Thursday, April 2, 2009

Is Predestinarian Enough?

As one of those pastors who falls into Collin Hansen's category of "young, restless, and reformed," I was interested to begin a dialogue with Dr. R. Scott Clark who challenged whether I am indeed reformed. He has written a book called "Recovering the Reformed Confession." In his book, he argues that a resurgence of predestinarian theology is not enough. In other words, Christology and soteriology are not enough to define this current resurgence of "Calvinists" as reformed. What is needed is a recovery of reformed theology, piety, and practice as stated in the historic reformed confessions of faith (the 3 forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession of Faith).

I was interested in this book primarily because I am someone who does not come from a reformed church tradition. I am a pastor who has come from a background of arminian, baptistic, and dispensational theology. It has only been over the last several years that I have become "reformed" in my doctrine of salvation. It has only been about 3 years since I moved toward a covenantal understanding of the Bible. I still remain baptistic in profession and practice. However, as one can see from the historical record, I am always game to change my position if convinced by Scripture.

The first chapter of the book was a good overview of where Dr. Clark hopes to take the reader, but it was definitely not a chapter that really commended this reader to continue on. However, the second and third chapter of the book were quite good and very helpful. In fact, I couldn't put down the book as I was reading through chapter 3 because I felt as if he was describing my own frustration as an evangelical Christian. In chapter 2 and 3, Dr. Clark discusses two acronyms, QIRC and QIRE. The acronyms stand for Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty and Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience.

While I found both chapters to be very interesting in mapping the history of where reformed churches have slid off the confessional rails of reformed theology, piety, and practice, I was personally challenged most by chapter 3. Dr. Clark lays out a case for the fact that reformed churches have moved away from a piety based on the "means of grace" and moved into a piety based upon a more mystical approach to experiencing God immedately. He contends, rightly I think, that the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings served to push reformed Christians away from seeking God's mediated presence through Word and sacrament toward a more subjective search for experiencing God immediately.

I want to be clear that Dr. Clark does not attempt to defend his position of biblical piety biblically. His project is not to provide an apologetic for reformed theology, piety, and practice. His project is to define what reformed theology, piety, and practice are, how they have been lost, and to call confessionally reformed churches back to them.

As a pastor who is now dealing with the effects of American revivalism in the lives of people, and who is trying to flush much of its baggage out his own theology, I welcome the discussion of a return to experiencing God through the mediation of Word and sacrament. I certainly look forward to the day when the church finds God's providential gift of his Word a sufficient one, and when we are more interested in the fruit of the Spirit than in the "manifestations" or "experiences" of the Spirit.


Shawn Carpenter said...


Good thoughts.

I would also advise a careful treading through this focus on what is Reformed "enough". Unfortunately, the discussion of what is Reformed enough will come to head with the issue of baptism, as it relates to Covenant Theology.

Of course, the issue of baptism is a heated one. Can Reform theology have room for both? I would say "yes" as long as primary issues are left as primary and secondary issues as secondary.

Tim Challies had a nice article a couple of years ago and I am sure there have been others along the way.

Anyway, I do agree, whole-heartedly, that the 'young, restless and Reformed' need to think through the implications of Reformed theology on their ecclesiastical practices.

Like the topic and have been meaning to pick up Clark's book.


Chad Vegas said...


You afraid I am becoming a paedobaptist:)? Where do you think the "young, restless, and reformed" need to make the most adjustments to their ecclesiastical practices?

Jared Nelson said...

Chad - becoming paedobaptist happens to the best of us...

I'm going on 2 years of paedo-baptist "conversion." If one is looking into covenant theology, that's really where things click. I was arguing with an Anglican friend about it when I was Baptist and he said, "Well you know Paul says baptism is circumcision in Col 2:11-12, right?" It was all downhill from there...

Shawn Carpenter said...


I certainly haven't seen every single YR&R church's structure and service and so I will commit the grievous of errors and generalize what I think is the primary issue: preference is winning over principle.

Preferences have their role and are appropriate to the local context but not at the cost or contradiction of principles.

Take the musical worship, for example. I think a biblically informed definition of worship is RESPONSE to God's revelation and NOT self-expression on the part of the worshiper. Much of the lyrical content of the music of our day is solely self-expressionist. Is expressiveness bad? No not all. Is expressiveness bad in a lack of response-focused worship? Yes, it only compounds the individualistic nature that our Western culture church exhibits. The simplest tangible example is the over-abundance "I" songs. I did this or I will do that...yet nothing about God doing this or God doing that.

Of course, it is more nuanced than this. I have run out of time. Kids need to go to bed. But I think this captures the essential difference and area of growth within many YR&R churches.

Stephen Ley said...

Chad, as one who's taken a similar journey as you, I would also recommend An Unexpected Journey: Discovering Reformed Christianity by Clark's colleague at Westminster Seminary, Robert Godfrey.

Blessings on your ministry!

Jason Sexton said...
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