Saturday, December 06, 2008

The free offer of the gospel

The John 3:16 conference has fanned into flame the embers of an old controversy that is always smoldering to one degree or another. I’ll venture a few comments of my own:

1. I’ve already stated my own position a long time ago, so I won’t repeat myself here.

2. The term “hyper-Calvinist” is frequently used by pseudo-Calvinists as a rhetorical ploy to put real Calvinists on the defensive. But “hyper-Calvinism” is a word with a historic definition. You’re not at liberty to unilaterally redefine words to suit your agenda.

3. Apropos (2), to my knowledge, none of the Reformed Confessions (e.g. Westminster Confession, Three Forms of Unity) teaches the well-meant offer.

They may teach the free offer of the gospel, they don’t make God’s love for reprobate or desire to save them a precondition of the offer.

That being the case, you can’t retroactively argue that someone who rejects a theological innovation like the well-meant offer is not a true Calvinist. That involves a very anachronistic definition of Calvinism.

4. Early in the 20C, the CRC and the OPC took influential positions in favor of the well-meant offer. Fine. Individual denominations are free to draw the theological parameters however they please for members of their own communion. But they only speak for their own denomination.

5. One of the stock objections to the traditional position is a logical objection. Proponents of the well-mean offer insist that unless God loves the reprobate and wants to save them, that the offer of the Gospel is insincere.

But there are two basic problems with this objection:

i) The logical objection is illogical. The only thing that makes an offer genuine is if it’s true. The offer of the gospel is a conditional offer. If you do what it says (repent and believe), you will get what God promised.

The intention of the party who makes the offer is irrelevant to the bona fides of the offer—as long as the offer is true.

ii) The position of the critics is logically inconsistent. But you don’t have the right to raise logical objections to the opposing position unless your own position is logically consistent.

Here is the problem: let us grant, for the sake of argument, the presupposition of the well-meant offer, viz. the offer is insincere unless God loves the reprobate and wants to save them.

Given that presupposition, what would be the consistent position?


>Limited desire is incompatible with the sincerity of the offer,


>>Limited atonement is incompatible with the sincerity of the offer,


>>>Limited election is incompatible with the sincerity of the offer,


>>>>Limited salvation is incompatible with the sincerity of the offer.

Logically speaking, the only position consistent with the presupposition of the well-meant is universalism.

iii) There is, of course, one logical alternative: reject the presupposition.

6. I can’t help noticing an implicit parallel between Arminians and proponents of the well-meant offer:

i) Proponents of the well-meant offer say the offer is insincere unless God loves the reprobate and wants to save them.

ii) Arminians say divine warnings about the danger of apostasy are insincere unless true believers can truly lose their salvation.

If we agree with the presupposition of the well-meant offer, then it seems to me that the Arminians are right. If we accept the well-meant offer, then we should reject the perseverance of the saints.

But proponents of the well-meant offer pose as Calvinists.

7. On a final note, I find it odd when some Christians think it’s absolutely essential that God suffer from frustrated desires. They act as though we’re in mortal peril of losing some fundamental feature of Christian theism unless we insist on the fact that God is schizophrenic.

On the face of it: the danger lies in the opposite direction. It’s far more threatening to Christian theism to insist that God is schizophrenic.

Why doesn’t God save everyone?

i) Either God is able to save everyone, but unwilling—in which case God is not omnibenevolent,

ii) Or else, God is willing to save everyone, but unable—in which case God is not omnipotent.

Those are the only logical alternatives: there is no third.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Myth of a Christian Nation: Book Review

(The brevity of this review is because I wrote it for goodreads, which has a 10,000 key stroke max.)

Boyd’s book was a very interesting read for me. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had such a roller coaster reading experience as reading this book. I have read books where I agree with some of it but not all of it. That should be fairly common. Only the intellectually insecure seem to discount everything someone says simply because s/he says something you disagree with. But with this book, I literally agreed with one sentence 100% and then disagreed with the very next sentence 100% and then agreed with the very next sentence 100%. I would be tracking and nodding my head saying “Amen!” only to suddenly find myself disagreeing in the strongest of terms.

The book has its draw backs as far as the structure goes. Boyd’s writing style is smooth and conversational (being based on a series of sermons he preached at his church in ‘04), that’s not my gripe. It is one of the most repetitive books I’ve ever come across. Boyd constantly repeats himself, using the same language and illustrations throughout. It doesn’t border on overkill, it is overkill. I suspect this is on purpose though. Boyd is trying to “drive home" a point. Nevertheless, the constant repetition does get a little tiresome. Very tiresome, actually.

Boyd’s central thesis is that “a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political ideology.” They are guilty because they (attempt to) “fuse the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the world.” These two kingdoms are radically different. But despite that, many American Christians think the “kingdom of God’ is about a particular form of government, political program, outlawing abortion, keeping gays from getting married, keeping “God” on our money and “under God” in the pledge, placing the ten commandments in court houses, and fighting for prayer at Friday night football games. Boyd says this is misguided. Any such fusing is idolatrous and has a negative effect on the message of Christianity. Boyd doesn’t argue that Christians should have no involvement in politics. He doesn’t argue that any particular political issue of the day is right or wrong. He just thinks that “finding the right political path” doesn’t really have “anything to do with advancing the kingdom of God.”

Boyd follows the basic insights of such historians of American religion as Marsden, Noll, Yoder &co. Boyd believes that the idea that America was (is) a “Christian nation” is largely founded on myth, anachronisms, misunderstandings, and shallow exegesis of the Founders’ writings. The claims that are marshaled out as the usual suspects that supposedly prove the Founders’ deep and pious commitment to Christianity, are largely nebulous claims about ‘religion’ and ‘morals,’ along with deistic claims about ‘God.’ At times, they make claims explicitly stating they had no intention to found a uniquely “Christian nation.” But, such myths are typically seen as the grounds that underwrite oft repeated claims about “taking America back for God.”

Boyd finds something almost inherently evil and sinful in the kingdom of the sword (another name he gives “kingdom of the world”). He claims that Satan rules this kingdom (he lumps all governments under the one rubric “kingdom of the sword/world”) and that it is always seeking to gain “power over” (Anything? Everything?), while the “kingdom of God” is characterized by “power under.” One “wins” according to human tradition and common sense, the other “wins” in ways totally foreign to common assumptions of what “winning” looks like. Here, think something like, “the victory of the cross.” By human standards, a dead messiah hardly looks like a winning messiah.

We frequently think our ideas on political issues and interactions with the world are “righteous” because “fallen humans tend to identify their own groups as righteous and any group that opposes them as evil.” Due to our narcissism we think that whatever we think is right, automatically mean that God thinks it’s right. Hence Bush’s claim that we are “rid[ding] the world of this evil.” Of course the rest of the world sees us in highly different terms. A militant (or non) Muslim might get the idea that we are militants if they saw some of our church services where the American flag waves across a big screen, complete with jets doing a fly-by and the congregation singing “God bless America,” all wrapped up with a sermon on how we need to pray for our president and our “boys” who are out “keeping America safe from evil,” all with the providential blessing of God, of course. “Despite our widespread reputation, of course, we evangelical Christians often insist that we are loving; it’s just that the world is so sinful they can’t see it -- or so we tell ourselves.” And so George Bush: “I’m amazed that there’s so much misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us…like most Americans, I just can’t believe it because I know how good we are.” We know what’s best for the world. We’re just out to help people, yet we help countries that have oil interests while the genocides in many African countries continue unimpeded.

