I’ve begun reading R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confession after someone recommended it to me. I will confess that I am leery as I begin to open the pages. While confessionally in agreement with the folks from Westminster West, I find I am not in agreement practically or theoretically. In other words, we seem to differ on how to apply the theology we hold (mostly) in common.
But, I will attempt to give a fair reading to the book. I hope I will not be unnecessarily critical. I hope to remember what I wrote on a post-it note some years ago-
Discernment is recognizing both what is true and what is false.
Therefore, I will attempt to affirm that which is true as well as reject that which is false. Or at least responding to that with which I disagree (since I am not the ultimate authority on what is true).
Clark begins with identifying the mainline, borderline and sideline denominations. I am not sure why he calls some “sideline” but that’s not important now. We are familiar with the mainline Reformed denominations (the PCUSA, RCA & UCC) which have largely squandered their theological heritage. While there are surely some faithful congregations, as a whole they would appear to have become apostate as they begin denying essential orthodox doctrines.
He identifies the borderline denominations as the CRC and the EPC. He (this was written in 2008, to be fair) identifies the CRC as moving toward the mainline and the EPC to be moving toward the sideline. With a large number of former PCUSA churches entering the EPC since that time, I think they are shifting back to the mainline. The recent approval of female pastors would be a case in point.
Clark right points out the confusion as to what “Reformed” actually means. It now means nearly anything. Some use it so narrowly as to identify their position on creation, law or music. There is a great variety of practice among those churches taking the name Reformed. There would also appear to be a great variety of theology among them. I suspect he would disagree with me, but I think our theological system should be the same (therefore preferring the older term Particular Baptists to Reformed Baptists), but there is no need for uniformity of practice (which is what I am reading, fairly or unfairly, between the lines).
“It is the argument of this book that the Reformed confession is the only reasonable basis for a stable definition of the Reformed theology, piety and practice.”
I have no qualms with that.
He refers to Phillip Schaff’s (he of the 8 volume History of the Christian Church) inaugural address. There he identifies rationalism and subjectivism as the 2 great diseases that threaten to kill the church, including the Reformed Heritage.
Rationalism results in the question to know all as God knows it. They want to be right, to have absolute certainty on matters about which Scripture is less than clear. They do not distinguish between essential matters and matters for the well-being of the church. All become equally important and you must toe the line. This group would be the TRs (truly Reformed or thoroughly Reformed). If you’ve had a bad experience with a Reformed person, it was probably one of these.
Subjectivism (or sectarianism) is the pursuit of the immediate experience of God apart from the appointed means of grace. Where I suspect Clark and I may differ is the number of appointed means of grace. But maybe I’m wrong. Either way, these people place their emphasis on the emotional, the experiential. They fail to see that Scripture guides our spiritual experience lest we have a counterfeit spiritual experience.
Clark notes how a growing number of younger people are beginning to embrace more traditional forms of worship. The modernistic experiment of the boomers is insufficient for them.
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