Friday, 13 February 2009

Recovering the Reformed Confession Part 8 - Concluding Reflections

Ok, so I've read the book. I thought I would just post some random thoughts on the work as a whole.

1. I think that without doubt, Clark has demonstrated that the word "Reformed" has a fixed definition. This has implications for how we should name our churches, movements, theologies, etc. In the light of the "Young, Restless and Reformed" movement in the US, Clark makes a point in the epilogue:

Imagine that these "young, restless and Reformed" leaders traveled to the Synod of Dort and presented themselves to the Reformed churches of Europe and England as "Reformed Christians". Wouuld they be accepted as such? Of course, the first questions would be "What do you mean by Reformed?" "Do you confess the BC and the HC?" At that point the discussion would soon fall apart because, though these visitors to the synod would have much in common with the synod on soteriology, they would have rather less in common with them on the doctrines of the church and the sacraments and on the hermeneutics of covenant theology. One cannot doubt that our time travelers would return home disappointed to be rejected by the Synod of Dort, but were they to try again at the Westminster Assembly, they would find a similarly chilly reception. (p344)

That's hard to quibble with. To say that some of these guys are "Reformed" because they believe, not even in the 5 points, but merely in predestination, is akin to calling John MacArthur a charismatic because he believes in the Holy Spirit. Maybe some better names to describe these guys would be Sovereign Grace Baptists, or SoRe (Soteriologically Reformed) Baptists or the YMCA (Young Moderately Calvinistic Anabaptists)?!

2. The book was like a cool drink of water to this Reforming evangelical. It should be to many other evangelicals like me too. I think that there is a restlessness in evangelicalism. Many have come to faith in evangelical churches, and like Bono, can speak with the tongues of angels, but can also sing "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." Charismatics are being tired of blown to and fro by every Wimber doctrine. Baptists and brethren are lacking clarity with regard to the gospel. They've been taught that they're all little popes, deciding what is and what isn't Scriptural, and they're tired of the awful responsibility that this carries. No man is an island. No one man can decide between all the competing voices of those who have exalted their biblicist ideas to confessional status. We need each other and we need community. We need to stand in the good of the great traditions of the church, knowing that these doctrines have been ironed out in community and in continuity with the church fathers. To quote the great Bono again, "Sometimes you can't make it on your own."

3. I do have some questions though. If the definition of "Reformed" is fixed, then how can we go on Reforming the confessions (if necessary of course) and keep the label "Reformed"? Further, if a US Reformed group wanted to change some aspect of the, let's just say, WCF how would they go about it? Would they call an assembly of just the NAPARC churches? Or would they attempt some global conference to discuss these things? Who would be invited? You can see my point. I suppose that since technology has made the world a smaller place, this wouldn't be as difficult as in previous generations.

4. The Reformed Confession is a great simplifier of church practice. The gospel is kept central to the Reformed liturgy. Innovations are frowned upon. The word (sung and preached) and sacraments are the focus. It really should make church plants a lot simpler. For instance, if you're going to surf close to the RPW, you'll either only need a piano, or even no instruments at all. complex sound system. No big screen for power point presentations. It subverts all the values and glossy superficiality of culture.

5. Clark's exposition of Reformed piety and his emphasis on the law/gospel distinction is an antidote to the quiet time slavery besetting many. I think that the rule of daily readings/prayers as THE means of grace is killing Christian people. Many see the Christian life as "doing" stuff. Doing church, doing quiet times, doing worship etc. Yet it's the law which tells us to "do". It says "Do this and live." Whereas God in the gospel says, "I've done this in Christ so that you'll live." The apostle Peter describes the law as "a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear." (Acts 15:10) Yet we put this law of daily prayers on our necks and the necks of others (even though there isn't a single text advocating daily quiet times). "No," say the Reformed, "we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 15:11) So we are not doers, but receivers. We receive Christ through the word preached and the sacraments given. Private prayer is a mere overflow of this.

6. The Reformed Confession is an antidote to the emerging epistemological reaction to fundamentalism. Long before McLaren and co. were writing about chastened epistemologies, John Owen and co. were writing about the ectypal and archetypal distinction.

7. The book is very well written. Not many people can write a 362 page work on Reformed confessionalism and keep it engaging. Clark, remarkably, seems to have pull it off. It is an absolutely cracking read. Give it a go. Even if you disagree with him, you'll enjoy his style.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

This series has been most encouraging! Reviewers rarely engage a book so thoroughly and carefully. Of course it helps that we ended up agreeing on most things, but in any event you clearly understand the book.

On revising the Reformed confession see pp. 180-91 where I lay out a plan for just that. How it might be done outside N. America, I'm not sure but it certainly could and should be done and preferably on an cooperative inter-denominational basis.

Nick Mackison said...

Thank you for bothering to read my nonsensical ramblings.

I should have remembered pp. 180-91.

Anyhow, keep writing the good stuff. You have a tremendous gift.