeenth-century Reformed theology, allegedly indicating a rationalistic and deductive Aristotelianism. Considerable research has, over the last few decades, shown that this understanding is unhistorical and inaccurate in its views on scholasticism, humanism, the Reformation, and their relationship. In my earlier research I argued that both Reformation and institutionalized Protestantism stand in continuity with the philosophical eclecticism and educational methods of the Christian tradition, and that Reformed scholasticism is a critical Thomist school, conscious of the developments in Scotism and Nominalism and its own Protestant emphases.
In this article I would like to trace the method by which Turretin developed his concept of God, by means of his supposition that scriptural exegesis and metaphysical argumentation are compatible. Anyone reading his Locus de Deo will recognize that it is not limited to scriptural exegesis and exploration of biblical concepts. The biblical orientation is, of course, prominent, but in addition Turretin combines it with logic and metaphysics. Such a procedure is, to some post-Enlightenment theologians, in itself incompatible with and a betrayal of (the Christian) religion, but was the standard conception (at least) from Augustine and onwards in the Christian tradition, and still is among Christian analytic philosophers of religion.
Sources for theistic belief
Let us then turn to the question of sources for beliefs about God in Francis Turretin. The well-known answer of Reformed theology to the question of whether we can know God is finitum non capax infiniti -- the finite is incapable of comprehending the infinite. (5) But the Reformed response to this fundamental question is not theological agnosticism but an incentive to investigate (purported) revelation. (6) In exploring Turretin's view of the interrelationship of scriptural exegesis and metaphysical argumentation in the doctrine of God, I intend first and in this section to lay out the basic ideas and then in the following section to present its practical implications.
It will be useful to begin with a look at Turretin's starting point. Where does he begin? Turretin explicitly asserts himself to be epistemically situated in the church through the work of the Holy Spirit, for there the self-authenticating authority of Scripture is known.
For the Bible with its own marks is the argument on account of which I believe. The Holy Spirit is the efficient cause and principle from which I am induced to believe. But the church is the instrument and means through which I believe. Hence if the question is why, or on account of what, do I believe the Bible to be divine, I will answer that I do so on account of the Scripture itself which by its marks proves itself to be such. If it is asked whence or from what I believe, I will answer from the Holy Spirit who produces this belief in me. Finally, if I am asked by what means or instrument I believe it, I will answer through the church which God uses in delivering the Scriptures to me. (II.vi.6)
In this paragraph Turretin sets out the reason why he is a Christian and that is probably why the tone is exceptionally personal (compared to the overall impersonal language elsewhere). It is not from his independent use of reason that he has come to the knowledge of God in Christ, but through the work of God in history. So it is from within the community of God that he develops his doctrine of God.
The Bible is the primary source for the concept of God in Christian theism, and it is above all reflection on revelation that has formed Western theism into what it is. For the Scriptures provide accounts of specific and particular acts and speeches of God which make them (among other things) a unique source for beliefs about God. (7) Turretin's interest in interpretation and exposition of Scripture in the Locus de Deo is unmistakable, and cannot be easily summarized, but perhaps the general pattern is a definition or statement of the question, followed by biblical data, and then a consideration of further material. The scriptural interpretation is on the whole brief, though presupposes, as has been shown, the abundant work of commentaries and the results of exegesis. (8) Much fine work has been done on scriptural authority in Reformed scholasticism, and this article is not aimed at adding anything to that research, but will rather concentrate on the subordinate use of metaphysics in a theology of revelation.
Although classical Protestant theology emphasized special revelation, it never claimed that revelation constituted a complete Christian theistic system. The slogan was sola Scriptura, not nuda Scriptura. (9) For the perfection of Scripture does not, according to Turretin, exclude all human tradition and is inclusive of inferences (I.xii.2, 8). He was well aware of the fact that if a purported divine revelation was to be intelligible, if the Christian revelation was to be intelligible, the essential nature of the divine revealer had to be known (at least rudimentarily) prior to special revelation if that revelation should be possible to relate or identify with God (cf. I.xiii.5). Turretin, therefore, talks of the presupposed object of the articles of saving faith which is known from natural theology and sound reason, and which teaches, among other things, the existence of a just, wise, and good God, and the immortality of the soul. Reason and natural theology are the media through which we come to believe in t he presupposed articles and supernatural theology later further establishes this natural theology (I.viii.1, 4; I.ix.18; I.xiii.3). Supernatural theology is for this reason at least initially based on natural theology (I.iii.10, 12; I.iv.3). The concept of deity then cannot be exclusively derived from special or supernatural revelation, but the philosophical or metaphysical inquiry into our idea of God is vitally necessary to Turretin's theology of revelation. For this reason Turretin is not attempting to set out or organize his doctrine of God exclusively in terms of biblical theology; rather he is attempting to develop a comprehensive and coherent concept of God from all the sources at hand for beliefs about God.
What is then the relationship between the truths of God revealed in the Bible and those (if there are any) known in general? This is the classical question of faith and reason and a case can be made that the …