Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Religious Uncertainty: R. Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confession

R. Scott Clark's false accusation of an illegitimate quest for religious certainty (QIRC) is nothing more than the positive assertion of a quest for an illegimate religious uncertainty (QIRU), ambiguity, relativism, subjectivism, and an outright denial of special revelation in the fully inspired Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. -- Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

A Critical Review: Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice, by R. Scott Clark

R. Scott Clark. Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008). 362 pp.

Although I generally agree with Westminster Theological Seminary, California's theological outlook on the law/gospel distinction, the two kingdoms theology, and a solid commitment to a Reformed and confessional theology, I can only say that Scott Clark's book is confusing and ambiguous and even self-contradictory on several levels. What is particularly troubling is the tendency of Westminster California's professors to read Van Til's theology of analogy into every mention of the doctrine of Scripture. This is true of Mike Horton's new book, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011). I will be reviewing Horton's book further in upcoming posts. (See Part One).

Be that as it may, I highly recommend Clark's book but not because I agree with his perspective or even his observations, recommendations or conclusions.  Moreover, I do agree mostly with his understanding of covenantal theology and two kingdoms theology drawn from Scripture. Clark is strongest when he does an historical survey of the regulative principle of worship as it existed just after the Reformation. His reporting of the various views on idolatry and the prescription of Scripture for worship is excellent regarding the Puritans and of the practices under John Calvin in Geneva. However, I would liked to have seen more about the difficulties between radical Puritans and the English Reformers like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Bishop Hugh Latimer, and Bishop Nicholas Ridley, who all died under the reign of Bloody Mary or Mary Tudor. In particular, it is common knowledge that two Puritans, John Hooper and Peter Martyr Vermigli, were close advisors to Archbishop Thomas Cranmer during his reform of the Book of Common Prayer (1549-1552).

The strength of Clark's book is that he rightly points out the problems with an over-emphasis on pietism and an existentialist direct encounter with God, which basically amounts to mysticism. Particularly to the point is the end of Clark's book where he critically examines the departure of the vast majority of Reformed denominations and churches from the regulative principle of worship. His focus is the sabbath and the refusal of Reformed congregations and denominations to have two services on Sunday, the first being focused on the exegetical preaching from the Bible and the second being focusing on instruction from the Heidelberg Catechism so that God's people may understand the Reformed view of Scripture and doctrine. He advocates the exclusive singing of inspired psalms and hymns from the Old Testament and New Testament without music. According to the regulative principle of worship only that which is prescribed by Scripture is to be allowed for the liturgy and worship. For that reason, Clark advocates that no musical instruments be used in worship as well, despite the fact that the Psalter includes instructions for the use of musical instruments. This seems to be inconsistent on the part of Clark since he violates his own precept here. Musical instruments are prescribed in Scripture. (Cf. Nehemiah 12:36; Psalm 7:13; 68:25; 87:7; Psalm 150:4). It seems arbitrary on Clark's part to assign these instances and others to “circumstances” (pp. 230, 234, 239, 240, 263, 267-70, 290) in Scripture rather than to prescriptions, although I tend to agree with his view that uninspired songs and hymns should be avoided. (Pp. 233, 239, 255, 266, 268, 270, 290). The one place where I would disagree is the exclusion of Te Deum Laudamus and other ancient hymns of the church that were adapted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer to the more biblical theology of the Reformation.

In fact, Clark even mentions the inspired songs used in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer without crediting the BCP with their use:

. . . If we keep in mind the principle that we may do only what we must do in public worship, then the argument for the use of uninspired songs cannot be said to have met that burden of proof.

Second, it has seemed to scholars of the New Testament that there are a number of songs in the New Testament. Among these are usually included the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), and the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32). [Page 271].

Unfortunately, Clark confuses common prayer with “forms”. He does not seem to realize that even the regulative principle of worship is a “form”. His criticism of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is therefore misplaced:

The preface to the DPW [A Directory for Publique Prayer] says that there were three reasons for the creation of the Directory: First, as beneficial as the Book of Common Prayer (hereafter BCP) was to the Reformation, nearly a century later, the BCP had become a tool of oppression rather than liberation. The “prevailing Prelatic party in England under Archbishop Laud was bent on strict conformity, and on extending it to Scotland.” The Prelatic party was, in the words of the DPW, “urging the reading of all the prayers” (emphasis added) so that “the many unprofitable and burdensome ceremonies” in it had become an occasion of “much mischief.” As a result of the imposition of the BCP, Christians were being kept from the table and ministers deprived of their living. The de iure divino Anglicans (e.g., Richard Hooker and Adrian Saravia) “have labored to raise the estimation of it to such a height, as if there were no other worship, or way of worship of God.” The second reason is that the BCP tended to give aid and comfort to the Roman critics of the Reformation as validating the mass. Third, it had the unintended consequence of fostering “an idle and un-edifying ministry.” Rather than giving themselves to prayer, ministers were relying on the forms. The Directory laid claim on being a continuation of the work of the “first reformers,” of whom “ we are persuaded, that, were they now alive, they would join with us in this work. (Pp. 249-250).

