Recent Reviews of RRC

recovering UPDATE 3 June 09. You can track reviews of and comments on RRC via WordPress and at Amazon.

1. On the more friendly side, Shaun Nolan and Matt Bohling (WSC alumni and PCA pastors) have an edifying and thoughtful podcast:

Original post 2 June 2009

Ordinary Means and in the latest installment they offer a review of RRC. Hey Mikey!, They like it! (but not without some criticisms). Shaun was a bit more appreciative of the book than Matt. Their chief criticism is that I do not deal with Scripture at sufficient length or detail. To which I reply:

  • As to my use of Scripture, I had to make a choice. At 330+ pages there is a natural limit to what I can do. Publishers may accept 800+ page volumes from some authors, but they are not prepared to accept such from the likes of me. Thus, I could either do for the church what I do best or I could try to do not as well what Steve Baugh and my other colleagues do. That said, I did make some exegetical arguments (e.g. on John 4) but I recognize that I had to limit the extent of my appeals to Scripture.
  • One important function of the confessions is to summarize for the church her understanding of Scripture. When I appeal to the confessions, I am appealing to our ecclesiastically sanctioned understanding of Scripture. To ask me to explain all those passages in detail is to ask me not only to explain how we got here and where we should go, but for a commentary on the Scripture and the confession. That would entail a multi-volume work (which gets me back to the first problem).
  • Their central criticism really raise the question of the legitimacy of history as a source of knowledge and correction. I understand that most Americans don’t have much time for history, but don’t we learn from Scripture itself that we are a historical (not a-historical) people? Doesn’t Ps 78 tell us to repeat the history of God’s people to our children?

    As a prologue to the second review, I should mention briefly a criticism that Matt makes, namely that I seem to want to go backwards in time. Shaun, very helpfully, points us, however, to the epilogue as one place (among others) where I anticipated and addressed this criticism explicitly. The point of RRC is NOT to go backwards. My students will recognize this from their medieval-Reformation and Ancient Church courses as the “golden age” fallacy.

    2. The second review is rather less happy. It’s not that I object to a negative review, but this review is beyond negative. I debated whether to link to it since, at the editor’s invitation, I have written a response, but the response will not be published until next month. Thus Alan Strange’s account of the book appears for a month without reply. He has written a strongly worded and more or less categorical denunciation of RRC in the pages of this month’s Ordained Servant. As I’ve expressed to Alan over the phone and by email, I was more than a little surprised by his criticisms. It’s not that I did not expect such criticisms. I did, but not from those who identify themselves as “confessional.” Since October most of the reviews of have been generally positive. Lig Duncan recently recommended RRC to the folks at Twin Lakes Fellowship but I suppose that it’s been out long enough that those upon whose toes I tread in the book will begin to respond.

    Alan did make some helpful comments to me by email. Unfortunately those comments did not make their way into print nor did I have the advantage of seeing them before I wrote my response. So there it is. I hope that the the “blowback” will not deter folk from actually reading the book for themselves. I don’t mind honest disagreement but I do object to misrepresentation.

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    1. Wow. Even if you didn’t know Alan was a baby-boomer, you couldn’t fail to pick it up in his review. I especially like how he puts his “what-we-really-need-is-more-‘love,’-not-more-confessionalism” criticism:

      “[not the] blueprint that Clark would impose on the church… [but rather] we need charity and its fruits, first and foremost.”

      Did you get that, Clark? You’re an imposing meany!

      • Not only that but I’m almost a practical deist and I don’t know anything about the Reformed tradition (if there is one) and I only appeal to a “thin slice” of it anyway (Germany, Netherlands, British Isles, Colonies, France, Switzerland, and the USA from 1523-2007 — very thin!)

    2. Maybe I’ve misunderstood Mr. Strange’s final analysis. However, I’m not sure how there can be this quantifiable restoration where the outer follows the inner. As a teaching elder (PCA), I can know if someone attends Sunday morning/evening worship, recevies the Lord’s Supper (weekly, for us), and is in general agreement with the WCF (outer). Although I would like members to subscribe, the PCA does not require it. According to Mr. Strange, I would have to be comfortable having quantified a member’s charity & its fruit, or death to sin & living to righteousness (inner) before I could move to some outer restoration. Dr. Clark, I think the real problem is that you criticized America’s patron reformed saint – Jonathan Edwards. That seems to get everyone in a tizzy.

