Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More on Recovering the Reformed Confessions

I want to respond more indepth to Dr. Clark’s book, Recovering the Reformed Confessions. I do want to stress some of the book’s positive attributes, but I still think his section against 6-day creation creates in the book a fatal flaw that ends up undercutting his main point.

There are some really great things in this book. First and foremost is the writing. I think Dr. Clark is a clear and accessible writer. He is easy to read, to understand, and the book has an enjoyable tone and pace. This is not easily done.

Second, the premise that we as reformed churches need to recover the wonderful documents that are our heritage is true. We need to not be afraid of speaking confessionally. He puts his finger on a real problem and is right to address the idea. We are children of a heritage, and we ought not be nervous nor afraid of it.

Third, one can tell from reading this book that having a Church History class from Dr. Clark would be a lot of fun. Anyone who quotes from John Thomson is okay in my book, and Dr. Clark does it twice. His view on Illegitimate Religious Experience and his application of that to the Great Awakening is right on target. The PCA would do particularly well to listen to that point of advice.

Fourth, one has to admire his willingness not only to point out problems, but to suggest solutions. Ways to recover the Reformed Confessions and Heritage in this modern culture. I don’t particularly agree with all of them, but it makes a good book that does more than critique, but suggest solutions.

Fifth, the section on Illegitimate Religious Experience is also well done and applicable to us today. In fact, it might actually be more applicable to the modern evangelical situation than the Religious Knowledge. It was helpful for me.

Yet, I still have this against the book. In his section about Illegitimate Religious Knowledge he puts in 6-Day creation. Leave aside the debate about it for a moment. This commits Dr. Clark to saying that those things that are not included in the Reformed Confessions are things one cannot be certain about. Thus, to be certain about extra-confessional material is illegitimate. Fine. If that is what one wishes to hold it is a defendable position. The problem is that Dr. Clark is not consistent to that point throughout the rest of his book.

Let me give an example. Dr. Clark goes on to argue that our knowledge of God is analogical (staring on page 123). He attempts to argue that this is part of the warp and woof of the confessions embedded within the creator-creature distinction. This point is highly debated most famously in the Clark-Van Til arguments. This indicates (not stated in the book, but one can read between the lines) that Dr. Scott Clark would argue that Dr. Gordon Clark is not confessional at all. Now where is analogical knowledge spelled out in the creeds? How is that not an extra-confessional issue? How is 6-Day creation illegitimate religious certainty and analogical knowledge is okay? Dr. Scott Clark tries to ground analogical knowledge in the confession in WCF 7.1 “distance between God and the creature”, but that is a pretty big stretch. As is the appeal to the phrase “as it were” in the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 27 about the Providence of God. I WANT TO BE CLEAR, I am not against analogical knowledge. IN FACT, I think the biblical discussion of analogical knowledge is one of the best in the entire book. It is clear, cogent, and powerful. One does not need to be aquatinted with the debate at all to see the argument and understand what is going on. I just think it makes Clark inconsistent in this particular book because of his stance on 6-Day Creation.

Dr. Clark also argues for exclusive singing of Inspired Words (not quite exclusive psalmnody). His point here is that the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) is in the creeds and the RPW requires only the words God inspired. I am going to deal with that more tomorrow, but I have to again ask, how can 6-Day creation be illegitimate to be certain about, but not singing hymns is okay to be certain about? It just does not make sense. The same thing could be said about the second service on Lord’s Day section in this book.

My ultimate point is this: Dr. Clark argues that things outside of the confession cannot be used a boundary markers of Reformed church and then argues for several such boundary markers that are outside the confessions. That is my real problem with the book. When this book goes into a second printing it would be greatly improved in its own internal consistency if it simply removed its discussion about 6-Day creation completely. That way he never forces himself to argue that extra-confessional things are illegitimate to be certain about, and then his suggestions, which are all just as debatable whether or not they are confessional or extra confessional as 6-Day creation, do not conflict with his previous arguments.