Reformed Confessionalism as An Alternative to the FV

RRC3dI’ve been pushing the Office Hours podcast so aggressively lately I’ve forgotten to Heidelflog  RRC.  The writer of The Writer and the Muse has been reading RRC, however, and hit on something really important. One of the goals of RRC was to try to communicate to  FV folk and those tempted by the FV is that there are orthodox, confessional(ist) alternatives to both the revivalism that drives them (and me) crazy and to the FV. It has long been apparent to me that some, perhaps many, FVists become FVists because they’re so disgusted with the state of American evangelicalism and with its pervasive influence in the Reformed churches. They want a churchly, sacramental theology. Along comes the FV and offers what seems to be a churchly, sacramental theology and it seems the only alternative to revivalism and quasi-pentecostalism.

Well there is an alternative: plain old-fashioned Word and sacrament ministry in a real, honest-to-goodness local church. I admit that it’s not easy to find such and I get emails regularly complaining about how hard it is to find a congregation where the minister is content to be a minister of Word and sacrament, where the law and the gospel are understood and preached rightly and where the divinely instituted means of grace are given their due place in the administration of the church. If you’re tempted by the FV because you’re worn out by modern evangelical busy-ness, if you’re looking for a churchly theology, for a theology, piety, and practice with roots, it exists and it exists apart from the FV movement, which, judged in light the the Reformed confession (defined broadly and narrowly) is just another QIRC-y fundamentalist movement.

    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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16 comments

  1. Have you heard of the book called “Holding On to the Faith: Confessional Traditions and American Christianity” ed. by Sweeney and Hambrick-Stowe? Was wondering if it was worth getting.

  2. The Feral Vision -with it’s garbled understanding of justification in which covenantal faithfulness is the determining factor in whether or not you are among the ‘decretal elect’ as opposed to the ‘ covenantal elect’ ( individuals who have intial justification and are in ‘union with Christ’ and in possession of the forgiveness of sins but end utimately damned) is traceable to the influence of Norman Shepherd with a little assistance from NT Wright. Everything else associated with the FV is chicken feed compared to this.

    • Pastor Johnson–do you have to keep on referring to it as the “Feral Vision”? I mean, all the readers of Dr. Clark’s blog know its theology is screwed up without having to name-call its adherents. Just saying.

    • GLWJ,

      I’m interested in your link between FV and Shepherd with an assist from Wright. As you know, the Shepherd link to FV could be taken to implicate Shepherd’s mentor, Murray, and Murray’s (thought provoking but unconvincing) attempt to recast classic covenant theology. Others have pointed out, rightly in my view, that, despite his thoughts on covenant, Murray maintained the law/gospel distinction, while Shepherd has not maintained it. Any attempt, then, to link FV and Murray is frustrated by Shepherd’s difference with Murray on the law/gospel distinction. Is this analysis correct, in your opinion? — RFW

  3. Fowler
    Our mutual friend T.David Gordon has sought to show that Murray left the door slightly ajar with his understanding of the COG and his rather unique understanding of what he referred to as the ‘Adamic administration’ and Shepherd came along and began constructing something that would left Murray bewildered- no imputation of Christ active obedience, absolutely no place for the COW and a conditional justification that depends in the final analysis on the totality of the life one lived,. i.e. works are instructmental.
    Richard
    But they are the Feral Vision.

  4. Having read and benefitted from RRC after it was passed on to me by an elder, I do like the “QIRC-y” pun a lot

  5. Scott:

    You said above:

    “It has long been apparent to me that some, perhaps many, FVists become FVists because they’re so disgusted with the state of American evangelicalism and with its pervasive influence in the Reformed churches. They want a churchly, sacramental theology. Along comes the FV and offers what seems to be a churchly, sacramental theology and it seems the only alternative to revivalism and quasi-pentecostalism.”

    I’ve long wondered if the same phenomena has resulted in many heading into an Anglican direction with a frequent willingness to endorse and embrace things of which, in which, and about which they know little by way of English Reformation history, Confesssions (in this case the 42/39 Articles or the Irish Articles, 1615), worship or piety.

    Of one such case with a public track record, I speak openly of Ray Sutton with fundamentalist origins in Kentucky, then turning to strong theonomic and FV positions in Tyler, TX, and, by another turn, heading off into some bizarre and neo-Tractarian directions (the REC). And some former old school REC Professors have raised this same query.

    It’s a different direction, but I’ve wondered about the same thing, the same phenomenon, of these fundamentalists in robes, “that” Romewardizing Prayer Book, e.g the 1928 BCP, with adopted Anglo-Catholic pieties.

    More could be said on this specific point, this particular orbit or landing zone, but germane to your larger point…the issue of contempt for “modern enthusiasms and evangelicalism” landing folks in odd orbits, specifically FV.

    This point would make for an interesting sociological-theological inquiry (by a professional sociologist) re: backgrounds, views, attitudes, and theo-decision making.

  6. GWLJ:

    You said:

    “The Feral Vision -with it’s garbled understanding of justification in which covenantal faithfulness is the determining factor in whether or not you are among the ‘decretal elect’ as opposed to the ‘ covenantal elect’ ( individuals who have intial justification and are in ‘union with Christ’ and in possession of the forgiveness of sins but end utimately damned) is traceable to the influence of Norman Shepherd with a little assistance from NT Wright. Everything else associated with the FV is chicken feed compared to this.”

    It’s been a while since looking at FV. It’s not relevant to my sphere or orbit. My isses are different. However, as you summarized Shepherd and FV per the above, this is precisely my recollection or orientation from Shepherd’s courses at WTS/P, 1979-1981…as you described it above…in a thumbnail sketch.

    Shepherd was garbled and confusing then.

    Given a medically diagnosed issue of some memory loss on my end (a bummer), do you feel this is a good summary of FV? As per your quote?

  7. The BCP 1928 is not Romanising. What is Romanising is the Anglican Missal. Peter Robinson is a bishop in the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) which use the Anglican Missal. You should be directing your comments at him.

  8. Jason, as a point in fact, Peter is not a bishop in the ACC at all; he is a Bishop with the UECNA as a point in fact; of question, there is some communal concordat between the UENCA and the ACC. And that concordat raises powerful suspicions for this scribe.

    And, as to another point in fact, it’s time “to reform” and redefine “Bishop” as an elected “Senior Elder,” primes inter pares, a senior among Presbyters, with term limits. Time to go back to the primitive church with Presbyters and Deacons. Don’t get me started. This is not the place.

    Now, as to the ACC, another point of fact, they are routine “saint-invokers” during Holy Communion. It’s foul. God–alone–knows “whatever” they add “beyond” the 28 BCP. It’s hard to tell since the cleric mumbles along and mumbles quietly–adding “Missal additions” with the priestly back to parishioners. That’s not Cranmer at the north end of the Table. It’s not Ridley with the “Table” versus the altars. That’s the 28 BCP’s accomodation of Tractarians on the American scene.

    As to the ACC, I know. I braved that foul and odious wickedness for three months, locally, while the Rector (and former military friend) sought for my involvement. I can fully assure you that the local ACC was not–let me just repeat this–want not Reformationally oriented, conscious, driven or appreciative.

    And, as to the English 1928 BCP, take it up with Bishop Malcolm of the Church of England (cont’). It’s the American counterpart. At least the Brits had a Parliament to stop it. The “Eastward” position certainly is Romanizing and neo-Tractarian. The 1928 BCP on Murrikan (American) shores, while it “retained” the 39 Articles, did so only by a breath-takingly narrow decision…there certainly was a militantly anti-Reformation context to that book in this nation.

    This is not an Anglican forum and this discussion is not appropo here.

    What is apropo, however, is the issue of RCC and Scott’s larger point of the connection between disgust for American evangelicalism and the connection to the FV-ers. Similarly, I’ve had the same suspicion for those opting for the Canterbury trail.

    Frankly, I steer my connections away from the embarrassments known as Anglicanism. (PS…I about “barfed” when the local ACC Rector here called the ACC Archbishop, “your lord” and “your grace,” pathetic Romanticism, if not Goth medievalism. And Peter hasn’t rejected that title either in some postings. It’s pathetic nonsense). As to further comments on Anglicanism, let that go elsewhere than here.

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