    3. I was quite put off when I read the review. It seems his arguments are entirely misconstrued. Maybe I did not read the article closely enough, but it seems most of his criticisms do not follow what you have argued, no?

    4. “… I was more than a little surprised by his criticisms. It’s not that I did not expect such criticisms… not from those who identify themselves as ‘confessional’…”

      I agree with other responders here that most of the criticism of RCC seems unwarranted; I certainly did not read the book the way it’s being portrayed in his critique.

      Maybe it’s just pay-back time. I recall that you had a link to Darryl Hart’s critical review of Kloosterman’s latest book a month or so ago. They seem to be pretty defensive over there in Dyer; maybe it’s just professional jealously. Although it has been more years than I care to remember, I recall academe being rife with it 😉

    5. Dr. Clark,

      Don’t worry. I doubt negative reviews will deter too many from reading, at least from the number of those who would be at all interested. Sorry, but you weren’t expecting to sell a billion copies were you? If so, a better title would have been “Vintage Reformed.” (hint, hint, get used to using more trendy words dude)

      I find it a bit ironic that you are being criticized for defining the reformed tradition too narrowly given that the expansion of what counts as the “tradition” beyond confessional bounds (in times past and now) is a reason you wrote the book in the first place. Am I wrong? Of course people will disagree with how you set the boundaries, but books like yours contribute to an important discussion. Strange gave his two cents. As the kids say, “It’s all good.”

      Keep it up!

    6. Disappointing indeed, as was Dr. Strange’s presentation at the “Animus Imponentis Conference” earlier this year.

      First, Strange misses the “irenical” character of RRC when he says:
      “What it means to follow the Reformed confessions (note now the plural)—to develop one’s theology, piety, and practice from such—is more textured and varied than Clark lets on in this book. It is not accurate to present such a thin slice of what it means to be Reformed and argue as if that constricted view is exhaustive of the Reformed faith. Clark occasionally cites Richard Muller in support of his approach, as if Muller’s project of showing concord between Calvin and the Calvinists was intended to present a narrow, uniform Calvinism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”

      The way I understood RRC, the use of the singular “Reformed confession” did not narrow the focus at all, but rather broaden it into the broad consensus of what the Reformed have historically held in common.

      Second, so the archetypal/ectypal distinction is NOT “confessionally warranted” according to Dr. Strange? If so we probably need to discuss what WCF 1.1 and 7.1 actually mean.

      However, where Dr. Strange’s review gets really disappinting is when he says “we need more than these things…” and then launches into how we need more emphasis on union with Christ and communion with God and each other etc. Come on! Is that his recipe for reformation?

      Then, he defines “orthodoxism” as, quote, “an emphasis on the forms, on the means of grace, for example, in which the means threaten to become ends in themselves”. True, the latter would be bad, but the former? So, back to Kant and the old argument of form vs. content, eh?

      Showing, as you do in RRC, the dangers of an Edwardsian QIRE, does NOT mean, as Strange alleges, an inability “to profit from a remarkably sin-sensitive, Christ-centered writer.” It just ain’t the same thing. One can warn of consequences of a certain view and still profit from it in part.

      When Dr. Strange quotes WCF 21.6 to disprove your view in RRC that “private prayer is not a means of grace”, he shows no awareness of the age-old discussion of the function of prayer as a means of grace in the Continental Reformed confessions and the Westminster Standards. Again, Strange misses Clark’s irenical case for an understanding of prayer that does justice to BOTH the Cont. Ref. confessions AND the Westminster tradition.

      Finally, when Strange says, “We need restoration in which the outer follows the inner. This was the dynamic of the great Reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”- I beg to differ. The genious of the Reformation, and with it, of the Reformed confession (singular!) is the unity between the outer and the inner, call it sacramental union or something else, and decisively NOT that a hollow “outer” follows some pietistic “inner”.

      This review is nothing that gives me no second thoughts whatsoever about what I have read, appreciated and enjoyed in RRC. Keep up the good work!

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