On top this, Boyd also finds that the church has a terrible history whenever they have been in charge. The early church wasn’t like the Constantinople church. When the church gained political power, terrible and scary results were brought about. Boyd finds the political-Christianity, always just a baptized version of “kingdom of the world” government, have engaged in racism, massacre, witch hunts, hypocrisy, tribalism, marginalizing, and all sorts of other things incompatible with “the kingdom of God.” He cites Frederick Douglas’s reaction to the expression of “Christianity” he saw in his contemporaries. Thus Douglas: “Between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognized the widest possible difference-so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of frauds, and the grossest of all libels.”

All of this Boyd uses as support of his repeated claim that “No one has ever been called a heretic for not being loving enough.” He wonders why? Boyd sees true Christianity as primarily about our actions. Christ is primarily a moral exemplar. And of course this is just a function of his clear Emergent approach to Christianity. Boyd is described on the front cover as an “electrifying preacher.” And he frequently says such cool, relevant things like, “We need to have an outrageous love.” Rather than discuss some of the problems I see in some of what I said above (I did not mean the above as an endorsement of Boyd, though I agree with some of it), I’d like to springboard off Boyd’s last point to discuss what I find is the biggest error in his book.

Boyd claims the “kingdom of God” expands by us our “act[ing] like Jesus.” Christianity and the kingdom is not “primarily” about “confessing…magical truths.” God’s kingdom is “manifested and expanded through the faithfulness of his subjects, and so where people choose peace over violence and forgiveness over retaliation, acting in the interest of others rather than out of selfish interest, the kingdom of God is present.” We are to be “Christlike,” even “incarnating ourselves” into the world’s problems. True statements like, “our confidence isn’t to hang on power brokers of human history” is followed by claims that our confidence hangs on our being “committed to walking in the way of Jesus of Nazareth.” We “conquer by … making it our sole task , movement by moment, to manifest the unique righteousness of the kingdom of God.” “The kingdom of God…always looks like Jesus.” “What if we just did the kingdom?” “Doing the kingdom …transforms peoples hearts and therefore transforms society.” We are to love all people “with a Calvary love.” Since Jesus dies “for all people” then we are to “love all people” with “the same Calvary love that drove Jesus to the cross.” We love, we don’t judge. “If you want to judge someone else, you first have to be sinless.”

These are all direct quotes from Myth. And it is statements like this that make Boyd’s book dangerous. The subtitle of the book is, “How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church.” But it is Boyd’s teaching that will destroy the church far more efficiently than misguided Christians exhibiting a zeal without knowledge. As should have been self-evident from the above, Boyd is teaching a works-based gospel. Confusing law and gospel. The kingdom expands and people are transformed by what we do, not by what they believe Christ did for them. Boyd critiques that historic understanding via an argument from pejorative: “magical truths.” Our “confidence, again, rests on what we do. We need to “do” the gospel. “Live” the gospel. None of this is good news! It’s quite scary, actually. If our good works and righteousness is how the kingdom advances, then, with a healthy doctrine of sin, I dare say there will be no advancement and there is and will never be a “kingdom of God” here on earth. No one will ever be transformed. The gospel, which is a proclamation of good news about something that was done for us, has been turned upside down. Can there be anything more dangerous to Christianity than a denial of the gospel?

Of course other errors result due to Boyd’s Arminianism. Jesus “came to redeem the world.” “Now, through his death and resurrection, Jesus accomplished the task for which he came. He defeated the kingdom of darkness and set humanity free. In principle…the world has been reconciled to God.” “In principle all have already died in Adam and been made alive in Christ.” And of course applying Romans 5 to all means that all have been made righteous (in principle). “So by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (v.19). And how he escapes universalism is another question, “For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (v.17). Boyd gets around the difficult questions by maligning doctrine. But if doctrine, i.e., “magical truths,” actually matter, then if Calvinist exegesis is correct, Jesus’ death on the cross was an exclusive love (cf. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, for example) and so fails to be a proof text for the kind of love we are to show all men whoever. Besides, who gave Boyd the right to declare us all 'lil messiahs? As if we could actually mimic the salvific, redeeming, one-time, accomplished love of Christ dying as the “lamb of God.” The exclusivity of this death is seen in the very precondition of its intelligibility - the Old Testament Day of Atonement. The sacrificial lamb’s death was always for Israelites, never for non-Israelites. Likewise Jesus’ death - with the New Testament’s teaching on “Israel.”

Boyd's guiding ethic also seems to be nothing other than Fletcher's situation ethics. Boyd says that, "The only criteria that matters, then, in assessing whether anything has any value within the kingdom that God is building on earth is love..." (emphasis original). Fletcher says, "Christian situation ethics has only one norm or principle or law that is binding and unexceptionable, always good and right regardless of the circumstances ... that is love" (Fletcher, Situation Ethics, 1967, p.30). So one could add the problems inherent in situation ethics to Boyd's argument in the book. Boyd's Arminian emphasis on what has been rightly dubbed "wuv," causes him to say that the best expression of a "kingdom woman" was that she told a girl thinking about abortion that she would love her and support her whatever her decision. If she chose to get the abortion, "Becky" would help her through the post-abortion recovery, provide her a place to live if her parents threw her out. Of course we should love people thinking about abortion. But this is one of the problems with Boyd's fluffy, situation ethic. It's fairly loose. How do we love our neighbor? Ask a thousand different people, get a thousand different answers. But Boyd lets the fluff cloud his thinking. What if the girl told "Becky" that she wanted to kill her mother? Would "Becky" offer to help her through the post-matricide!? Boyd's view of love leads him further to say that God's "kingdom" is not one of judgment. But one wonders if he's heard of hell? If he knows anything about the typological kingdom of God in Israel and how they operated? Judgment is indeed part of the kingdom of God.

Further problems arise when we see that “Christianity”, as divorced from “magical truths,” all of a sudden has been transformed by Boyd into a name that can be applied to even Buddhists. It’s not about what is believed, it’s “primarily” about how you act. The “kingdom of God” is evident in those groups that “choose peace over violence and forgiveness over retaliation, acting in the interest of others rather than out of selfish interest.” So the historic lines between “Christian” and “non-Christian” have been blotted out. That’s why Boyd can use Gandhi and Martin Luther King as examples of “kingdom people,” while questioning those like the Puritans, for instance. On Boyd’s terms, a socially “loving” atheist group that exhibit’s the above traits is where God’s kingdom is “evident”, while a group of sinful Christians who repeatedly fail to live up to Boyd’s standards but yet continues to trust and rest in the righteousness of Christ alone being imputed to them, is not Christian. This is all a confusion of law and gospel. Between an announcement and our actions. (We can add that a major problem with Boyd's view here is that when we look at the empirical evidence, the only "kingdom of God" that has been authorized to exist here on earth (Israel) didn't look like what Boyd's idea of a kingdom of God would look like. Israel engaged in some pretty bloody campaigns on behalf of God's request!)

