A Very Brief Response to John Frame’s Review of Recovering the Reformed Confession

Recovering the Reformed Confession-FeaturedJohn Frame has written a lengthy (20,000 words!) review of and response to Recovering the Reformed Confession. To put the size of the review into perspective, a typical book chapter is 10,000 words. I appreciate the detail of the review and, in general, its spirit. Obviously we disagree on some very fundamental issues. Nevertheless, his review is certainly more thoughtful than some others I’ve read. The review also serves to highlight some of the basic disagreements. To those who have read the book and even followed the bread-crumb trail in the footnotes back to the secondary and primary sources cited it is clear that there are quite significant differences between these two visions of what it means to be Reformed in the 21st century. The discussion between those two visions is salutary and necessary.  That’s why I wrote the book: to stimulate this sort of discussion. Does calling a theology, piety, and practice “Reformed” make it so? Is there a stable definition of the adjective “Reformed” or are there as many definitions of it as there are definers? That’s a discussion worth having and I’m glad that John agrees with me about that.

So, to those of you who are writing to let me know about the review, thanks. I’ve read it. To those of you who have not read the book, don’t you think you should? I understand that it’s tempting to let others do your reading and digesting for you. I understand that there’s a lot of entertaining stuff out there to read but if John Frame spent the time represented by the review to read the book and to interact with it at that length, even though he disagrees with much of the book, don’t you think you owe it to yourself to read the book for yourself?

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  1. Scott,

    You’ve been promoting the reading of your book fairly consistently on this blog (and on others) as the best way to understand your point of view.

    I’m curious, have you read and publicly interacted with Leithart’s works? I’m thinking in particular of “The Priesthood of the Plebs” and “Against Christianity.”

    I think your (public) interaction with Leithart’s works would be illuminating for all parties.


      • “No plans to do.”
        That’s disappointing.

        I would have imagined that you would be anxious to dissect his work given your exhortation to us… “I understand that it’s tempting to let others do you reading and digesting for you.”

        If you’re willing to let others digest Leithart on your behalf, why shouldn’t I let Frame digest your book for me?


        • I didn’t say that I haven’t read Leithart. I just said that I hadn’t read those. Have I published a review of PL somewhere? If so I must have done so in my sleep because I don’t recall doing it.

          • Didn’t mean to imply that you had reviewed Leithart, but you’re quite confident that Leithart is outside the Reformed tradition, and perhaps more importantly, that he’s distorted the gospel. How did you reach this conclusion if you haven’t interacted with his work? Perhaps you have privately, but since you are in severe disagreement with Leithart, I think you owe it to your blog-readers that you’ve done the scholarly work of reviewing Leithart’s complete works before dismissing him.

            You want us all to interact with (and buy!) your book which is designed to convince the broader Reformed community that people like Leithart are wrong , yet there’s no interest in interacting with something as compelling as “Priesthood of the Plebs?”

            I’m not really trying to snipe. I’d love to see WSC invite Leithart to a moderated discussion on baptism; I think it’d be very interesting to see the issues debated in an academic setting where the arguments are presented both from our confessional tradition and, just as importantly, from scripture.

            • Ken,

              I haven’t done much FV-related reading since I finished Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry and Baptism, Election, and the Covenant of Grace and “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ.”

              I did note that PL was a signatory to the Joint FV Statement, which is damning and I’ve read other things by him.

              I will add these two to my list. I’m booked through April at least but I’ll get to them.

              I doubt that we’ll be having him on campus any time soon, but thanks for the offer.

            • As I’ve said before, and am not the only one to notice, you have read a selection of FV work, and don’t care to read much more. When I sent you a sermon once of Pastor Wilson once (on Grace and Law), you took the time to dissect a 10 min portion in a blog post, but did not take the time to listen to the rest, and showed us how you do scholarship. Please, don’t tell people you’ve been “studying the FV for 10 years.” It simply isn’t true. You just said as much.

  2. Clark, you really have a narrow view on what it is to be reformed and as much as you try,,,,,, you are historically wrong on the matter. The Westminster Divines easily prove your so called ‘confessional’ views wrong. Keep trying to sell your book!

    • Neil,

      Have you read the book? Have you tracked down the sources in the notes? Where exactly am I wrong?

      Fwiw, one doesn’t have to buy the book to read it. You can order freely via Inter-library loan. Most libraries will gladly help you do this.

    • Niel, I posted my just, fair, standing and strenuous objection on another thread to you calling Dr. or Prof. Clark by his last name. I’ll say no more to the matter since it’s Dr. Clark’s site. But, be advised. This Marine and this Churchman finds it offensive and unbecoming. If I were a Pastor and this persisted without correction, you’d be disciplined for behaviour unbecoming a Churchman. Be assured of that. Nuff said.

