Monday, April 13, 2009

Recovering the Reformed Confession

TIME magazine recently listed "new Calvinism" in the top 10 ideas changing the world. I've meandered through Calvinism's big tent (this blog was originally intended to record that trek), benefited in many ways, and wrestled with the differences between its diverse leaders, all who are described as being "reformed".

Scott Clark (of Westminster Seminary, California) penned a lengthy book out of concern for that adjective "Reformed". He argues that it has a historic meaning that is more encompassing than the suddenly in vogue doctrines of grace.

WORLD magazine (April 11th, 2009) ran a brief review of Colin Hansen's Young, Restless, and Reformed that hints at an encouraging aspect of this growth. "Many young pastors and church members are becoming Reformed", the reviewer comments. Then he quotes Hansen, "A vision of the transcendent God takes their breath away. When they see that theology can drive a deeper and more passionate relationship with God, they tend not to worry about potential debates over doctrine."

Overall this quote is heartening--when a person better understands who God is it's a positive development and it should stir the affections. But before someone starts calling themselves "Reformed" wouldn't it be helpful to know what that term historically entails? I'm convinced that most don't, and that leads to confusion.

I was expecting Dr. Clark to address this development in his book and was hoping he would provide what is lacking today (to my knowledge)--an inviting exhortation for those among the new Calvinists to embrace the full meaning of Reformed. However, I think he wrote this book before Hansen's work and certainly before TIME ran their piece, so that was not the chief focus of this volume.

Instead, and still importantly, this book is a call for the established reformed churches to first get their house in order and to return to the confession they say they believe. Dr. Clark boldly calls out many areas where we have lost sight of our Reformed heritage in our theology, piety, and practice. Most among the Reformed have drifted into broad evangelicalism, been affected by revivalism, and we have suffered for it.

After diagnosing the problems, Clark suggests the remedies. In addition to returning to our confessional practices in such areas as the regulative principle of worship and the means of grace, he argues that the Reformed community needs to also draft new confessional statements which address the issues confronting the modern Church.

Modern evangelicalism has been a significant shaping influence in my life and one that is often at odds with the confession I say best summarizes Scripture. Dr. Clark's book reminded me that "Reformed" is a full-orbed term codified in confessional documents and he challenged me to recover the reformed confession in several areas of my life.


Brad said...

Greetings Mr. Tim,

I'm curious to know which of the Reformed confessions or which elements of the various confessions Clark means when he writes of The Reformed Confession?

Anonymous said...

Hi Brad,

See the book where I distinguish between two uses (narrow and broad) of the word. See also these posts on the HB.

Brad said...

Thank you, sir. I shall.

Gospel.or.Death said...


You said: "How can doctrine be both the source of a passionate relationship with God and also something 'not to worry about'? And how is this 'Reformed'?"

With all due respect, I think you might have misunderstood the quote you were commenting on here. If you look at the quote in its original context, it becomes clear that it's not DOCTRINE that they aren't worried about, but DEBATES about doctrine that they aren't worried about.

After the quote in question, Hansen goes on to tell a story about a youth group studying a systematic theology textbook (Grudem's), and how amazing it is that a youth pastor is doing this, whereas in the very recent past, the youth group would have probably been content to have a skit and a pizza party.

Then he says, "This change could not have happened if young Evangelicals thought Calvinism would lead to debates for the sake of debating." Young, Restless and Reformed, p.122

You can read it at Google books here:

So it seems that Hansen is not saying that doctrine doesn't matter to these newly "reformed" people, but rather that they aren't afraid of it anymore. They are no longer tyrannized by the saying, "Doctrine divides." That is, in my opinion, a very big difference.

And it's also a rather encouraging development, don't you think?

Tim said...


I agree--thanks for the correction. I'll take out that part of the post.

chaos said...

excellent post! i just received the book in the mail as a gift from a friend and so far it's great. i agree as you mention that it's becoming glaringly necessary for the Ref'd to get their own house in order. i've preached at many ref'd churches and it's surprising, and alarming!, to see how often 'ref'd' is misused. few people will give as clear, and as inviting, of a presentation of the beauty and majesty of the Ref'd Confessions as Dr. RSC.