Lastly, Boyd makes self-refuting claims. Given that it is obvious that he’s “judging” a certain segment of the church, and given the plausible assumption that Boyd is a sinner, then he removes the foundations upon which he seeks to judge these Christians: “If you want to judge someone else, you first have to be sinless.” Boyd says that “Jesus never judged Gentile sinners,” and Paul never did either. He claims we never find talk about how Gentiles are sinners when Jesus or the apostles speak to Gentiles (and never mind his atrocious rendering of Acts 17!). But this is manifestly false. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent“ (Acts 17:30). But why should these Gentiles be told to “repent” if they weren’t “sinful?” And to call someone “sinful” is to “judge” them, but the Apostle was not “sinless.” So, how could he “judge” these people and “force” his “Christian” view of morality on them? Given how he takes "world" in all the soteriological passages, then when John speaks of the "world" rejecting "the light," how is that not universal? Boyd can't have it both ways. And of course to claim that "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," is to claim that all men are sinners, even Gentile men...and women!

Given the brevity of this review, there was much I could not go over. There was much good I would like to commend (there's some valid and needed indictments of American Christianity inside), but given some of the claims I addressed above, I cannot recommend this book without clearly warning of the works-based religion Boyd proclaims to mankind. There is no mention that church is primarily a place where the gospel is preached and the sacraments administered. Indeed, the contrary is claimed. Church is the place where the “troops” are rallied to go out and “transform” the “kingdom of the world” through its “actions” of “self-sacrificing Calvary love.” I don’t know about you, but that’s unappealing to this sinner. I need to go to church to rest. To get fed. To hear proclaimed what was done for me and what I can never accomplish on my own. I know Boyd wanted to write on “The Myth of a Christian Nation,” but instead he propounded “The Myth of a Graceful Christianity.” Boyd’s cherished “kingdom of God,” is just another therapeutic moral deism.” A “Christless Christianity.” No one has ever been called a heretic for being “unloving” because that’s not something you can be called a heretic for! Heresy is about deviation for essential "magical truths." If heresy could be indexed to our actions, then guess what? We're all heretics; yes, even Greg Boyd. This is more evidence that Boyd confusions our actions with the good news encapsulated in “magical truths,” comprised of words, on actual, physical pages of the Bible. Boyd has just traded one version of moralism for another one. One Christless Christianity for another.

Who's a heretic?

Some Orthodox epologists, who shall remain nameless (to protect the guilty), say that Protestants, or at least some of us, are heretics of one sort or another, viz. Nestorians, tritheists, &c.

One might ask how Orthodoxy arrives at this pejorative verdict. Here is how Metropolitan Ware explains the process:

“To the question how one can know whether a council is ecumenical, Khomiakov and his school gave an answer which at first sight appears clear and straightforward: a council cannot be considered ecumenical unless its decrees are accepted by the whole Church. Florence, Hieria, and the rest, while ecumenical in outward appearance, are not truly so, precisely because they failed to secure this acceptance by the Church at large. (One might object: What about Chalcedon? It was rejected by Syria and Egypt—can we say, then, that it was ‘accepted by the Church at large’?) The bishops, so Khomiakov argued, because they are the teachers of the faith, define and proclaim the truth in council; but these definitions must then be acclaimed by the whole people of God, including the laity, because it is the whole people of God that constitutes the guardian of Tradition…At a true Ecumenical council the bishops recognize what the truth is and proclaim it; this proclamation is then verified by the asset of the whole Christian people, an assent which is not, as a rule, expressed formally and explicitly, but lived,” T. Ware, The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books 1997), 252-53.

In order to see the logical structure of this explanation, let’s try to schematize it:

1A. Nestorians aren’t Christians.

Why aren’t Nestorians Christians?

2A. Nestorians are heretics.

Why are Nestorians heretics?

3A. An ecumenical council (Chalcedon) defined Nestorianism as heresy.

What makes a council ecumenical?

4A. It must be ratified by all Christians.

Why didn’t Nestorians ratify the Council of Chalcedon?

1B. Nestorians aren’t Christians…

Bible Memorization Worksheet 2009

As 2008 draws to a close, I'm sure many of us feel that we could've done much more this year to implant God's Word into our hearts. If your year was like mine, you probably memorized more phone numbers than Bible verses. But as 2009 approaches, we have the opportunity to commit ourselves to a truly fruitful cause. We can work hard to memorize Scripture, week after week, for the next 52 weeks. We can allow God to blow the doors off of our hearts and do a great work in us through our learning of Scripture. In the hands of the Holy Spirit the Bible is the most powerful tool that we have for spiritual growth. Let's not neglect it to our shame and detriment.

Here is a Bible Memorization worksheet for 2009 that you might find useful. Feel free to share it with others.

Most important of all -- pray! pray! pray! Pray as you memorize these verses that God would powerfully enable you to live them out.

May God bless your efforts.

Bible Memorization Worksheet 2009

Christmas evidence

Jason’s Engwer’s review of historical evidence for the first Christmas has drawn some criticism on a discussion board. I’m not going to comment on these criticisms because the criticisms are original or profound. Rather, I’m going to comment on these criticisms because they’re representative of stock objections to the historical Jesus.

The objections don’t get any better than this. There are no original or profound objections to the historical Jesus. It’s always the same shallow, irrational, incoherent objections.

“Evidence? What type of evidence would you be showing? Peer reviewed documentation or just something you strongly believe in?”

Diamondlucky is a good example of an unbeliever who can’t think for herself. She simply parrots objections that she’s heard from other unbelievers rather than thinking them through for herself.

How does peer-reviewed documentation count as evidence? Any group of like-minded people can set up a peer-review process. Christians can review other Christians. Mormons can review other Mormons. Ufologists can review other ufologists. Atheists can review other atheists.

As Philip Kitcher observes, in another connection, “Social criteria for genuine science, such as publishing articles in ‘peer-reviewed journals,’ are easy to mimic. Any group that aspires to the title can institute the pertinent procedures. Hence those procedures no longer function to distinguish science from anything else,” Living With Darwin, 9.

The Christian journal Faith & Philosophy is peer-reviewed. Does that count as evidence for someone like Diamondlucky? I doubt it—don’t you?

“That isn't evidence of any historical jebus... using the bible is circular reasoning...”

Notice that Aticusfinch666 contents himself with a bare assertion in lieu of an argument. But in what sense is it circular to use the Bible as historical evidence for the historical Jesus? The NT is a collection of 1C documents about 1C people, places, and events. It’s authored by 1C writers about 1C contemporaries. What’s wrong with using the NT as a historical source about its own time and place?

If I were writing a biography about Josephus, would it be circular for me to use his autobiography (the Vita) as a source of information?

Perhaps what Aticusfinch666 is trying to get at, in his crude, ham-handed way, is that you can’t believe what somebody says about himself just because he says it. In that sense, a self-referential claim is viciously circular.

If that’s his point, what’s the target? Can he quote any leading Christian scholar who believes the Bible just because the Bible makes self-referential claims?

And while it’s true that you can’t believe just anything that anyone says about himself, it’s equally true that you can’t disbelieve just anything that anyone says about himself—can you?

Is there a standing presumption that everybody is a liar? And that every time anybody says something, he’s telling a lie?

Is that a rational rule of evidence? No.

Not everyone is a liar. In addition, some people lie more often than others. In addition, some people will lie in certain situations, but not in others.

