Monday, December 01, 2008

Recovering The Reformed Confession: Reviewed


1. an act of recovering.

2. the regaining of or possibility of regaining something lost or taken away.

3. restoration or return to health from sickness.

4. restoration or return to any former and better state or condition.

5. something that is gained in recovering.

Though all the above definitions would fit quite nicely with what R. Scott Clark is attempting to do in his latest book, Recovering the Reformed Confession (available here), it seems he specifically means ‘recovery’ as something like #2 above. “This is a book about recovery, by which I mean to say that we have lost something that we can and must apprehend again: what we confess, that is, our theology, piety, and practice” (p.3).

The “we” who “have lost something” are, specifically, “those who identify with the Reformed branch of the Reformation” (p.1). So this is more of an in-house cleaning book, yet Clark notes (hopes?) that one reading from the perspective of another tradition might find the book useful for clarifying their own identity. The book is also not for those who think “all is well” in the Reformed tradition. If you have some kind of inkling that something is not quite right in Reformed churches, then the “book is for you” (p.1). To get more specific, the book is “aimed particularly at pastors, elders, and theology students in the borderline and sideline denominations” (p.2). (I guess Clark missed his mark when this book landed in my lap!) The author stands on the sidelines but doesn’t take a self-righteous stance towards the other denominations, though; warning that those on the sideline “are not as different from the mainline and borderline churches as we sometimes like to imagine” (p.2).

The “what” that has been lost is, of course, what is in need of recovery: the Reformed Confessions. Clark uses the term ‘Reformed’ to “denote the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches” (p.3). He claims that the word has an “objective referent” and is not merely a convention. This referent is “a confession, a theology, a piety, and a practice that are well known and well defined and summarized in ecclesiastically sanctioned and binding documents” (p.3).

This brings up the next question: what is meant by ‘confession?’ Clark means three things: (1) Narrowly, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed confessions; what he calls “the six forms of unity”: BC, HC, CD, WCF, WLC, WSC. (2) More broadly, the understanding of those confessions as articulated by the classical sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed theologians and those who continued that tradition. (3) By ‘confession’ Clark “mean[s] the theology, piety, and practice agreed upon by our churches, held in common by them, which binds us together, by which we have covenanted to live and worship together” (p.3).

Clark structures the book in “good Reformed fashion:” Imperative and indicative, or, law and gospel (p.3). Or, the bad news and then the good news. Or, our problem and our solution. Or, the crisis and the recovery. In other words, there’s two parts.

As a very broad overview of the book, Clark laments the fact that “confessional” has become simply “one adjective among many” that defines what it is to be Reformed. He finds two main reasons for why this is so: The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) and the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). It is implicit that the “legitimate” quests are to be found by being “confessional” and so, “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” (p.4). Absent the confessions, Reformed churches “have drifted from our moorings. Some of us have become confused about what it is to be Reformed, while others of us have lost confidence altogether that Reformed theology, piety, and practice are even correct” (p.4). Clark’s aim, then, is to present a way back to home base and to provide some kind of corrective for the “inkling” that some of us have that there’s “something just not right” in Reformed churches. And with this you should have a fairly good idea of the general purpose of Clark’s book, Recovering the Reformed Confession, RCC, and the paths he takes to get there.

I will now offer a more in-depth lay of the land as well as make some critical remarks along the way.

In Clark’s introductory chapter he rightly begins his overall argument with a (brief) defense of tradition vis-à-vis sola Scriptura and Semper reformed. This is good prolegomena since some seem to be of the opinion that commitment to a confession is somehow at odds with sola Scriptura. Somehow “tradition” is opposed to “Semper reformed. How can you be “always reforming” if you respect or hold to “traditions?” What’s more is that Protestants constantly have to battle Roman Catholic caricatures of Protestantism to the effect that Protestants don’t have a respect for the past but approach any and all questions with a “me and my Bible” attitude. Clark does a good job demonstrating that “tradition” is a favorable concept in Reformational thought categories. So the Reformed have characteristically respected tradition. But, there are “competing understandings of tradition” (p.8). There’s the more Roman Catholic understanding that places tradition as a “parallel source of authority” along side the Scriptures - what’s called “the two-sources theory” (p.9, 8). And then there’s “the single exegetical tradition” which is more apropos as a characterization of the Reformed view that “controlled tradition with the Scriptures but did not reject tradition as such” (p.8, 9).

This Reformed approach “neither canonizes the past nor ignores it nor suspects it as an enemy, but rather treats it with the respect it deserves by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ” (p.10). So the Reformed should have no problem engaging in dialogue with Christians from days of yore. We should take serious their insights. But more specifically we have a “Reformed tradition” in the “way we understand Scripture, and this understanding is summarized in our confession” (p.10). We do not deny tradition, but we also do not venerate it. “Tradition … has no intrinsic authority. Its authority is derived from Scripture.” We read and understand Scripture within a community. As stated above, this understanding is found in our confessions. If one places himself within that tradition, subscribed to the Reformed confessions, one “is bound to uphold them.” If one thinks the particular understanding of Scripture found in the confessions is wrong, then Clark says, taking John Murray as inspiration, “sola Scriptura does not authorize him to argue against the confession from within the church. Rather ‘his resort in such a case must be to renounce subscription and with such renunciation the privileges incident to it. Then he may proceed to expose the falsity of the creedal position in light of Scripture. In a true sense, therefore, the creed, even in a reformed church, has regulative authority’” (p. 11). A problem immediately arises, though. Clark has no problem when the American Presbyterian churches change the “theocratic” statements in the original confession, yet he doesn’t criticize them for going against what he endorses in Murray. How come they didn’t have to “renounce subscription?”

