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.