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Rejoinder to Clark Response to Review

Alan Strange

My review makes it clear that I believe there was essential concord between Calvin and the Calvinists. I take issue with Clark not over his assertion that there was a confessional consensus in the Reformed tradition; rather, 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). If we are called to recover a past that Clark represents as more uniform than warranted, such a call tends to make the demand for present conformity more strict than it should be, especially in a book that likes some developments (modern scientific currents influencing exegesis) but not other (the use of instruments in worship).

That there was a bit more diversity even back then can be seen, for instance, in the Strasbourg liturgy (developed by Zell, Capito, Bucer and others from the conviction that sola scriptura should be applied to worship), which influenced Calvin and thus much of the continent. This liturgy had form prayers, prayer responses, and other elements that the Scots, particularly the covenanting sort of the seventeenth century, took to be a violation of the "regulative principle" (a modern term: we all agree on that). Strasbourg also recognized festal days (Christmas, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost), a practice verboten to the English Puritans.

To be sure, all those parties, largely, agreed on singing metrical psalms. However, some Independents objected even to this for the same reason as form prayers. This objection was similar to that of the Anabaptists, who had their own, arguably stricter, version of the sola scriptura principle applied to worship (as did Zwingli), which by the way, was the primary point of Hughes Oliphant Old (confirmed in private correspondence). The Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1644/5) was not a liturgy or service book, and the old Genevan/Knox liturgy was seen by some Puritans as contrary to the regulative principle, violating the liberty of ministers by the use of set forms, especially for prayer.

All this is to say that there were some significant disagreements among those who called themselves Reformed as to what the scriptural or regulative principle of worship meant in practice. These differences among the Reformed of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries need to be exposed so that when Reformed folk in the eighteenth century, who still held to a scriptural principle of worship, argued that hymns based on the Word were acceptable, we recognize that the regulative principle has never enjoyed a single uniform interpretation and application. This is to say nothing, in other respects, of the differences between the followers of Cocceius and Voetius on the Sabbath, the Testaments, and other matters theological and philosophical (as well as the disputes about Ramism). There have always been internecine debates within confessional bounds, and this is what many of the debates that divide Reformed people today involve.

Good men differ on Jonathan Edwards, though I do not think that Clark reads him with the care and understanding with which he reads many of the figures of post-Reformation Reformed orthodoxy. Clark makes a misleading claim that Edwards required some "necessary religious experience" (90) (perhaps not unlike his seventeenth- century New England forbears who insisted that prospects for communicant membership give a "narrative of grace" detailing their conversion). However, Edwards in rejecting his grandfather Stoddard's "converting ordinance" view of the Supper, sought to require nothing more than a credible profession of faith to come to the Lord's Table.

Clark also implies that Edwards departs from the classic Reformed treatment of Romans 7, particularly vs. 24–25 (105). But an examination of Edwards on these verses in his Blank Bible show just the opposite: Edwards affirms that Romans 7 refers to a saint whose "carnal appetite" makes him transgress, which appetite "he cannot get rid of having its bent toward sin." Edwards makes it clear that Romans 7 refers to a "saint' and not a "wicked man" (1006). Relevant treatises, sermons, miscellanies, etc., may also be consulted to support this point.

Clark's citation of an essay by Peter Wallace (97, fn. 107) is also misleading: Old Side leader John Thomson did indeed oppose the excesses of the Great Awakening (as did Edwards), but, as Wallace's essay demonstrates, came to appreciate a better version of it as exemplified in the ministry of Samuel Davies, who Thomson admired and with whom he successfully ministered. Thus Wallace is cited to make the point that Thomson was opposed to the New Side, when in fact he was ultimately opposed to only some expressions of it. The Old Side/New Side split was not as stark as it first appeared. Differences were worked through, and the two sides came back together in 1758 in a happy reunion.

I have written elsewhere that of the eight points in the 1758 Plan of Union between the Old and New Sides, most were "wins" for the Old Side, with the last point giving only qualified approbation to the Great Awakening, while affirming more generally the necessity of a saving work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of God's people. Charles Hodge, as representative of the Old School mainstream, is so committed to the points in the 1758 Plan of Union that he writes: "Those who adhere to the principles here laid down, are entitled to a standing in our church; those who desert them, desert not merely the faith but the religion of our fathers, and have no right to their name or their heritage" (Constitutional History, Part II, 281). These are but a few examples of how Clark made Edwards and other moderate Great Awakening supporters appear worse than they were to shore up his case against all awakenings everywhere.

It is lamentable that Clark appears at points to couch this interaction in terms of an institutional debate, by referencing Chicago deep-dish pizza and particularly by saying that my review might be expected from Azusa Street but not Dyer, Indiana. Is this supposed to be stinging or merely funny to identify me with Pentecostalism? I did not mention anything institutional in my review and do not assume that Clark speaks for his institution in all his particular arguments. Clark takes issue with my reference to "practical deism," about which I believe all the Reformed must ever be watchful: the temptation to see God in His sovereignty as "up there" and the means "down here" in such a way that the vital spiritual link is severed. The sovereign Spirit must always make effectual the means appointed, and we must wait on him in prayer for that.

I neither call Clark unconfessional nor imply that he is, and I do not for a moment question his confessional commitment, though we might have disagreements within confessional bounds. His book and his response continue to imply that those who differ with him on what some of us believe to be lesser matters are outside confessional bounds. This is why I thought, and continue to think, that this is not a good path for men to go down, especially young ministers, and is not a good prescription for the needed restoration.

Obviously Clark and I as confessionalists have a good deal in common and I indicated such in several paragraphs of my original review. But I chose to spend what little time I had in that review pointing out some not insignificant differences at least in terms of tone or emphasis. I agree with the British humorist Michael Frayn who wrote: "The homogeneity of a group seen from the outside is in inverse proportion to the heterogeneity seen from the inside," or "Likeness is in the eye of the unlike; the like see nothing but their unlikeness" (in his article on "school" in the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy). We who subscribe to confessions have far more in common than we do separating us.

When one writes, however, as has Clark, a book seeking to define what it means to be Reformed and does so in a way that flattens out even the contours of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and rejects many developments since then, all in the name of rejecting revivalism, such a project merits criticism. This book amounts to a rather wholesale rejection of American Presbyterianism if carefully read. And it is not a product I intend to buy, and Clark should not be surprised when some of us object, even though we may agree with many of his theological points.

Alan D. Strange, a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is associate professor of church history and theological librarian at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana. Ordained Servant Aug./Sept. 2009.

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