      Dr. Clark, I’ll say no more than this (to Niel) as well as the other post on the other thread. It’s your business. But I wanted to register my objection as a Marine and as a Churchman. Nuff said.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    I am planning to purchase your book this month. I read John Frame’s review completely as well. So, it gets quite interesting. I have great respect for Reformed Confessional Christianity. I also like your blog posts and podcasts. I have learned quite a bit from you. There are times I have been put off with your “Reformed Belligerence” ( as I call it; you may not agree) but still you have held my attention and I have been stimulated by this very important discussion – What it means to be Reformed. As a Christian coming from India, as i have told you before, Confessional Christianity is unheard of. Probably I may become its pioneer here after I read your book, or may be not! Not sure. But I am going to give it a careful reading.


  4. Dr. Clark,

    In the review J.Frame wrote: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, for example, has held that Calvin’s view of the Sabbath is unacceptable in a minister.

    Is this a well know fact? Frame seems to think so, since no reference is provided.

    Have you ever heard that the OPC either holds to or promulgates such a view?

    • There are two issues here:

      1) What was Calvin’s view? I suspect John is assuming the correctness of view which I disputed in RRC. I tried to show in RRC that, in fact, Calvin’s theology of the sabbath wasn’t what it’s often made out to be and that it wasn’t much different from the view often denominated “sabbatarian.”

      2) As far as I know there are a variety of views in the OPC on the sabbath. There is certainly a diversity of practice. I don’t know that the OPC has changed the Westminster Confession on the sabbath so that’s their view. I don’t remember off the top if there have been study reports but even so those have no binding authority in the OPC.

    • Yes there has been an OPC Report on the Sabbath. They conclude with a traditional (i.e. RRC) view of the Sabbath, but it is interesting to note that they criticize the standards for undermining that position by failing to address the eschatological component of the doctrine of Sabbath:

      The weekly Sabbath is an eschatological sign. This truth, central to the teaching of Hebrews 3:7-4:13 as well as fundamental to the entire biblical revelation concerning the Sabbath, does not find expression in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. … The question, however, may at least be suggested whether, by the specific manner in which the Sabbath is mentioned and by the way in which the eschatological aspect of biblical teaching on the Sabbath is passed over in silence, the Standards may not have contributed to the uncertainty over the Sabbath in our own and other Reformed churches. Therefore, the General Assembly may wish to consider if, and if so what, procedures are in order to provide through our standards a fuller statement of the scriptural teaching concerning the Sabbath ordinance and its significance.

      • Dr. Clark – I’ve waffled on the Sabbath a couple of times at least… I don’t have your book and was wondering if you talk about the early church’s position on the subject and if it different than the Reformers’ position… and if so, why.

        I’ve found Sabbath keeping to be unbearable, but no doubt I’m looking at it wrongly.



        • Hi Mark,

          You can surely get the book from a library. I do give a brief history of the Sabbath. I also gave a talk on it as part of our faculty conference on the Law of God and the Christian. That talk is available from The Bookstore at WSC — http://www.wscal.edu/bookstore

          Click on mp3s and you can find the audio there. The chapter in RRC is much expanded as I had only a short time at the conference.

          Your instinct is right, properly understood, the Sabbath is a great blessing! It’s a wonderful anticipation of our rest with Christ and a foretaste of the same in the ministry of Word and sacrament. It’s also a great relief from the demands of our go-go 24-7 culture.

          • Nice! Thanks for the linkage.

            > It’s a wonderful anticipation of our rest with Christ and a foretaste of the same in the ministry of Word and sacrament. It’s also a great relief from the demands of our go-go 24-7 culture.

            That’s pretty much what my pastor said (*slaps forehead*). Looking forward to reading your book.

      • Another quote from the OPC report (minority report II):

        The point at issue then would be whether or not the view of the Fourth Commandment confessionally unique with the Westminster standards is basic and vital to the Reformed system. Historically, the answer is plain enough: a contrary understanding of the Fourth Commandment did not weaken or subtract from the vigorous Reformed faith of Calvin, Beza, Bullinger, or Ursinus

        Perhaps this assertion that Calvin had a “contrary understanding of the 4th comm.” than Westminster is the basis for Frame’s statement “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, for example, has held that Calvin’s view of the Sabbath is unacceptable in a minister.”

          • Well I actually agree with Frame that Calvin’s (and Heidelberg’s) view of the Sabbath is quite different than Westminster, but I think the specific question is, what has the OPC said about Calvin/Westminster on the Sabbath. I’m not sure how strongly one assertion of disagreement in the 2nd minority report counts as a denominational condemnation of Calvin. But perhaps Frame has other sources.

            • For Frame’s assertion (based on its rather strong wording) to be sound and not clumsy, for me, there would need to be a decision made by or document adopted by the OPC’s General Assembly.

