Dr. Richard Mouw Describes "The Worldview of a Synod of Dort"

[Note: The object subsequent expresses a views of a sold named as a author and does not indispensably simulate a position of a WRF as a whole.]

The Worldview of a Synod of Dort
Richard J. Mouw
President Emeritus of Fuller Theological Seminary
Individual Member of a World Reformed Fellowship

            Not prolonged after a end of a Synod of Dordrecht a Puritan jubilee in a Church of England due that a Canons of Dort be adopted as an central Anglican confessional standard.  A array of conferences were hold in 1626 to discuss this proposal, and a discuss gave arise to clever passions .  At one indicate Francis White, a personality of a Arminian party, leaped to his feet and addressed a presiding officials with this obligatory plea: “I plead a Lordships that we of a Church of England be not put to steal a new faith from any encampment in a Netherlands.”[1]

            Francis White was apparently possibly confused about demographics or carried divided with sarcasm.  Dordrecht was positively no encampment in a 17th century—its race during a time was about 40,000. But even if a numbers had been significantly smaller, there is no good reason  to assume that villages can't furnish good theology. And one of a Dordrecht Synod’s strengths was that it did in fact figure a bargain of a Christian faith in many Dutch villages—for that we am privately grateful, given my possess family forebears brought that divinity with them when they emigrated from Dutch villages to North America in a late  decades of a 19th century. Much some-more importantly,  though, a divinity of a Synod of Dort has reached into thousands of villages around a universe over a centuries. It has trafficked well. Presently, for example, during slightest one hundred and 10 church bodies in forty-eight nations  have adopted a Canons of Dort as one of their  pivotal confessional standards.

            There is most to applaud in all of that. And we can be beholden that a city of Dordrecht, carrying determined itself in a possess time as an critical tellurian core of production and trade, has hosted us for this contention focusing on a devout and theological bequest of what happened here 4 centuries ago. Indeed, we have seen justification here that a 400 year aged summary of Dordrecht continues to have a magnitude of devout and theological vitality.



            we chose to give as a pretension for this display “The Worldview of a Synod of Dort.” we did so with dual senses of “world” in mind.. The initial is geographical, a clarity of environment onward ideas with a tellurian alertness that is not singular to specific inhabitant borders.  The Synod of Dort was positively focused on a incomparable church universe in that sense. The Dutch Reformed Church was not calm usually to call for a inhabitant synod in that second decade of a 17th century. In scheming to residence elemental theological issues per God’s friendly exchange with tellurian beings,  the Dutch Calvinists wanted to deliberate with  theological experts from over their possess inhabitant borders.

To be sure, a ubiquitous makeup of a Dordrecht  gathering was still really much  of a “Euro-centric” character. In itself, this is not due to a singular prophesy on a partial of those who released a invitations to a Synod. The Christian transformation during a time—certainly a evident post-Reformation Protestant movement—was in fact European in scope.

In new years, however, a “Euro-centric” tag has come to be used as a tenure of theological critique—it is meant to vigilance a tiny theological vision, a disaster to clarity genuine tellurian concerns that emerge in tools of a universe that differ severely from what is taken for postulated by those enthralled in a Western world. 

Again, no one can censure 17th century Calvinists in a Netherlands for unwell to concentration in their divinity on a different informative contexts of what we impute to these days as “the Global South.” But it has been argued that when a Protestant transformation did extend into those other regions—in a Dutch case, mostly following endless trading trade routes—the “Eurocentric” divinity of a evident post-Reformation epoch was simply “exported” to those different cultures, where it mostly continues currently in a strange form.

The late missionary-theologian Kosuke Koyama offering a unsentimental instance in support this kind of criticism, in his 1997 book, No Handle on a Cross, where he told about a new revisit to Christians among a people who live in a Central Celebes segment of Indonesia. He detected that a internal congregations there were dominated in their meditative by what he described as  “Amsterdam Christianity, finish with a Heidelberg Catechism and a Belgic Confession”—and he could have  added a Canons of Dort to that mix.

            Koyama found this disappointing. Koyama did acknowledge that these Reformation-era papers merit to be respected as  “great monuments in a story of Christian divinity and ministry.” But he undetermined how “they could have remained intact, in their strange forms, in lands of such extensive devout and informative wealth. Wasn’t there any need to adjust them or during slightest to change expressions in a elemental way?”[2]

Koyama’s simple indicate is well-taken.  In a past half-century in a theological world, missiology has emerged as a poignant sub-discipline in theology—a concentration closely aligned to new theological sensitivities to matters relating to “cultural context.” These are critical concerns, and celebrating a bequest of a Synod of Dort is a good arise for meditative about what is estimable of preserving in a bequest of a Synod for a tellurian context. What do we wish that a Traija Christians will not let go of in adjusting their Eurocentric theological bequest to their possess informative context?