The Reformed understanding of Scripture, set down in the Reformed confessions, was not a theological de novo then, but rather respected tradition, like the exegesis of the early fathers, enough to make precise and elaborate its understanding in communication with them - making its views more ex novo. Therefore, “if we are to follow the classic Reformed pattern, we too must become scholars of the fathers and even of the medieval theologians, who established much of the Christian theological vocabulary and intellectual categories in which both the Reformers and the post-Reformation theologians did their work” (p.16). As I said above, it is good for Clark to point out this healthy respect for tradition that is reined in by Scripture that should characterize the Reformed approach. When I was in SEAL training much was made of working together in a unit, and learning from the successes and mistakes of past teams. One thing the instructors drilled home was that Rambo wasn’t the soldier to emulate. Analogously, we appear to have too many theological Rambos running around.

From here, Clark finds that a cause for either the rejection of Reformed confessional teachings, or an elevation of non-confessional teaching to the status “Reformed,” is due to a kind of narcissism - all to characteristic of our contemporary, rugged individualistic American society of consumers. Clark says this reasoning goes something like this: “I am Reformed. I think p, and therefore p must be Reformed” (p.18). Of course another cause may well be that some people just think some things in the confessions are unbiblical. They might think, “Unless I am convinced by reason or Scripture, here I stand.” And they may have come to these conclusions in light on “conversation” with a broader Christian community. Today we’re in a age of booming Christian book sales. New commendatory seem to come out every week. Many of today’s laymen are more educated than their pastors. Indeed, even than some seminary profs! But Clark’s point that we should not claim we’re “Reformed” follows if he’s correct that the Reformed confessions are definitional of what it means to be Reformed (as well as those reformed theologians who he endorses). Clark is right to point out that many “Reformed” have been busy (“ostensibly”) “bringing every square inch under Christ’s lordship” and thinking when this is (thought to be) accomplished it gains instant status as “Reformed.” Because of this, much of what passes for “Reformed” today is divorced from classical historical Reformed tradition. Instead of our Reformed theology looking like an aerial photograph of the development and making precise of Reformed teaching worked out in communication with Christian thinkers from the beginning, it rather looks like a Polaroid snapshot of whatever particular “war for Jesus” we’ve been engaged in while we’ve dared to be little Davids slaying all the Goliaths of secularism or neutrality.

I think it’s always good to point to our tendency towards narcissism. And it may well be that narcissistic tendencies have contributed to our false views of what it means to call ourselves Reformed. Of course we are often little narcissists: “I am American, therefore America is God’s country.” “I am Republican, therefore the Republican party is God’s party.” “I deny the validity of s5 modal logic, therefore that’s the “Reformed” view on the matter.” Or, something like that. At any rate, one would be blind if s/he didn’t see the effects of narcissism on our thinking - see Horton’s Christless Christianity for example after example of this.

One particular view of narcissism that Clark mentions is what has been called “biblicism.” This approach denigrates a high view of the confession and its normed-normative place. Certainly particular forms (all?) of biblicism should be shunned. The idea that the Bible is a textbook on matters like the physical sciences, or that the Bible should be read “in a corner” and without “a community oriented reading” is problematic to say the least (Horton, Covenant and Eschatology, p.215). And Clark is correct that many have misunderstood “biblicism” to mean “sola Scriptura (p.22). Or, that many “American evangelical appropriations of sola Scriptura may look biblicist, because it often is” (p.22). To make his point, Clark uses John Frame as his fodder. And it is at this point that I shall engage in some critical interaction with Clark.

Clark begins by taking Frame to task for his claim in the paper In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism that Clark characterizes as Frame “affirming that there are extra biblical data for which the Christian must account in reading Scripture, but also denying that there is any such thing as extra biblical knowledge (p.22). But here I think Clark doesn’t understand Frame. I should add, though, that if I am wrong, I agree with Clark. That is, if Frame means his position something like some adherents of Clark’s (Gordon!) “Scripturalism.” That position is roughly: Nothing is knowledge unless it is an explicit scriptural proposition or (able to be) deduced from explicit scriptural propositions. And of course that is self-refuting since that proposition isn’t a Bible verse, or deduced from Bible verses. So, “Scripturalism” taken this way, is unknowable. But I don’t think Frame is saying anything like this (indeed, he is not, as he told me in an email, “In some senses we have knowledge of extra-biblical information. I know that there is a computer screen in front of me, and that fact is not recorded in Scripture.” Frame said all our knowledge had “some involvement” with Scripture. Scripture requires us to believe truth instead of falsehood .). Here’s the part in Frame’s paper Clark is referring to:

“It is important both to distinguish and to recognize the important relations between Scripture itself and the extrascriptural data to which we seek to apply biblical principles. Scripture is something different from extrabiblical data. But what we know of the extrabiblical data, we know by scriptural principles, scriptural norms, the permission of Scripture. In one sense, then, all of our knowledge is scriptural knowledge. In everything we know, we know scripture. To confess anything as true is to acknowledge a biblical requirement upon us. In that sense, although there is extrabiblical data, there is no extrabiblical knowledge. All knowledge is knowledge of what Scripture requires of us.

At this point, we may well be suspected of biblicism, for the biblicist, as we have seen, also disparages extrabiblical knowledge. But unlike the biblicist we have recognized the importance of extrabiblical data in the work of theology and in all Christian reflection.”
It’s easy to see why Clark balks here. I certainly don’t think the above is the best way to put things. One problem, though, is that Clark gives the impression that Frame claims that there is no extra biblical knowledge, period. But it seems Frame admits to extra biblical knowledge. He even claims we “know…extra biblical data.” It seems that Frame’s point is that all knowledge requires “norms” that we know the extra biblical data by. So Frame may be saying something like what James Anderson says in a more developed way here. Says Anderson:

“In conclusion, then, we have solid reasons for believing that if human knowledge is possible then there must be a God. Knowledge presupposes the existence of objective epistemic normativity, which in turn presupposes an ontology that can account for the existence of such normativity. Naturalism, as many of its contemporary advocates now acknowledge, has no place for objective epistemic normativity. And non-theistic non-naturalisms fall short on other grounds: by trying to ground epistemic normativity in the non-personal, or by failing to distinguish the normative from the normed, or by leaving unexplained the connection between the normative and the normed. Only theistic worldviews have the metaphysical resources to underwrite the most defensible analyses of epistemic warrant. In four words: if knowledge, then God.”
Frame may be simply saying that Scripture speaks to all knowledge claims by providing preconditions for those very claims. Thus Anderson,

“Careful reflection on the concept of knowledge in general, and on paradigm cases of knowledge, make it clear that this notion of ‘epistemic rightness’ or ‘epistemic appropriateness’ is an essential feature of knowledge. But observe that this notion is clearly a normative one: it pertains to how beliefs ought to be formed or held (in order to count as knowledge), rather than how beliefs are formed or held. It is not a descriptive notion, but a prescriptive one. It implies that there are epistemic norms which determine (in part) whether or not one’s belief that p is actually knowledge that p.

