Supporting Theological Reflection and Conversation that Strengthen the Ministry of the Church
A wonderful byproduct of the recent renewed interest in spirituality has been the recovery and growing availability of many historical texts and writers that were previously unknown or at least had become rather neglected. In particular, the valuable series, Classics of Western Spirituality, published by Paulist Press, has made readily accessible the worlds of Patristic, Orthodox, Spanish, German, French and English spirituality as well as the medieval mystics, women as well as men. Ignorance of this rich tradition is no longer excusable; church and theology have much to gain by paying it serious attention.
Lacunae remain, however, and this volume under review calls attention to onethe Dutch Second Reformation of the 17th and 18th centuries. This work by Carl Schroeder, focusing on one of the important leaders of the Second Reformation, Jodocus van Lodenstein (1620-77), is an excellent introduction to the movement. The author identifies strongly with the Reformed experiential tradition and the result is a sympathetic though not uncritical portrait. Primarily based on a thorough review of secondary sources rather than original scholarship, the volume does make a contribution to scholars by including some sixty pages of van Lodenstein text, translated into English.
Schroeder begins by placing the Second Reformation and van Lodenstein in the long tradition of Dutch mystical piety (including Calvin, Brethren of the Common Life), provides a useful overview of Dutch national and church history (William of Orange, Synod of Dordt), and then gives us an overview of Van Lodenstein’s life, education, ministry, and writing. Van Lodenstein came from a socially and economically privileged class and practiced a piety of stringent self-denial. He never married, was abstemious with respect to food, little given to social niceties, and preached a life of Christian discipleship in which renunciation played a major role. He even lived in a cloistered, monastic-like setting on an estate in Utrecht. The rigor was tied to disciplined spiritual habit in which a profound Jesus mysticism was prominent.
Van Lodenstein introduced the use of monthly repentance sermons to the Dutch Reformed Church, a practice he picked up from the Puritans. His monastic and mystical inclinations, combined with disappointments that the Dutch Reformed Church was not reforming the life of Dutch people, led Van Lodenstein beyond the Old Testament parallels between God, Israel and the Netherlands, to pay more attention to the Song of Songs, to the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas a Kempis. He also became critical of the tendency among Reformed Christians to react only negatively Roman Catholic honoring of Mary, insisting that it is proper for Reformed Christians to appreciate the purity and obedience of our Lord’s mother.
Finally, both in the appendices of sermons and in his chapter on Van Lodenstein as “Poet, Hymnist, and Writer” (ch. 5), Schroeder gives us enough material for us to get a good feel of Van Lodenstein the writer. His own summary (p. 122) is worth citing in full:
Schroeder does engage the scholarship of pietismhe makes much use of Stoeffler and regularly argues with Ritschlbut his chief interest is in Van Lodenstein’s relevance for the church today. His summary of the conditions for revival are on target but I do have two small quibbles with Schroeders “application.” I am not sure if simul iustus et peccator (pp. 78, 99) really defines a Reformed attitude to the world. and wonder about the usefulness of using H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ transforming culture” and Robert Schuller’s “self-esteem” theology as touchstones for a Reformed view of discipleship.
Nonetheless, this is a helpful volume, introducing us to a poorly known but important tradition of Christian spirituality in the Reformed tradition. Thankfully, some of its key texts are now also becoming available in English. The major work of the Second Reformation, William a Brakel’s multivolume classic, The Christian’s Reasonable Service has been published by Soli Deo Gloria Publishers and Baker Book House has inaugurated its Classics of Reformed Spirituality series with Jean Taffin’s The Marks of God’s Children and Jacobus Koelman’s The Duties of Parents. Tolle lege!
PUBLISHED IN THE BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE FOR REFORMED THEOLOGY, FALL 2004, VOL. 4, #2
The Institute for Reformed Theology is an Associated Program of
Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Virginia
All materials on this site are © The Institute for Reformed Theology, unless otherwise noted.