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Servant ReadingAnthony Tuckney by Joungchun Cho

Ryan M. McGraw

Anthony Tuckney (1599–1670): Theologian of the Westminster Assembly, by Joungchun Cho. Studies on the Westminster Assembly. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2017, 164 pages, $40.00.

The Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms continue to be one of the most important sets of Reformed creeds and confessions to the present day. The series of books in which this volume appears aims to help readers explore historical contexts, texts, and key figures in the formulation of these standards. Doing so helps readers better understand the theology behind these standards, which has potential to aid us in grappling with their continued use in the church today. This study of Anthony Tuckney, who was an important figure in the Westminster Assembly, draws our attention to an important theologian who is largely forgotten in Reformed circles today. As such, this book contributes to a broader understanding of the Westminster Standards that will appeal primarily to ministers, scholars, and interested church members.

Cho treats Tuckney’s historical context and role in the Westminster Assembly as well as key themes of his theology, such as the relationship between reason and faith and especially the importance and implications of union with Christ. He includes several interesting facts in his analysis of Tuckney’s thought. For example, Tuckney defended the use of creeds and pressed their utility in promoting the unity of the church, but he strongly opposed requiring ministers to subscribe to such creeds (58). It is difficult to see the congruity between these two assertions, since it raises the question as to how creeds that no one subscribes to could serve as standards of unity. Seventeenth century views of creedal subscription, especially surrounding the Westminster Assembly, certainly merit further exploration.

Cho’s passing comment that the Westminster Confession of Faith “as a whole” is thoroughly Trinitarian merits further attention as well in relation to the development of Reformed Trinitarian theology throughout every locus of theology (82). While other topics will doubtless grab the attention of other readers, the book traces the primary contours of Tuckney’s thought in light of the international, cross-confessional, and catholic contexts of Reformed orthodoxy. The primary contribution of this book to recent scholarship is that it singles out an important member of the Westminster Assembly. There is nothing earth shattering, however, in Cho’s assessment of the various loci of Reformed theology, since most of his conclusions are already well-established in light of the broader trajectories of seventeenth-century theology.

While this book is a fair assessment of Tuckney’s theology that draws from both English and Latin primary sources, the author does not describe the context broadly enough. For example, he compares Tuckney to Turretin alone in treating the interrelationship between reason and faith, and he compares him to no one in explaining the relationship between adoption and justification in the order of salvation. With regard to the latter case, he notes that Tuckney placed adoption prior to justification (79). In my estimation, this appeared to be a minority position among Reformed authors, represented by Edward Leigh in particular. This observation about Tuckney is also hard to square with Cho’s explanation that Tuckney regarded adoption as the positive side of justification and that justification was the legal right to adoption (119-20). Additionally, it is unclear how this study expands our understanding of Reformed orthodoxy beyond bringing a neglected member of the Westminster Assembly into scholarly discussion. However, Cho’s explanations of the areas of Reformed thought remain clear and helpful.

At some points, lack of broad contextualization detracts from the accuracy of his analysis. For example, Cho writes that effectual calling is the first benefit flowing from union with Christ (110). However, the citation that he gives from Tuckney on page 112 contradicts this assertion, since Tuckney stated clearly (in line with the Westminster Standards) that believers are united to Christ through faith in their effectual calling. Cho’s analysis requires greater nuance. While some Reformed authors, such as Thomas Goodwin, affirmed a “virtual union” with Christ prior to effectual calling and saving faith, all save the Antinomians and later hyper Calvinists denied that actual justification preceded effectual calling. This means that while every component of the order of salvation was rooted in Christ’s person and work, not every benefit of redemption flowed directly from the believer’s actual union with Christ (contra Cho’s statement about the ordo salutis in the Larger Catechism on page 135). Again, a broader contextual study of English and Latin primary sources would add greater nuance to treating such questions.

Cho’s study of Anthony Tuckney is clear and helpful, yet it is a bit incomplete. However, it is easy to read and short, and readers can use it to clarify their understandings of the doctrine of divine revelation, the doctrine of God, and the order of salvation in Reformed thought. Though it lacks nuance at points and does not cover much new ground, it is nonetheless an important piece of the puzzle for everyone who desires to gain a better grasp of the historical background of the Westminster Standards.

Ryan M. McGraw is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church serving as a professor of systematic theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, North Carolina. Ordained Servant Online, July–August 2018.

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