That the concept of knowledge has an essentially normative aspect, and thus there are such things as epistemic norms (if there is such a thing as knowledge), is a point widely recognised by contemporary epistemologists. For example, Jaegwon Kim writes:

[Epistemic] justification manifestly is normative. If a belief is justified for us, then it is permissible and reasonable, from the epistemic point of view, for us to hold it, and it would be epistemically irresponsible to hold beliefs that contradict it. . . . Epistemology is a normative discipline as much as, and in the same sense as, normative ethics. (Kim, 1988, p. 383, emphasis original)”
And if something like this is what Frame means, Clark’s complaint may appear to be largely wide of the mark. At least insufficiently developed. Indeed, it appears that Clark agrees with Frame since Clark later admits that “Special revelation speaks to football games, but not of them” (p.24). Right. And if it speaks to football games, a fortiori does it speak to knowledge? (And this brings up the query, who in the world has ever postulated that Scripture speaks of football games? Probably the same people who claim Scripture speaks of straw men fallacies.)

The propriety of Clark’s critique of Frame may be further questioned as he continues by implying that, “according to the Reformers, Scripture functions as the norm of faith and practice did not mean that Scripture was the sole resource of the Christian faith” as well as the fact that, “Not everyone or everything, however, is revealed in Scripture” (p.22, 24) were both somehow contrary to Frame’s views. But of course this caricature is hard to square with what Frame has said regarding his own views on precisely this matter. For example, how does what Clark says square with this quote from Frame:

“Scripture does not, of course, tell us everything we need to know about everything. We must look outside Scripture if we want specific directions on how to fix a sink or repair a car. But Scripture tells us everything that God wants us to know “concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.6). Scripture doesn’t tell us how to repair a car, but it tells us how to glorify God in repairing a car, namely by doing whatever we do “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17), and by working at it with all our hearts “as working for the Lord, not for men” (verse 23).”
So why does Clark think Frame’s view is the opposite of Frame’s stated view?

Clark proceeds, “by way of theological criticism,” (p.24) to find that Frame’s fault is that he folds “together general and special Revelation” (ibid). But of course Frame has no problem recognizing the validity of “Natural revelation” in our situation. In fact, it seems odd to claim that Frame has an “exaggerated view of sola Scriptura“ (ibid) when Frame says things like this, “Nor do I wish to deny that an understanding of nature can sometimes lead us to correct our understanding of Scripture,” and claims that he does not want to claim “that Scripture is more authoritative than natural revelation” (Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 1987, p.138). Indeed, Frame goes farther than many by claiming that we can have “certainty concerning the content of natural revelation” (ibid, emphasis mine)!

Next Clark takes umbrage with Frame’s definition of theology as the “application of the Word of God to all areas of life” because Frame doesn’t begin “with God and his revelation as the objective norm relative to us and our experience, this definition begins with our experience and us because it is we who do the applying of Scripture” (p.25). Frame’s definition “threatens to confuse the biblical and confessional notion of the unique, sole authority of Scripture with American individualism” (ibid). Clark thinks Frame is saying that “the Bible means what one says it does” (ibid).

After reading Clark’s first set of critiques of Frame, it seems he wants his reader to conclude first that Frame gives too much objective normativity to Scripture, and then second, not enough! It is certainly odd to read someone who footnotes Frame’s book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, thus implying he’s read it, claim that Frame doesn’t “begin” with “God and his revelation as objective norm.” Frame, as a presuppositionalist, certainly “begins with God’s revelation.” Says Frame,

“The supernatural revelation of Scripture, therefore, is among the assumptions, what we may now call the presuppositions, that Christians bring to any intellectual inquiry. May a Christian revise those presuppositions in the course of an inquiry? He may certainly revise his understanding of those presuppositions by inquiring further into God’s revelation in Scripture and nature. But he may not abandon the authority of Scripture itself, as long as he believes that Scripture is God’s Word. God must prove true, though every man a liar (Rom. 3:4).”
Second, it doesn’t seem Clark understands Frame’s definition that “theology is the application of God’s word to all areas of life.” Frame claims he doesn’t object to definitions of theology as “a study of God’s word” or “a study of Scripture” (Frame, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 76). He admits that, generally speaking, theology does refer to “the study of God” (78). Frame says “application” means “teaching.” And none of this means that “unique, sole authority of Scripture” is threatened. Frame says that the role Scripture plays in his definition of theology is that it has “the final say about the answers…and questions” (81, emphasis mine).

Lastly, it’s not at all clear how defining theology as “the application of God’s word to all areas of life” is “subjectivist” while defining it this way isn’t: “[theology is] the church’s reflection on God’s performative action in word and deed and its own participation in the drama of redemption” (Horton, Covenant and Eschatology, p.4, emphasis mine). Clark claims that with Frame it is “we who do the applying of Scripture,” but with Horton it is “we who do the reflecting.” Reflection is just as subjective as teaching.

