Whiggism and Reformed Scholasticism

While preparing for an upcoming class on Protestant Scholasticism, I re-read an article by Richard A. Muller in an excellent collection of  essays on the “Return of Religion” in intellectual history edited by Alister Chapman, John Coffey, and Brad S. Gregory. In this piece, Muller argues that much of the older research dealing with early modern Protestant thought suffers from a certain “Whiggism” (Sir Herbert Butterfield). He explains:

The Whig party of the eighteenth century is the ancestor of modern British liberalism – with reference to historical method and to an underlying, often unanalyzed, assumption in historiography, the term indicates not only a sense of progress in history but a consistent reading of the past with primary reference to the present. There has been, in other words, a fundamental tendency in theological and philosophical historiography to identify what is important in a past era on the basis of the seeming importance, influence, or relevance of a person, idea, or event to the present-day self-understanding of the writer or the society, rather than asking the documents of the past era what persons, ideas, or events were then understood as important or influential – or, indeed, rather than asking the documents themselves what concepts, language, and contexts are requisite to the understanding of the documents!

Although past decades have seen a considerable shift in historical scholarship on early modern thought, it appears to me that “Whiggism” is still very much of a problem, particularly among theologians with a strong confessional interest.