Turretin on the Benefits of Walking the Old Paths and the Dangers of Novelty in Theological Expression

“I judged that the profane caprice of crafty men for the new and curious interests of the prurient ought to be carefully avoided, and I did nothing more zealously than that I should not turn away from the form of sensible speech as well as from the simplicity and purity (elikrineia) of the pristine faith which our pious predecessors after Christ and the apostles passed down to us and which was constantly maintained here as much as ever could be preserved by me undefiled.

Of course I am aware that this will by no means suit the taste of many people who think that this age is so fertile; to whom old truths appear worthless and who esteem nothing but mysterious and modern thinking; who are “wise in their own conceit” (idiognōmones) and “cherish their own opinions” (dokēsisophoi) as if this were the standard of the truth. Under the front of the greater light and of a deeper dragnet for truth displayed before the ignorant, the traditions are cast down, the good constitutions are destroyed, “their own interpretations and their own decisions are esteemed” (idias epilyseis and kurias doxas, cf. 2 Pet. 1:20). They take care to take on the resemblance of prophecies and just as if they were in good mind they do not blush to proclaim that those who differ with them are empty-headed, ignorant and slavishly addicted to old forms.

But whatever they ascribe or judge to be foolish because of this vice, I consider it with true, heartfelt praise and judge this fact to be special evidence of commendation. For since each of the oldest things is most true, no description of better stamp can be given especially in sacred argument than that something has less novelty. Old is best here and that which goes back to earliest antiquity. It was discovered through much sad experience that they always dangerously go astray who spurn the well-known and well-worn paths in order to cut new ones which lead off as much as possible into the pathless heights and precipices.”[1]

1Turretin, Francis. Institutes of Elenctic Theology: Volume 1. Translated by George Musgrave Giger, edited by James T. Dennison Jr. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992, Preface to the Reader, xli.

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