Heidelcast 137: How To Avoid The TheoRecon Tollbooth

Arguably Reformed theology has never been more popular among evangelicals than it is right now. There are multiple large parachurch movements that extol the virtues of Reformed theology in a way that was unknown thirty years ago. It has never been easier for fundamentalists and evangelicals to discover the Reformed theology, piety, and practice. This is a very good thing and much to be encouraged. There are challenges, however, for the pilgrim into Reformed theology. One of those is the theonomic reconstructionist movement, which I am calling the TheRecon movement. This movement rests on some significant category, historical, and exegetical mistakes but often presents itself to pilgrims moving to Geneva, as it were, as though it were the authentic expression of Reformed theology. It is not and this episode will show why and how that is so.

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  1. Dr. Clark, thankyou for doing this, it was very helpful having an audio version of the original article. This, along with the conference you did at Abendroth’s Church, and interviews you did with Saints and Sinners Unplugged, have been enormously clarifying. I bought Reformed Is Not Enough a while back and will be going through it soon. I am wondering if there are any characteristics you find that these movements all have in common. A while back, Theocast wrote a primer on Pietism that was revolutionary for me. In it they wrote,

    “Pietism is heavily practical in nature (do). Confessionalism is heavily declarative in nature (done).

    They are of very different tones. Because pietism is concerned with a reformation of behavior, its tone is usually exacting. Because confessionalism is concerned with the believer’s confidence in Christ, its tone is usually compassionate.

    Since pietism is focused on what Christians should do, the Gospel is usually seen as the entry point for ongoing duty. Since confessionalism is focused on Christ’s work, the Gospel is both the foundation of the sinner’s confidence before God and the shelter under which they live in this fallen world.

    Pietism has a tendency to erode a sense of assurance by obsessing over relative degrees of personal righteousness. Confessionalism seeks to bolster assurance by pointing to the alien righteousness of Christ received by faith.

    In pietism doubt often emerges as an implicit motivation for godliness. In confessionalism certainty motivates the believer.

    One knows they are experiencing pietism when sermons contain sheer instruction, view the Gospel as a footnote, or apply it to the non-Christian at the end of the service. One knows they are experiencing confessionalism when the Gospel surrounds the entire service and is applied mainly to the redeemed.

    Pietism stresses the practice of “spiritual disciplines” as a means to spiritual growth. Confessionalism stresses the ordinary means of grace (Word, sacrament, prayer) in strengthening one’s faith in Christ.

    Pietism is concerned with cultivating spirituality in the individual. Confessionalism is concerned with exalting Christ as the sole object of faith.

    Pietism views assurance as the pursuit of the Christian life. Confessionalism sees assurance as the essence of Christianity.

    Pietism points the Christian inward to their progress in personal holiness. Confessionalism points the Christian outward to the righteousness of Christ.

    Pietism mixes Law and Gospel. Confessionalism maintains a distinction between Law and Gospel.

    Pietism is mainly concerned with nominalism. Confessionalism is mainly concerned with moralism.”

    Regrettably the more I learn about Barth, Fuller, Murray and the Impacts of the Shepard controversy the more aware I become to how ”pietism” (defined broadly in this way), is taking over the reformed world. In his book assurance of faith, Berkhof put it this way,

    ”IV. The Foundation of The Assurance of Faith

    a. The Promises of God

    It was one of the great mistakes of the Pietism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that, in seeking the assurance of faith, or of salvation, it divorced itself too much from the Word of God. The basis of assurance was sought, not in the objective promises of the Gospel, but in the subjective experiences of believers. The knowledge of the experiences that were made the touchstone of faith, was not gathered from the Word of God, but was obtained by an inductive study of the subjective states and affections of believers. In many cases these were not even put to the test of Scripture, so that the true was not always distinguished from the counterfeit. Moreover, there were unwarranted generalizations. Individual experiences and experiences of a very dubious character were often made normative, were set forth as the necessary marks of true faith. The result was that they who were concerned about the welfare of their soul turned attention to themselves rather than to the Word of God, and spent their life in morbid introspection. It is no wonder that this method did not promote the assurance of faith that fills the heart with heavenly joy, but rather engendered doubt and uncertainty and caused the soul to grope about in a labyrinth of anxious questionings, without an Ariadne-thread to lead it out. This method of seeking assurance by looking within rather than by looking without, to Jesus Christ as He is presented in Scripture, and by making the experiences of others, especially of those who are regarded as “oaks of righteousness” normative, has not yet been abandoned entirely in our own circles. Yet it is a most disappointing one.”

    this might be a loaded question but I’d love to hear your thoughts on how pietism connects to broader evangelicalism as well as the monocovanental movement. I think the work you are doing in recovering the reformed confession is fantastic and very helpful to the church.

  2. I also want to add that in “Reformed” is Not Enough page 172, Douglas Wilson wrote after abandoning the Protestant understanding of James and Justification that good works are the, “ground of assurance of salvation”. Throw in a little monocovanentalism and theonomy and to me it seems like you have a dangerous mixture of people never knowing if they’re saved or really trusted in Christ because Jesus’ work wasn’t complete, and there’s a quality of sanctity that must be produced in me for final justification/salvation(which is exactly where this leads).

    Compare this to the Primer,

    “Because of its fear of nominalism and the ever-present possibility of moral laxity, pietism resists an unqualified commitment to Sola Fide. As a preventative measure against immorality, faith (Christ’s work) and faithfulness (our work) are drawn together as tightly as possible. Just enough space is left between the two realities for it to qualify as Protestant. Whenever the ground of assurance (person of Christ) and the evidence of conversion (transformation of our life) are made indistinguishable, the believer can never find rest. Life is approached from a transactional standpoint. I get when I give. The results of this distortion are devastating to the hope of the believer (Romans 5:1). From this angle instruction will always sound like a way to earn God’s favor rather than an invitation to enjoy the freedom of God’s favor we already possess.

    Confessionalism does not share pietism’s obsession over transformation, nor is it fearful that an absence of external pressures will result in a shortage of sanctification. Within confessionalism sanctification is both certain and varying. This because the whole of salvation is an act of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit working within the frame of the regenerate sinner (Ephesians 2:8-10). Change is an inevitable consequence of the same predestinating grace (Romans 8:28-30) that caused our justification in the first place. The “progress” of sanctification over the whole of the Christian life is as certain as the declaration of justification that inaugurated it. It is no less inevitable than the glorification that will occur at its terminus. If it is of grace then there is no sense in which it will not come to pass. As Luther wrote, “God transforms those he redeems. Those he does not transform he leaves in the consequence of their sin.

    Once we understand these realities the focus of our daily life changes dramatically. Pietism drives the believer forward by the application of discipline in an effort to increase spiritual activity and godliness. We get through giving. When we lapse into sin, or struggle with our remaining corruption, we are cast into despair. This is inevitable since our confidence depends on our progress. Confessionalism invites the believer to set their focus on the Divine Love of the Father. He justified us through His son. He adopted us. He sanctifies us. He will safely bring us home. This is the constant refrain of the Gospel. “You are mine.” The believer fights daily against the temptation to rest in their own righteousness rather than the righteousness of Christ. We fight daily to lay aside the entanglements that lead away from faith in Christ. As the church gathers we are called to rest from our weariness as we rest in Christ (Hebrews 4:10-11). We are abiding with those abiding in Christ Jesus. We take up Christ’s “body” and “blood” to remind us of our justification and adoption by grace. Our Father graciously bids us come. It’s here that wrath and mercy meet in the person and work of Christ. The believer rests in the Father’s arms instead of laboring to climb into them. We rest knowing our status is forever fixed. “God is good with you.”

    • You make some very helpful observations. The difference between true and false religion is that the heretics always come across as uberpious, looking to their own righteousness, as if that had any value before God. True faith looks only to the righteousness of Christ and cannot help obeying Him in love for all He has done for it. At the last day true believers ask, when did we do good works? (visit you in prison, give you a drink) because they do not attach any value to their works for justification. He says, “when you did it to the least of these.” To those who brag about their great works in his name as the basis for acceptance, he says, “depart from me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.” “Good works” done for justification are actually the worst of sins. What a tragedy that people are being deceived by such pious heretics.

  3. I liked this one. Very helpful. I was one of those that was leaning towards the Recon camp when I was new to Reformed theology.

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