        • Here’s a little background on the “Sabbath Report” of the OPC. There was a judicial case against a minister (a teaching elder) who played soccer on Sundays (I seem to recall it was “semi-pro” soccer). Thus there was a need to clarify the Sabbath question with respect to Scripture & Standards AND ordination vows. The basic, historic Westminster view of Sabbath was upheld and the requirement to accept that or that this was included/required by the 2nd ordination vow. This culminated at the 1973 GA (when reports were received). I was there as an observer (just barely out of High School); not that I actually recall the debate from the floor! I met Dr. Strimple & Dr. Davis at that GA.

  5. Dr. Clark,
    I just wanted to say that you are a bigger man than most. It is obvious that you are all about getting down to the truth of the matter. That is an evidence of the grace of God which should be commended. If it were me, my blog would have had a 20,000 word rebuttal. Instead, gentleness and humility. The Lord is pleased with this discussion.
    May the Lord bless us with the remembrance of what His Son has done by the power of the Holy Spirit for His Own glory,

  6. Dr. Clark,

    While I’ve never read your work, I’d been inclined already to read RTRC, as it’s come very highly recommended to me indeed. I have read a good deal of Frame’s work, and find myself challenged and refreshed even when I disagree. I must say, having read both his review and your response (whose tenor I greatly appreciated), I now find myself even more anxious to read your book. Can’t wait!

    • Not necessarily but I don’t expect the ordinary reader to say, “Hey you’re reading of ______ (fill in the blank) is all wet.” If one is going to do that then one has to do the research first.

    • I intend to dig around in the footnotes. That’s why they are there. I feel that I’ve not digested a book until that’s been done. It may take 1-2 years to digest RRC.

      Presently, am concerned that Prof. Frame did not do that, namely, dig in on the footnotes. We’ll see.

  7. I’ve just begun reading Frame’s review, not done yet, but I’d like to comment on this snippet:

    “…it is not obvious that “Reformed” should be defined by the confessions, a group of favored theologians, and informal traditions. Clark’s procedure in defining the nature of “Reformed” thinking is not itself found in any of the confessions or favored theological writings. Nor is there any way, so far as I can see, to support it from Scripture.”

    If the confessions were the products of the systematic theological work undertaken by the Reformed divines in an effort to organize what they have determined to be Scripture’s teaching and testimony on key doctrines, why would it not be obvious to label as “Reformed” (and strictly so) the particularizations (“confessions”) of the Reformed divines (abstract)?

    Looking at a table, may I not label it as a “carpenter’s work”, as opposed to a greenhorn’s dabblings in woodwork, by virtue of the quality of the output?

    Frame seems to have been captured by the spirit of the age (postmodernism), with his alarming emphases on subjectivity.

    And Scripture does lend massive support to the upholding of tradition, which Frame overlooked in that bit of hasty generalization there.

    • Of course, Frame’s own definition of “Reformed” must be based on some foundation or presupposition as well. I’m not on that part yet, but suffice it to say that it can only be of two sources: 1.) personal subjective whim 2.) synthesis of sources otherwise confessionally Reformed.

      But why reinvent the wheel? Why not hold as authoritative the Reformed divines apprehension of Scriptural truths as systematized in the confessions?

      It’s postmodernism in action.

  8. That’s not a good thing when a theologian can walk away and have 20k of words to write concerning your theology. I guess in your case though (somehow) you’ve made that into a complement….Cheers!

  9. Warren,

    I think you missed the point that Frame was making. I think it would be helpful to 1) read the 2 sentences that you omitted from the paragraph that you quoted and 2) reread the context of Frame’s argument (the first section under the heading of “An Objective Definition of “Reformed?”).


    • Brad,

      That’s an AD HOC charge of me missing the point.

      Better to lay at the table the basis of this charge.

      I better get down to finishing reading the article. LOL.

  10. As an avid reader of both professor Clark and professor Frame, I am disappointed with the invective displayed at many times in the review, as well as the overall lack of charity in Frame’s interpretation (as with his review of Horton’s Christless Christianity, it seem like he’s trying to find disagreement in as many places as possible). I was surprised by how many of Frame’s criticisms and cautions of RCC I do find agreement with, though, and I appreciate the time he took to prepare it.

    When Frame comments on criticisms of his own view, as he does throughout the review of RRC, I don’t think he realizes how confusing his own works and views are–at least for some of us, like myself. One reason for this is his sometimes idiosyncratic use of words. For example, “Revival,” he says, “is about heart-feelings given by the ongoing work of God in our hearts through the preaching of the gospel.” Presumably, though, that’s not what Clark (or anyone in their right mind who criticizes revivalism) takes to be revivalism. But many of Frame’s arguments against RRC are based on equivocations between how he wants to use words and how Clark does. Hence, concerning revivals, he concludes, “When the indwelling Spirit gives to someone a deep emotional joy, shouldn’t we be glad of that? How can a desire for such spiritual maturity be criticized as aspiration to some illegitimate glory? So here, as usual, I find Clark’s argument unpersuasive.” If Clark’s argument were against “deep emotional joy” caused by the ordinary means or the indwelling Spirit, they wouldn’t be persuasive, but that’s not what Clark has in mind, as far as I can tell.

    Some of the things Frame says are simply odd. The confessions he calls “elaborate theological treatises” and is flabbergasted that a church might hold its ministers (not to mention its members–far worse!!) to its doctrine. The confessions, you know, those statements of belief that a decently catechized kid understands fairly well by, oh, 12, are really standards too high to hold members, even ministers to? I also was confused as to why Frame is, on his understanding, Reformed. Is he Reformed because he thinks the Reformed tradition (wait, the “majority of Reformed believers” is the mainline, like the PCUSA, so does Frame think that they are the continuation of the Reformed tradition?) teaches a theology (where? in its confessions? where is Reformed theology, according to Frame?) that is closest to the teaching of Scripture, or because that is the type of denomination he happened to end up in in this life?

    • I don’t think Frame used the word majority here rather he used the word consensus. Here’s the quote: “Then, what is the Reformed faith? It is the consensus of Reformed believers.”

      But I agree with your point that Frame has defined Reformed poorly.

      • “Then, what is the Reformed faith? It is the consensus of Reformed believers.”

        That’s the fallacy of begging the question.

        There has to have been a point of origination, or else that statement is meaningless.

  11. I’m curious what the view is toward the PCA on campus there at WSC? I noticed that the only resident faculty there are the 2 korean professors. I found this interesting with the PCA ‘s size compared to the other “Reformed” north american denominations. What percentage of grads are ordained in the PCA there? It makes sense to me now why there is such a difference I’ve seen in writings from WSC vs. CTS and even RTS where there seems to be much more of a PCA presence.

    • John,

      We have about 150 students on campus. About 70% of them are MDiv. Most of those are PCA or end up PCA before they graduate. We have 3 full-time PCA faculty members, two of whom are Korean. 4 of our full-time faculty are URC, 4 of our fulll-time faculty are OPC.

      I don’t know that denominational affiliation, however, explains much about WSC. The PCA is a very diverse body with a variety of groups within ranging from GPTS on one end to progressive church growth types on the other. I hope we’re teaching our students, of whatever denomination, to faithful to God’s Word.

      The PCA has a strong presence on campus but we have diverse student body and faculty. We’re all united by a common commitment to God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. Last I knew the OPC, PCA, and the URCs all confess the same faith.

  12. Frame says:
    “We should also accept as Reformed people those who hold to generally Reformed convictions…Again, the phrase ‘generally Reformed’ indicates that the concept is not precise.”

    What is “generally Reformed”? Of course, for Frame to have come up with this criterion, a basis or foundation must be in existence. Perhaps the TULIP? But then who defines the boundaries of “generally Reformed”? Frame? He falls into the same charge that he hurls at Dr. Clark then.

    But he says that “the concept is not precise.” This is classic postmodern subjectivism applied to the issue of the ontology of “being Reformed.”

    For Frame, no one can claim the absolute truth of being Reformed.

    For Dr. Clark, the claim is founded on the confessions.

    It’s sad when supposed authorities on the Christian faith fall into the seductions of the spirit of the age, i.e., postmodernism.

  13. In a comment above, you say that Leithart’s signing of the Joint FV Statement is damning. I’ve tried to keep an eye on these things but I’ve seen very little (if any) analysis of the statement from the ‘TR’ (pardon the expression) perspective. Have you interacted with that anywhere? Also, when the various study committees have condemned FV, they don’t seem to have interacted much with the statement.

  14. Frame says: “Here Clark argues, not only for the authority of the confessions and tradition, but for their sufficiency. How can that not be a violation of sola Scriptura?”

    But the confessions ARE systematizations of BIBLICAL doctrine. The confessions themselves are upholding of Sola Scriptura by working solely with the biblical text in a masterful synthesis of both biblical and systematic theology.

    Given his argument, why attend church, why listen to preaching, why believe anything he says, since all these might be “violations” of Sola Scriptura?

    This is precisely the kind of misunderstanding and confusion that the RRC tries to rectify.

    • Warren, I think you are misunderstanding Frame’s point. He is not arguing that the confessions are anything but faithful systemisations (Brit. spelling) of scripture. However, Frame thinks that Clark’s views imply that the confessions are not only true and faithful, but sufficient; that there is no need, and never will be, to address questions not covered by the confessions.

      I’ve not read Clark’s book so I don’t know if that is implied by his arguments. But I have read Frame’s review, and it seems like you’ve missed the point there.

