One striking aspect of the recent “Federal Vision” conflict in the various conservative micro-Reformed groups is a debate over what older theologians really meant and said. Examining the credentials of various people who speak with great assurance on these matters one sees repeatedly degrees in church/theology history studies. In fact, in Reformed circles, it seems that about the only advanced degrees offered are in historical studies.
I should like to offer what I regard as a considerable caveat. I do not believe that men who sing pop choruses or plodding Trinity Hymnal songs on Sunday can get very far into Luther or Calvin, or for that matter Turretin. Men whose personal opinion is that society can be left to the devil cannot really get into the outlook of the Reformers.
I submit that it is important to have some feel for what people were singing and how they were singing it at various times in history. Is it a coincidence that “Reformed scholasticism” began to develop at the same time that the fiery dance-like chorales and psalms of the Reformation began to die down into slow, plodding, even-note mush? It is a coincidence that the “Puritans” had problems with assurance of salvation, given their destruction of enthusiastic singing? I don’t think so. People who sing the psalms as real war chants, as war dances that precede battle, don’t have problems with assurance and don’t have time for scholasticism. Neither do people with strong, fully-sung liturgies.
Obviously, much can be understood by reading the writings left by various historical personages. But without understanding the songs they sang, from the inside, we will not have the Spirit that they had, and our understanding will be incomplete and flawed.