Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Recovering the Reformed Confession, II

Chapter 2 of RCC is entitled, The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (also known by the abbreviation, QIRC). Clark defines QIRC as “The pursuit to know God in ways he has not revealed himself and to achieve epistemic and moral certainty of questions where such certainty is neither possible nor desirable” (p. 39). Put differently, QIRC is an attempt to find certainty in the Scriptures on any given topic when, in fact, the Scriptures might not speak to that question or might only speak in oblique or muted terms. At root is the distinction between God and humans. God is the archetype, the original: He knows Himself and all things perfectly. Humans are His analogues: we know only what He chooses to reveal to us. His knowledge is archetypal (original, perfect and exhaustive): our knowledge is ectypal (revealed and less than exhaustive).

In this chapter Clark provides three examples of how QIRC affects the modern reformed church: “the six day, twenty-four hour interpretation of Genesis 1…, theonomy, and covenant moralism” (p. 41). He also argues that QIRC is an outgrowth of fundamentalism (p. 44). This is the outworking of the movement known as Biblicism which undercuts our creeds and confessions while also interpreting Scripture in isolation from the rest of the church.

Clark spends fifteen pages explaining how the 6 day/24 hour view of creation has become a test of orthodoxy in the contemporary reformed church and how that is not necessarily a good thing. He explains that this view arose in Seventh Day Adventism and when applied in reformed churches “it threatens to let the wrong people in and keep the right people out” (p. 49). He notes that if this view becomes a test of orthodoxy then men like Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, Herman Bavinck and J. Gresham Machen would be excluded. He also shows that these men arrived at their views of creation via exegetical considerations of the texts of Scripture and none of them argued that the 6/24 view of creation was the only way of interpreting Genesis 1.

In the rest of the chapter Clark discusses theonomy and covenant moralism, albeit, with less ink devoted to each subject than 6/24 creation. In the end he shows how proponents of each view go beyond both Scripture and the reformed confession in their beliefs.

One thing should be clear: these three topics are not the only examples of where QIRC has made inroads into the reformed church.  The reader of RRC ought to think carefully about how and where QIRC shows up and is used as a test of orthodoxy or to silence debate. 

It is worth noting that the root of QIRC is Biblicism: reading Scripture in isolation from the way the Church has read Scripture and understood it. Thus, the danger of QIRC is being dogmatic on matters when, in fact, the Scriptures might not speak so clearly. Clark is right to warn us of this danger and point us back to our own confessions and those who have faithfully expounded them for guidance.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a much needed book! I'm going to read it.
In your last paragraph, I think you mean "It is worth noting," not "It is worth nothing." Quite a difference!

Dave Sarafolean said...


Thanks for the catch!

Kaitiaki said...

"It is worth noting that the root of QIRC is Biblicism: reading Scripture in isolation from the way the Church has read Scripture and understood it."

Thought-provoking. One wonders how we would have ever agreed it was not a heresy to believe the world is round if we had had to "read Scripture in the same way as the Church has read it." Surely that was the heart of the Roman Catholic objection to innovations in science.

If I understand the argument correctly that would make those who Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty the ones who interpreted the Bible in the same way as the Church had always interpreted it. We need to be extremely careful about allowing the "assured results of modern scholarship" scientific OR theological to govern the meaning of the text of the Bible in context.

It was not biblicism to claim the Bible alone is the rule for faith and life in the 16th Century. Surely the same is true today. Suppose someone comes to me with, say, a view of Philosophy which places the Bible's authority only in the sphere of faith and denies it the same role in law making. Is it biblicism to reject this philosophy as unbiblical? Is it seeking to be illegitimately certain because "the Bible only speaks of philosophy indirectly?"

Surely, if God has spoken, what he says is the truth and may be used to establish truth even if we make mistakes in our first attempts to do so. While councils and the fathers may be a caution against frivolous interpretations, yet it is still the Holy Spirit speaking in the original autographs which is the sole rule for faith and life.

Kaitiaki said...

I'd like to make a small addition. Here's a link to a great book on The Cultural Mandate which your readers may find interesting. It's called the Calvinistic view of Culture. Written by Henry Van Til it's an antidote to the kind of pietistic religion that consigns the world to the Devil and limits the Bible's teaching to an individual's relationship to God.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Thanks for the suggestion on the book. I've read it and this is where the debate about 'kingdom' arises.

See today's post (2/17/10) and R. Scott Clark's explanation of the kingdom as rooted in the Heidelberg Catechism and the Westminster Larger Catechism.