There are also smart liars and dumb liars. A smart liar will be truthful in many situations because he knows that it’s not in his self-interest to lie all the time. If he did that, he would acquire a reputation for being a liar, at which point no one would believe him. And a lie is only useful if it’s believable.

So a smart liar will only lie some of the time. He will only tell calculated lies. Credible lies.

Even a dishonest individual finds it expedient to be honest most of the time. It’s his general honesty that lends credence to the occasional lie. If he’s caught in one lie too many, he loses the credibility which he needs to be a convincing liar. Indeed, if you acquire a reputation for being a liar, no one will believe you even when you are telling the truth!

“No one has the slightest physical evidence to support a historical Jesus; no artifacts, dwelling, works of carpentry, or self-written manuscripts.”

i) Suppose we had an authentic “work of carpentry” from the hand of Jesus. What would that prove? That he existed. That he was a “carpenter.”

But that’s not much of a concession for Aticusfinch666 to make. So this is just a throwaway argument.

ii) What about a “self-written manuscript”? But if using the Bible is circular, wouldn’t using a “self-written manuscript” be equally circular?

So Aticusfinch666 is being duplicitous about his rules of evidence. Even if we had a “self-written manuscript” from the hand of Jesus, Aticusfinch666 would dismiss that self-referential claim as circular.

If Jesus wrote something about himself, wouldn’t Aticusfinch666 brush that aside on the grounds that you can’t believe what Jesus wrote just because he wrote it?

“All claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people.”

But isn’t testimonial evidence from second-parties a form of corroborative evidence? So notice what Aticusfinch666 has done:

i) He disqualifies the self-witness of an individual as “circular.”

ii) He also disqualifies corroborative testimony.

He has tried to arbitrarily restrict the evidence so that no form of testimonial evidence is allowed to count as probative evidence.

“There occurs no contemporary Roman record that shows Pontius Pilate executing a man named Jesus.”

But Aticusfinch666 just told us that “all claims about Jesus derive from writings of other people.” And he said that to dismiss the evidence for Jesus.

So suppose we did have a “contemporary Roman record that shows Pontius Pilate executing a man named Jesus”?

Wouldn’t that claim “derive from writings of other people”? So which is it? Are second-party claims about Jesus evidentiary or not?

“Devastating to historians, there occurs not a single contemporary writing that mentions Jesus.”

Of course, that’s equivocal. There’s a difference between a contemporary writing and a contemporary writer. A contemporary writer might write about an event long after the event. For example, people who write autobiographies generally write them towards the end of life. They write about people they knew 50 years earlier. Like their grandparents. But that’s hardly “devastating to historians.”

Most autobiographers don’t write about their childhood at the time they were children. Rather, they generally write about their childhood when they’re in their sixties or seventies or eighties.

Is that “devastating to historians”? What about historians who write autobiographies?

What’s the expectation here? Some people are born famous. They are born to famous people. So we may have contemporary writings about them from an early age.

But other famous people become famous. As a result, nothing was written about them before they became famous. If a historian is writing a biography about a celebrity, is it devastating to find out that no one wrote about the celebrity before he became a celebrity? Or is that to be expected?

Was Jesus born famous? No. He came from very obscure family. Humble origins.

There were people who knew about him from an early age, but they were equally obscure. The argument from silence hardly applies.

“All documents about Jesus got written well after the life of the alleged Jesus from either: unknown authors, people who had never met an earthly Jesus, or from fraudulent, mythical or allegorical writings. Although one can argue that many of these writings come from fraud or interpolations, even if these sources did not come from interpolations, they could still not serve as reliable evidence for a historical Jesus, simply because all sources derive from hearsay accounts.”

Of course, this is sheer assertion, masquerading as an argument. And it ignorantly disregards all of the evidence to the contrary.

“Your statement: - "Human memory is more reliable than skeptics often suggest’ is false.... as an experienced attorney, I can tell you that the human memory is not so good.... if you have 10 witnesses to an occurrence, you will have 10 differing accounts of what happened...”

Well, there are a just few small problems with this objection:

i) Aticusfinch666 is making a self-referential claim. But isn’t that “circular”?

Why should we believe him? According to him, isn’t there a standing presumption that self-referential claims are dubious? Or is he tacitly admitting that some self-referential claims are credible after all?

ii) It doesn't even occur to him that his objection is self-refuting in another respect as well. He appeals to his expertise as an "experienced attorney" to prove the unreliability of human memory. Needless to say, his appeal to personal experience is, itself, an appeal to memory. If memory is unreliable, then his appeal to his own experience is equally unreliable.

iii) In what sense do 10 different eyewitnesses give 10 different accounts? Say they see an automobile accident. In what respect do their accounts differ?

Does witness #1 say he saw one car strike another car, while witness #2 says he say a kangaroo strike a car, while witness #3 says he saw a flying saucer strike a car, while witness #4 says he saw a mermaid strike a car, while witness #5 says he saw a pterodactyl strike a car, while witness #6 says he saw a witch on a broomstick strike a car while, witness #7 says he saw Reepicheep strike a car, &c.?

Or do they differ on trivial details like the make, model, year, license, and color of the cars?

iv) Do the legal rules of evidence exclude testimonial evidence? Hardly. Aticusfinch666 is quite simpleminded. The fact that a particular eyewitness may be unreliable doesn’t mean that all eyewitness testimony is unreliable. There are basic criteria for sifting testimonial evidence. Scholars like Richard Bauckham and C. A. J. Coady have discussed this in detail.

“You put a lot of stock in those gospels but they are all hearsay from unknown sources... we don't know who wrote them...... As an experiment, imagine the Gospels without their titles. See if you can find out from the texts who wrote them; try to find their names.”

i) Why should we imagine them without their titles? That assumes the titles were late editorial additions. Has Aticusfinch666 read Martin Hengel on the subject?

ii) Even if the titles were added at a later date, there is also the evidence of the early church fathers.

iii) In the case of the Fourth Gospel, many scholars from the 19C (e.g. Westcott, Lightfoot) to our own time (e.g. Carson, Guthrie, Keener, Köstenberger, Morris) have argued for Johannine authorship on internal grounds. Aticusfinch666’s experiment is an exercise in self-reinforcing ignorance on his part, since, in fact, many scholars have tried that experiment with the Fourth Gospel. And if we only had the Forth Gospel, that work alone would still yield a high Christology, as all admit.

iv) I’d add that the internal evidence for Matthew is just what we’d expect for a Jewish apostle, while the internal evidence for Luke is just what we’d expect for a Gentile convert. And the internal evidence for Mark is quite consistent with what we know of Mark from other NT references.

v) And didn’t Aticusfinch666 implicitly concede that if we had a “self-written manuscript” from the hand of Jesus, this would count as evidence for Jesus? But if we had such a work, Aticusfinch666 would try to discredit the autobiographical testimony to Jesus (in the “self-written manuscript) the same way he tries to discredit the biographical testimony to Jesus (in the Gospels). “Imagine the self-written manuscript without the title…”

So once again, Aticusfinch666 makes and breaks the rules of evidence at will to filter out anything that could possibly count as evidence for the historical Jesus. There is no consistency to his method beyond the consistent effort to discount any possible evidence for Christianity by any means necessary, however often he must contradict himself in the process.