It’s hard not to think that Clark couldn’t resist using this book to take some shots from the trees at those positions and persons he disagrees with most. The problem is that when he does this, that’s when he overreaches. Though some may think this is pedantic on my end, my critiques of Clark are relevant to the degree that his word is compromised. When he discusses those whom I have very little knowledge on (especially compared to Clark), the critiques certainly sound good, but where’s the assurance that buying into the critique isn’t buying into a straw man? Clark’s treatment of Frame thus causes me to be timid in how I take his later critique of Edwards, for example. Neither is this to say that I necessarily agree with all Frame’s positions or how he puts his positions. Indeed, some of it I find quite confusing. It’s just that Scripture tells us how to interact with others, implicitly teaching on how we are to interact with those who we disagree with. In saying this, am I being a “biblicist?” Am I supposing that “Scripture provides a blueprint on how to interact with John Frame?” One would hope that’s not the retort! See, Scripture doesn’t speak of John Frame and R. Scott Clark, but it certainly speaks to them!

Clark ends his introductory chapter by offering some reasons why Reformed people are uneasy about Reformed tradition. The first is the “Anabaptist” approach which “places private judgment of the individual above that of the church” (p.27). One supposes one should rather apply this “radical Anabaptism” somewhere later down the line, i.e., individuals’ private judgments of what the church teaches! Secondly, there’s a nominalistic spirit of the age which doesn’t feel comfortable talking about the Reformed theology, piety, and practice (p.28). Third is the old debate about “Calvin and the Calvinists” (p.29). Involved in this is the idea that people like Van Til were doing something brand new. His talk of the Creator/creature distinction was “an idea with which all the classical Reformed theologians operated” (p.34). But of course Van Til himself admitted he was only “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Clark claims that an important part of recovering the Reformed confessions is to become “friendly and familiar with our own tradition” (p.35). Clark ends by stating that the “central argument of the book” is that “not all is well in the Reformed churches.” They are “fragmented, and to a remarkable degree have lost their identity.” He claims this “loss of identity has occurred because Reformed churches have been infected by two alien impulses: the quest for illegitimate religious certainty (QIRC) and the quest for illegitimate religious experience (QIRE). … The antidote for these diseases is to recover the Reformed confession, that is, Reformed theology, piety, and practice” (p.36).

Clark discusses QIRC in chapter 2. “OIRC is the pursuit to know God in ways he has not revealed himself and to achieve epistemic and moral certainty on questions where such certainty is neither possible nor desirable” (p.39). One can add to this that QIRC “is the quest to know what God knows, the way he knows it” (p.5). Clark finds that “Some Reformed people seem to be reacting to the uncertainty of the age by grasping for this illegitimate sort of certainty” (p.39). This “reacting” is a reaction to the “‘liquidity’ or prevailing sense that nothing is fixed, certain, or reliable any longer” (p.42). Rather than turn “to the Reformed confession, however, many Reformed folk have turned to a kind of rationalism in an attempt to find certainty by elevating a particular interpretation, application, or use of Scripture above the Reformed faith itself. These folk then use their interpretation of Scripture as a mark of orthodoxy and/or sort of prophylaxis against enemies foreign and domestic, real and perceived” (p.44). When all is liquid, a search for solids is undertaken. Clark identifies three searches for solids: (1) 6/24 creation as boundary marker, (2) theonomy, and (3) covenant moralism. It’s as if these positions live in Kevin Costner’s Waterworld and would do anything for even an ounce of sand. They’re tired of floating about at sea, subject to the constant attacks of the “Smokers.”

I believe Clark is correct to deny these positions as standard bearers of reformed orthodoxy. Clark does a good job showing that the confessions are not attempting to demand a literal, 6 day creation view on its subscribers. Rather, "the intent of the divines was to preclude (what they perceived to be) Augustine's nominalist view of the days of Genesis 1 as a literary device without any genuine connection to the acts of creation itself" (p.49). I am also convinced that the confessions did not intend to advocate for something as specific as, say, Bahnsen’s version of theonomy. But, Clark does note that the early confession, and many 16th and 17th century Reformed, were “theocratic” in their outlook. Clark claims that “It is a historical fact that when our confession was formed Christendom and the righteousness of theocracy (the civil enforcement of the first table of the Decalogue) were assumed. Theocracy, however, is not theonomy…” (p.62).

Clark argues that part of what gives rise to a particular QIRC is a desire to “flatten out tensions and difficulties” that seem to arise in Scripture. So for example the already/not yet presents some eschatological tension, thus all eschatological views besides amillennialism capitulate to “flattening out tension.” Denying the free offer of the gospel because of tensions arising due the command the preach the gospel to all and the doctrine of election is another example of a QIRC. Scripture presents a tension regarding the Christian being what Darryl Hart calls a “hyphenated Christian” because he live simultaneously in two kingdoms. So, the argument goes, theonomy is an attempt to flatten out tension. The rise of modern science has given rise to more tension - the way science speaks about the physical world and the way Scripture does. But the majority report is that Scripture speaks truly about the physical world but not scientifically. But 6/24 creationism aims to “unseat this arrangement. This movement seeks certainty by eliminating the tension between secular science and the Christian faith in favor of a restoration of the certainties of old, premodern science” (p.42).

Much of this is fine in theory. I agree that we shouldn’t try to flatten out tensions just for the sake of flattening something out, sacrificing paradoxical scriptural truths to the Moloch of Rationalism. And, as I said above, I agree with Clark that his (main) examples of QIRC (actually, I’m just discounting covenant moralism because it’s not clear that it should be a boundary marker for anything other than possibly to indicate that you’ve crossed the line, or are dangerously close, to denying the gospel.). But, when we get more specific, we find some tensions (!) of our own. For example, why is it that flattening out tensions “testify to the presence amongst us of the QIRC” (p.40)? This doesn’t seem necessary or sufficient. Indeed, if there we find a tension in Scripture, and we can “flatten it out” while doing justice to both sides of the tension, the epistemically virtuous thing to do is, flatten it out. Surely we don’t want to hold tension just for the sake of holding a tension. That might in fact testify to a QITH (quest for illegitimate tension holding)!

