Monday, 12 January 2009

Recovering the Reformed Confession Part 5 - I must confess I still believe

Chapters 5 & 6 of RRC explicitly deal with the subject of confessionalism. Clark contends that confessionalism is essential to the recovery of a reformed identity. The very idea itself is biblical. "The practice and theory of confession are closely connected to the biblical notions of covenant and oath-taking." (p155)

After mapping out, convincingly IMHO, the biblical basis for confessions, Clark makes the stark point that, "confessions, however limited they may be, are inescapable. Even 'no confession' is a confession of sorts. Everyone who associates with a 'no confession' church confesses that there is 'no confession'. Anyone in a 'no confession' congregation who attempted to impose a longer or different confession would run into opposition from all those who confess 'no confession.'" (p159)

The normal New Covenant Theology response at this point would be, "The danger is that confessions become the authority over Scripture." The reformed response to such an argument would be: "Scripture is indeed the norm which norms all norms. Nevertheless, that norm must be read and understood within a given community (i.e. the church), and that community must come to some agreement about what Scripture teaches and implies and how it is to be read and applied within the church." (p159)

COWABUNGA! I found this point absolutely stunning. Maybe there's so much confusion in young evangelical minds (including my own) because we've abandoned the principle of sola Scriptura (reading the Bible in community) for solo Scriptura (me and my Bible is the ultimate authority). Surely confessionalism would be salvation indeed for wavering evangelicals who consider the latest book they're reading to be THE guiding influence on their theology, piety and practice? Wouldn't it be liberating to just read Scripture with the church?

This is the way evangelicals should be going according to Clark in chapter 6. While citing examples of prominent figures leaving evangelicalism for Rome and the eclectic church practices of former evangelicals associated with the emergent/emerging church, he argues that Christians leaving evangelicalism should consider the Genevan road instead (p195)

Clark believes that the virtues of being confessional include being biblical, catholic, vital, evangelical and churchly.

He concludes, "To postevangelicals, this chapter has tried to signify that, at their best, the Reformed theology, piety, and practice are not just another version of fundamentalism or revivalism, that we belong to neither of these movements. Rather our roots, our confession, our theology, piety, and practice are not well classified as 'evangelical' or 'fundamentalist' in the modern sense. As Darryl Hart has argued repeatedly, there is a third party in American religion: confessionalists." (p225)

Restless and Reforming verdict: Clark makes a convincing case for confessionalism. Perhaps the third way for evangelicals burned out by 'the quiet time' law, starved of Biblical preaching, tired of being blown to and fro by every wind of doctrine, confused about the gospel, bored of buddy-Jesus worship, annoyed that no liturgy means the rut - perhaps the way out is to become confessional. This evangelical dude has a lot of thinking to do.

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