“Your article is bogus and nothing more than the rantings of a xtian apologist...”

And Aticusfinch666’s reaction is bogus and nothing more than the rantings an anti-Christian apologist.

By contrast, Engwer, in customary fashion, marshals quite a bit of evidence for is own position.

“Come back when you have some solid, testable, cooberated, peer reviewed scientific evidence of your jebus and/or god!”

i) Of course, this is self-refuting. Who peer-reviewed what Aticusfinch666 chose to post?

ii) Scientific evidence is not synonymous with historical evidence. Science ordinarily deals with general, repeatable processes whereas history ordinarily deals with unique, particular events. You can’t reproduce the Battle of Waterloo in laboratory. In that sense, it’s unscientific. So what?

You need to adapt the rules of evidence to the nature of the object. You can’t begin with an a priori set of rules, then impose that on the subject matter. You can’t transfer the rules of evidence appropriate to one discipline to a very different discipline. Realty dictates the rules of evidence, not vice versa.

iii) Even on his own grounds, Aticusfinch666 has a simplistic notion of scientific testability. As Kitcher notes, another connection:

”Intoning the mantra ‘science is testable,’ in the public press or even in the courtroom can produce striking effects. This, however, is only because of an overly simple understanding of testability…At many stages in the history of science, inquirers conceive of promising hypotheses that are hard to connect with observational or experimental findings. They and their successor must work to formulate auxiliary assumptions that will made the needed connections, assumptions that are often controversial, and that must be probed for their own soundless. Invocation of the magic formula thus faces a dilemma. If core hypotheses, taken in isolation, must be subjected to a requirement of testability to be taken seriously, then the greatest ideas in contemporary science will crumble along with intelligent design. If, on the other hand, all that is required is to supplement a core hypothesis with some auxiliary principles that allow for testing, then the spell fails to exorcise anything,” ibid. 9-10.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Parable of the Dying Do-Gooder

The Parable of the Dying Do-Gooder

In a certain city there lived a man who always treated others better than himself. One day this man found himself in a conflict with another man, a bad man, in a dark alley. In the conflict, the bad man pulled a knife and was threatening to kill the good man and violate his wife. The good man, wanting to demonstrate his goodness, ran away home. When he arrived at home he was very pleased with himself and celebrated his goodness by saying, “O, how happy I am with myself for not being like that bad man. For I have never pulled a knife on anyone. I have never threatened a man’s life or willed to violate his wife for I am too good for such things. Why I am even too good to respond with violence to such threats, for I was armed with a gun when the bad man threatened with his knife. O what a good man am I.” That night the good man and his wife were awakend by a sound. When the good man went downstairs to see what the sound was he discovered that the bad man was there.

“I told you I would kill you and rape your wife you foolish man,” said the bad man. “You should have believe me and killed me when you had that gun with you.” The good man smiled and said, “Friend, I could not have killed you, for that would be to stoop down to your level and then you would have won. Far be it from me to allow that to happen. I cannot deny myself by compromising my principles.”

“Well that pleases me to no end,” said the bad man, as he stabbed the good man fifteen times. And as the good man lay dying, listening to his wife’s screams for help while the bad man made good his threats upon her body, the good man smiled, thinking to himself, “O what a good man I am for not surrendering my principles and stooping to his lev--.”

The dead man’s widow lived to have a different opinion of her husband.

The bad man lived happily ever after, life preying upon the goodness of fools like our dead—dumb ass—hero.

Baptism for the dead

I've been asked to comment on 1 Cor 15:29.

1.Keep in mind that no one really knows what it means, least of all the Mormons.

It’s one of those parenthetical remarks which would make sense to the original audience. It presupposes a certain amount of background knowledge on the part of the original reader, which is lost to the modern reader.

2.The preposition hyper doesn’t necessarily mean “in place of.” Its semantic domain includes “on behalf of, for the sake of.”

So the preposition doesn’t imply proxy baptism.

3.We shouldn’t assume, without further ado, that every reference to baptism is a reference to water baptism. In Scripture, “baptism” is sometimes used in a figurative sense.

4.If it denotes water baptism, it could have reference to a deathbed baptism, either in relation to a deathbed conversion or because, for whatever reason, a Christian procrastinated about baptism until the last moment.

5.Another interpretation is that a survivor will be so moved by the death of a Christian loved one that he will be converted by the experience and undergo baptism to be reunited with his loved one in heaven.

While that interpretation is, in many cases, psychologically plausible, there’s not enough in the passage to confirm that interpretation.

Obama on counterterrorism

The Bush administration came under fire for its methods of interrogation and other aspects of counterterrorism. All these debates will be revisited under an Obama administration. Here's an older analysis of the issues, which is just as germane as ever: see here; here; and here.

It-takes-one-to-know-one Dept.

Though interestingly enough, it is the non-Reformed Baptists who maintain three very Catholic dogmas (contra their Reformed ‘brothers’): free will, belief/conversion before regeneration, and unlimited/general atonement

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The unanimous consent of the fathers

One of the stock objections which Catholic apologists like to use against sola Scriptura is to try to generate a dilemma: How can sola Scriptura be true unless we can use Scripture alone to identify Scripture?

Here’s a recent example:

“Because the list of canonical books is itself not found in scripture—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-biblical knowledge…The belief that the Bible consists only of 66 books is not a claim of scripture—since one cannot find the list in it—but a claim about scripture as a whole…If the 66 books are the supreme authority on matters of belief, and the number of books is a belief, and one cannot find that belief in any of the books, then the belief that scripture consists of 66 particular books is an extra-biblical belief,” F. Beckwith, Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic (Brazos 2009).123-124.

“Because there can be no scriptural test for canonicity unless one first knows what constitutes scripture, one must rely on extra-scriptural tests in order to know the scriptura to which sola scriptura refers. But then one is not actually relying on ‘scripture alone’ to determine the most fundamental standard for the Christian, the Bible,” ibid. 135n10.

Now, I’ve responded to this sort of objection on multiple occasions (including my review of Beckwith), so I won’t repeat myself here. Instead, I’m going to approach this issue from a different angle.

Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that this poses a genuine dilemma for the Protestant rule of faith. If so, then it’s easy to construct a parallel dilemma for the Catholic rule of faith.

Take the unanimous consent of the Fathers. Both Trent and Vatican one invoke the unanimous consent of the Fathers as a criterion for the true meaning of Scripture.

Suppose we substitute the unanimous consent of the Fathers for the Scriptural synonyms which Beckwith uses in his argument. What’s the effect if we plug the unanimous consent of the Father’s into his argument?

Because the list of consensual patristic interpretations is itself not found in the church fathers—as one can find the Ten Commandments or the names of Christ’s Apostles—any such list, whether Protestant or Catholic, would be an item of extra-patristic knowledge. Appeal to the unanimem consensum Patrum is not a claim of the church fathers—since one cannot find the church fathers unanimously listing their consensual interpretations—but a claim about the church fathers as a whole. If the church fathers are a final authority on matters of interpretive belief, and patristic consensus is a belief, and one cannot find where their consensual beliefs are listed by them, then the belief that the unanimem consensum Patrum is a criterion of true interpretation is an extra-patristic belief.