It also seems a bit suspect, if not all-too-convenient, to claim that those positions you don’t agree with are all exemplifying a QIRC. Why isn’t the Framework interpretation an attempt to “flatten out (perceived) tension” between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2? Or perhaps between what Scripture teaches and what contemporary science teaches? It could equally be argued that a 6/24 view of Genesis 1 is the view that lives with tension. A Framework view simply removes any tension by claiming, “Scripture isn’t trying to teach a literal truth about how many days it took God to create.” Voilà, no tension! Also, why isn’t presuppositionalism an example of a QIRC? Van Til spoke much of certainty. The confession certainly doesn’t offer any verdicts on “apologetic methodology.” And it is well known that presuppositionalists claim that their method is the “Reformed” approach to apologetics. But as Clark claims, a 6/24 view as a boundary marker for being “Reformed” would lock out the likes of Bavinck, Hodge, Machen, Vos, Warfield, etc., so a “presuppositionalist” boundary maker would lock out the likes of Machen, Gerstner, Sproul, and others. But I guess it wouldn’t go over to well to implicate your seminary’s stated position on proper approache to apologetics as an instance of QIRC!

Like with Frame, the problems in this section arise because, so it looks, Clark chose to use his book (also) as a pretext to take shots at those views (and persons) he’s made clear on the web and other venues that he disagrees with. In order to keep this already too long review from getting needlessly longer, I’ll just focus on his section: “6/24 Creation as Boundary Marker.” I find his critique of theonomy also severely lacking, and though his comments on covenant moralism are fine, it’s not clear that they (or any of his examples) are an example of a QIRC (more on that below). I guess, though it’s unfortunate, I should point out that I am not a theonomist (and definitely not a “covenant moralist,” FV, Shepherdite, or NPP). I also see the arguments non-6/24 make and grant their place at the exegetical table. In fact, it wouldn’t bother me too much to hold to a Framework or analogical view (though at this moment I am convinced of 6/24 exegesis and find the “scientific” arguments against it easy to overcome, especially when they are offered by a Christian who believes dozens of other specially revealed truths that “99% of scientists would scoff at). So, my complaints here are not tainted by partisan politics.

As I have stated twice now, I agree with Clark that 6/24 shouldn’t be a boundary marker. And I find his arguments for this persuasive (some were mentioned above). And if that were all he was trying to prove, I would have no complaints (and I assume his section would have been much shorter). But he’s trying to do more. Not only does he offer some criticisms against this view on creation that seem irrelevant to the conclusion that 6/24 shouldn’t be a boundary, or that it is an example of a QIRC, his goal isn’t to show that 6/24 shouldn’t be a boundary marker but that it is a “quest for illegitimate religious certainty.”

Before I specifically look at QIRC and the application of the term to 6/24 I’ll briefly look at some of the more off-target remarks Clark makes. To be fair, Clark claims he is not “aim[ing] to respond to the specific claims of each of the examples of QIRC addressed in this chapter, … and [he] is not taking sides on the exegetical issues” either (p.44, 47). However, those admissions don’t stop him from implicating the 6/24 view as “arising from fundamentalist interests” (cf. p.50), being an historical echo of the embarrassment (?) of geocentrism (cf. pp. 52-60), and possibly guilty of “bad science and exegesis” (cf. p. 60).

Of course 6/24 creationists think their view arises from the best reading of the text. It’s also disanalogous to the geocentrism debate. Of course, there are scientists today who affirm geocentrism (and Clark doesn’t have the expertise to undercut their arguments, so his “bad science” remark goes beyond his field of expertise). And then there’s philosophers that take an anti-realist approach to science thus concluding that both sides are wide of the mark if they think they’re advancing “theories” that are true about the world. Is Clark affirming that the realist stance to science is the “Reformed” view? Is he even prepared to enter that debate? Then there’s the problem that the exegetical case for geocentrism isn’t even in the same ball park as the case for 6/24. The “case” for geocentrism (if there ever was one) rests a couple verses in the Psalms and Isaiah. And then we wonder what Clark even means by “general revelation.” Claims by scientists don’t translate automatically to the level of “general revelation.” Why does he think “the two books” need balancing? This begs the question against the 6/24 view. Furthermore, if a Christian is a scientific anti-realist, or even a modified realist, then Clark’s language suggests their view is wrong. But Clark can’t speak to that.

Other problems arise. For instance, when Clark points out that we need to “balance” the two books, and that “science changed our interpretations,” what does he do about his own example of QIRC? You see, Clark believes in a “soul” or a “mind” that is “not physical,” but of course, 99% of scientists find recourse to such ideas antiquated. The physical brain can account for everything you once needed a “soul” for. They claim the evidence is mounting and almost undeniable. And this isn’t coming from just atheists or those with physicalist presuppositions either. Physicalism about the human is a growing position within Christianity. Supported by scientific, philosophical, and exegetical arguments. And of course they respond to common rejoinders like “What about the ‘resurrection?’”, or “intermediate state?” And what about evolution? Is Clark a theistic evolutionist? If he’s not, and if he’s still some kind of dualist (even Horton says we should be some kind of dualist in his ST lectures, #2, but I mean at least hold to an immaterial “aspect” that endures or stays the same through the various accidental changes), and since this is at odds with the vast majority of “science,” has Clark indicated that he holds to QIRCs? If not, how are his criticism of 6/24 not 100% completely and utterly arbitrary?

We can press further questioning the very validity or application of QIRC to 6/24 (or theonomy for that matter). Surely Clark knows that the 6/24 view purports to be believed because “God has revealed it.” Recall the definition of QIRC Clark gave: “QIRC is the pursuit to know God in ways he has not revealed himself and to achieve epistemic and moral certainty on questions where such certainty is neither possible nor desirable” (p.39). But 6/24 believes this view is revealed! They’re not attempting to know God (or his ways) in ways he has not revealed - unless you add that assumption promised not to be made: you weigh in on the exegetical case and render a negative verdict, in which case we have a massive petitio principii. In that case the 6/24 can simply reverse the charge and claim Framework is a QIRC since it is not revealed, and so is an attempt to know God in a way not revealed. (I have also had some of Clark’s students tell me that I’m not Reformed because of my 6/24 view. They also indicated that I “denied the gospel” because I held to 6/24. So it looks like little QIRCers are being produces at WSCAL.)

