Trinitarian Theology and Piety: The Attributes of God in the Thought of Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) and William Perkins (1558-1602)
Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) is arguably remembered for his importance, at the zenith of Puritan or English Reformed scholastic divinity, in terms of the doctrine of God’s existence and attributes. He also contributed to Reformed orthodox or Puritan theology through his writings on the knowledge of God, the doctrine of regeneration, Christology, and the atonement. He wrote all these work in the midst of the theological turbulence of the later seventeenth century, with the underlying purpose of defending the inseparability of theological system and piety. His work, with its eclectic acceptance of medieval scholastic intellectual tradition as a tool, plays a significant role in the development of an historical phase of trinitarian and federal theology. However, The Existence and Attributes of God as Charnock’s magnum opus has been unexplored in terms of its view of the full doctrine of God in its trinitarian and covenantal dimensions. This is despite the fact that the Puritan concept of the divine attributes is the very doctrinal area in which the theological loci are concentrated into “a system” associated with the pursuit of piety in the period of high orthodoxy. This lack of a comprehensive overview concerning the Reformed orthodox system has brought about a misunderstanding of his theology. Charnock’s work has been regarded, even in recent scholarship, as the product of a mere scholastic rationalism. William Perkins (1558-1602) is undoubtedly the “father” of the doctrine of God in the early Puritan or Reformed orthodox period. Although misunderstandings concerning his scholastic Puritan theology and its trinitarian system and piety have been successfully rectified by other previous researchers, a confirmation of it through an investigation of his idea of God’s attributes is necessary in our study. This is in order to prove the identity of Charnock’s doctrine of God with the Puritan Reformed orthodox theological system allowing, of course, for the development of the historical and theological context between these two periods. In particular, Charnock’s understanding of the theological prolegomena, Scriptural foundations, and God’s existence and attributes is dealt with in this current study in comparison with Perkins’ work. Charnock’s work has been viewed in terms of a continuity between the early and high orthodox doctrine of God within the flow of English Puritan thought. During this examination, giving particular attention to Charnock’s treatise The Existence and Attributes of God, we have attempted to resolve the question of whether the past interpretation of Charnock’s theology or doctrine of God as a rigid speculative doctrinal formulation of Protestant scholasticism beyond Scripture is reasonable or not.