Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Escondido Theology Chapter 3

Frame moves on to R. Scott Clark's book, Recovering the Reformed Confessions. Again the tone is quite upset, and one can easily see the complaint about the Absolutizing nature of Escondido theology rather easily in this book. In fact, it is a much more effective criticism here than with Horton who walked back the title of the book in the first few pages. Clark's book revolves around the Quest of Illegitimate Certainty or Experience, and there is no walking it back or toning it down.

Interestingly, Frame often makes the claim that the Escondido Theology is done by historians rather than theologians. This critique seems unfair, but again with Clark's book, it might actually be true.

Clark attempts to hold forth the Confessions as the only legitimate ground for the church. Where they are silent, so too should we be silent, and where they speak, we must speak. Sounds good in theory. However, I agree with Frame that Clark fails at his own system and really falls down into a subjectivism and then makes it the absolute model for being "reformed". For example, Clark believes it is illegitimate for churches to require a certain belief on the days of creation despite the fact that the Westminster does say "in the space of six days". But Clark then goes on to state that churches ought to have two services every Sunday despite it never showing up in any confession, and they ought to sing only the words of Scripture despite that never showing up in a Confession. Clark does try to argue that it is a legitimate inference from the Regulative Principle of Worship, which does show up in Confessions, but then could we not also argue Six Day Creation is a legitimate inference from every confessions' discussion about creation and then also the 4th commandment? Of course we could. Frame does not use these exact examples, but does point out the inconsistent application of Clark's own view. It ends up being nothing more than the absolutizing of Clark's subjective take on things. Frame tends to focus in on things like Clark's rejection of Transformationalism, which is not explicitly mentioned in the Confessions, neither is the Two Kingdoms view (which Clark never directly argues for, but Frame believes is assumed in the book). Rather than viewing this as a place of liberty and any attempt to demand one over another as a Quest for Illegitimate Certainty, Clark views Transformationalism as part of the problem in the reformed churches today.

Frame spends most of the time defending himself, as Clark does quote Frame occasionally and basically labels him as unreformed. Most of it revolves around Epistemology, and the discussion in this section is interesting. I do think Frame has placed his finger on a troubling aspect of Clark's thought. Clark believes that there is a "degree of falsehood in human speech about God" (pg. 130 in Clark's Confessions and pg. 98 in Frame's Escondido). Here I side more with frame, that while human speech can never full exhaust God nor explain it in the way God knows things, I do not think that implies "a degree of falsehood". We can truly know, I believe. And if there is always falsehood in our speech about God such as "God created the heavens and the earth" then we cannot truly know what is true and what is false. I may not know exactly how God accomplished it or fully understand the power behind such a magnificent act, I do not think that makes the statement even slightly false.

I don't always agree with Frame in his critique. Clark I believe is right in the beauty and joy of strict Confessional subscription. Frame here worries that it limits too much, but I disagree and side more with Clark. Why Clark would then go on and advocate a new Confession to be written is beyond me. If the old Confessions are not wrong, and it is so wonderful to adhere to, I see no need for a new one. Still, Frame here tends to lump strict subscription into the dangerous Absolutizing tendency of Escondido theology, but I don't think they are the same thing.

In the overall scheme of things, Clark's book does not address a large portion of the Escondido Theology. It revolves around the main point of Absolutizing a certain tradition, mainly the 16th and 17th century (and only portions of that!). Discussing anything outside of that tradition is not Reformed or illegitimate. This makes people like Jonathan Edwards and Martin Lloyd Jones unreformed. Clark's book is narrow in its focus, but I think Frame does a descent job in criticizing it.


Matt Powell said...

I'm really enjoying this review series of this book. Thanks.