The next definitional question pertaining to the propriety of indexing the QIRC to the 6/24 view has to do with a main element of the definition: certainty. What is meant here? Epistemic certainty? But why think 6/24 adherents are claiming anything like that? That’s a strong charge and Clark nowhere, as far as I can tell, backs it up. As I said above, I am 6/24 for the time being. But I don’t “seek certainty” (p.42) in this view.

Clark may respond that he doesn’t intend to claim that 6/24 qua understanding of the text is a QIRC, just that trying to make it a boundary marker is. But there are two problems with this response. The first is that he indeed indicates that he thinks the attempt to make 6/24 a boundary marker is a QIRC. The problem is he doesn’t substantiate it. Why think that those trying to make it a boundary, for Scriptural and confessional (however wrongly conceived) reasons are “seeking certainty? Claiming something is a boundary doesn’t mean you’re “on a quest for certainty.” Indeed, there are some things that are in fact boundary markers, that we make boundary makers, but when we do we are not “on a quest for certainty.” It’s possible we are wrong. Would Clark say “we cannot be wrong.” “Only God knows about ‘can’ and ‘cannot’” (p.60). (Which brings up another problem. We can indeed talk about ‘can’ and ‘cannot.’ For example, a part cannot be greater than the whole. Or, a triangle cannot have 2 sides. Or, 2 + 2 cannot = 5. Or, ~(A & ~A).) So, just because they try to make 6/24 a boundary doesn’t mean they are guilty of QIRC. The second response is that he does in fact go beyond claiming that 6/24-as-boundary-marker is his only claim. In page 42 he claims it is 6/24 qua understanding of the text that is guilty of a QIRC. 6/24 “seeks certainty by eliminating the tension between secular science and the Christian faith in favor of a restoration of the certainties of the old, premodern science” (p.42). Ironically, just before this sentence, he indicates that the majority of Reformed have their own QIRC because they eliminated “the tension between secular science and the Christian faith” by claiming “that the Scriptures speak truly about the physical but, by intention, not scientifically” (ibid). Voilà, no tension! Another place he lets slip that he’s got more in his sights than the scaled-down view that he’s just “against 6/24 as boundary marker,” is his claims mad eon page 151. Recovering Reformed views on the doctrine of analogy protect us from “QIRCs” by “putting us creatures in our place.” That way we can “relocate our center of gravity” and avoid trying to “determine the length of creation days” (p.151). So, despite Clark’s possible protests, because he chooses to use his book as a pretext to defend the particular views WSCAL holds to, he ends up arguing for more than he can prove.

So, Clark fails to show that 6/24 (or 6/24 as boundary marker) is a QIRC. In fact, I could apply similar comments to all his examples of QIRCs. And so the problem now is, “To have real meaning” QIRC “as a universal, must have particulars, but it is exceedingly difficult to find those particulars, and even when some are nominated, there are multiple filters for determining which are included and which are not” (p.214). Ironically, then, has Clark turned his QIRC a “meaningless” category?

The other acronym is the matter of the next chapter. Chapter 3 is on the QIRE (quest for illegitimate religious experience). “This quest is one of the most ancient impulses in Christian theology” (p.71). QIRE is the quest to “experience God apart from the mediation of the Word and sacraments… It manifested itself in the Anabaptist-spiritualist movements in the early sixteenth century, in the spiritualism of the latter sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, in pietism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and finally in modern revivalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” (p.72). I have less problems with this chapter. Other than Clark sounding like a “biblicist” about philosophy, as if the Bible were a philosophical handbook (wink, wink), in his critique of Jonathan Edwards’ philosophical speculations, there’s not much to comment on by way of criticism.

Clark finds some evidence of QIRE in contemporary Reformed churches in their statements to “listen to that small, still voice.” Or when God’s providence is attempted to be ascertained a priori. Or in the subjective turn in contemporary worship, where “the Sunday … liturgy begins with twenty-five minutes of Scripture songs sung consecutively, each song blending into the next…” (p.73). Or the sermon that is a “brief, colorfully illustrated, emotionally touching collection of anecdotes, in which the hearer is not so much directed to law and gospel, but, in one way or another, to one’s self” (ibid). “QIRE describes the desire to achieve an unmediated encounter with God. It also describes religious subjectivism … and even religious enthusiasm” (p.74).

Clark first looks at pietism, claiming that “at its heart pietism flows from dissatisfaction with objective religion, with the classical Reformed and Lutheran Word and sacrament piety, from dissatisfaction with the ordinary.” In this vein are found those for whom a religious experience is always or ultimately more important that the objective. Pietism was and is a bridge to revivalism.

Lloyd-Jones, Ian Murray, and Jonathan Edwards are the three main examples of revivalism in Reformdom that Clark looks at. Clark claims that both the first and second Great Awakenings were examples of QIRE. He finds that a major problem these men have is in trying to discern the hidden will of God. They will “appeal to providence to explain good revivals (those he likes) but ignores providence when describing the bad revivals (those with which he disagrees). Like all orthodox Calvinists, Murray understands that both Edwards and Finney were the result of the providence of God, but to account for this fact would imply the very connection Murray seeks to deny” (p.82). Much of the arguments for revivalism fail “to distinguish clearly between the history of redemption in the apostolic epoch and our postcanonical epoch,” and so there is a “nearly impossible task of trying to delineate proper religious experience from improper religious experience” (p.92).

In response to Clark and his type of objections, some point out that he is quenching the Spirit, or is unregenerate. But, “How exactly does one defend oneself against the charge that one is unregenerate, especially when the charge assumes as a major premise that the regenerate will support the revival?” (p.97). Quenching the Spirit critiques are based on confusions of redemptive history and applying them to postcanonical times.

