Friday, July 25, 2008

Reformed AND Evangelical?

Sometime ago I was concerned and confused when I read this: "Great changes frequently go unnoticed when they happen. The true nature of such changes become evident only after the fact. For example, by rights, had the papacy been as powerful in the sixteenth century as it was in the thirteenth century, it seems incredible that Luther would have survived to challenge the existing order in the way he did. In fact, few were conscious of the weakness of the papacy in the sixteenth century, but it was weak and the Reformation survived. Most recently, the true weakness of Soviet-bloc communism was made manifest only by the refusal of certain nations and peoples to submit to Moscow. In a similar way, modernity has been mortally wounded, and the need for the broad evangelical coalition has passed. It is time for Reformed Christianity to move out of the evangelical ‘big tent’ and back into our own churches and to take up our confessions again and recover our own grammar, theology, and piety (R. Scott Clark, “How We Got Here.” Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry, pp. 11-12)". Let me add that (from the few pages that I've browsed through so far) this volume looks like an exceptional modern exposition of the Lutheran view of justification as applied to intra-American Presbyterian debates. Luther would undoubtedly be proud, though Calvin perhaps more circumspect. But for a far more upbeat view on being "Reformed" and "Evangelical," I strenuously recomend the post over at JT's blog on the subject - it is refreshing, exciting, and edifying stuff. In preparing a course on Romans in the Reformed tradition, I was most pleased to read Charles Hodge's comments the about godly evangelical men he disagrees with on the interpretation of the "wretched man" in Romans 7.

Scott Clark has also advocated that Reformed Baptist are not actually Reformed in the strictest sense of the term. His definition of Reformed means "one must hold to every point of doctrine in the Reformed confessions in order to be Reformed". Few problems: (1) The Reformed faith has no magisterium to determine which confessions are Reformed. So how about the 1689 LBC? Sounds good to me, thoroughly calvinistic, some covenantal elements are there too. All in favour say, "Spurgeon". Jests aside, are some confessions more reformed than others, in which case it would mean that there is an inner-confessional canon within the confessions? This "canon" might appear in other documents too enabling us to broaden the number of "Reformed confessions" depending on how one defines the intra-reformed canon. (2) I have never met someone who holds to the entire WCF from the Pope is the anti-Christ to strict sabbatarianism. Now I think Scott would reply that it refers to the Reformed confessions as received by the churches and they have the right to modify elements if they so wish. But this is the bit I do not understand. Being Reformed means holding to the confession, but churches can change the confession and still be reformed. If the church holds to a confession that it has changed, modified, or edited, then of course they are holding to "every point of the Reformed confession". I think Scott's definition of Reformed has gone from strictly narrow to meaninglessly broad simply for the fact that any one can adhere to a confession that they've tinkered with. Undoubtedly it is not that simple, there are probably some bits that no-one is allowed to change, but I think this is the logic of his own position. (3) Does anyone have the chuzpah to go up to John Piper and Don Carson and inform them that they are not really reformed? Good luck. All-in-all, please pity us. Being Reformed Baptist ain't easy. Presbyterians don't want you, general Baptists view you with suspicion. Maybe we should just convert to Presbyterianism or Anglicanism to find a shelter for ourselves.


Kyle said...


Good to see you at Tyndale a couple of weeks ago. If you are back, maybe we can catch up more.


Let me add that (from the few pages that I've browsed through so far) this volume looks like an exceptional modern exposition of the Lutheran view of justification as applied to intra-American Presbyterian debates. Luther would undoubtedly be proud, though Calvin perhaps more circumspect.

Check out Mark Garcia's review of the book in 'the ordained servant', which resonates with your sentiments exactly.


Kyle Wells

R. Scott Clark said...

Hi Mike,

I suppose one could form a judgment based on a few pages of a book or one could actually read the whole thing and engage substantively the historical, exegetical, and theological arguments contained therein. The latter is the usual procedure isn't it?

As to Garcia's review, two things. Most fair minded readers, including some who agree with Garcia, have agreed that his review was over the top. The editor himself conceded that he had not read CJPM when he posted the review. Bob Godfrey and David VanDrunen were allowed to publish a reply to Mark in the pages of the Ordained Servant.

"Lutheran," well, when it comes to justification, that's a badge I wear with pride -- as did Calvin and the rest of the Reformed. It was a Reformed theologian, J H Alsted who called it the article of the standing or falling of the church. Calvin called it the main hinge of religion.

There's actually a good bit of historical documentation in CJPM to refute the claim that what you call "Lutheran" is actually uniquely that.

Keep paging through and take a look at the tiny print at the bottom of the page -- those are footnotes. In them you'll find quotations from original Reformed sources and references to many others. Check 'em out.



Michael F. Bird said...

Hi Scott,

1. Are you taking offence to the fact that I called the book "exceptional"? I never knew a compliment could be so offensive!

2. On the main topic, have you anything more to say on Reformed and Evangelical, esp. in response to Lee Irons?

3. What is the sine qua non of being Reformed in light of my thoughts? (For your benefit, sine qua non means "without which not", which is Latin - remember too, I'm smiling as I write this)!


R. Scott Clark said...


If you had simply described it as "exceptional" I would not have taken exception. By describing as "Lutheran" as you did I took it that you're suggesting that the arguments proposed aren't authentically Reformed.

Yes, I intend to reply to Lee but can't do for a few days.

I've got a book forthcoming in Nov (Dv) attempting to answer your 3rd question. It's titled Recovering the Reformed Confession. It just happens that today's HB has a post about it!