Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706): Text, Context, and Interpretation

Petrus van Mastricht (1630–1706): Text, Context, and Interpretation »is not just a statement of the state of the art on Mastricht studies. It also points the way forward for further exploration of Mastricht’s thought and the history of Reformed Orthodoxy in general« from the Preface by Carl R. Trueman.

This volume presents collected essays from scholars around the world on various aspects of Petrus van Mastricht (1630-1706) theology, philosophy, and reception in the context of the challenges of orthodoxy in his day. This book, then, locates Mastricht’s ideas in the context of the theological and philosophical currents of his day. The pre-Revolutionary status of theology and philosophy in the wake of the Enlightenment had many of the same problems we see in theology today as relating to the use and appropriation of classical theology in a 21st-century context. Ideas about the necessity of classical primary sources of Christianity in sustaining Reformed theology are once again becoming important, and Mastricht has many insights in this area. The last thirty years have witnessed a remarkable revolution in the study of Reformed Orthodoxy, that broad movement of theological consolidation which took place in the two centuries between the early breakthroughs of the Reformation and the reorganization of intellectual disciplines within the university world heralded by the arrival of the various intellectual and cultural developments known collectively as the Enlightenment. The old models which tended to prioritize one or two figures in the Reformation. In place of this older scholarship, we now have a growing number of studies which seek to place Reformed thinkers of the period in a much wider context. One of the results of this is that serious scholarly attention is now being directed at figures who were previously neglected, such as Petrus van Mastricht, a German-Dutch theologian, who has emerged as significant voices in shaping the Christianity of his day. He was the author of a major system of divinity. This work is in the process of being translated into English (two volumes are available at the time of writing). Mastricht is also the subject of a growing body of literature in English, of which this volume is a fine example. The essays contained in book work represent precisely the range of scholarly interests that the new approach to Reformed Orthodoxy has come to embody. Dealing specifically with the areas of theology, philosophy, and reception, this book points toward three critical areas of study.

The obvious benefit of this volume is that if presents readers a basic overview of the works of a once famous and now all but forgotten theologian.  Van Mastricht isn’t the usual topic of conversation at AAR and certainly not at SBL.  He doesn’t generate the interest of Barth or Calvin or Zwingli or Luther or even Brunner.  He wasn’t ‘flashy’ or ‘stupendous’ and he clearly did not leave such a legacy that children are named after him.

But in his day he was so very important.  And even today he deserves an audience.  And this book may serve a purpose if it causes people to think about the contributions of van Mastricht to Reformed theology.

To kick things off, Trueman offers as good an apologia for van Mastricht research as anyone could.  This is followed by Neele’s Preface which contains a short summary of the volume’s contents.

The body of the volume itself is comprised of a section on Theology, one on Philosophy, and one on Reception.  Important appendices provide readers with a chronology of his life and work, a bibliography of his publications, and a fairly extensive (if the fairly small body of secondary literature on an undeservedly obscure theologian can be called ‘extensive’) list of secondary materials.

The Theology section is the most interesting to me.  It provides essays on van Mastricht’s understanding of the twofold kingdom of Christ, the external and internal call, Christology of the Old Testament, and practical theology.  The Philosophy section and its three essays will appeal to those with a philosophical bent.  And the Reception section will appeal to those whose interests are more centered in historical theology.

The contributors are a relatively diverse group, including several Europeans, several Asians, and many Americans.  One is an entrepreneur, several are Professors, and one is a PhD student.  Their wide range of backgrounds means that this volume engages a range of perspectives.

In terms of the contents of the volume in relationship to scholarship and scholarly insight, it is very good indeed.  One essay was relatively weak but the remainder were really very well executed.

Petrus van Mastricht was a really very interesting person.  He could be a bit dry and a tad boring at times but that’s true of everyone who writes and especially is it true of theological works.  And that’s fine.  I much prefer someone who is a bit dull and yet remains relevant to someone who peppers their works with pop culture references that are outdated within a year or two of publication.  While trying to be witty and contemporary what they actually achieve is planned obsolescence.   Their jokes and puns and asides where reference is made to Spiderman or Captain Kirk may generate buzz, at the end of the day that’s all that’s generated.  They are all form and no substance.

And that’s an accusation that can never be made against those theologians whose works stand the test of time.  They are substance first and care nothing for the act of putting makeup on a pig.  They exalt substance over form, unlike the soon irrelevant form over substance crowd.

Petrus van Mastricht is all substance.  Whatever one thinks of his form.  And this little book is an ideal entry into his thought-world.  Give it a read.  You won’t regret it.  And there isn’t a pop-culture reference in the whole thing.  Thanks be to God.