R. S. Clark ignores several points in the history of the English Reformation here. First of all, Cranmer's Prayer Book was solidly Reformed and Calvinistic, as the 1595 Lambeth Articles and the 1615 Irish Articles of Bishop Ussher indicate. Laud, on the other hand, was a high church Arminian and arguably in cahoots with the Jesuits as Augustus Toplady would later insist. Cranmer's 42 Articles are solidly reformed, in fact so much so that Matthew Parker edited and softened their rhetoric. Laud's Prayer Book of 1637 was not the product of the Elizabethan restoration but rather of a departure from the English Reformation under Cranmer, although the book had only minor revisions.  The official prayer book is the 1662 BCP which is virtually identical to the 1552 BCP, which is the most reformed prayer book.

Like most modern Presbyterians Clark largely ignores the Calvinist character of the English Reformation. The genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was in adopting the medieval principle of lex orandi, lex credendi into the forms of common prayer in order to teach the Evangelical faith and justification by faith alone through the application of sola Scriptura and solid biblical proof texts quoted in the liturgy. But Scott Clark seems to think that ad hoc prayers and extemporaneous prayer is somehow preferable to solidly biblical written prayers. But what check do we have on the solipsistic emphasis of individual opinions over against a more confessional adherence to common prayer? After all, the Anglican Formularies are a confessional standard which teach doctrine. The 39 Articles of Religion interpret the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and both are confessional standards for the Church of England, along with the Homilies. There is some question as to the proper listing of the homilies in book one, however.

What is even more surprising, given the presupposition behind the RPW (regulative principle of worship), is Clark's totally ignoring the issue of the proper administration of the two Gospel sacraments. The RPW advocates that nothing should be done which is not positively asserted in the text of Scripture. Therefore, the use of fermented wine and the use of the common cup and unleavened bread in communion should have been discussed. But only the issue of leavened and unleavened “commonly used bread” is mentioned (p. 236). The Bible explicitly calls for the use of wine and the common cup in the administration of the Lord's supper. This is demonstrated in the Westminster Confession as well:

The Lord Jesus hath, in his ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break bread, to take the cup and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants; but to none who are not then present in the congregation. (WCF 29:3) (Cf. Matthew 26:26, 27, 28; Mark 14:22, 23, 24; Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:23, 24, 25, 26; WSC 96).

The use of grape juice is a modern innovation subsequent to Prohibition and was never the practice of the Reformed churches prior to that. I would also contend that the use of the common cup was the common practice of Reformed churches before modern times. For some reason Clark never mentions these issues, although he is a professor of historical theology. It would seem from a preliminary examination that Clark is highly selective in what he considers the historical practice and confessional view of the Reformed denominations.

The most troublesome thesis of Clark's book, however, is his assertion that Van Til's theology of analogy of Scripture is virtually identical to that of the classical Reformed theologians who advocated the creature/Creator distinction and the archetypal/ectypal distinction. Clark fails to prove his case that this is so. Basically, he simply makes an a fortiori assertion and expects his readers to believe secondhand sources rather than proving his case from the original sources. My response is that Clark is welcome to his opinion but reading Van Tilian theology into the Reformation is as revisionist as Karl Barth's claim to be Reformed.

Especially problematic with the Van Tilian view of Scripture is the contention that Scripture is not univocally the very word of God. The practical result of this de-emphasis of Scripture as the verbal-plenary and inspired word is that inerrancy and infallibility are practically forgotten. Doctrine is downplayed in favor of a mystical emphasis on the sacraments as means of grace to the point that propositional truth claims are lost in the mire of paradox and irrationalism.

For R. S. Clark only by analogy and not by logic is there any revelation from God:

. . . even those in the Reformed confessional tradition who rejected the modernist translation project have also wrestled with the proper way to do theology after modernity. Some confessionalists carried on the classic approach to theology, but we have often seemed to forget gradually our own grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Confessional Reformed theology, however, works with some basic beliefs about the nature of relations between God and his creation, beliefs that are derived from Scripture and shape theological method. Chief among these is the notion that God is the “beginning of being” (principium essendi) and, as such, the “beginning of knowing” (principium cognoscendi). A corollary to this doctrine is the notion that human knowledge of God is analogical. (P. 123).