When we was examine  theology during a commencement of my educational career it was common to protest that  even if a early Protestant transformation had hexed a incomparable tellurian consciousness, it did not have any clever clarity of a significance of missional activity. While there is some legitimacy in that complaint, a Canons of Dort indeed yield one poignant square of counter-evidence to a charge. Indeed, we find what a Canons contend on a theme to be a pleasant confirmation of the tellurian mission.  The “the guarantee of a Gospel,” contend a Canons in Article 5 underneath a Second Head of Doctrine, “ought to be announced and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and yet distinction” (emphasis mine).[3]

What is pleasant about this matter of a church’s missional charge is that it not usually shows a strong missional approval surprising for a time, yet that it is expected a usually arise in any epoch where Calvinists suggest promiscuity!  And indeed, a image—the strange Latin content uses a verb form promiscuo—is an good one. Critics of a Reformed doctrines of choosing and predetermination have mostly insisted that Calvinism by a really inlet fails to yield an adequate proclivity for a evangelistic task. The representatives during Dordrecht were denying a indicate of that criticism. The goal of a church contingency be carried out with passion, they insisted. The guarantee of a Gospel contingency be admitted everywhere, and  with abandon. That does uncover an critical kind of worldview sensitivity.



The American devout academician Arthur Holmes once wrote about what he saw as  the disproportion between what he described as “theologians’ theology” and “world-viewish theology.” The initial kind of divinity deals with  the technical topics that veteran theologians speak about when they are enchanting other theologians: a modalistic bargain of a Trinity, for example, and a inlet of a Logos Christology. The second, “world-viewish,”  variety explores questions that are acted to divinity from a context of a unsentimental living-out of a theological viewpoint in a daily lives—topics carrying to do with putting a theologically shaped worldview into practice: How do we describe to my Muslim neighbor? And what does Genesis 1 tell me, if anything,  about a age of a earth?

Holmes was not definition to darken possibly kind of theological endeavor. He himself clinging most of his essay to matters that emerge in veteran form philosophical and theological contexts. But he also wanted to prominence a significance of meditative theologically about a world-viewish implications of a strong theological perspective.

In good partial a Canons of Dort grew out of debates per low differences among veteran theologians. The Synod addressed technical points of doctrine, as acted in a hurdles to Reformed divinity by a Remonstrants. And it is apparent that many passages in a Canons—and positively in a credentials papers of a synodical proceedings—are of seductiveness roughly exclusively to those of us who are scholastic in a glorious points of educational theological discourse. But there are also some transparent “world-viewish” magnitude to a altogether summary of a Canons.

In one examine of a judgment of a worldview a writers introduce that a worldview typically addresses these 4 questions: Who am I? Where am I? What’s wrong? What is a remedy?[4] To have a worldview, a writers argue, is to work with some clarity of what a answers  are to these questions. Even when people can't sufficient transparent their answers, they proceed life with some grasp of what it means to develop as a tellurian being and since a tangible lives are mostly so dysfunctional. And all of this serves to figure a decisions people make in running their lives.[5]

Neal Plantinga points us in a world-viewish instruction when he observes that a Canons begin, not with theological abstraction, yet with a concentration on a benefaction tellurian condition. Dort begins, he says “not in perpetuity with God yet in story with man.”[6] Thus a Canons’ opening words: “All organisation have sinned in Adam, distortion underneath a curse, and are repulsive to almighty death“ (First Head, I). Needless to say, that is—to put it mildly—a  troublesome note on that to start. The subsequent essay however, immediately declares difference of hope: “But ‘in this a adore of God was manifested , that he sent his usually begotten Son into a world” (First Head, II).

Those resisting themes, settled during a commencement of a Canons, constraint a heart of Calvinist soteriology: a unfortunate condition of corrupted humankind, cut off from a certain attribute from a Creator by a common rebellion, and a giveaway and emperor beauty of God who sent a Son into a world.

But Calvinism has frequently addressed some-more ubiquitous concerns. Reformed divinity during a best  not usually tells us that a usually wish for shelter is in God’s electing grace, yet it goes on also to answer a question, And what does God elect us for? In addressing this doubt Calvinism moves from a pacifist voice—God doing to us and for us what we could never accomplish on a own—to a active mode, to what it means for inaugurated people to turn agents of God’s functions in a world.

