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.