Recovering the Reformed Confession, Our Theology Piety and Practice, by R. Scott Clark (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2008), 362 pp. paper $25.00

Print

As a professor of church history and historical theology at Westminister Seminary California, in addition to being a pastor of a Reformed church, R. Scott Clark is highly knowledgeable of Reformed history, theology and practice. He believes there are some important problems in today’s Reformed churches (p. 1), for they have lost their identity because of two alien impulses (p. 36). First is the quest for “illegitimate religious certainty” (p. 39). Chapter two is devoted to this subject and we find listed the creation debate and theonomy as examples. Chapter three is concerned with the second impulse: the “quest for illegitimate religious experience” such as mysticism, pietism and revivalism. Clark sees both Martin Lloyd-Jones and Jonathan Edwards as promoters of this latter alien impulse (pp. 80-112). Clark is championing confessional Protestantism. Thus, he is negative on pure biblicism in which the Christian looks to Scripture as his only authority (pp. 21-27). Instead he sees the Reformed creeds as having regulatory authority (pp. 11, 16, 20-21, 26, 44, 160-175, 178). Clark acknowledges two basic approaches to the creeds among confessional Protestants: they are binding because they are biblical or they are binding insofar as they are biblical (p. 160). The author defends the former approach throughout the book and calls for changing the confessions if they are deemed as unbiblical (pp. 170-175), but until they are changed he would consider them authoritative. Clark also admits a third, “good faith,” approach in which one takes personal exceptions to some part of the creeds, but does not make this a public issue (p. 176). The creeds Clark has in mind include the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and especially the Westminster Confession. In chapter seven Clark turns to the issue of Reformed worship from which he believes most confessional churches have departed. While he discusses the prescriptive and descriptive approach to worship (p. 229ff) he believes that only inspired songs should be sung in worship (Psalms and other songs found in the OT and NT) and singing should be a capella (pp. 252-276). The final chapter highlights the importance of the virtually abandoned “second” or evening service. Part of the argumentation for the second service is based on the doctrine of a Christian Sabbath (pp. 295-305). As a biblicist, believing that Scripture alone is binding and authoritative, I do not agree with many of Clark’s views on confessionalism. I am especially concerned that under this system the creeds in effect trump God’s Word. However, as a book detailing the history, doctrines and intermural debates within Reformed confessionalism, Recovering the Reformed Confession would be hard to beat. Especially for those who are confessional, Clark’s arguments should be carefully considered. This book is aimed at this latter audience, but is helpful for any desiring a better understanding of confessional Protestantism.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher Southern View Chapel

Print