Clark, R. Scott. Recovering the Reformed Confession.
Dr Clark’s book can be focused around three themes: 1) a distinctively Reformed piety flows from a Reformed theology and this piety will be directly counter to the 2) Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) and 3) The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE). The latter two are evident when people want to have a type of infallible knowledge beyond that which human beings are capable of (QIRC) and a religious experience that promises more of heaven than is possible in this present age (QIRE).
Dr Clark has an interesting chapter on confessional subscription and thoroughly summarizes the debates within conservative Reformdom.
He has a strong chapter on the Regulative Principle and convincingly argues for the singing of only inspired songs (not EP, though).
Analysis and Conclusion
Clark pointed out something interesting about the creation debate: if we make 6/24 the confessional standard of orthodoxy, then we let all the wrong guys in (7th Day Adventism) and exclude Warfield.
Clark’s larger argument is that we should be suspicious of those who claim that we should have spiritual experiences outside the divinely-established means of grace and preaching of the Word. Admittedly, this is a fair point. Clark’s foil is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). MLJ repeatedly urged for a “revival” to come, understanding revival as an experimental outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Clark, 79). Clark rebuts him, noting that MLJ is advocating Calvin’s doctrine without Calvin’s sacramental piety. Clark does admit, though, that MLJ never used “revival” to manipulate his own people (81).
Clark does a good job in pointing out some weaknesses in individual Reformed evangelists and in some of the more inane happenings in the First Great Awakening. He also points out what many are now beginning to realize: Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed confession on a number of key philosophical points. Clark also establishes that Harry Stout’s narrative of Whitefield cannot be so easily dismissed.
I suspect MLJ overplayed his hand on the importance of revival. Clark is correct on one point: the church’s sanctification is through the means of grace and discipline. That is the established norm. I think I can also argue, though, that MLJ’s views can be modified and accommodate some of Clark’s concerns on this point. MLJ strongly argued “that the New Testament appeal to sanctification is always an appeal to the reason of the believing man” (Murray, The Fight of Faith, 173). Of course, one would need to supplement this statement with a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, but it is a good start.
I agree with his overall vision for the Reformed church’s sanctification through Word and Sacrament and that those who constantly seek revival downplay this. Further, I agree with all of his criticisms of Edwards and most of his criticisms of Whitefield.
We are grateful that Clark has shown us how to develop a piety around a specifically Reformed epistemology. A proper use of the ectypal distinction can save one from spiritual death. The ectypal distinction is one of the most useful Reformed tools against some anchoretic apologetics. If we can only know according and within the human limits of knowledge, then we can rest content with a modest certainty on some important issues (election, the canon, etc).
Clark’s model is good and should be employed in the Reformed world.