Because there can be no patristic test for unanimous patristic consent unless one first knows what constitutes the unanimem consensum Patrum, one must rely on extra-patristic tests in order to know the unanimem consensum Patrum to which the unanimem consensum Patrum refers. But then one is not actually relying on “unanimous consent of the Fathers” to determine the true meaning of Scripture.

In sum, where do the church fathers unanimously consent to where the church fathers unanimously consent? If we have to go outside the church fathers to identify their consensual core, then we aren’t really relying on the unanimem consensum Patrum.

If the unanimem consensum Patrum is a claim about the whole—a claim concerning all the church fathers—yet the church fathers as a whole don’t identify the unanimem consensum Patrum, then we can’t identify the parts from the whole, or the whole from the parts. We can’t identify the consensual core from within the consensual core, but only from without—by appealing to some extra-patristic consensus concerning the patristic consensus. So the patristic criterion ceases to be a self-contained criterion.

How would a Catholic squeeze out of this conundrum? Would he fall back on the authority of the church? But that only pushes the dilemma back a step.

How do we know that the church whose authority he invokes is the true church to which Scripture or the church fathers refer? And how does he know what the Bible or the church fathers truly refer to apart from the unanimem consensum Patrum?

If, ex hypothesi, sola scriptura is self-contradictory, then the unanimem consensum Patrum is equally self-contradictory. If sola scriptura can’t be self-referential, then the unanimem consensum Patrum can’t be self-referential either. But what does a consensus amount to unless the consenting parties consent to their own, mutual consent?

Making light of a slight

This is in answer to a question I received. How should Christians react when someone says something that hurts their feelings? Mind you, I think we’re living in a culture where too many people are too easily offended. But I’m not talking about the hypersensitives.

There are people who say something cutting, and they succeed. How should we deal with that?

Quoting the usual prooftexts about love and forgiveness is not an answer. For that, of itself, doesn’t change how we feel. It may lay on us a sense of obligation, but it doesn’t show us how to inwardly comply.

The issue is not what we know, but what we feel. Even if we ought to feel a certain way, citing chapter and verse doesn’t make us feel that way.

1. It’s easy to make light of a slight if you’re happy. So it’s useful to remind yourself of all the things in life that make you happy.

If you’re already unhappy, then a slight will cut much deeper.

“Count your blessings,” as the old saying goes. That sounds trite, but it’s good advice.

Of course, there are times when we may not feel very blest. When life may seem more like a curse than a blessing.

That’s often due to our circumstances. Here I’d say that if you can change your circumstances, do so.

Don’t merely count your blessings, but add to your blessings. You can’t reap what you don’t sow. Sometimes we need to plant seeds which will yield a blessed crop.

Where possible, improve your situation so that you will have more blessings to count. Seedtime and harvest have a spiritual dimension.

Put another way, sometimes we shouldn’t focus on the slight. Rather, we should focus on our ordinary mood—which can either minimize or magnify the slight.

2. Apropos (1), we should make a practice of thanksgiving. Keep a record of the good times. Sit down and write down the many good things that have happened to you over the years.

It’s easy to forget. Easy to lose track. Life is so relentless. One thing after another.

There are lots of things to thank God for. Sometimes we need to slow down, look back, and do an inventory of our life. Fond memories. Divine deliverance. Answered prayer. Unexpected blessings.

Slights recede when we move out of the shade and stand in the sunlight.

Know what you care about, then care about what you know.

3. We should remind ourselves that the only person’s opinion which really matters is God’s opinion.

4. We should imagine what the person who slighted us would be like in heaven. It’s easier to pray for someone if you think about him, not as he is, but as he could be. If God brought out all his best qualities, added other good qualities, and eradicated the bad qualities.

5. We should put our feelings in perspective. It’s like a phobia. I know it’s irrational and involuntary. If I’m acrophobic, I can’t help how I feel about high places.

But that very recognition is liberating. I don’t blame myself for a phobia. It’s beyond my control. Feeling bad is not necessarily the same thing as having a morally bad feeling.

Maybe I have good reason to feel slighted. Maybe I was wronged. If that’s the case, then it’s all right to feel that way. My emotion is not a wicked emotion.

It would be wrong to nurse it. But it’s not wrong to have it.

Sometimes we have a right to be resentful. We were treated unjustly.

We don’t have a right to frame that emotion, hang it on the wall, and gaze at it day after day. But we no standing orders to be happy all the time. For everything there is a season. A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to love and a time to hate (Eccl 3).

We can allow some feelings to fade away in due time. Feelings have their own seasons and lifecycles. Let nature take its course.

6. Apropos (5), if Richard Dawkins knew me, he would disapprove of me. He would disapprove of me because he is disapproving of each and every Christian. If he knew me, he’d tried to shame me into becoming an atheist.

But, of course, I don’t care what Richard Dawkins thinks of me, since he means nothing to me personally. He’s not someone I know or like or respect. He’s just a silly, pitiful old fool. He desperately needs people to agree with him.

But he can only look down on me if I look up to him. Since I don’t look up to him, his arched eyebrow has no effect.

Now, we’re more likely to be hurt an acquaintance than a stranger. Yet the disapproval may be the same. Just as baseless and unfair.

So we need to remind ourselves that if this came from a total stranger, it wouldn’t make a dent. That doesn’t make the feeling vanish on the spot, but it’s edifying to consider the slight with some detachment.

Homosexual adoption

This is in answer to a question I was asked. Basically, the question was this: is it better to let homosexuals to adopt a kid if no one else will? In response, I said the following:

1. If you place a kid with homosexuals, that’s an inherently unstable situation. And a foster child doesn’t need any more instability in his life.

a) The incidence of suicide, drug use, illness, and domestic violence is higher among homosexuals than the general population. And I’m sure some of this is underreported since it’s politically incorrect to publish stats about the homosexual lifestyle that expose the aggravated problems with that lifestyle.

b) Homosexuals have open relationships with a lot of turnover among the partners. This is especially true among men (and our laws wouldn’t permit discrimination between male homosexuals and lesbians). So this also fosters an unstable domestic environment.

c) In my observation, lesbians are lesbians, not because they’re attracted to other women, but because they’re angry with men. This is not a proper environment to raise either a boy or girl. To have man-hating women raise a boy or girl invites social malformation.

d) We know from the Catholic priestly abuse scandal that homosexual men are prone to seduce teenage boys. If you place a boy in their custody, then, sooner or later, you’re exposing him to a high risk of molestation.

e) Boys and girls need normal, natural role-models. That’s how we mature socially and emotionally. Needless to say, they don’t get that in a homosexual environment.

f) One of the problems with homosexuality is an inability to distinguish between sexual affection and asexual affection. Since both forms of affection are directed at members of the same sex, that’s catastrophic for child-rearing.

Children need physical affection, but they don’t need sexual affection (which is very harmful at that age).

g) Homosexuals are bound to hate Christian values. You’re placing a child in an environment that’s bound to be militantly anti-Christian.

h) Even if they’re raised by a secular couple, that’s a more natural, normal, healthy environment.

2. Homosexuals are statistically insignificant. (The 10% figure was discredited years ago.) So there aren’t enough homosexuals to take up the slack, even if it were an otherwise good idea (which it’s not).