    • I think you get Frame wrong here. Frame did not deny that “confessions ARE systematizations of BIBLICAL doctrine. The confessions themselves are upholding of Sola Scriptura by working solely with the biblical text in a masterful synthesis of both biblical and systematic theology.” He does believe that Confessions work solely with the scripture and nothing else. The question is not one about the source but of authority (on our conscience). What he is saying is that Confessions may not be right about everything they systemize and interpret about the Bible. Every interpretation of Confessions may not be the correct interpretation and hence I am not bound in my conscience to hold the same (like say infant baptism). Dr Clark gives an opposite impression – he asserts

  15. Paul and Venkatesh,

    RCC does not argue that there is no need for the confessions to be scrutinized under the light of Scripture. This scrutiny will be in the domain of biblical theology (exegesis). But then biblical theology, by necessity, must appeal to systematic theology for its processes, hence an appeal must still be made to prior dogmatic formulations. In effect, matters of doctrinal controversy always involve both biblical and systematic theology. Now, the “Reformed” are those who utilize the confessions and catechisms as the systematic theological component in the equation. No one reads the Bible in a “tabula rasa” fashion. Appeal must always be made to presuppositions.

    For example, “infant baptism.” The Reformed adhere to this doctrine simply because the output of both biblical and systematic theology supports it. Those who deny it also make use of this dual method for their conclusions, though they cannot claim the title of “Reformed” because they did not make use of “Reformed” systematic theology, i.e., confessions and catechisms.

  16. Frame’s reputation as a curmudgeon precedes him- ask Richard Muller and David Wells. Frame even picked up and big stick and and went after the late Meredith Kline in Frame’s feshschrift.Earlier came his diatribe against ALL of Norman Shepherd critics .More recently he directed his guns at VanDruen and then in rapid succession Horton and now Clark. It appears that Frame has an axe to grind against not only WSCAL but a distinctive element that defends classic Reformed orthodoxy.

    • ‘curmudgeon’, ‘diatribe’, ‘picked up a big stick and went after….’ ‘directed his guns’… sounds to me like you’re the one with an axe to grind. Frame is hardly aggressive in his writing. He may well have a problem with the teaching/actions of certain parts of the Reformed community; but then again, who doesn’t?

      • To say that “Frame is hardly aggressive in his writing.” is either incompetent naivety or outrageous sophistry. Have you even been paying attention to all the traffic generated by just one quote Frame’s review of RRC “Then, what is the Reformed faith? It is the consensus of Reformed believers.”

        • Well, since I know for certain that there is no outrageous sophistry going on at my end, so I must be incompetent and naive (which may well be the case).

          How is that quote of Frame’s aggressive? It may well be wrong, it may well have stirred up a lot of strong feelings, but it doesn’t look to me like Frame is grinding an axe, taking shots or calling people names. That is what I mean by ‘aggressive writing’; perhaps you took it another way.

  17. PH
    People Frame has taken issue with-Muller, Wells, Kline, the critics of Norman Shepherd (like Stanford Reid,Palmer Robertson, Robert Godfrey, Martin Lloyd-Jones),VanDruen,Horton,Clark- that’s some list, wouldn’t you agree

    • Sure, but Frame reviews a whole lot of stuff, many of which are mixed reviews. I’ve never seen a review of his that takes the following sort of tone: ‘101 reasons why ____ is damnably wrong on _____’.

      Also, in his Doctrine of God, Frame uses a fair bit of Kline’s work on covenants, for example. On Wells, to quote Frame:

      ‘ I characterize Wells’s work (with that of others in this general tradition) as “a breath of fresh air” and “a theology with real backbone.” I described his work as “wonderfully erudite and eloquently written,” and I said that “there is much truth, certainly, in his indictment of evangelicals as individuals and as churches.”

      Sure, Frame is critical of a wide range of people’s work (including, say, Doug Wilson, Peter Enns, Van Til as well as those mentioned above) and at the same time, being careful to be charitable in the way he understands them. In the interviews I’ve seen with him, and the (very small) interaction I’ve had with him he has never in any way struck me as an axe-grinding character. Even if you think he’s wrong on most things, he’s about as fair, balanced and careful as they come.

      In the whole FV/TR controversy a case could easily be made that some characters on both sides have had axes to grind, been uncharitable and the like. But I’ve never seen Frame acting like that, and in the post above, it’s clear that our Heidelblogger is acting charitably as well. I don’t think we need to drag anyone’s name into the mud.

      • This comment is stupid. Have you ever heard of or even read Frame’s “Machen’s Warrior Children”?

        • I have heard of and read (several times) the article in question. But I’m obviously too stupid to see your point.

          Is it wrong, controversial or aggressive of Frame to say that the Reformed community has been overly divisive on a whole load of theological issues and that we all ought to bear with one another a bit better?

          Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Frame’s not opinionated. I’m saying that he doesn’t go around carelessly throwing insults about and deals with his differences with others gently.

