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Recovering the Reformed Confession Paperback – October 15, 2008
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"While I am enthusiastic about what has been called the 'young Reformed awakening,' we still await a renaissance of genuinely confessional Reformed theology, piety, and practice. Scott Clark's historical work, diagnosis and critique, and constructive recommendations are all worth rigorous and respectful engagement. I welcome this robust entry into the discussion of what it means for us to be confessional and Reformed in the twenty-first century." --J. Ligon Duncan III, senior minister, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi
"At a time when 'all that is solid melts in the air' and distinct colors fade to grey, R. Scott Clark reminds us of the loveliness, depth, and richness of Reformed Christianity. Not only TULIP, but a confession that bears fruit in both faith and practice, the account that you will find in this book may challenge, but its point is not to be missed." --Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen professor of systematic theology and apologetics, Westminster Seminary California
"In a day when many follow charming personalities, fundamentalism, heterodoxy, individualism, and postmodernity and attempt to commandeer the Reformed tradition, Dr. Clark brings a much-needed corrective. He bases a Reformed identity in its understanding of the Scriptures through its historic confessions and creeds and a robust understanding of historic Reformed worship. Well researched, thoughtfully presented, and provocative, this work is a must-read for ministers, elders, and anyone who claims to be Reformed." --J. V. Fesko, pastor, Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Woodstock, Georgia
About the Author
R. Scott Clark, D.Phil., (University of Oxford) is Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California, where he has taught since 1997. He is the author of Caspar Olevian and the Substance of the Covenant: The Double Benefit of Christ (2005), editor of and contributor to Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (2007), and co-editor of and contributor to Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (1999). He is Associate Pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church
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Dr Clark has an interesting chapter on confessional subscription and thoroughly summarizes the debates within conservative Reformdom. To be honest, I couldn't follow it, though I suspect it raised an interesting point for Dr Clark: he wants to hold to a thorough and strict confessional subscription, yet he recognizes the he differs from the Confessions on the civil magistrate and creation.
He has a strong chapter on the Regulative Principle and convincingly argues for the singing of only inspired songs (not EP, though).
Analysis and Conclusion
Regarding Clark's distaste of "revival" scholarship, one must note: There are some inconsistencies and factual errors in Clark's analysis, though. Murray does not simply lump the Arminian and Calvinistic revivals in the same category. He is very critical of the Second Great Awakening towards its end. Further, Murray does not promote experience over doctrine as the basis of unity. Murray is specifically arguing, however, that the communions in North America shared a common, if somewhat broad, doctrinal agreement on soteriological concerns. I would probably side with Clark on this one, since Murray's account downplays important ecclesial issues, but it is not the case that Murray simply compromised doctrinal agreement. Most importantly, however, is that Clark does not come to grips with Iain Murray's distinction between revival and revivalism. The latter is not merely hoping for the Spirit of God to be poured out as an alternative to the means of grace. It is more properly seen as "whooping and hollering" until the decisions come. Revival, on the other hand, is when God sovereignly displays his power among his people in an unusual way. Further, Clark seems to grant that distinction with regard to MLJ (Clark, 81) but not with Murray.
I fear that Clark's model of QIRE, while valuable, can be overused to filter out any contrary evidence. Further, it does not account for a lot of the Puritans' experiences where they were in fact met with much of the Spirit of God. At this point if Clark dismisses them and uses Calvin's praxis against them, then it is hard to see how he is not adopting some form of the Calvin vs. Calvinists scheme.
I have had some questions about Clark's analysis. I think I have demonstrated that it is incomplete. I agree with his overall vision for the Reformed church's sanctification through Word and Sacrament and that those who constantly seek revival downplay this. Further, I agree with all of his criticisms of Edwards and most of his criticisms of Whitefield. That said, however, Clark's analysis really can't account for the fact that God indeed does refresh his church in powerful ways from time to time. Admittedly, we are interpreting facts at this point, but they are still facts. While we shouldn't sit on our hands waiting for revival to come, that does not mean that when God sovereignly displays his power in our lives we should say to him, "No God, this isn't how you work." (Of course, I don't think Clark is saying that).
We are grateful that Clark has shown us how to develop a piety around a specifically Reformed epistemology. A proper use of the ectypal distinction can save one from spiritual death. The ectypal distinction is one of the most useful Reformed tools against some traditionalistic apologetics. If we can only know according and within the human limits of knowledge, then we can rest content with a modest certainty on some important issues (election, the canon, etc). I have to wonder, though, if Clark's model can accommodate all the evidence. For example, how can a proper limited certainty coexist with the WCF's affirmation that we can have "an infallible assurance?"
Clark's model is good and should be employed in the Reformed world. I think, however, it might become a victim to its own successes. As when Vos' "already-not yet" model proved very helpful in eschatology, it also unwittingly served to stifle further discussion.
My bigger gripe is that the first third of the book is hard going, and seems to focus unnecessarily on certain specific details in a way that seems to me to be a little excessive. Once Clark gets going on what needs to happen to recover a reformed identity and practice things really pick up.
I think the author would do the evangelical world a service by writing a shorter popular-level version of this book for a more general audience (this book clearly assumes a reader that has at least a bachelors degree in theology).
While there are a few minor points of the argument itself that I disagree with, overall I find it persuasive and I highly recommend it.