Monday, June 1, 2009

Two OPC Ordained Servant Book Reviews

Alan Strange gives a great review of R. Scott Clark's Recovering the Reformed Confessions

Carl Trueman reviews D.G. Hart and John Muether's history of American Presbyterianism called Seeking a Better Country


  1. I'm not sure when it will run, but, at the editor's invitation, I have written a response to the Rev Mr Strange's review.

  2. Hi Michael,

    I actually thought Strange's review of Clark was a bit unfair at points. He does offer a good corrective in some areas. For instance, as I read him, Dr. Clark can have a tendency to view the Reformed tradition as more monolithic than it actually was/is, which at times leads him into a misappropriation of Muller's work. As Strange rightly points out, Muller's thesis regarding Calvin and the Calvinists is more about demonstrating a variegated Reformed tradition from the outset than it is about showing a fully monolithic continuity between Calvin and all other Reformed thinkers. Muller, at least in my reading of him, seems to reject the latter notion.

    But I wouldn't go nearly as far as Strange in saying that Clark "cherry picks post-Reformation church history to form a pastiche that models what he thinks the church should look like." Strange seems to assume a diversity in the tradition which may be just as far from the truth as Clark's assumed monolith. The assumption behind Strange's comments seems to be that, if something developed within the Reformed churches over time, then said development is ipso facto valid. But this begs the question with regard to Clark's thesis, which is that the confessions of the Reformed churches define what it means to be Reformed. Support and love amongst modern day Reformed for thinkers such as Jonathan Edwards aside, Clark is not saying anything new when he voices concerns over Edwards' metaphysics and revivalism and insinuates that they may be out of line with the Reformed tradition.

    I think a fair reading of Clark would lend itself, on the positive side, to more appreciation for his overall project and the good which he has to offer, as well as, on the negative side, more balanced and substantiated criticisms.


    Jonathan Bonomo

  3. Michael-

    I just finished reading Alan's review of the book (which I finished several weeks ago)and wanted to know why you personally thought it was a great review? While I had a few reserves of the book I was very surprised by the review... Just curious why you thought it was so good.

  4. Hi David,

    The main reason I was happy to see Mr. Strange's review was because he said the things that I thought needed to be said about Dr. Clark's work specifically and Westminster West's overall historical theology in general. While I, as many others as well, can appreciate the work that Dr. Clark has done in defending Reformed theology and ecclesiology, I don't give a wholesale approval of everything he does (hermeneutically and his overall opinions) and frankly I was glad that someone with the academic qualifications challenged Dr. Clark's work. I don't want to be more specific in such a public venue, although if you e-mail me, I will email you back. You can email me if you like at: reformedtexan at hotmail.

  5. My problem with the review is not that it is critical, but that it is only critical, and that some of the criticisms are only made via assertion. As I implied above, I agree with some of Strange's criticisms. I just don't think the review was charitable or balanced.

  6. Hey Michael,

    It was nice meeting you tonight. I think you are right to applaud Strange's review, and though I'm BFF with Jonathan above, I think Strange's "critical" disposition is appropriate.

    The false monolith ran me off for quite a while, and it wasn't until I saw (with the help of Muller and others) just how "variegated" the tradition was that I could get cozy with it for real and stop running around from one "team" t the other.

    We need a balanced perspective on tradition and its role, else we'll always have the two extremes- "Boo tradition!" or "If the tradition tells me that white is black, I will believe it." (This is thee old Jesuit motto, of course, and so I'm being somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)

    And the big big thing that any view of the "Reformed tradition" has to take into account is the role of the civil magistrate in organizing the visible church. I got into this at some length here:

    The old confessions were themselves called for, embodied, and empowered by commonwealths, and that gives the tradition a very different flavor than simply an intellectual check-list.


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