Doubting Thomas: Why the Evangelical Crush on Aquinas Needs to Mature
Doubting Thomas: Why the Evangelical Crush on Aquinas Needs to Mature

Thomism is experiencing a renaissance in theology, but there’s a reason it’s controversial.

To engage with the medieval Italian priest Thomas Aquinas (1224–74) is to approach one of history’s greatest theological giants. Aquinas is second only to Augustine in his influence on Western Christianity—and his legacy of Thomism is a vast ocean. Academic discussions in theology and philosophy demand Aquinas and Thomism as conversation partners.

Yet evangelicals, in particular, have had an unresolved relationship with Aquinas over the years. The pendulum of 20th-century evangelical scholarship on Aquinas has swung between strongly negative appraisals (from Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til, for example) and, since the 1980s, more appreciative receptions (such as from Norman Geisler and Arvin Vos). Yet in the last decade or so, there has been a Thomist renaissance within evangelical circles.

Evangelical apologists were first attracted to his epistemology, especially his defense of an evidentialist view of the relationship between faith and reason, which assumes that reason can ascertain the existence of God. Evangelical theologians then began retrieving his “classical” doctrine of God’s oneness in the face of modern Christological and Trinitarian trends, which they perceived as slippery slopes to unorthodox views—which promote a social trinity and a hierarchical subordination of Jesus to the Father, for instance.

In the face of pressures from secularization and the identity crisis felt in some evangelical quarters, Aquinas can be perceived as a bulwark of a “traditional” theology that needs to be urgently recovered—and is thus in danger of being idealized in an uncritically positive retrieval.

Previous generations of Protestant scholars …

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