Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Meaning of "Reformed"

I could never be an American Presbyterian. I don't believe in subscription. Don't get me wrong, subscription to the Westminster Confession, that's fine, it's my objection to the mandatory subscription to World Magazine that probably keeps me from being acceptable in those circles. But in the midst is an on-going identity crisis as what it means to be "Reformed" and can those who are "Reformed" be "Evangelical", and if so, in what sense. John Frame responds to a book written by R. Scott Clark about these very issues. This is very much an insider debate in the USA because outside of conservative American Presbyterian circles people generally don't write books on who is in and who is out; those of us who live as religious minorities in either secular or Muslim countries have bigger priorities like survival, evangelism, and discipleship. The whole debate is very personal and vitriolic too and I don't want to take sides because there is a lot more than meets the eye here and I haven't fully read both sides of the argument so I'll reserve judgment. However, I tip my hat to Frame's points about the diversity within the Reformed tradition, the danger of treating the Confessions like inerrant Scripture, the Reformed need for catholicity, and the lack of charity that exists among certain doctrine warriors. Frame's review is lengthy, but the final section on "Two Visions of the Reformed Faith" is well worth looking at. To know what the fuss is about, you can read Clark's book Recovering the Reformed Confession.

6 comments:

Peter M. Head said...

I like Frame's style.

But what do you know about the institutional background to this spat in Frame's angle on West Sem California? I don't get that.

Pat said...

"outside of conservative American Presbyterian circles people generally don't write books on who is in and who is out"

That's almost certainly false

Dunc and Als said...

Pat, of course it's a generalisation ... that's why Mike said, "generally". But Mike's observation is generally true.
Every country, every culture, probably every denomination in the world has people within churches who want to define exactly what it means to be a part of their club and thus who are outside.
However, in countries and cultures where the church is a minority and effort has to go into survival (against aggressive secular humanism in Australia where Michael is, or against a majority who hold to Islam where I am), then people are often far more gracious at seeing their unity with others rather than focusing on what divides them.

Not always true ... but generally.

sujomo said...

I think Mike was making a general observation.

Scott Clark often stimulates us to thinking more clearly. I am not in the American situation so I find it, however, somewhat unhelpful to 'play the man' as to who is in and who is not it.

Speaking of Reformed confessions I may be showing my naivety here but why does Scott Clark (and others) almost never refer to the Second Helvetic Confession? Was Zurich not reformed? Not reformed enough? Not biblical enough?

History reveals some sad decisions made by those who preceded us. One sad case was the uncharitable way Luther rejected the gift a new Latin translation of the Bible done by the scholars in Zurich. This was one of the triggers that led to Bullinger penning the Warhaftes Bekenntnis that sought to point out the errors of Luther.

Instead of the German speaking churches affirming each other in the middle of the 16th century Zurich felt squeezed out.

Is there a lesson here for us in the 21st century?

Jonathan said...

sujomo,

I suspect that has to do with Clark's tendency to view the Reformed tradition along ecclesiastical lines (a point he makes in one of his responses to Frame on his blog). There aren't any "NAPARC" denominations that confess 2 Helvetica, so it doesn't tend to enter into the discussion except as a document of secondary importance, after the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.

Jonathan Bonomo

Jonathan said...

Michael,

I suspect Clark would agree with you in princple on all the points on which you've expressed your agreement w/ Frame: "the diversity within the Reformed tradition, the danger of treating the Confessions like inerrant Scripture, the Reformed need for catholicity, and the lack of charity that exists among certain doctrine warriors" (with the possible exception of the need for charity among the doctrine warriors).

The differences are more about how these things are to be understood and worked out than about the things themselves. Clark admits diversity in the Reformed tradition, but he generally sees less diversity than someone like Frame does. (Personally, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.) Also, Clark doesn't want to treat the confessions like Scripture--he even proposes in his book that the Reformed churches should draw up new confessions. But he does consider the confessions to have a real *ministerial* (not absolute or infallible) authority in the churches in which they are confessed. And on catholicity, since he has a section in his book on the catholicity of the Reformed tradition, I suspect that here, also, it's not a matter of the thing itself, but how the thing is to be defined and practiced. And as for the lack of charity, well, yeah, that's a big problem. But as one who is somewhere between Frame and Clark, I can say that I see a pretty glaring lack of charity from both sides on this one. Frame's recent horrid caricature of Horton's book, "Christless Christianity," is one example of his own ability to be pretty mean-spirited himself against the very "doctrine warriors" he decries.

Peace,
Jonathan Bonomo