I just finished Scott Clark’s new book Recovering the Reformed Confession. If one has to choose just one word to describe it, I would have to go with “invigorating.” And this describes the whole book, even though one might not agree with every part of the book. For instance, my differences with Clark would come in the area of the creation days (although I do not make the 24 hour view a test of orthodoxy), and in the area of exclusively inspired hymnody (he does not advocate exclusive Psalmody, but rather that we should sing hymns that are the biblical text, and from any part of Scripture), and in the area of instruments. He mounts arguments that would certainly be difficult to overcome for anyone who does disagree with him.
The book has a very simple structure: problem, then solution. The problem is two-fold, the quest for illegitimate religious certainty, or QIRC, abbreviated (and in this category, Clark attacks KJV only-ism as a test for orthodoxy, the denial of the free offer of the Gospel, the theology of glory that Luther attacked so vigorously, liquid modernity, 24-hour creation days as a test for orthodoxy, theonomy, and the Federal Vision); and the quest for illegitimate religious experience, or QIRE (and here he attacks pietism and revivalism mostly, as it seeks to escape the normal means of grace for an immediate experience of God. Jonathan Edwards, it should be noted, falls under Clark’s critique at this point, which would certainly be another controversial point). It should also be noted that Clark is very careful to distinguish between pietism and the piety of Reformed Confessional practice. The latter is based on the normal means of grace, whereas the former is based on direct experiences of God. Clark’s point here is that God’s grace is mediated today through the means of grace. We should therefore not seek to bypass those means of grace.
The solution part of the book, which is the longer section, has a number of proposals which are very intriguing. For instance (and this is the one which intrigues me the most), he advocates setting up a committee formed with members from all NAPARC denominations in order to draw up a new confession. He notes that, on average, the Reformed churches came out with a new major confession every six years. And it is certainly true that we need to confess our faith. Such a document would have to be consistent with with the six forms of unity we already have, of course. But that is probably why Clark advocates having members from all NAPARC denoms participating. I was thinking about this, and what might be the best way to proceed is to have a structure for this committee similar to the US governmental legislative branch. To have a “senate” where each denom has equal participation, and then have a “house” where larger denoms have more say. The confession of faith resulting would then have to pass both the “house” and the “senate.”
The reason this is important is that the word “Reformed” is being used today without reference to any fixed definition. Clark advocates using the word in the sense that the Reformed confessions define theology. This I agree with completely. There is no sense in using a word that can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. We do not want to have happen to this word what has happened to the word “evangelical,” and I think that is exactly what Clark is wanting to avoid.
One other point I want to bring up about the book is his comments about the evening worship service. First of all, his discussion of the Sabbath issue is tremendously helpful, and shows that it is way to facile to say that there is a “continental” view of the Sabbath as opposed to a “puritan” view. Clark shows that this simply was not the case. All one has to do is read Turretin and a’Brakel on the 4th commandment to know that Clark is right. Calvin did not bowl on the Sabbath day. The day was for worship. And an excellent barometer of the spiritual maturity of people is whether or not they attend evening worship.
This book is the book to give to people who want to understand where “TR”s” ( I hate that label, but it has stuck) are really coming from, and what their concerns are. It is a very exciting book to read, and I recommend it enthusiastically.