Dort addresses that organisation question. The Canons tell us that we  “are selected to faith and a tractability of faith” (First Head, IX), in that electing beauty empowers us for “the tact of a boundless commands” (First Head, XIII).



To be sure, a Canons do not do most to fill in a sum per a active lives of service. But a Canons do indicate most about what a loyal tractability to a will of a electing God should include. In one instance,  for example, Dort outlines a worldview courtesy in a brief comment of  “glimmerings of healthy light” that sojourn in a tellurian heart even after a extinction of a tumble into sin. Of course, in creation this indicate a Canons fast advise us opposite observant these “glimmerings” as carrying any arrange of salvific value. This is standard of a Reformed confessional statements of this epoch in traffic with a noetic ruins of a unfallen condition. The Westminster Confession, for example,  says that whatever depressed people know about God and his functions from ubiquitous explanation simply serves to “leave organisation inexcusable” (Chapter 1); [7]and likewise  the Belgic Confession tells us that the  what depressed tellurian beings can grasp about a excellence of God  serves especially to ”leave them yet excuse” (Article 2).  The Canons, however, while arising a same unrelenting warning, nonetheless fills in some discerning sum about what these “glimmerings” do make probable for outrageous humans: they concede for “some courtesy for virtue, good sequence in multitude , and for progressing an nurse outmost deportment.” (Third and Fourth Head,  IV).

As Suzanne McDonald has forked out, this has implications for a active lives of a elect as well. What a Synod is saying, she observes,  is that “the enterprise to do what we competence call ‘civic good,’ is planted low in what it means to be human. Unbelievers and believers comparison share some clarity of right and wrong, and wish to during slightest seem to be doing a right thing.” And this means, she continues,  that “a common approval of misapplication can be common belligerent for Christians and non-Christians as we find to discern and do what is right.”[8]

            Even if it does so in a rather avaricious theological manner, then, Dort does attest some certain aspects of a common humanness. And there is one sold thoroughfare in a Canons that offers what we cruise to be a surpassing basement for putting that confirmation into practice. Before citing that passage, though, a word about a new personal experience.

            During a time when we was scheming these remarks, we participated in a extensive educational contention with a organisation of Christian scholars, about a thought of “public justice.” In exploring what it means for us as Christians to disciple for probity in domestic and mercantile matters, dual themes loomed large. One, that Christians should see all tellurian beings as persons, as centers of value—in Kantian terms, as ends and not means in moulding open policy. And second, that doing this means respecting elemental tellurian choices, even when those choices are unfortunate from a Christian indicate of view—it is not a right, we agreed, simply to foster God-honoring behaviors by domestic or authorised coercion.

            After participating in that discussion, we went behind to my examine of a Canons. In re-reading this informed passage—long a favorite of mine—it struck me that it was stating, in rather relocating terms, a box that a organisation had been deliberating with courtesy to a usually diagnosis of a associate humans. Here is a passage:

[T]his beauty of era does not provide organisation as meaningless bonds and blocks, nor take divided their will and a properties, conjunction does assault thereto, yet spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and during a same time sweetly and strenuously bends it … [towards]  a prepared and frank devout obedience. (Third and Fourth, XVI)


Similar denunciation is used elsewhere in a Canons:  God  “graciously softens a hearts of a elect” (First, IX).

The indicate seems clear, and it is an critical once to make here, that given a widespread sense that Calvinism fosters a kind of fatalistic determinism we contingency emphasize, following a Canons, that God values a tellurian will. And he values it so most that he approaches a work of metamorphosis in a demeanour most closer to courtship, courtship us than utilizing or coercing.

I do not consider we am creation an irrational offer in propelling us to consider that this depiction of a boundless  “sweetness” and “softness” should  have surpassing implications for a office of open probity in today’s polarized world, if Calvinists were to rivet others, with a magnitude of a  sweetness and density that we have schooled from a encounters with a mysteries of emperor electing grace!

