Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Recovering the Reformed Confession Part 2

In chapter 2, Clark begins his section on the crisis as he sees it in confessional Reformed churches. This chapter outlines what Clark sees as the quest for illegitimate religious certainty (QIRC).

He defines QIRC as ".. 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." (p39)

Clark believes that churches are realigning "theological and ecclesiastic priorities" (p44) in response to "liquidity, or the prevailing sense that nothing is fixed, certain or reliable any longer." (p42) These new priorities reflect a search for solid truths, controlling principles if you will, that give coherence to all other facts. The problem is that these "truths"in many cases represent not only "non-confessional marker(s) of Reformed identity" but are actually "opposed to the Reformed confession." (p44)

The three examples given by Clark are 6 day, 24 hour creation (6/24); Theonomy/Reconstructionism and Covenant Moralism.

Clark argues that to insist upon 6/24 as a matter of confessional orthodoxy is misguided as the WCF 4.1 ("In the space of six days..) was never meant to enforce the literalist view upon adherents. This would be a simplistic reading of the WCF forgetting that "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." (p49) Making it a boundary marker also serves to let the wrong people "in" (e.g. Seventh Day Adventists) and keep the right people "out" (e.g. B.B Warfield, Machen, et al).

He goes on to argue that Theonomists engage in QIRC by trying to resolve the tension between living this side of the cross and how to engage with the law. They want to flatten out the tension by bringing in the law wholesale (although they conveniently don't circumcise their children and are happy to wear mixed fabrics).

As to Federal Vision advocates or Covenant Moralists, Clark believes that they engage in QIRC by trying to resolve the tension between being simultaneously justified and sinful. By introducing works into final justification, they flatten out the tension and make the doctrine more palatable and reasonable.

All in all it was an engaging and thought provoking chapter. Something that struck me again and again was how this Reformed approach to epistemology should be a safe place for people desperate to escape the misguided doctrinal certitude of many fundamentalist churches. Geneva is the place to find a safe haven, not with Rome or with latte quaffing readers of 'A Generous Orthodoxy'. Calvin and his successors were teaching a balanced "chastised epistemology" in non-revealed matters long before the emerging crowd embraced the term and used it to encompass even perspicuous doctrinal truths.

6 comments:

The Puritan said...

I'm looking...where do I find QIRC in the Bible?

Nick Mackison said...

God told Adam "Do not engage in QIRC" in Genesis 2:17. I think that's how it's translated in the LXX.

Paul Manata said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Manata said...

Hi Nick,

I'm no theonomist, so...

You wrote:
"The [sic] want to flatten out the tension by bringing in the law wholesale (although they conveniently don't circumcise their children and are happy to wear mixed fabrics)."

i) Where do theonomists say that they want to "bring in the law wholesale"? (And, they do baptize.... anyway)

ii) The only place you might get that from reading Clark is when he characterizes the theonomic program (following Greg Bahnsen's words) as arguing for "the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail" (which we know if we've read Bahnsen is taken, so he thinks, from Jesus' claim: "not one jot or tittle shall pass...").

But Clark himself states that this was never mean to be taken in the wooden literal sense you intimate above.

Says Clark: "Of course, as Greg Bahnsen argued this, it became clear that the slogan contained a certain amount of hyperbole. After all, even the advocates of the slogan accept that the ceremonial law is abolished in Christ; thus aparently the detail is not exhaustive but selective." (p62, emphasis supplied)

So Clark didn't atack a caricature of theonomists (at least not here) as you just did.

As my theonomist friends can attest, I don't appreciate cheap shots when taken against, say, Natural Law. But I likewise don't appreciate it when the cheap shots go the other way.

I do, however, agree with Clark that these things (6/24, theonomy, etc.,) are not and should not be "boundy markers" for what it means to "be Reformed." He's right about that. Other than that, it's not clear that covenantal monism shouldn't be a boundy marker for when you've stepped outside the faith, let alone the Reformed faith!

chaos said...

Nicely done. That tears it. Come pay day I'm ordering RRC. Thanks for this.

Nick Mackison said...

Paul, thanks for your comments. I recognise that I did caricature the theonomist position.

Two things though. First, it was a review of the chapter and I was trying to summarise a substantial piece in a couple of sentences.

It was necessary for me to summarise in the way I did as my blog is read mainly by my Scottish evangelical friends. Theonomy is not a 'live' issue here, and I was being as brief as possible on this issue.

Second, the argument about "exhaustive detail" or "wholesale" is just pedantic semantics. If theonomists are going to say silly things like 'exhaustive detail' then they are opening themselves up to caricature.

Thanks for your input tho. God bless.