          We are called, as Christians, to speak the truth in love. I may be completely wrong in everything I’ve said here, and you may be speaking the truth, but, to be honest, I’m not feeling the love.

          • Paul,

            In the spirit of John’s review, can you define “love” for us?

            In the USA the confessional Reformed community is a tiny minority and we face enormous pressure (and have for about 200 years) to conform to a paradigm, and theology, piety, and practice that is not Reformed. Thus, in order to continue to confess our understanding of Scripture we have to distinguish ourselves, where necessary, from the mass broad evangelical, revivalist theology, piety, and practice in which we are immersed. It’s not about a “club” (see the latest post on the front page of the HB) but rather about being faithful to what we truly believe Scripture to teach.

            The inroads into the Reformed churches by those influenced by the broad American, revivalist theology, piety, and practice is like an infection or sorts. If it isn’t addressed it will make us sick and eventually kill us. Some people think that the infection is good, it’s healthy. Those of us who believe heart and soul that the churches and their confessions are right about Scripture, think that antibiotics are good and salutary.

            If we live in a place that is largely hostile to what we understand Scripture to teach and if that circumstance creates the necessity of self-defense, does that make us unloving?

        • Eric,

          In this context, “stupid” is probably not helpful. Not everyone has read everything in this ongoing disagreement.

          Without going into detail, this review is part of a series in which John has arguably been “aggressive.” See his review of Mike Horton’s Christless Christianity in which accused Mike of making up things about American evangelicalism, despite Mike’s citation of reputable, refereed sociological studies of American evangelicals. In that review John also sided with Joel Osteen against Mike’s book. Check it out. That review was “aggressive.” See also his review of David VanDrunen’s first book on natural law. It was a little less heated but still quite hard hitting.

          This all raises the question of who gets to be counted as “nice” and/or pious. It seems to me that some writers in the American religious world get to say whatever they want and they get a pass. Other writers, no matter how hard they try to be fair or charitable or gracious do not receive the same treatment. I have theories as to why this is but we should be aware that this disparity of treatment exists.

          • Having re-read the Mike Horton review, I see where you’re coming from on that one. It does have an unnecessarily-negative tone. In the RRC review, again, probably over-negative but, to be fair, most of the review is a response to the disagreements Clark made with him, so it’s going to be hard not to sound overly aggressive. Still, he could have spoken more in love and I will let him know.

            So I probably oversold Frame’s gentleness. He’s a sinner like the rest of us, and I probably should have brushed up on TULIP before posting. At the same time, he does quote at length those he criticises which is a vital component of speaking the truth in love. And he is in both cases was reacting to polemical books which make strong claims on serious matters, which lends itself to overstatement and aggressive rhetoric; he’s hardly be alone in that matter.

            I regret that you feel there are double standards on people being charitable. There’s probably a lot of truth in that. You certainly have been charitable with Frame (and me) and I’ve not said otherwise.

  18. This is just a generalized comment directed to no one in particular.

    I have learned a lot from both John Frame and Scott Clark. I would be very grateful if those who consider themselves as heirs of the Reformation would remember that the Reformation was about issues much larger than those that are being discussed here.

  19. From Frame’s review: “We should also accept as Reformed people those who hold to generally Reformed convictions, but are members of non-Reformed churches. Again, the phrase “generally Reformed” indicates that the concept is not precise.
    Then, what is the Reformed faith? It is the consensus of Reformed believers.”

    Has anyone noted that this is circular? and not in a good way. It’s reformed because they’re reformed, and they’re reformed because it’s reformed. Some idea of being ‘generally Reformed’ is passable, but it must be more than consensus. There’s got to be some basis, even if it’s as simple as TULIP. Of course, many of us would like to see the bar a little higher.

    A Roman Catholic is one, presumably, in one of two senses or both: (1) He’s a member of the RC church, and/or (2) he believes what the Catholic church teaches. As diverse as this latter bit is, there is some pretty objective material out there to limit the “fuzzy boundaries” to, at least, clear continents of meaning. The Reformed faith is the same. The analogy he makes with the US is startlingly confused. A nation coheres around many things: political beliefs, geography, ethnicity, language, historical lineage, etc. The church, especially one which tries to “entrust these things to faithful men who are able to correct those who disagree,” is bound around doctrine (belief) period. This entails some degree of basic uniformity through the passing of time. Without which, the only basis for claiming unity is dust and political expedience and obedience to a respected name or tradition of men.

  20. In his own words, the “most serious criticism” of Frame’s “review” is found in his final paragraph.

    “A Reformed community that maintains its biblical heritage while seeking to grow in its love for the church as a whole is well worth supporting and recommending to others. That is not Clark’s vision of the church, and that I take to be the most serious criticism of the book under review.”

    IOW Frame either does not know or does not love the Reformed biblical heritage, at the very least when it comes to reformed worship, even before talking about love of other churches, much more the failure of others.

    Rather he has been swift to supplant it with his beloved and inferior innovations. Such as touting his “applications” as a “logical implication” of Scriptural commands, all the while he denies that “the Bible tells us anything about the elements and circumstances” as defined by the confessions.

    No, the Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly about a lot of things. Which is just the point of WCF 1:6 and the good and necessary consequences of Scripture, despite Frame’s on again, off again appeal to the same when it suits his argument. While the review tells us that RRC is “self-referentially incoherent”, somehow it fails to inform us of its own self referential hypocrisy.

    FTM if Frame ever admitted that the regulative principle of worship was but the G&NC of the Second Commandment as recognized in the reformed confessions, the gig as the resident “reformed” critic and demolition expert who has led the contemporary assault on the RPW would be up.

  21. Thank you, Dr. Clark, for doing your part to tamp down the fires. That matters a lot to those of us who value unity in the body.

    Question: If we define “Reformed” as

    A confession, a theology, piety, and practice that are well known and well defined and summarized in ecclesiastically sanctioned and binding documents [and] the understanding of those confessions as articulated by the classical sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed theologians and by those who continued their tradition

    then we have trouble accounting for how those documents might be modified.

    Take for example the 1789 revision of the WCoF. It is clear that the revisors did so because they believed the original to be less faithful to Scripture than the revision.

    But in doing so, they arguably departed from the understanding of the Reformed notion of civil governance as practiced by Calvin, the English Puritans, and so on. So were the 1789 revisers “unReformed” until the revision took place? Or even thereafter, since they were departing from the original vision?

    How do people who are Reformed in your sense ever come to the conclusion that the Confession needs revision?

    Would not the dissenters have already been excommunicated or marginalized?

    Granted that you allow for it in theory; how does it happen in practice?

    Second question: You might respond that civil government is not a systemic issue. But some issues on the table are … republication, e.g.; or “justification v. union.”

    Using your definition of “Reformed”, how can these conversations proceed?

    • Hi Jeff,

      I deal with this at length in the book. Evidently those who wrote the Reformed confessions didn’t share this objection or see it as insurmountable. As I show in the book, they wrote confessions regularly. There were differences between them but those differences weren’t of the essence of the Reformed faith. On the one hand they didn’t reduce the Reformed faith to the five points or to divine sovereignty and on the other hand it is not at evident that the theocratic assumptions of the 16th and 17th centuries are so of the essence of the faith that rejecting them affects our doctrine of Scripture, our doctrines of God, man, Christ, salvation, church, sacraments, and last things. It doesn’t at all. This is why I discuss the gradual realization by the confessionally Reformed churches that neither geocentrism (which many assumed through the late 17th century) and theocracy were, in effect, mistaken interpretations of Scripture that could be discarded without changing the Reformed confession. Our view of the 2nd commandment is of the essence of the Reformed faith. To put it in classical terms theocracy and geocentrism were accidental to the Reformed faith, not essential. Just as one can change the color of car and still have a car, so one can revise those interpretations of Scripture. One cannot, however, take the motor out of the car and still have a car. At best one has a defective car. So too, if one radically revises the Reformed view of the 2nd commandment, I argue, one has, at best, a defective car.

      I hope you’ll take a look at the book.

      • Scott,

        Only accidental from the perspective of history. They were included in the original confessional statements because they were perceived to be essential at the time; witness the Reformed in Scotland and their struggles with the National Covenant. So too, the American 1789 changes to the Confession weren’t driven by biblical exegesis, but rather the political zeitgeist of the Enlightenment.


        • Ken,

          The National Covenant was just as much driven by the Zeitgeist of Christendom as the American rejection of theocracy was influenced by the spirit of that age.

          Can it be shown that rejection of geocentrism or theocracy altered the Reformed doctrines of Scripture, God, man, Christ, salvation, church, sacraments, or last things?

          I doubt this. The American churches still view the church was the institution founded by Christ for the administration of the Word, sacraments, and discipline. They still confessed the same view of the 2nd commandment. They still confessed the same view of the sacraments.

          What they denied was the assumption that God’s Word teaches theocracy in the post-Israelite age. Arguably the seeds of the destruction of theocracy were present in the theology and confession of the 16th-century Reformers. It simply took time to work it out.

          Further, the destruction of theocracy was at work long before the Enlightenment. It’s certainly too simple to say that it was purely the result of the Enlightenment.

          If theocracy is of the essence of the the Reformed faith does that make all non-theocratic churches/denominations sub-Reformed?

          • That is the difficulty. Anyone with a bee in their bonnet seems to make their issue a matter of “preserving the purity of the Gospel.”

            Thus: the Trinity Review sees van Til’s epistemology as a threat to the Gospel. Certain theonomists see 2k as a denial of the Reformed view that grace transforms nature. Hoekema rejects anyone as unReformed who believes in the Well-Meant Offer. Kline insists that the Covenant of Works is essential to Covenant Theology; Kerux insists that Kline is crypto-Pelagian.

            So identifying “accidental” and “essential” features is at least a Hard Problem, and possibly an Unsolvable Problem.

            Dr. Clark, do you address that problem in RRC?

            • Jeff,

              Yes, that’s one of the main thrusts of the book, to answer that question.

              If one simply reads the WCF carefully some of these problems aren’t that difficult. E.g., the Reformed churches don’t confess an apologetic method, not in the documents. So, then that’s a “theological” problem but not, strictly speaking, a confessional one until the churches confess an apologetic method. I think most reasonable people, even those who disagree with CVT on apologetics, would not agree with the over-wrought Clarkians (no relation) about the allegedly life-threatening consequence of CVT’s theology. In fact, I’ve defended CVT’s view of the Creator/creature relations as being essentially that of the tradition. See “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel and Westminster Theology,” in David VanDrunen, ed., /The Pattern of Sound Words: A Festschrift for Robert B. Strimple/ (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149-80. That essay also addresses Hoeksema et al.

              The theonomic ethic has a massive problem to overcome and that is that one little word in WCF 19: “expired.” The Reformed churches do not confess and never have confessed “the abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail.” I describe the use of a contra-confessional view like theonomy as a boundary marker for Reformed orthodoxy as QIRC. See the book.

              So there are two examples that show, I think, that the problem of defining Reformed isn’t nearly as difficult as it might seem. Clearly the Reformed doctrine of the two natures of Christ or the Reformed approach to worship or even paedobaptism, which occur in every Reformed confession since the early 16th century are essential to the Reformed confession.

              This is the point of distinguishing between the Reformed confession defined narrowly in terms of the confessional documents, which are those things required of Reformed people by the churches and the Reformed confession defined broadly as those writers who constitute the context of the documents, who gave us the vocabulary and ideas that we confessed in the documents. The latter are always leveraged with the former.

          • “Can it be shown that rejection of geocentrism or theocracy altered the Reformed doctrines of Scripture, God, man, Christ, salvation, church, sacraments, or last things?”

            No, it can’t be shown that it altered those doctrines. My point is simply that “theocracy” as you’ve labeled it was essential to the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries. For many of them it was essential to the point of death. The 18th century descendants decided their skins weren’t worth the clause in chapter XXIII, and so they removed it. It wasn’t because of some marvelous new insight into scripture; it was pragmatic.

            But the larger issue is that at one point it was essential and then it wasn’t. There’s nothing to say that other elements of the WCF won’t or shouldn’t share the same fate. Maybe at that point we agree that a new confession should be written, but if so, the connection between 21st century Protestant Christians to the 16th century magisterial reformers will be similar to their relationship to medieval church councils in Europe – descendants but not copies.

            • I’m not necessarily arguing for theocracy here, but it’s interesting to me that Calvin’s view of the state as articulated in Inst. 4.20 was as follows:

              (1) God is a person;
              (2) The magistrate’s job is to protect the rights of persons;
              (3) Including the right of God not to be blasphemed.
              (4) Hence, the magistrate must enforce both tables of the Law.

              Clearly, the 1789 revision rejected at least one of (1) – (4). It’s worth considering whether the 1789 revision implicitly modified (1).

              My point is this: it seems like distinguishing between substance and accident might be non-trivial.

      • Yes, I very much intend to do so. (Intentions, of course, well …)

        So if I can pursue the line of thinking further, are you explicitly relying on a kind of Aristotelian substance/accident notion: JFBA is a part of the substance of Reformed thought, but theonomy is accidental?

        • I’m using the Aristotelian language yes in the same way the Reformed churches use it when they distinguish between an “element” of worship (i.e., Word and prayer) and a “circumstance” of worship.

  22. 1. This story is not over in terms of Mr. Frame’s review of “Recovering the Reformed Confessions.”
    2. I continue to brew on this review of your work.
    3. In reviewing the wide literature of Osteen, Meyer, Creflo Dollas, and the hyper-abundance of “inspirational” materials that totally dominate the book sections at Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble, at least near Camp Lejeune, NC, together with the Emergence and Pentecostalist rebellions, atop the near total dominance by these Rebels (yes, that’s what Pentecostals are) in the TV industry, I am finding it enormously difficult to understand “anything” that might “hint” or suggest laxity in “pro-active Confessional membership.” Is the reviewer connected to the real world outside? Assuredly, he’s say yes. But not so fast.
    4. Add to this negative and lengthy review of RCC, the review of Dr. Horton’s “Christless Christianity.”
    5. As I said, the story is not over for this scribe. I’m just a little on the slow side. It’s percolating.

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