Book Review: Recovering the Reformed Confession, by R. Scott Clark
Synopsis: By all appearances, Reformed Christianity is in a heyday of growth and fervor; but how well-rooted in the historic Reformation, with its prolific confessions and deliberate piety, is the modern Reformed resurgence among younger Evangelicals? R. Scott Clark would argue that it has more to do with bare predestinarianism than with the full-orbed Reformed life of the past; and in making his case, he demonstrates a competent understanding both of the past and the present, and is not at all hesitant to prescribe very specific steps towards true reformation. Whether one should finally agree or disagree with all of Clark's prescriptions is a little beside the point: in any case, he has accurately described a troubling trend, and he has been bold enough to suggest a remedy. He has brought the issues to the table, and shown that they demand a response. May the discussion that his work stimulates assist the Reformed community, in the spirit of their forebears, to be semper reformanda â€“ always reforming.
In an arresting epithet, R. Scott Clark, wondering â€œwhatever became of Reformed theology, piety, and practice,â€ refers to many contemporary Reformed churches and individuals as modern narcissists, so absorbed in themselves and their own importance that they have utterly lost sight of their heritage. As stinging an accusation as this is, one can't help but suspect that he is essentially right. But if, in fact, he is right, two questions must immediately come to mind: â€œHow did we get to this point?â€ and â€œWhere can we go from here?â€ The remainder of Recovering the Reformed Confession addresses these two basic questions in order.
Employing a great deal of historical acumen, Clark first supports his thesis that the dearth of rootedness in modern Reformed Christianity has come about through two interconnected false approaches to theology and piety, which he has called the quest for illegitimate religious certainty (QIRC) and the quest for illegitimate religious experience (QIRE). Falling into the former category would be both the impulse to make a litmus test for orthodoxy such issues as have not historically borne the weight of sine qua non for Reformed doctrine, such as a literal period of seven twenty-four hour days in the first chapter of Genesis; and also, the impulse to formulate doctrines that are in contradiction to essential Reformed tradition, such as the recasting of justification in accordance with the ideas of covenant moralism. Falling into the latter category would be the strains of piety that have come down from Anabaptist traditions, and the revivalism of Edwards and Whitefield, which Clark sees as organically connected to the revivalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
After diagnosing the problems, Clark suggests remedies: the answer to QIRC is summed up in the concept of confessionalism, which means more than just the customary adherence to the three forms of unity or the Westminster standards. True, these foundational documents should be given more attention than they often have been granted; but also, in the spirit of the first reformers, Clark would argue that the Reformed community today needs to be in the same process of drafting its own confessions, which address the issues confronting the modern Church, in harmony with the traditions of the catholic church from the apostolic era down through the present. The answer to QIRE is summed up in the regulative principle of worship. Although this principle has fallen on hard times, Clark would argue that its strict, traditional, and reasonable enforcement is a non-negotiable if our worship would be pleasing to God and nourishing to our faith.
Not everyone will agree with Clark's robust criticism of Edwards, nor will everyone be entirely convinced by his strictly a capella, inspired-text only application of the regulative principle of worship for singing in the church. But what everyone will doubtless find is a penetrating analysis of a very troubling problem, and a bold, reasonably-argued prescription for change. If for that reason alone, this is a book that needed to be written, it is a book that needs to be read, and it is a book that needs to be interacted with.
Available at the Monergism Bookstore.