Friday, July 3, 2009

Book Review: 'Recovering the Reformed Confession'

Recovering the Reformed Confession by R. Scott Clark (P & R, 2008)

What does it mean to be Reformed? The answer given will vary from person to person, with many identifying predestination as the identifying doctrine. In Recovering the Reformed Confession, R. Scott Clark argues that this is a mistake. 'Reformed', rather, should be defined in reference to the Reformed confessions. This stimulating book is in two parts, part one describes the crisis in Protestantism, part two the recovery. In part one the crisis is described under two headings, the quest for illegitimate religious certainty and the quest for illegitimate religious experience. The author comes from a continental Reformed background, so some readers will question whether in fact 'Reformed' for Professor Clark is perhaps more a denominational title than a description of a stream of Christian thought, as the term means in a British context. Readers may also take issue with his view that Dr. Lloyd-Jones' teaching was more Pentecostal than Reformed. Nevertheless, this is a book that will stimulate thought, perhaps in part because it is a book that most readers will not agree with completely.
The two illegitimate quests that Professor Clark identifies are real. Under the quest for illegitimate religious experience (which he abbreviates as QIRC), he suggests that a conservative Christian identity has been defined in some circles by doctrines that are historically unimportant, and confessionally absent. While some will no doubt bristle at his suggestion that young-earth creationism is in this category, he makes a good point - just because someone disagrees with us on this point does not automatically put them outside the pale of orthodoxy. One thing that really irritates me is the claim made by some Dispensationalists that those who are not dispensationalists are somehow 'closet liberals', and that amillennialism is the source of all evil! (the JWs are pre-millennial, so put that in your pipe and smoke it!).
The quest for illegitimate religious certainty is a product of modernism, in that it is the result of a desire, in a changing world, to have everything fixed firmly. To have a system with no points at which there is any uncertainty at all. It is understandable. It is also wrong. A prime example of QIRC in many conservative British Reformed churches is the King James Only movement, the insistence that the King James Bible alone is the Word of God. Certainty. The most common criticism of modern versions is the textual notes that most have at the bottom of the page. This, we are confidently told, undermines the Word of God. Why? Ironically many American King James Only advocates (such as the notorious Gail Riplinger) are rabid anti-Calvinists, yet Reformed people lap this stuff up. We are told that modern Bibles 'omit' certain passages, yet this is pure question-begging - could it not be said with equal authority that the AV 'inserts' them? Who made the AV the standard? And what doctrine is removed from the ESV, the NASB and the NKJV? No, the reason people embrace this position is a desire for a certainty above what God has given.
Under the quest for illegitimate religious experience (QIRE), Clark pinpoints the desire for experience of God outside of the means He has given (the stated services of the Church, the Scriptures, prayer, the Ordinances, etc.). Most Reformed people will instantly think of Charismaticism in this category. Clark's opposition to any sort of revival is worrying here - again perhaps a result of the excesses of American revivalism, and a Continental Reformed affiliation, where the category does not exist the way that it does in Wales. He does however make a valid point, that we tend to place far too much emphasis on an unmediated experience of God and not enough on the means God has given us.
The second section on the recovery points to a way back to a genuine Reformed identity. Clark begins by emphasising the Reformed distinction between God and man, and the difference between our knowledge and God's knowledge. He argues for honest subscription to the Reformed confessions because they are Biblical, not insofar as they are Biblical. Chapter six is on 'The Joy of Being Confessional', and chapter seven on 'Reformed Worship', namely the Regulative Principle. Clark agues for the singing of only inspired Scripture in worship, a position that is of course contentious - but the great value of this book is that it stirs you up to think.
Despite the points at which I disagree with Professor Clark, I found this a stimulating book, and would recommend it to anyone who has the maturity to read books with which they may disagree.


William Wilson said...


The Puritan said...

It's not good being confessional about everything *but* the Word of God. Gail Riplinger agrees with WCF chapter 1. Clark doesn't. He'll give you spin to justify his position, but bottom line is Clark does not agree with WCF chpater 1.
Clark follow Warfield in the 19th century downgrade on the Word of God. And it is questionable whether he understands WCF chapter 10. He may know what it says, but enough of what he writes suggests he considers baptism to make that chapter mute.

Interesting that Riplinger quotes Calvinists extensively and recognizes the role of Calvinists in defending and dying for the pure and whole Word of God (against the Romanists, which, by the way, is what she is truly "rabid" against; which, by the way, is why modern day Reformed academics mock her for the most, the fact that she is some kind of old-fashioned fighter against the Papists). It's so not academic elite, you know?

Clark's two coinages are shallow, by the way. The Word of God itself gives us reason to seek certainty in it. And, again, that pesky chapter 10 of the WCF (which is reproduced word-for-word in the LBCF1689) kind of makes his "quest for illegitimate religious experience" - unmediated by *man*, goodness - a bit unconfessional.

Otherwise Clark is very good on classical Covenant Theology (that is, when he's not attempting to make it the servant of infant baptism).

