Covenants, Adam, Modernity, and Context Pt 2 (HC 15)

Part 1

15. What kind of a mediator and redeemer then must we seek?

One who is a true1 and righteous man,2 and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, One who is also true God.3

11 Cor 15:21, 22, 25, 26. 2 Jer 33:16. Isaiah 53:11. 2 Cor 5:21. Heb 7:15,16.

The siren song of the biblicist is seductive. It says, “I am more biblical than thou.” The second movement sings, “I am simply following the narrative of the Bible.” He sings of paying “more attention to the history of redemption” and finally of “getting away from dogmatic preconceptions.”

This is an attractive song to autonomous moderns but anyone who knows anything about the history of human thought realizes that however attractive such rhetoric might be to myopic moderns it’s a fantasy. It could only be attractive to those withe the attention span of a gnat. Humans always read the Bible in a context. Included in that context is an ecclesiastical setting. If someone is not reading and writing about Scripture from some ecclesiastical context, why would we so credit their conclusions as to allow them to fundamentally re-shape our reading of Scripture?

This is not to say that we cannot and should not learn from church-less Bible readers but learning is not the same thing as fundamentally re-writing our theology. Thus, if those who propose to re-write our theology do so from some ecclesiastical context then they also do so from a theological context. There is no ecclesiastical tradition that does not also have a theological tradition associated with it, even if it is to claim that they “just follow the Bible.”

So, every tempting proposal to revise Reformed theology by, e.g. doing away with the covenant of works, comes from some theological point of view and inasmuchas it comes from an ecclesiastical setting, it also entails some sort of confession, however brief or inadequate it may be. Thus no one “just” reads the Bible. The very claim is inherently dishonest. Just for fun, however, let’s think about listening to someone who is reading the Bible in a church of one, by himself. Why would this approach to Scripture be attractive to anyone with any sort of connection to the visible, institutional church? One of the things with which I try to impress my students is that the catholic church (in all times and places) has always read the Bible. Indeed, all the heretics, the Montanists, the Sabellians, the Arians, and the Pelagians quoted Scripture. The Anabaptitsts and the Socinians all said that they were “more biblical” than the Reformation churches.

It is not a matter of whether we are reading the Scriptures, closely, carefully, in historical context, in canonical (redemptive-historical) context, paying attention to the grammar, and comparing one passage with another, it’s a question of where we are doing so and with what church and to what end and with what confession? This is not to counsel skepticism. Reformation according to the Word does happen and it must happen. This is simply an argument to challenge the assumption that late Moderns (particularly individualist, autonomous, egalitarian Americans) seem to accept uncritically, i.e. that the lone, isolated, creedally-challenged interpreter is somehow to be privileged over the historic Reformed confessional reading of Scripture. The confessionalist reading of Scripture is much less indebted to or enslaved by the culture and assumptions of late/liquid modernity than the autonomous biblicist bent on narcissistically re-shaping Reformed theology in his own image.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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3 comments

  1. it’s a question of where we are doing so and with what church and to what end and with what confession?

    Scott, could you elaborate on this? For example, by what criteria would one choose to follow the Westminster Confession of Faith, over the London Baptist Confession of 1689 (for example), or even a Lutheran confession?

  2. The biblicist says or implies that he’s the only one who is really reading Scripture carefully in all the ways I listed. I say, “No, the Reformed Churches have read Scripture just as carefully” and we’ve done it as churches, in dialogue with the past and not as churches of one or with inadequate confessions (i.e., No creed but Christ”).

    Scripture norms confessions. Reformed Churches confess what they do because they believe it’s biblical. My point here is not whether we’re reading Scripture but where, by one’s self or with the church. We still have to do the work of exegesis and hermeneutics.

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