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.