Highland Host said...

Dear 'Puritan'. I do not know where the Reformed Confessions make the 1611 AV the standard. I must have a different edition of the WCF from yours. In fact many of the Puritans preferred the 1599 Geneva Bible to the AV, perhaps because the Geneva bears a better testimony to the deity of Christ in Romans 9.5 and 2 Peter 1.1.

It never ceases to amaze me how Gail Riplinger is given a free pass by so many in the Reformed community, after her statement that the Five Points form 'a satanic pentagram', and her documented dishonesty and feeble historical research. She has hacked quotations apart to make them imply things 180 degrees opposed to what they were actually saying. Her confusing B.F. Wescott, Bishop of Durham, with the London Mortician W.W. Westcott is sadly symptomatic of an attitude among KJV-Only folk that has astonished me - the idea that any libel or slander is bad enough for those who are disagreed with!

Dr. James R. White, whose book 'The King James Only Controversy' was my first encounter with any arguments AGAINST the King James Only position, is also opposed to Rome, yet seems to be able to do it without twisting the truth. I pray that God will show you, as he has shown me, that a position that cannot be defended honestly is not worth defending at all.

People like you are actually driving people away from the King James Only movement - I know you and your ilk had that effect on me!

The Puritan said...

>People like you are actually driving people away from the King James Only movement - I know you and your ilk had that effect on me!

On this subject, this foundational subject, I can neither drive you away nor draw you in. Something much higher is involved in that.

>I do not know where the Reformed Confessions make the 1611 AV the standard. I must have a different edition of the WCF from yours.

No, you're right, the divines were waiting for something to be discovered so Christians could have the real Word of God.

Highland Host said...

Ah, the old idea that, if the AV ALONE is not the Word of God, then it cannot be the Word of God.

As I have noted, most of the Puritans used the 1599 Geneva Bible, which differs from the AV just as the New King James does. They were aware the different manuscripts of the Bible read differently (all manuscripts differ from one another), yet did not think that this undermined the Christian faith.

We do indeed need certainty where the Word of God is concerned, but not at the expense of truth. The place of that certainty is in what the Bible teaches, however. No major doctrine is affected by the manuscript variants.

I understand the need, in this ever-changing world where truth is desregarded, to be certain in everything. But we cannot sacrifice truth on the altar of certainty. The variations exist, and we cannot deny that. To give an example, 1 John 5.7 is found only in a small number of very late Greek manuscripts, and is included in the printed Greek texts that were the basis for the AV primarily because it was in the Latin Vulgate. Yet the King James Only movement, at this point, asks me to believe that this text is original, that it somehow (as Jerome thought) 'dropped out' of the Greek text and had to be re-inserted from the Latin. What? Did God NOT preserve His Word in the Greek? The Romanists think not, of course, but I would rather not agree with them here!

The Puritan said...

I can see you are new to this subject. You make arguments and reference White as if there is no opposition to such things.

And the Geneva used the Masoretic in the O.T., the NKJV doesn't. That is a major difference.

It's true the Geneva was popular with the Puritans well after the AV was published. It's also true that the Puritans - as all Bible-believing Christians - adopted the AV in time. There was reason for both.

The mantra that no doctrine is changed by the modern versions based on the corrupt manuscripts has been disproven over and over. It's a mantra the modern versions industrial complex can't live without. Precious doctrine given death by a thousand cuts is the worst kind of change.

The downgrade on the Word of God happened in the 19th century. Some followed it then, some didn't. Many, if not most, follow it now (the famine of the end times is for the Word of God), some don't. You'll find that many Reformed Christians are in the camp today that don't follow that downgrade, if you look around.

A received text is something you look up to; a document is something you look down on and determine the content of. The former angers and exposes those who are still under the tyranny of their vanity, worldly pride, and rebellious self-will.

Highland Host said...

New to this subject? Not hardly. I was making pro-KJV arguments seven years ago, and reading pro-KJV-Only materials as well. Mostly from the Trinitarian Bible Society, I grant you, seeing as the TBS are actually fairly sane, but still, I was reading them. I know the opposition to White, as I was PART of the opposition. I read White's book as an opponent, not a naive supporter. On the other hand, I have read both sides. When one side uses bad arguments, I tend to distrust it.

Your facile remarks about the difference between 'document' and 'received text' confuses me. I do not look down on all 'documents', as after all, a legal summons is a document, and you look down on that at your peril! How much more peril is there in looking down at a document backed not by the power of the state, but by the power of almighty God! And from whom, pray, did you receive the TR? For that matter, who decided it was the 'Received Text'? Indeed, for that matter, which is your 'TR'? Where can I find it? I hope Ms. Riplinger will be able to tell me in her latest book when it arrives from over the Atlantic.

And indeed, pray tell me WHICH cardinal doctrines are affected by the manuscript variations followed by the evangelical (i.e. excluding the NRSV, NEB, and other liberal versions) modern versions? Particularly the NKJV and the ESV, as I'm no fan of the NIV.