3. Homosexuals are perfectly capable of having kids the old fashioned way. They adopt, not because they can’t conceive kids of their own, but to make a political statement. To prove something. So they don’t adopt kids for the sake of the kid, for the kid’s benefit. The child is just an equal rights trophy.

4. It may be objected that you can have many of the same problems in a heterosexual family. That’s true, but...

a) By definition, placing a child with homosexuals is a worst-case scenario. It’s bound to be really bad in various ways.

We know, in advance, that we’re harming the child when we place him in that environment.

That’s not automatically the case with normal foster care. And there are degrees of harm.

b) There’s a difference between placing a child with strangers and removing a child from the custody of his biological parents. For better or worse, children have a profound, built-in emotional bond with their biological parents.

As such, it’s generally best to leave kids in the care of their own parents unless the situation is quite dire. Even when separation is necessary, that still takes an emotional toll.

So, up to a point, we tolerate situations involving a biological family that we wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) tolerate when placing a child with strangers.

I don’t see that placing a child with homosexuals is much different than placing a child with a pimp or junkie.

The Cult Of Saint Bart

I still don't understand why Bart Ehrman is so highly regarded among so many critics of Christianity. Here are some comments from a recent thread on his resurrection debate this year with Mike Licona:

"After listening to just a few minutes of Ehrman I have a feeling that the President and professors of this Baptist College are thinking to themselves, 'Oh S%*t, what the hell were we thinking!' I had to laugh a little. But kudos to them for being willing to expose their students to Ehrman. I only wish my Baptist college had been willing to do the same... maybe I would have begun to think more clearly and rationally before spending 20 years in full-time ministry."

"Those responsible for inviting Erhman to this debate must have been gobsmacked. How could anyone hear Erhman and not leave with serious questions concerning the reliability of 'sacred' text."

Many of the other comments in the thread are similarly ridiculous. Evangelicals frequently arrange debates like this one, and they publish the results in video and book formats, for example. Maybe if these skeptics knew the issues better, they would understand why Evangelicals keep doing that and why Ehrman didn't do as well as they think he did.

I wrote a review of the debate here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Ash and the Air

Dominic Bnonn Tennant has finished writing a novel for NaNoWriMo called The Ash and the Air.

Here's an intro from Dominic to whet your appetite:
Searching for the theory of everything had its consequences. At the heart of the technological singularity lay an impossible genius with a single directive, no moral compass, and the ability to manipulate a universal governing force. An enemy as present as the air, able to scatter the very atoms of an army, and reduce a city to dust. Such an enemy could not be fought. Such an enemy could not be stopped.

Now, if only we had a time machine.
In addition:
The Ash and the Air is a short science fiction novel I wrote for the National Novel Writing Month, 2008. It explores the technological singularity, time travel and paradox, possible worlds and eternity, artificial intelligence and the Chinese Room, science, philosophy, reality, and the quest for knowledge. It will hopefully be the first of three loosely related books which will explore these sorts of concepts, and draws many of its themes from Genesis 1–3. Its overt influences range from "Doctor Who," "Burn Notice," and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (especially season 4) to "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect" by Roger Williams, "In him all things hold together" by Charlie Sebold, and "Time Present and Time Past" and "When the future ain't what it used to be" by Steve Hays.
BTW, Charlie Sebold has likewise finished writing his novel for NaNoWriMo.

Time-travel in Calvinism

Turretin Fan has done an interesting little post on the perennial issue of freedom and foreknowledge:

Although he doesn’t specifically discuss it, this intersects with the issue of time-travel in SF.

Since I’ve written a number of short stories about time travel, and since I know a number of other Calvinists who’ve done the same, this issue is worth exploring.

Turretin Fan is correct to point out that popular scenarios of this sort often involve an indeterministic view of time. So can a Calvinist write a novel or short story about time-travel that’s consistent with his theological commitments?

Several comments are in order:

1.I use the SF genre for a couple of reasons:

a) As a modern American, I grew up with SF, so it’s a literary genre that comes naturally to someone of my generation (or younger).

b) The SF convention is also a useful way of exploring the consequences of our actions. Indeed, I think that’s one reason God endowed human beings with an imagination. It’s a precondition of moral deliberation.

Take the attitude of regret. Although some people suffer from vain regrets, I think that, in general, regret is an edifying attitude. Only a morally obtuse individual can make his way through life without looking back on some of his actions (or inactions) with a twinge of regret.

An imaginative faculty is also a precondition for human creativity. God created us. But he created us with a creative ability of our own.

And the Bible itself appeals to hypothetical scenarios.

So time-travel is a convenient, literary convention to explore alternate possibilities. At that fictitious level, it’s perfectly consistent with Christian theology. The very fact that we can do it means that we have a God-given capacity to do it.

2. Many SF stories use time-travel as a stock convention which they don’t bother to justify. It’s something which the audience is expected to accept. The willing suspension of belief.

Some SF stories make a token effort to justify time-travel. They offer a pseudoscientific explanation.

These stories are not so much about the possibility of time-travel itself, but about the possibilities which time-travel creates. So they don’t focus on the mechanics of time-travel, beyond a perfunctory explanation to make it seem a bit more realistic.

Other SF stories are more interested in the possibility of time-travel. And they attempt to offer a serious scientific or metaphysical explanation for time-travel.

Of itself, the use of this literary convention does not entail any ontological commitment to the possibility of time-travel.

3. Moreover, the theoretical possibility of time-travel is not all of a piece. Perhaps traveling into the future is theoretically possible while traveling into the past is theoretically impossible. Perhaps traveling into the past is theoretically possible, but altering the future is not. You can go back in time, but you can’t change the outcome.

I’m not saying that any of this is possible. Just that, if we’re going to discuss the possibility of time-travel, then this question breaks down into a number of separate issues.

4. From a Reformed standpoint, is it hypothetically possible to change the future? The answer depends on how you ground that possibility.

If that possibility is grounded in a view of time as indeterminate, then that would be contrary to predestination and providence. (Indeed, it’s contrary to foreknowledge.)

On the other hand, it wouldn’t be difficult for a Reformed novelist to gloss this possibility in a way that’s congruent with predestination and providence. If a character changes the future, he can ony do that because God decreed more than one outcome. God decreed the time-machine. God decreed the time-traveler.

God didn’t decree more than one outcome at a time (which is incoherent), but decreed them to eventuate in serial fashion: one future after another.

So time would still be determinate. God would predetermine the eventuation of one alternative possibility, and then another—using the character as an agent to effect that outcome. That would still be consonant with foreordination and providential second causes.

We don’t ordinarily think in these terms since, as a matter of fact, that is not how God chosen to structure the timeline.

I’m also not discussing the question of whether time-travel is physically or metaphysically possible. The point, rather, is that if, ex hypothesi, time-travel is physically or metaphysically possible, then you can ground that possibility in a Calvinistic framework.

I myself haven’t discussed the nuts-and-bolts of time travel in my own short stories since the narrative begins to sag under too much philosophical exposition.

5. Finally, I’m not entirely sure if I agree with Turretin Fan on the coherence of prophecy. The potential problem is this: if a prophecy is too detailed, it generates a dilemma. For it thereby invites its own failure.

If you know too much about the future, that puts you in a position to thwart the foreseen outcome. If the prophecy says that you will get out of bed at 7:00 AM, you can spite the prophecy by getting out of bed at 6:59 AM or 7:01 AM.

