Section I: Introductory matters
Chapter 3: Ames and the Marrow of Theology
Major Themes of the Marrow of Theology
Ames begins with this sentence. "Theology is the doctrine of living to God."
Theology isn't just knowledge, but living rightly before God.
I have a semantic quibble with this. We have another word that serves better for "living to God:" piety. Theology is more knowledge oriented, and a legitimate pursuit. It ought never be pursued without piety, but no pursuit should. We don't therefore redefine theology because we are concerned that right living is often divorced from right thinking. Calvin said we have to know God to honor Him rightly, so the knowledge is not an end in itself, either. It is to lead to piety, to fearing God with all our minds. But sorting out the covenants of grace and works, the omnipotence of God, and the offices of the church is not itself living to God.
Beeke/Jones also point to Ames' emphasis on the will in our response of faith to God. Most reformers said faith began in the mind and wound up in the will. Ames said the will was primary. One can assent passively and mentally without true conversion. Again, the authors link Ames with Calvin, who assumes a conversion will result in the whole man drawn to God. But this doesn't prove the point. Calvin says "faith is a knowledge of the divine benevolence toward us and a sure persuasion of its truth" (Institutes III.2.12). So we have the same problem we had with the definition of theology above. A concern (very warranted!) that faith will stop with mere knowledge and not penetrate the heart and will, is not sufficient warrant to redefine faith as primarily will-oriented.
This is an affliction I've found among theologians old and current. Some do it unwittingly out of mere zeal for their concerns. Others do it knowingly as a tactic to shape the debate. Either way, it often brings confusion over the theologian's intent. If knowledge isn't primary (at least chronologically) in faith, then are you out to re-balance emphases without rejecting the role of knowledge in faith? Or are you subversively and indirectly working against an established definition?
Given the authors' love of Ames, and my critique, I can see I'll differ with them in emphasis often. Still, I do have a lot of sympathy for Ames' concern. Our knowledge always outstrips our obedience, and we should appeal to the will as often as we do the mind. The more intellectually minded in the Reformed world especially need this reminder from Ames. This hit home to me personally after a Sunday of preaching to persuade of certain arguments regarding communion, then doing a membership interview hearing professions of faith and recalling that communion with God is the main point.