In the end, Clark’s “criticism of revivalism is not that it is too passionate (Calvinism has always been one of the hotter religions); rather [his] criticism is that it is passionate about the wrong things” (p.97). What we should be passionate about, and where true piety is to be found, is “Christ-centered, grounded in the gospel of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection for sinners, and in the operation of the Holy Spirit through the ordained means of grace: the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments. According t the Reformed churches, Christ has promised to use these means to bring his people to maturity and sanctity” (p.116).

The QIRC and QIRE chapters conclude the “law” part of the book, the rest of Clark’s book is devoted to “recovery.” Reviewing this part will be much shorter than my review of part 1. I will briefly summarize the chapters and offer only but a few critical remarks.

The broad path to recovering a Reformed identity come in two chapters, parts I and II. In part I Clark argues that we don’t get to define what it means to be Reformed. That name is given to us. We inherit the theology, piety, and practice. Clark argues that a major part we have inherited is the Creator/creature distinction as well as archetypal and ectypal distinctions. These distinctions are “essential” and “distinguish us from Roman Catholic soteriology” (salvation through divinization), from “Lutherans” who “predicate divinity of Jesus’ humanity,” insulate us from QIRCs and QIREs, as well as theonomy and 6/24 creationism” (pp. 150-151).

Clark then makes an argument that is questionable, to say the least. It’s a hypothetical syllogism and it goes like this: “If the Reformed churches have not confessed or taught p, then maybe p is not taught in Scripture, if Scripture does not teach p then we should constrain ourselves from teaching and confessing p too” (cf. p. 151). And the logical conclusion, then, is: “If the Reformed churches have not confessed or taught p, then we should constrain ourselves from teaching and confessing p.

I find this implausible for several reasons. Of course the first conditional is not problematic and is in fact uninteresting. Surely it’s true that if the Reformed churches have not taught something then maybe it’s not taught in Scripture. But then, maybe it is. Secondly, what is meant by “not taught or confessed by Reformed churches?” Some things not taught have been biblical (certain takes on texts) and some things not confessed have been Biblical too (the Confessions do not confess that Abraham came from the land of Ur of the Chaldees). Third, the stronger conclusion is achieved by removing the “maybe” from the second conditional. Fourth, the confessions don’t confess tithing as far as I can tell, so maybe we shouldn’t tithe?

In part II (chapter 5) Clark argues that we can recover a Reformed identity. There is a Reformed identity, and it was handed down to us. We can recover it by affirming it because it is biblical. But we also need to become more confessing. Both the laity and officers need to become more confessing. And there shouldn’t be a different standard of subscription (full, or “system”) for either. We should also renew the habit of writing confessions again. “The faith must be confessed anew in every generation and in every place, or it will be lost or deformed” (p.185). Clark addresses three main challenges that are supposed to be involved in writing a confession and offers convincing arguments against them (p.185). Clark also suggests that organizations like NAPARC fund a retreat so Reformed scholars and pastors can write a fresh confession. Not only is Clark showing he can be “relevant”, he’s also obviously plugging for a free vacation! Our confessions should function as ecclesiastical constitutions or covenants, and the best way to hold these covenants is to hold to them because they are biblical, not “insofar” as they are biblical. That’s a brief account of Clark’s program.

In the next chapter Clark discusses what some may think to be an oxymoron: the joy of being confessional. He claims this joy is found in the fact that the Reformed theology, piety, and practice has (at least) 5 virtues about it that commend the Reformed faith over against seeking some kind of QIRE or QIRC in roman Catholic churches or Emergent ones. These virtues are: (1) it is biblical, (2) it is catholic, (3) it is vital, (4) it is evangelical (he follows Daryl Hart in hid understanding of ‘evangelical’), and (5) it is churchly. Clark maintains that the Reformed churches have something to offer. He says we are not fundamentalists or revivalists. We are a third category that has been left out of the conversation: we are confessionalists.

In chapters 7 & 8 Clark looks at two particular issues and laments their absence in much of what is called Reformed churches: Reformed worship (regulative principle) and the second Sunday service. I leave this to the readers of the review to discover Clark’s views for yourself.

Clark closes with what has to be a chapter inspired by Doug Wilson’s book Reformed is not Enough, and is thus cause for a few chuckles if you’re aware of the brouhaha surrounding the Federal Vision and Westminster West. Clark’s epilogue: Predestination is Not Enough. Clark rightly reminds us, during this age of growing popularity with being “Reformed,” that there’s more, much more, to being Reformed than a belief in “predestination.”

Overall I recommend this book. There's a lot more I could critique, but there's a lot more to commend as well. Clark is clearly knowledgeable in his field of historical theology. He also is taking a strong stand to correct what most Reformed intuit: there’s something wrong in the Reformed churches. While one may not agree with all of his arguments and conclusions (as I certainly didn’t), he deserves a spot at the table. I should end on a positive note. Given my harsher treatment of how Clark handled John Frame towards the top of this review, I should acknowledge that I agree with Clark’s criticisms of John Frame’s claims about “knowing God’s essence” found in chapter 4. This proves that I have no agenda to “defend Frame as a sacred cow,” as some might be tempted to say. At the end of the day, the reader will have to decide if following Clark is the best way to recover our confessions and fix that “something,” or if perhaps some kind of mediating position is called for. Will you “Dare to be a Luther?” Will you act like a monk with a mallet? Will you say, “Unless I am convinced by sound reason or Scripture, here I stand, I can do no other?” Is my putting it in the readers hands my final parting shot at Clark’s thesis? Only you can decide! :-)


  1. Only a QITH deals in absolutely no absolutes!

  2. "So, Clark fails to show that 6/24 (or 6/24 as boundary marker) is a QIRC. In fact, I could apply similar comments to all his examples of QIRCs"

    But if he were to argue hard enough for his examples of QIRCs to satisfy you, would he not become guilt of QIRC?