But, in that case, you can’t foresee the future in detail. If a prophecy is too detailed, it undercuts the necessary preconditions for such a prophecy to accurately forecast the future.

This doesn’t mean that prophecy is impossible. But the prediction must be sufficiently vague in certain details that doesn’t present a defeasible target.

Now, it would still be possible to fatalistically fulfill a detailed prophecy. God could make the alarm clock run fast or slow, so that when I look at my alarm clock, I think I’m getting up at a different time than the actual time.

God could take control of my body and make me dress myself against my will. Make my hands on the steering wheel turn right when I want to turn left. Make my foot press the accelerator.

I’d be trapped in a body that forces me to fulfill my fate. Or God could trick me through a series of optical illusions.

However, Calvinism traditionally rejects such a coercive model of fulfillment.

Prophecy is coherent, but only if certain restrictions are in place—restrictions on the knowledge of the affected parties.

There’s nothing very subtle or remarkable about this. It’s like a police tip. The tip doesn’t work if you tip off both parties—the policeman and the crook. The crook can’t know the police are on the way.

If you tell the police that you can find the crook at a particular address, at a particular time of day, and you also tell the crook what you told the police, then they won’t find him there when they go looking for him.

Mind you, this also depends on whether the affected party has an incentive to thwart the prophecy. In some cases, he welcomes the prophecy.

But if it’s a prophecy of doom, and he’s foredoomed, then you’ve given him an opportunity to escape his fate by revealing the details of his fate. So you can have a destiny as long as you don’t know what it is.

We can see this restriction in Biblical prophecy. The Bible doesn’t contain one big long prophecy, in which are the details are given and presented in such a way that you can see how it all comes together before it all comes together.

Instead, bits and pieces of the future are selectively revealed so that you can only see how they all fit together after the fact.

Semper reformanda

Paul Manata has done us a service by reviewing Scott Clark’s new book:

I’ll venture a few comments of my own. These are not really comments on his review, per se. Rather, they’re comments on some of Clark’s material, which he cited or summarized.

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).

i) I’m not sure I agree with this. It ought to be possible, up to a point, to challenge a system from within. To treat the system as so ridge that it’s immune to any internal challenge is too all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it. The system can never bend, only break. Surely we can’t treat every detail of the system as so integral to the system as a whole that any revision to any systemic detail requires us to chuck the entire system out the window.

For example, when John Murray wrote an article on the Westminster Confession, he was largely commendatory—yet he didn’t hesitate to suggest areas where the Confessional formulations could be improved.

Cf. “The Theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith,” Collected Writings of John Murray, 4:241-63.

ii) I’d add that the Reformed confessions are consensus documents. They paper over a lot of disagreements. 16-17C Reformed theology is not conterminous with 16-17C Reformed confessions.

iii) What I would say is this:

a) You shouldn’t become a Reformed elder or Reformed seminary prof. if you have a fundamental disagreement with the system. And you shouldn’t become one of the above under false pretenses.

b) In principle, you could declare your disagreement at the outset, but I think it’s best not to join an organization if you’re fundamentally at odds with that organization.

c) But suppose you change your mind after you join? Then what? Let’s say you come to the view that the new perspective on Paul is correct.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with respectfully suggesting that traditional Reformed theology needs to be revised at that point to bring it more in line with Scripture. (Keep in mind that I, myself, am hostile to the new perspective on Paul.)

You shouldn’t have to resign your position (elder, prof.) in advance. You can submit your proposed revision for the evaluation of your peers or superiors.

d) However, just as you have a right to change your mind, they have a right to hold you to the terms of your membership. You shouldn’t put them on the defensive and attack them for upholding their traditions. They hired you or ordained you with a prior understanding of what you stood for. You went along with that at the time.

And if you can’t persuade them, you should then resign. You shouldn’t force them to conduct a heresy trial, then appeal the verdict, and so on and so forth. You shouldn’t try to destroy the system from within. That’s not an honorable reaction.

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 think the main point Frame is trying to make here is that, if there were no God or divine revelation, there would be no obligation to respect the truth.

A godless world might be so grim that I'd prefer a beautiful illusion to the truth. And, under that scenario, I have no epistemic duty to prefer a grim truth to a beautiful illusion.

Believing the truth is only a virtue if there are objective moral norms. Believing the truth might still be useful, but it wouldn't be virtuous.

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).

i) That depends on who the “we” is. It’s fine to have Reformed scholars who are patrologists or medievalists. But that’s not the job of a modern exegete. That shouldn’t be their point of reference.

ii) Moreover, we have resources that our Reformed forefathers didn’t have. For example, Biblical archeology didn’t exist back then. So they were more dependent on patristic exegesis than we are.

iii) Furthermore, their appeal to the church fathers and scholastic theologians was, in part, an apologetic move. A way of showing that they were truer to tradition than the Catholic church.

But that has more to do with polemical theology than exegetical theology.

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 an age of booming Christian book sales. New commentaries 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).

I think that Clark is simplistic here:

i) It’s true that individuals have no right to unilaterally redefine Reformed identity, for Reformed identity is a corporate identity. Many individuals have been involved in formulating Reformed theology.

ii) We should recognize that 16-17C Calvinism is a genuine expression of Reformed theology. At it merits a respectful hearing.

iii) At the same time, there’s no reason to freeze Reformed theology at a particular epoch, making the 17C the cutoff date. For corporate identity can also change over time.

One really can’t use history to fix identity, for history is fluid. There are other factors in Reformed identity besides historical identity. For one thing, I hope our theology is scriptural. Shouldn’t that be the bottom line? There’s also an inner logic to much of Reformed theology.

In the end, there’s no substitute for truth. Truth is the only criterion that counts. If our identity is at variance with the truth, then so much the worse for our identity. Our fidelity to sola scriptura must be a living commitment, not a perfunctory buzzword.

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 think that’s questionable. Even the OPC had to admit “it is widely agreed that most of the Westminster Divines apparently held to a view that the creation days were days of ordinary length” (2749-50).

And the Westminster Divines could exclude the patristic doctrine of instantaneous creation without using such a chronologically specific phrase (“space of six days”).

So I think that, at this point, Clark is guilty of special pleading. He wants to treat the Reformed confessions as definitive for Reformed identity where they happen to coincide with his own views.

But, as a 21C American, he does see certain issues differently than they did. So he’s exempting his own departures from 16-17C orthodoxy.

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).

Even assuming that this is a valid distinction, it still marks a break with the past. At this juncture, the 16-17C confessions cease to be definitive for contemporary Reformed identity.

So, once again, I think that Clark is guilty of special pleading. Historical identity is an insufficient anchor.

As a modern American, Clark, and some of his colleagues, have undergone more change than some of them are prepared to admit. They’re more conditioned by their own place and time (not to mention the influence of Meredith Kline) than some of them are letting on.

Take the Puritan view of worship, which was codified in the Westminster Standards. Let’s remember that, historically, the Westminster Standards include the Directory of Public Worship:

Does Clark, or his colleagues, continue to use the Westminster Directory as their blueprint? I don’t think so.

So I’d like to see more honesty on their part. Clark is too much like the guy who, as soon as he squeezes through the entrance, slams the door behind the next guy in line.

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! :-)