Such an proceed can be serve infused by a Christian piety that Dort prescribes. We are, a Canons tell us, “by inlet conjunction improved nor some-more honourable than others, yet with them concerned in one common misery” (First Head VI). And this extends over a merely personal humility. In a time when nationalistic honour seems on a increase—as evidenced in “America First” boastings in my possess country—along with renewed manifestations of injustice and xenophobia, a Canons can sound really contemporary in reminding us that a God “reveals himself to many, yet any eminence of people,” and with no courtesy “to the  higher value of one republic aboveis  another” (Third and Fourth, VII);

Here again, some glorious warn from Suzanne Mc Donald.  Beecause, she writes,  “[t]he Canons remind us that choosing is founded on God’s emperor beauty and not shaped on who competence seem (to us) to be ‘better’ or ‘more deserving,’” and since “[w]e can never ever contend of any individual, or of any organisation of people, that they can't be saved,” afterwards “this can assistance us to comprehend that conjunction are we authorised to confirm for ourselves that this kind of chairman yet not that kind of chairman deserves justice.”



I have been emphasizing some implications of a Canons’ call for Calvinists to respond to God’s electing beauty by active use in a incomparable tellurian community. we do this not to foster a specific agenda—there is positively most to discuss about in spelling out what active tractability means in a contemporary world. But this is not debatable: that a Canons’ insistence that we are  totally undeserved to accept a blessings of boundless beauty that come to us by Jesus Christ has surpassing implications for a attempts to worship God in a benefaction world. The summary of a Synod of Dordrecht is not merely difference addressed to a past. They ring loyal for us in many ways in this 21st century.

The call to rendezvous with a universe has to be seen opposite a credentials of a Canons warnings opposite “inquisitively meddling into a tip and low things of God” (First Head, XII), and “vainly attempting to examine a tip ways of a Most High” (First Head, XIV). Of course, there are times when a Canons limit on violating their possess warning inthis regard. There is mostly a glorious line between that  pretentious kind of “prying” and a mor commendable contemplative use of, as a  Canons easily word it, spending time “in holy indebtedness of these mysteries” of emperor beauty (First Head, XVIII).

            This approval in a Canons of a need for a Calvinism that combines both devout practices of healthy speculation of a mysteries with a common office of a goals of Christ’s Kingdom leads me to make a final unsentimental proposal.

            we take my specific evidence on this from studies of a story of Catholic “special vow” communities.[9] Throughout a centuries, when some Catholics have  felt that things were going severely off a lane spiritually or theologically, they did not leave a Catholic church—they shaped new eremite orders firm together by a holding of special vows. The Benedictines, for example, did not design each Christian to take vows that compulsory vital underneath as despotic village discipline, as set onward in a Rule of St. Benedict, yet they themselves did make vows to do so, in a wish that a incomparable universe would learn from a instance of people who chose to live out a joining to critical beliefs and practices.

            This special jubilee of a 400th anniversary of a Synod of Dort is, or so it seems to me, an suitable time for some of us to take a special vouch to contention to what we competence consider of as “the Rule of Dordrecht.”  The vouch in this box is to be, as Calvinists, committed to embodying and fortifying during all costs those teachings that core on a emperor beauty that alone can broach us from a inlet of a corrupted state—but doing so also  with a enterprise to uncover a universe what a “sweeter” and “softer” Calvinism would look  like.

And like a vows taken by a special eremite orders founded in a past, we would commend that to oath to live underneath a Rule of Dordrecht is to confirm to be out of step with most that goes on these days, not usually in a incomparable culture, yet even in a Christian community. It is also in recognition, though, of a unfortunate need in this 21st century to put into use a world-viewish divinity that  treats a associate tellurian beings—including unnecessary to say, associate Christians with whom with disagree—with  the munificence and honour that is estimable of those who have listened a charge to foster a call of a Gospel in a whole world,  “promiscuously and yet distinction.”



[1] Irvonwy Morgan, Prince Charles’s Puritan Chaplain (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1957), 162.

[2] Kosuke Koyama, No Handle on a Cross: An Asian Meditation on a Crucified Mind (Maryknoll NY: Orbis Books, 1977), 34.

[3] All citations from a Canons and other Reformed confessional papers will be from (ed.) Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes, Vol. III (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996).

[4]Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View (Downers Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 1984), 35.


[5] Walsh and Middleton, The Transforming Vision, 31-32.


[6] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., A Place to Stand: a Reformed Study of Creeds and Confessions (Grand Rapids: Bible Way, 1979), 138


[8] Suzanne McDonald, http://dojustice.crcna.org/article/canons-dort-no-line-between-deserving-and-undeserving

[9] A good new examine is Elizabeth Rapley, The Lord as Their Portion: The Story of a Religious Orders and How They Shaped Our World  (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2011).


Article source: http://wrfnet.org/articles/2018/11/dr-richard-mouw-describes-worldview-synod-dort

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