Saturday, January 9, 2010

Recovering the Reformed Confession – III

Chapter 3 of RCC is entitled, The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (also known by the abbreviation, QIRE). Clark defines QIRE as the attempt to “experience God apart from the mediation of word and sacrament” (p 72). Here he puts his finger on an issue that practically knows no ecclesiastical bounds. Believers, regardless of their tradition, want an unmediated experience with the Almighty. Some seek it through signs, others through the ‘still, small voice,’ others through repetitive praise choruses, and others through Pentecostal signs and wonders.

Clark argues that the root of QIRE is Pietism – that movement of the 16th and 17th centuries that focused on ‘heart religion.’ Historical figures in Europe were Count Nikilaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf and Philipp Jakob Spener. Both were involved with the Moravian Church. The Moravians were known for sending out missionaries and some of them came to America. In fact, John Wesley first encountered them when he sailed to America to do mission work among the Indians. He saw their vibrant faith and upon returning to England after his failed mission work he made contact with the Moravians and came to faith through their ministry. Pietism influenced the first Presbyterians in American and shaped the first Presbyterian school founded to train ministers, The Log College. It was led by William Tennent and later by his son Gilbert Tennent.

For much of the chapter Clark explores the roots of pietism that extend throughout evangelicalism. He discusses the Tennent’s along with the big names associated with the First Great Awakening in America – Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield. This analysis also includes a discussion of revival and its marks. Others who are analyzed include D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, J.I. Packer and Ian Murray. The latter has written a book entitled, Revival and Revivalism, in which he defends the First Great Awakening in America as biblically authentic in contrast to the Second Great Awakening which was deficient in its theology and its methods. Clark doesn’t buy that distinction and provides a lengthy analysis why. He also explains the divide that occurred at that time in American Presbyterianism over this issue – Old Side vs. New Side. Some might complain that he is unfair, i.e. that ‘his ox is goring their sacred cow,’ but his analysis is solid and worth considering. For me it entailed ‘un-learning’ a lot of what I was taught in my seminary classes concerning American Presbyterianism.

Personally I found his comments about Jonathan Edwards enlightening. While many of the new ‘Calvinists’ rally around Edwards as their hero I have chosen to keep him at arm's length.  It is no secret that Edwards did not hold (subscribe) to any particular reformed confession. Thus, his agreement with reformed soteriology, was a good thing, but his refusal to be bound by a reformed confession led to other problems as Clark points out (pp. 84-85). Most notably Edwards advocated something akin to ‘divinization,’ along with ‘continued creation.’ He struggled with the classic view of justification by faith alone through Christ alone. He also questioned original sin. These theological flaws combined with his focus on revival make him someone that confessional reformed folk ought to think twice about before calling him their ‘homeboy.’

The chapter ends with Clark comparing the marks of revival to the marks of the church true and the piety that flows from those marks. He demonstrates that the proponents of revival have erected a straw man when speaking about ‘vital religion’ (p. 114). If one has ever seriously read the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession they would instantly see that there is nothing cold or sterile about them. They were written to strengthen believers during the Spanish Inquisition when the Roman Catholic Church sought to suppress the young, Protestant Church. Both documents ooze pastoral concern and with heartfelt religion. Both set forth a profound piety based on Word and Sacrament that far and away exceeds the fruits of revivalism.

Some might write Clark off as a crank, but I would caution against that approach. As mentioned in my first post, Clark’s footnotes are voluminous. So, before dismissing him one ought to carefully read his arguments AND his sources.


Wes White said...

What about experiencing God through general revelation?

The Puritan said...

One doesn't have to write Clark off as a crank, as you say. A peer of his has gently suggested to Mr. Clark directly that he is unwittingly falling into a ditch Reformed Christians historically have been vulnerable to called practical deism.

Mr. Clark doesn't seem to have an understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in a Christian's life. He suggests outright that without 'ordained ministers' (priests and priestcraft by any other name) Christianity is 'unmediated.' No, when the Holy Spirit is in you - the Spirit of Christ - you have a Mediator.

The Puritan said...

I.e. Dr. Clark is defining and limiting the Reformed faith with the boundaries of his own autobiography.

Dave Sarafolean said...


That's an interesting way of putting it. Of course 'the heavens declare the glory of God' (Psalm 19) but I don't know that one actually experiences God when in the great outdoors. Our hearts might be stirred to worship and praise Him because of his handiwork but is that experiencing Him? Furthermore, whatever we experience in the realm of general revelation is affected by the curse - Romans 8 tells us that the creation is groaning because of sin. So, when I'm in the outdoors and have one of those moments my heart might be filled with joy and praise towards God but that is tempered by the fact that we live in a fallen world. So that moment of joy is exactly that -- an occasion to give thanks to God for what I experience in the here and now and for what all believers will experience in the new heavens and the new earth.

Dave Sarafolean said...


Practical deism? I'd be interested in that critique of Clark. Please post a link.

I think that you are too harsh towards Clark with regard to how the Holy Spirit works. Perhaps what's missing in all of this is a qualifying word to govern the work of the Holy Spirit - He mostly, predominantly, chiefly works via Word and Sacrament.

