In the 3rd chapter of Recovering the Reformed Confession, R. Scott Clark tackles the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience. In this chapter he addresses inroads of mysticism into Reformed practice. It was here that I learned that I am part of the problem. He lays much of the problem at the feet of … Jonathan Edwards. As a result, people like Tim Keller, John Gerstner and R.C. Sproul (under whom I studied the Theology of Edwards’ Sermons in seminary) are unduly influenced by this quest and part of the problem.
But first, he mentions Reformed people seeking God’s moral will through listening for the “still small voice.” It seems illegitimate to make a crisis out of a few people who might do this. I’m more familiar (though not supportive) with people “listening” for God’s will in matter upon which Scripture does not speak: this person as a spouse? this job or that one? I would disagree that this is a widespread problem in Reformed Communities. There are no data to substantiate his view of the “crisis”.
“If someone asks, ‘What is God teaching you these days?’ one has the sense that the expected answer is not to be a summary of this week’s sermon or reflection on the significance of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, but an insight derived from a special experience or private experience.”
This troubles me. First, because it unfairly represents the person who asks this question. Second, it neglects one of the ordinary means of grace- personal reading of the Scripture (I also find prayer conspicuously absent from his discussion). He bases his criticism on what “he feels”, subjectivism. From my subjective experience, when I ask someone this question, I mean “what is God teaching you from His Word. When someone asks me this, that is how I answer. As we read God’s Word, the Spirit is at work. Themes emerge from Scripture that we need to pay attention to. This is not private revelation, but the illumination of the Scriptures (which we see in WCF I).
He then lets his personal agenda take control regarding the worship service. Since the Scriptures contain 150 Psalms, there should not be a problem with a church that wants to sing to God (I’ve never been anywhere where there was not some introduction, Scripture or liturgical element to break up the songs). Is there something wrong with Power Point in a context in which people don’t read music? Must we cling to the form of hymn books and paper when the point is to actually sing?
Where are all these Reformed churches with dramatic presentations? Where is the liturgical dance? Have they happened? Yes, these examples happen. But I find no reason to think that they are now common place among Reformed Churches.
While I agree that the quest for an unmediated encounter with God is illegitimate, I’m not convinced how prevalent this is in our community. But that is because of how differently we view revival. He seems to equate revival with revivalism.
I have been influenced by Iain Murray’s book Revival and Revivalism ( which Clark criticizes). Murray argues that revivalism is grounded in Pelagianism and the use of illegitimate means for coerce a “decision” and the focus on the subjective experience. Many people, like Murray, use “revival” to describe what Clark terms reformation. Revivalism is a technical term for a movement which has been, and should continue to be, rejected by the Reformed community. But Reformed Communities have witnessed, and affirmed, revivals. Clark’s unfortunate use/change of terminology clouds the issue. But he also takes issue with how a large segment of the Reformed Community, through Jonathan Edwards, has seemingly been bewitched into holding a type of mysticism.
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