David Wallover, pastor of Harvest Presbyterian Church in Medina, OH has written a provocative review of RRC comparing and contrasting with with Jim Belcher’s Deep Church. First, I’m grateful that he read the book and took the time to comment on it. Second, I’ve not read Deep Church so I can’t comment on the validity of his comparison and contrasts. Third, it should be noted that most of his review is devoted to a critique of Belcher’s book. Fourth, his biggest complaint about RRC seems to be about my apparent pugnaciousness. At the risk of living up to his caricature, this is the point to which I want to respond.For example, the reviewer charges,
In contrast to Belcher, Clark seems at times to go out of his way to be combative. He relishes a good debate and wants to draw his readers into that debate. He is needlessly picky about certain historically Calvinistic distinctives such as exclvusive, non-instrumental psalmody and restoring a second service on Sunday evening.
These comments make some unfortunate assumptions which lead to unjustified conclusions.
As to relishing a debate. I’m sorry but that’s just not true. I would be much happier not arguing with anyone but it’s not possible to avoid disagreements altogether. This assessment of my character seems ungracious. I understand that, in our latitudinarian age, speaking up for confessional truth might make me look combative but I think that says more about our age than it does about me or about our confessions.
The first half of RRC is a critique. As such it’s unavoidably negative. Authors do face word limits and those limits control the amount of space a writer can spend saying the things that might mitigate the impression left by the criticisms. Nevertheless, I tried to be as appreciative as possible of those whom I criticized. The second half of the book was meant to be constructive and there’s an entire chapter devoted to giving positive reasons for being Reformed. I guess the reviewer missed that or perhaps he thinks the entire book should have been written in only one tone?
That the reviewer thinks that I was merely defending “Calvinistic distinctives” and that he regards them as “needlessly picky” suggests either that he did not read the book closely or that he misunderstood the thrust of the argument or that he reads the history of Reformed theology, piety, and practice quite differently than I do. At bottom the discussion of these things was really about the centrality of the means of grace as the way that God has ordained to operate in and through the visible church and in and through his people to bring them to faith and to bring them to sanctity.
As finite creatures we live in time and space. In order to be able to use the means of grace to our benefit we need time and space. We cannot use the means of grace (the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments) to our benefit unless we are gathered and we not so sanctified as to be able to do so without those means that Christ has instituted. This is the point of advocating a second service. How are we to make adequate use of the means of grace without a second service?
As I read Scripture and our confessions, the means of grace are not small things nor is the historic and confessional Reformed view of worship, as I tried to show in the book, a “Calvinist” peculiarity. Calvin certainly did not think that what he was teaching was peculiar to him. He believed that he was restoring to the church the most ancient catholic practice of the church. The Reformed churches believed that not only were they restoring catholic practice but that they were being obedient to God’s Word. The question I raised in RRC is whether are being more or less faithful to our confession. It’s an uncomfortable question but it’s an essential question.
Near the end of the review he comments on the matter of rhetorical strategy: “…Clark and the folks at the White Horse Inn might want to take a cue from Belcher in seeking not to polarize but to persuade.” I can understand why some might regard me as polarizing. I see it in myself but for the life of me I cannot see how people can say that about the White Horse Inn. I wonder if the people who say such things have listened to the WHI for the last 10 years. I guess they have not. Was it true that, in earlier years, the program was perhaps a little punchier than it is today? Probably. Over the least decade, however, the WHI guys have gone out of their way, they have bent over backwards, to be inclusive, kind, patient, and thoughtful in the critiques of others. Who else has been as inclusive as the WHI or Modern Reformation? Have the folk whom the WHI/MR have criticized been as inclusive of confessional Protestants as the MR/WHI have been of non-confessional folk? I doubt it. When I read comments like this last I despair of communicating to this age if only because the rules of what counts as acceptable rhetoric seem to be ever shifting. The odd thing is that the reviewer acknowledges that his review is “pointed” (I’ll say! It’s more than that, it’s downright personal) but evidently he thinks his rhetoric counts as winsomeness. The reader will excuse me for being a little confused as to what counts as sweetly reasonable discourse in our late modern age. What’s the standard here? For some reason I think of “four legs good, two legs bad!”
My homiletics prof, the very Reverend Dr Derke Bergmsa taught us to make sure that our sermons, as much as possible, reflect the range of human emotion. I think rhetoric should also reflect a range of tones. A great song does not simply sound one note and a great symphony does not usually take only one tone. Most great symphonies reflect a range of human emotion and experience. So, in RRC, there is a range of expression. I hope that, in the Reformed community, we are not being gradually straightjacketed into a narrow range of rhetoric and expression which must pass muster with the “niceness” police.
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