About ten years ago I was at John Piper's church for the pastor's conference. James Montgomery Boice was the main speaker. There were many charismatics in attendance (C.J. Mahaney was also speaking) and Boice challenged them on their understanding of how the Holy Spirit works. But he also challenged those who say that He cannot work outside Word and Sacrament. He used this question: How does a man know that God wants him to be a pastor? The answer is quite clear -- he feels/senses a call to do that work. Well, where did that call come from?

Of course no one should embark on entering the ministry without guidance -- that internal call must be tested by those more mature in the faith (elders) to ascertain its validity. But if it is of the Holy Spirit then it was likely done secretly, perhaps even subconsciously. Similarly that's how effectual calling works. I have a hard time seeing Clark denying these things.

By the way I didn't catch your name.

Ken e said...

Puritan, I don't even know if I would go as far as to say Practical Deism! I agree with Pastor Dave(btw, I know him!).

I'd say that Dr. Clark is somewhat rational in his theology of the working of the Spirit though and could embrace a more robust and historical formulation. In context of the church and the gifts in Pauline theology, the Spirit workings are sovereign...."as the Spirit wills.." and they are always Christ Centered as was instructed in 1 Cor.

You don't have to agree with Clark. I don't agree with him on his assessment of many Reformed minsters such as Van Til, Murray, Frame, etc. All these men have contributed so much to modern Reformed theology that they shouldn't be overlooked in order to embrace Clark's loaded statements on them.

Clark couldn't be more right on Pietism though. Somehow it's been lost in many places in Reformed worship and christian living and even MORE it's been lost in the church at large. The lack of it maybe one of the greatest sins of our age!

My two or three cents...

Great posts!

The Puritan said...

Use your browser to search on practical deism within the above link. It's a review of Clark's book.

Here is Clark's response to the review:

And here is a rejoinder to Clark's response:

-Carlton Anderson

Ken e said...

"I contend that Clark's version of that consensus is more narrow and uniform than the somewhat broader consensus that actually existed. Because people understood van Mastricht when he said "Reformed" does not militate against this point. "Reformed," defined confessionally, now means something still quite clear, if a bit broader than in 1550, or even 1650, hardly surprising given theological and other development since that time (two examples of such sound development: Vos and Van Til)."

I agree with that assessment on Clark though. He has effectively narrowed who are Reformed and not!


The Puritan said...

Yes, I agree, and think that Strange's review is impressive and thoughtful overall.

Coram Deo said...

Has anyone read Scott's view as to how the gifts of the Spirit are distributed/mediated to individual believers through the Word and Sacrament?

I can see the danger of "High Church" ecclesiology veering into a sort of depersonalization of the individual believers in favor of the "corporate" church.

Of course we're lively stones fitly joined together, and members of One Body, but I'm still me, and you're still you, “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will” (1 Cor. 12:11).

In Christ,

Coram Deo said...

And a follow up: Do unbelievers experience the Triune One True and Living God apart from the mediation of the Word and Sacrament (e.g. temporal divine judgments, wrath, punishments, etc.)?

In Him,

Dave Sarafolean said...


Thanks for the link. I am aware of Rev. Strange's review but have chosen not to read it until I finish RRC. I plan to read it along with Clark's rejoinders.

Dave Sarafolean said...

Coram Deo,

You wrote: "Has anyone read Scott's view as to how the gifts of the Spirit are distributed/ mediated to individual believers through the Word and Sacrament?"

I don't know that Clark has any particular view than what is described in the Heidelberg Catechism or the Belgic Confession. God's spiritual gifts are bestowed upon the believer at the time of regeneration. Word and Sacrament involve the operation of the Holy Spirit who convicts, illumines, and assures believers through the proclamation of the law and the gospel.

Dave Sarafolean said...

Coram Deo,

You wrote: "And a follow up: Do unbelievers experience the Triune One True and Living God apart from the mediation of the Word and Sacrament (e.g. temporal divine judgments, wrath, punishments, etc.)?"

Yes, see Westminster Confession of Faith 10.4 "Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word,and may have some common operations of the Spirit,yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the laws of that religion they do profess. And to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested."

Kaitiaki said...

I've been thinking about your comment:
"'the heavens declare the glory of God' (Psalm 19) but I don't know that one actually experiences God when in the great outdoors. Our hearts might be stirred to worship and praise Him because of his handiwork but is that experiencing Him?"

I guess, in order to answer your question, I need to understand what you mean by "experiencing God." For example - you say "our hearts may be stirred to worship and praise him because of his handiwork." Is it Pietism to claim that the impulse to worship and praise God for his handiwork came from God? And if God gives the impulse is it not in some way experiencing him?

As I said: before I could attempt to answer such a question I would need to know we were both talking about the same thing.

Dave Sarafolean said...


The term 'experiencing God' is pretty nebulous. When I'm in nature am I really experiencing God or His creation? I prefer to keep things simple: we experience God chiefly through the way He has chosen to mediate Himself to us through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments.