Home > 1689 federalism, Leviticus 18:5, old covenant > Can R. Scott Clark be Truly Reformed?

Can R. Scott Clark be Truly Reformed?

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 2.19.53 PM

In a recent episode of the Calvinist Batman podcast, R. Scott Clark talks about Covenant Theology and Reformed Identity. My last post was a critique of his covenant theology. Here I just want to make a comment about his attitude towards reformed identity. Generally speaking, I can agree with much of what he says and I appreciate his emphasis on adhering to a confession of faith. However…

Speaking of theonomy, he says

The essence of theonomy is that the law of God, without distinguishing between civil, ceremonial, and moral, is still in force. Greg Bahnsen spoke about the abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail. The great problem with that way of speaking is it’s flatly contrary to the way we speak in the reformed confessions, particularly, for example, in Westminster Confession 19.4, where we say “To them” that is, national Israel, “also as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws” now watch this, comma, ready? “which” the sundry judicial laws – did what? – “expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now further than the general equity thereof may require.”

So I always say to my theonomic friends, “What don’t you understand about expired?”

[…]

It’s sort of a demonstration as to how unmoored we’ve become to the confession, that we have this debate about theonomy. I mean, in a way, we could have ended, and should have ended the whole debate with theonomy by saying, “Well, ok, we get that you don’t believe Westminster 19.4. Fine. Go away. You’re not reformed.” But tragically, because theonomists make a lot of noise, they’re visible. When you leave evangelicalism, it’s sort of one of the toll booths you have to go through to become reformed, is you have to pass through theonomy.

Now, I agree that theonomy is contrary to WCF 19.4. Read my post on it (which discuss it in relation to 1689 Federalism), as well as my analysis of a recent theonomy debate. But here’s the deal, R. Scott Clark’s covenant theology, known broadly as “republication,” which argues that the Mosaic Covenant operates upon a principle of works antithetical to the faith principle operative in the Covenant of Grace, is contrary to the WCF – specifically on chapter 19!

Robert B. Strimple was R. Scott Clark’s professor of systematic theology at WSC. Clark describes him as “my teacher, colleague, and friend.” Hardly someone with a personal vendetta or animosity towards Clark. Strimple is now the President emeritus & Professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Westminster Seminary California, Escondido, CA. In that capacity, he recently wrote a memo to the faculty specifically addressing R. Scott Clark’s claims about chapter 19 of the WCF. Strimple notes:

let me delay an exposition of those two sections [19.1-2] —the only “exposition” required, I believe, being simply to emphasize what the Confession actually says here! —until I have first noted what the editors of TLNF say is the meaning of these sections, and what the argument of Dr. Clark is on which (according to one of those editors) that understanding is based…

Dr. Fesko says on p. 43 of TLNF that the WCF speaks of “the Mosaic covenant…in terms of the republication of the covenant of works,” but as a matter of fact it doesn’t. The Confession nowhere affirms that. Dr. Fesko says that “space does not permit a full-blown exposition of these points,” but in fact he offers nothing at all in his essay to support his “republication” interpretation of the WCF. When in conversation I mentioned this to him, he appealed to two blogs by Dr. Clark. So let’s look at the arguments of those blogs now…

The Confession says that God gave to Adam a law as a covenant of works, but it never says, or even suggests, that God ever so gave it to any person or nation after the fall…

The meaning of 19:1-2 is so clear that I do not understand why any question concerning that meaning should ever have arisen. To state that meaning I can use no clearer words than the words the divines used: “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works…This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai…”…

that law does not continue as a covenant of works for us, and it was not delivered upon Mount Sinai as a covenant or works for the children of Israel. This is what the Confession teaches. It may not be what some on our faculty would like it to teach. But it is what the Confession teaches.

The fact is, I think Clark is right biblically. God gave Israel the law as a covenant of works. But that is why I hold to the LBCF, which altered the original WCF specifically on this point. The wording of the WCF specifically rules out such a view, just like it specifically rules out theonomy. If I may paraphrase Clark’s quote from the podcast regarding theonomy:

The essence of republication is that God gave the law to Israel as a covenant of works. The great problem with that way of speaking is it’s flatly contrary to the way we speak in the reformed confessions, particularly, for example, in Westminster Confession 19.2, where we say “This law,” that is, the moral law, “after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness” that is, after the covenant was broken, the law still serves as a guide – now watch this “and, as such,” as what? as a perfect rule of righteousness, not as a covenant of works “was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.”

So I always say to my republication friends, “What don’t you understand about ‘as such?'”

[…]

It’s sort of a demonstration as to how unmoored we’ve become to the confession, that we have this debate about republication. I mean, in a way, we could have ended, and should have ended the whole debate with republication by saying, “Well, ok, we get that you don’t believe Westminster 19.2. Fine. Go away. You’re not reformed.” But tragically, because republication advocates make a lot of noise, they’re visible. When you leave evangelicalism, it’s sort of one of the toll booths you have to go through to become reformed, is you have to pass through republication.

My point is not to quibble over the label “reformed” nor to argue which confessions are allowed to be included in the label.

So what is my point? Only this: Clark speaks very authoritatively in a black & white manner on a number of issues. Perhaps it would be wise to take what he has to say with a grain of salt.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 3.25.56 PM

Advertisements
  1. Hugh McCann
    February 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    I imagine that theonomists like North, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Selbrede, McDurmond might take issue with Clark, too.

    Though the PCA’s Duncan is with the OPC’s Strimple on this: http://www.providencepca.com/essays/theonomy.html

    Like

    • February 1, 2016 at 4:37 pm

      Reformed Covenanters who hold to the original 1644 WCF agree that theonomy is unconfessional. McDurmon mocks Calvin’s threefold division of the law as unbiblical. Theonomy holds to a two-fold division of the law: moral and ceremonial.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. February 3, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    “For the past thirty years, a shift in Reformed covenant theology has been percolating under the hot Southern California sun in Escondido. Atop the bluff of a former orange grove, a quiet redefinition of the Sinaitic covenant administration as a typological covenant of works, complete with meritorious obedience and meritorious reward has been ripening. The architect of this paradigm shift was the late Meredith G. Kline, who taught at Westminster Escondido (WSCal) for more than 20 years. Many of Kline’s colleagues, former students (several now teaching in Escondido) and admirers (Mark Karlberg, T. David Gordon, etc.) have canonized his novel reconstruction of the Mosaic covenant—it is “not of faith”, but of works and meritorious works at that, albeit ‘typological’. What may now be labeled the “Escondido Hermeneutic” or “Kline Works-Merit Paradigm” has succeeded in cornering an increasing share of the Reformed covenant market in spite of its revisionism and heterodoxy…. While it is certainly true that Murray clearly and self-consciously broke with the majority of the Reformed tradition on several points of doctrine, his teaching on the nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant was not one of them. In fact, a strong case can be made that his position on the essential nature of the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant represented the mainstream consensus of Reformed theologians. ”

    http://www.kerux.com/pdf/Kerux.24.03.pdf

    Like

    • Hugh McCann
      February 3, 2016 at 2:29 pm

      Rubbish.

      Like

    • Hugh McCann
      February 3, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      “Covenant Theology Under Attack”

      Fuller and Machen’s Heirs

      The assault on classic covenant theology of which [Daniel] Fuller has become a vociferous spokesman is being endorsed by some prominent leaders within even the broadly Reformed wing of evangelicalism. And the sad fact is that this theology, which undermines the biblical truths that provided Machen with his dying comfort, has had its aiders and abettors within the very movement that Machen founded. Strangely, it was the one who received Machen’s deathbed telegram who opened the door a considerable crack for the views inimical to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ.

      John Murray’s exegetical study of Romans 5 was supportive of the classic doctrine of imputation, but this was undercut by the recasting of covenant theology he undertook in the Covenant of Grace (Tyndale Press, 1953). Murray did at least affirm the possibility of meritorious human work, with obedience receiving a just reward, but he limited this to a situation where the reward would perfectly balance the value of the work. (For Murray that meant an obedient Adam must remain in his original state without advancement.) This qualification restricted the possibility to a theoretical moment at the beginning before the covenant was superimposed on this primal state of nature, since on Murray’s (mistaken) definition of covenant, “grace” came with covenant, and that spelled the end of any momentary hypothetical administration of simple justice.

      The door left ajar by Murray was thrown wide open to Fuller’s theology by Murray’s successor. Norman Shepherd rightly rejected Murray’s notion of a state of nature. (Such a pre-covenant situation never existed; the world was created a covenantal order from the outset.) However, this meant that for Shepherd, who adopted Murray’s equation of covenant and “grace,” there was no place at all left for a covenant of works or meritorious human obedience or simple justice. Though the ensuing controversy over Shepherd’s views led to his departure, his teaching was not officially renounced by ecclesiastical or seminary arms of our movement, and key elements of the Fuller-Shepherd theology continue to be advocated among us…

      http://www.meredithkline.com/klines-works/articles-and-essays/covenant-theology-under-attack-full/

      Like

  3. February 4, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Hugh, i was not approving, only reporting. I am not Reformed, not on either side.

    The debates about “the covenants of works” and “vicarious lawkeeping imputed” can distract us from three big doctrines

    1. They can distract from Adam’s sin imputed to humans. Wright does not have any place in this theology for original sin as Adam’s original guilt. Who does? We should be talking about that more.
    2. Debates about “the covenant of works” can distract from the sins of the elect being imputed to Christ. This is the main thing. This is more important even that saying that Christ’s death is only for the elect or saying the Christ’s death is effective to save all for whom He died.
    I didn’t see this when I was lost. Of course it’s true that, if God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, then Christ only died for the elect (and that this death is effective). But we need to think not only about Christ’s successful death but also about God’s righteousness and the justice of Christ’s death.
    Lots of folks who get heated up about the new perspective or Shepherd never talk about Christ’s just death for the elect only.
    3. Debates about a Mosaic “covenant of works” can distract from the truth that justification is not conditioned on faith. The faith God gives us is not the righteousness God gives us. After all these folks like John Piper debate with Wright about faith not being the “active obedience”, often they turn around and say that God counts the faith (the apology) as the righteousness
    So, on the one hand, I don’t want to be a distraction I want to take sides with these folks against the new perspective. But on the other hand, most of these folks don’t believe in Christ’s just death only for the elect. If they did, they would teach it.

    Was the law given to Adam as a covenant of works after he sinned, or only as law that condemned?

    Was the law given to Adam as a covenant of works, also given to those in the Mosaic covenant as a covenant of works?

    And is that law to Adam now given to us, for a time, so that we need Christ to have kept the Adamic covenant of works for us?

    Rutherford–“It is apparent that God intended not a Law-dispensation in paradise to stand for ever. For nothing is spoken of Adam, after the fall, but of his procreating of children, of the patriarchs, of Adam’s dying and of his acts before the fall, the place of paradise being scarce well known, which says the Lord had a farther design to lay aside the transient Law-dispensation and to set up Christ.”

    Like

  4. February 8, 2016 at 11:31 am

    1. The syllogism is faultless. The Reformed have never confessed theonomy, i.e., the abiding validity of the civil law. That’s why WCF 19.4 says that the civil law expired with the state of Israel. That was not a controversial statement then and it should not be one today. It rests on the threefold division of the law as defended by virtually all the Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, which they inherited from the Patristic (implicitly) and medieval (explicitly) traditions.

    http://heidelblog.net/2013/08/evangelicalism-and-the-reformed-view-of-the-law/

    http://heidelblog.net/2015/12/turretin-on-the-threefold-distinction-in-the-mosaic-law/

    2. That modern predestinarians (e.g., Rushdoony) have taught theonomy means little for defining the adjective Reformed. It is not defined by private opinions. The churches do not confess theonomy. Historically, the Reformed were Constantinians. They wanted a state church. The American Presbyterian and Reformed Churches largely rejected this aspect of the tradition when they revised the WCF and the Belgic Confession. I argue in Recovering the Reformed Confession that the rejection of Constantinianism did not change our theology any more than rejecting geocentrism changed our theology, piety, and practice.

    3. Republication is a complicated issue to which the summary given above does not do complete justice. You write, “…which argues that the Mosaic Covenant operates upon a principle of works antithetical to the faith principle operative in the Covenant of Grace, is contrary to the WCF.”

    This is not entirely accurate. As I explain below, the most widely held version of republication (the pedagogical view) had no difficulty affirming that the legal or works principle was entirely in harmony with the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace. I don’t know of any orthodox Reformed writer who argued that the Mosaic covenant was a covenant of works regarding salvation.

    Speaking personally, the only version of republication that I have advocated is that which was widely held by the Reformed in the 17th century, namely, that the Mosaic covenant was a “repetition” (which word was frequently used in this context in the 17th century) or republication of the prelapsarian covenant of works for pedagogical purposes, i.e., to teach national Israel (and us) the greatness of their (and our) sin and misery. For most Reformed writers in the classical period, the Mosaic covenant was also an administration of the covenant of grace. We need not choose between them. It was both/and not either/or. That this was widely held is beyond dispute. Whether the version of republication taught by Buchanan, Hodge, (possibly Berkhof) and Kline (that Israel’s national status and land tenure was contingent upon their obedience) was a 17th-century doctrine is a matter of debate. I have not yet found that particular version explicitly taught in the 17th century but it is only one version. It is a mistake to assume that there is only one version of republication.

    That there were versions of republication widely held and taught in the 17th century by orthodox Reformed writers should not be doubled. I’ve been documenting it for years both informally on the Heidelblog and in formal academic work. See these resources:

    http://heidelblog.net/category/republication-of-the-covenant-of-works/

    Dickinson, Perkins, Rollock, Gillespie, Cooper, Colquhoun, Witsius, Boston, Fisher, Petto, Heidegger, Owen, Olevianus, Ames, and Polanus are just some of the orthodox Reformed writers in the 16th and 17th centuries who taught some version of republication.

    Whether the WCF intended to teach republication is a matter of debate. Thomas Boston wrote that he could not see how anyone who deny that 19.2 could be interpreted in any other way.

    1. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

    2. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.

    in 19.1 the covenant of works is re-stated from chapter 7. The law is identified as a covenant of works. This was a commonplace in 16th- and 17th-century Reformed theology. Ursinus wrote in 1561 that the law is the covenant of works and the gospel is the covenant of grace and that formula was repeated many times in the 17th century. So, when the divines equated the law to the covenant of works they were not doing anything controversial.

    The identity of the law with the covenant of works is established in 19.1. Thus, when the confession says “this law” in 19.2 it is at least reasonable to think that the demonstrative pronoun “this” refers back to the same law under discussion in 19.1. Personally, it’s difficult for me to see to what else the demonstrative could refer.

    Nevertheless, I understand that some do not like this interpretation but the question is whether that is a theological problem or a historical-hermeneutical problem? In other words, I understand that there are modern Reformed theologians who are uncomfortable with the covenant of works generally some of whom are utterly opposed to any notion of republication whatever but that is a different matter than determining what the divines intended in their own context.

    As I’ve been documenting on the HB recently, the doctrine of the prelapsarian covenant of works was not only confessed explicitly by the divines in chapters 7 and 19 (as well as in the WLC) but they did so in the context of a near universal approval of this doctrine from 1561 forward.

    Gillespie, Cartwright, Hutcheson, Roberts, Rutherford, Polanus, Cocceius, Witsinus, a Brakel, Dickson, Fisher, Fenner, Perkins, Downame, Ursinus, Olevianus, Preston, Owen, Boston, Ball, Annesley, Heidegger, Turretin, Wollebius, Braun, Rollock, Cooper, and Colquhoun are just some of the orthodox writers who taught a prelapsarian covenant of works explicitly. Arguably it was implicit in Calvin and even in Luther. The notion that Adam was in a covenant was not a novelty in Protestant theology. Zwingli spoke twice in 1527 of covenant with Adam. Gradually, in the decades after, the identity of the covenant of works with the law and the covenant of grace with gospel became more explicit.

    Here are some resources on the covenant of works:

    http://heidelblog.net/category/covenant-of-works-2/page/6/

    I hope this helps to clear up confusion and to advance the discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Thank you for your comment brother.

      1. I agree (see the links in my post). But my syllogism is equally faultless.

      2. I know (though I will show in a future post that yes, it does have systematic implications for Westminster theology).

      3. Regretfully, no this does not clear anything up or advance the discussion. I have read all of these points already. Both material republication and formal republication can be labeled pedagogical. So someone like yourself advocating formal republication (on a typological level) for pedagogical purposes does not mean you are in agreement with those who taught a material republication for pedagogical purposes. The WCF allows the latter but not the former. And yes, as Owen and others make clear, you do need to choose between the Mosaic Covenant as an administration of the Covenant of Grace and the Mosaic Covenant as a formal republication of the Covenant of Works (on a typological level), which is precisely what the advocates of your view said in the 17th century (see Bolton and Owen quotes above).

      “I have not yet found that particular version…” yet scholars on both sides of the issue (pro and con) have identified that view (formal typological republication) as the 17th century Subservient Covenant view (again, see Owen and Bolton above), which was rejected by Westminster.

      No, it is not a matter of debate whether Westminster intended to teach republication, as Strimple notes. Boston, like yourself, was mistaken. “This is what the Confession teaches. It may not be what some on our faculty would like it to teach. But it is what the Confession teaches.” The language in the confession could not be any clearer. This should not be a problem if you agree “reformed” is broader than just Westminster. You are in agreement with Savoy on this point (and I assume the 3 Forms allows it), but not Westminster.

      “The law is identified as a covenant of works.” Simply repeating your same argument that Strimple and numerous others have shown the mistakes of is not helpful. I provided a link to a previous post addressing your claim in more detail. No, it says it was given *as* a covenant of works to Adam, not that the moral law itself is a covenant of works. This is the root of your misreading (which is why Strimple mentions taking exception to 7.1 as well). https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/klines-covenant-creation-wcf-7-1/

      Thank you for your time.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. June 22, 2017 at 8:12 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: