Alumni Interview: Brian Lee Part 2
3. Among the myriad of subjects you could have studied, why did you focus upon historical theology?
I was a double major at Stanford, History and Religious Studies, before I realized I could graduate early and save some money by dropping the History and focusing on an honors thesis. So history was always an integral part of my understanding of the faith. In fact, it was an integral part in my becoming Reformed. While still an evangelical, I became fascinated with Kierkegaard, but as dazzled as I was by his creativity I had a nagging question about his orthodoxy. But I had no clue what standard to compare him to. This riddle seemed to expose a major flaw of evangelicalism, a real lack of historical awareness and groundedness that left it fundamentally open to development. The Reformation, and in time the Reformed confessions, opened the door to a scriptural bar of orthodox that was far more comprehensive and effective than evangelical Biblicism.
4. What drew you to study Johannes Cocceius?
President Godfrey is the proximate cause for the study of Cocceius (1603 – 1669) in particular, though Meredith Kline providing the efficient cause by introducing me to covenant theology. The power and clarity of the Reformed doctrine of the covenant presented something of a puzzle — if it was so powerful and clear, why did it not develop more clearly earlier in the history of the church? Why in the sixteenth century should a concept develop so rapidly which hadn’t developed previously? It was similar to my earlier questions about Kierkegaard… the very brilliance was a cause of doubt.
Explaining my interest in covenant to Godfrey over a burger one day, he suggested I go study Cocceius, and find out if he really was a dispensationalist. This primary interest in Cocceius was abetted when I arrived at Calvin Seminary, where friendly library staff let me keep a copy of Cocceius’s ten volume opera omnia on my desk for my years of study there, the material cause of my Cocceius study, so to speak. That kind of direct and constant access was a real strength of study at Calvin Seminary and the Meeter Center at Hekman Library, and it encouraged me further.
I realized that the creativity and breadth of a biblical scholar like Meredith Kline was not unprecedented in the Reformed tradition, where exploration within confessional bounds is encouraged. Indeed, I found a lot of similarities between Kline and Cocceius, though I’m not aware that Kline ever drew upon Cocceius directly. I think their similarities were born of working with the same set of biblical materials with the same fundamental confessional convictions.