  3. ruberad said...
    "So, Clark fails to show that 6/24 (or 6/24 as boundary marker) is a QIRC. In fact, I could apply similar comments to all his examples of QIRCs"

    But if he were to argue hard enough for his examples of QIRCs to satisfy you, would he not become guilt of QIRC?

    12/01/2008 9:59 PM

    It's not that he didn't argue "hard enough," there *nothing* like an argument that connects the premises to the rather strong conlcusion that these people are on a "quest" for "certainty."

    Actually, as I indicated, I didn't have a problem with his claim that some 6/24 guys shouldn't make that a boundary, he just should have skipped the cool-sounding acronym, but then that would cause other waves in his chapter (causes for QIRCs, like "fluidity") that would need to be redone, and it might have snowballed.

    And, that's one of the "hard" parts of writing books, or so I'm told, you have to "argue hard." :-)

  4. Paul: We should not sacrifice paradoxical scriptural truths to the Moloch of Rationalism.

    Vytautas: You seem to define QIRC in this way, rather than as knowing something the way God knows it. But is the use of the ontological argument for the existance of God an example of latter?

  5. Vytautus: "You seem to define QIRC in this way."

    Me: I don't understand that. QIRC is not my term. It's Clark's. I define it how he does since it's his acronym. Where you quoted me has nothing to do with QIRCs (as I find that term unuseful and somewhat irrelevant since I'm unsure who it *actually* applies to) but everything to do with "just resolving tension for the sake of resolving tension."

    Vytautus: "rather than as knowing something the way God knows it."

    Me: Huh? I define it the way Clark does. My claim about resolvin tension for the sake of resolving tension doesn't equal out to a QIRC on my view since *both* these claims can be true:

    [1] S attempts to resolve some tension T just for the sake of resolving it

    [2] S does not have epistemic certainty about T.

    Vytautus: "But is the use of the ontological argument for the existance of God an example of latter?"

    Me: I don't see why.

  6. Paul: I find [QIRC]unuseful and somewhat irrelevant since I'm unsure who it *actually* applies to.

    Vyatautas: Would Gordon Clark be a good example?

    Paul: I don't see why [ the use of the ontological argument for the existance of God is an example of knowing something the way God knows it].

    Vytautas: It is because the argument gives epistemic certainty.

  7. Vytautus: "Would Gordon Clark be a good example?"

    Me: He may be. There's debate whether he was as extreme as a Robbins or a Cheung. So, they might be examples. But I'm not sure. They would claim God *has* revealed such and such, so they're not trying to claim certainty where God has not revealed. We can claim God hasn't revealed it, but we'd have to debate it. You can't just take all the positions you don't like and claim they're searching for certainty where God has not revealed. That strikes me as special pleading and question begging. My review tried to point out that this was one of R.S. Clark's problems with his category.

    I actually think the best example he could have used are of the younger reformed people that left Calvinism for Rome. Due to many conversations with them, they were certainly on a quest for certainty. But...there's ways they could escape Clark's QIRC.

    Vytautus: "It is because the argument gives epistemic certainty."

    Me: I don't think just any ole thing that gives epistemic certainty is a QIRC. Remember, Clark defines it as "a quest for religious or moral certainty where God has not revealed or where such certainty is not desirable."

    But there's so much wiggle room there that most people could get out of it.

    Here's another example where Clark's wrong:

    One thing I am certain of is my existence. God hasn't "revealed" my existence (at least specially, but if we open up 'reveal' to mean 'general revelation' too, then I find that Clark will just have more problems).

    Is that a QIRC?

    Moreover, what work is 'desireable' doing? Who gets to define that. Seems fairly subjective! But, Clark railed and railed against subjectivity, esp. in regards to his critiques of John Frame.

    As I said, I could point out a lot more problems with his book, but the review would have been longer than it was and I felt it was too long as it was.

  8. Paul: They would claim God *has* revealed such and such, so they're not trying to claim certainty where God has not revealed.

    Vytautas: Gordon Clark claims, I know something in the exact same way that God knows it. Is this a revealed truth? If no, then he is in the QIRC group. If yes, then he is in the QIRC group. You cannot escape this.

  9. Vytautus: "Gordon Clark claims, I know something in the exact same way that God knows it. Is this a revealed truth? If no, then he is in the QIRC group. If yes, then he is in the QIRC group. You cannot escape this."

    Me: "Know something in the exact same way God knows it" is ambiguous, Richard. Under some understandings, then, *everyone* is in the QIRC group. Even G. Clark agreed we don't know immediately, like God does. So, you'd have to parse all this out a lot more.

    Then, you'd have to show that Clark is shooting for *epistemic certainty*.

  10. I would do that, but I got rid of the book in which he said something like that because it had a picture of Christ on it. The book was God's Hammer. Was this a good decision on my part?

  11. Vytautus: Even if I were convinced that each and every image of Christ were wrong, I wouldn't get rid of all my boks that had an image of Christ on it. *At best*, I'd tear off the cover and through it away. Sometimes you have to put up with sin in our already.not yet world. I think murder is a sin, yet I see movies that not only portray it, but sometimes glorify it.

    I do not doubt that Clark thought we could "know things the way God does." That was part of the Van Til debate contention. But I said this was vague as it stands. Depending on how it is parsed out, all sides believe we can "know how God knows." I do not believe we can in the sense Van Til meant it. So, I think Clark was wrong. But there was no "unless" built into QIRC. So, as I said, I think your objection would make *everyone* guilty of a QIRC, and that would make it uninteresting as a category.

  12. You have no idea what you are talking about regarding scripturalism. It is clear you have studied the issue much like most American Calvinists for a day or two(If not less). The passages are numerous. There is the Colosians passgae that says in Christ are hidden all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge and the Corinthians passage that says eye has not seen nor ear heard...but God has revelaed them to us through his spirit(Namely the scripture). If you reply that you have to see the pages on the scripture to know this our reply is that the ink and pages are the secondary cause of the divine propositions. Please email me with your reply,

    This man's philosophy is the hope for the academic in the world and your "rebuts" are an insult to his hard labor.