For R. S. Clark the divine image of God in man is not the intellect or the will or even the human nature or soul, but it is merely an analogical relationship. However, the Bible seems to indicate that the divine image and likeness has to do with the revealed attributes of God (John 4:24). That is, God is a sentient, moral, intellectual being who is an actual personal God revealed as three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 13:14). However limited our understanding of God's nature and being, we do have real knowledge of God as He reveals Himself in the special revelation of Holy Scripture and the very words of God. As we read Scripture we can know precisely what God thinks on certain issues of theology. The Bible does make claims to absolute truth in matters of faith, morality, and dogmatic doctrine in the form of a rational revelation in Holy Scripture.  If there is any error the error lies with the sinful creature who cannot always understand what is clearly revealed due to the noetic effects of sin (2 Peter 3:15-16). Scripture itself is plain and sufficient so that even a child can understand the Gospel and be saved, even if reading only the Old Testament Scriptures! (2 Timothy 3:15). The Reformed position is called the perspecuity of Scripture, not the paradox of Scripture!  Why Van Tilians insist that Scripture is not God's very Word but only analogous to God's thoughts and words is a mystery. They pretend to disagree with the neo-orthodox view but in the end agree with it. If the incomprehensibility of God extends even to the special revelation of Holy Scripture such that it is not univocally God's word then there is no revelation at all. What is left is mere mystery and paradox and equivocation. This is why you do not see the Van Tilians talk much about the verbal plenary inspiration, infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. It is because they do not really believe it is possible for God to reveal Himself in every single word of Scripture. For them revelation is merely historical events with vague concessions to the propositions attached to the events.  The "concepts" of Scripture are inspired and exactly what these concepts are is vague for the Van Tilian, because they only approximate what God wants us to know rather than being univocally exactly what God reveals to us on the human level.  For the Scripturalist, on the other hand, what we know is what God knows, even if what we know is only a single proposition and not an exhaustive knowledge of God's being or nature.

Although it is true that the Old Testament speaks in terms of typology and foreshadows of the coming of Christ, it is not true that the cross is merely a symbol or a type or an analogy. The cross is not simply an event. The cross is in particular a propositional doctrine that asserts particular dogmatic doctrines that are essential for saving faith. Basically, the doctrine of the cross is loaded with theological propositions such that to explain and teach them all would take many years of expositional preaching and teaching. The idea that everything God says in the Bible is merely a type, a metaphor, or an analogy is a misrepresentation of the doctrine of verbal-plenary inspiration and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy and infallibility.  In fact, R. S. Clark's view opens the door to modernism, irrationalism, and doctrinal revisionism. Moreover, the various genres of Scripture show clearly that the Bible is not a book of metaphors and analogies but contains a variety of genres of literature, including gospel, wisdom, poetry, apocalyptic, parable, historical narrative, didactic, and doctrinal materials. All of these genres, however, have behind them propositional teaching that can be understood with the mind and the intellect. In turn, assent to these doctrines, or believing them, is essential to saving faith. There is no need for a mystical encounter with some gnostic spoken word or a magical emphasis on word and sacrament. The mystical union with Christ is based on faith or believing the intellectual content of the doctrines of the Bible. Without understanding the propositional truth claims made by the Bible it is impossible to know them or assent to them or believe them. Faith is just that simple.  To know the information of the Bible and understand it makes it possible to believe that information and assent to the content of that message in saving faith.  The Van Tilian theology, on the other hand, has more in common with existentialist categories which make revelation impossible, ambiguous, and mystical. 

Clark's book is a misnomer because he rejects the very propositional truth claims of Scripture which are systematically summarized in the Reformed confessions. In fact, along with the modernists he suggests simply writing a new confessional standard that deals with the postmodern situation—as if truth changes with culture? If that is so, then we should probably reject the Bible as well, since it is virtually a premodern book and out of touch with modern sensibilities.

While I agree with R. S. Clark's assessment of the first and second Great Awakenings and even of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield's wrong emphasis on experience and the so-called “quest for illegitimate religious experience” (QIRE), it seems to me that R. Scott Clark's view of propositional truth as the “quest for illegitimate religious certainty” (QIRC) is nothing more than an attack on Scripture itself.  Instead, Clark affirms skepticism.  His view is an affirmation of an illegimate religious uncertainty (QIRU), ambiguity, relativism, subjectivism, and an outright denial of special revelation in the fully inspired Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. Being that R. Scott Clark came from a Socinian background, it should be no surprise that he leans toward neo-orthodoxy and a bifurcation of truth into relative obscurity.

Charlie J. Ray


Ricardus said...

"Laud, on the other hand, was a high church Arminian and arguably in cahoots with the Jesuits as Augustus Toplady would later insist."

See Richard A. Muller's "God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Direction of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy." Arminius's library (even though he had denied reading the Jesuits) had books by the Jesuit, Luis Molina, in his library which was being sold off after his death. Molina was behind the whole issue of Middle Knowledge or scientia media.

Charlie J. Ray said...

Technically, Van Tilians like R. Scott Clark reject the middle knowledge view. But since they can appeal to paradox to excuse their compromises with Arminianism, it is hard to pin them down. Thanks for commenting.

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