Monday, February 04, 2013

The 20th century Reformed downgrade

Dr. R. Scott Clark has an interesting post on his Heidelblog on why the doctrine of republication (the Mosaic Law as a republication of the Covenant of Works) is controversial today. It is interesting in this regard to see how there has been a serious downgrade in Reformed theology in the 20th century, of which Dr. Clark puts the blame at least partly on Karl Barth's "reformed" theology, especially it seems as mediated by people like G.C. Berkouwer. While I have no doubt Barth and Berkouwer has sent Reformed theology on a downward spiral, I am perhaps not convinced that people like Cornelius Van Til did not in some way contribute to the downgrade in Reformed theology.

That there is a downgrade in Reformed theology in the 20th century seems to be indisputable. Speaking from experience, I did not learn republication from Kline. I had some idea of republication from my meditation on the Scriptures in light of covenant theology as taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and then the concept crystallized through reading Herman Witsius' The Economy of the Covenants. It was surprising to me personally when I found out it was controversial. One would have taught that if something is explicitly taught in the WCF, which is subscribed to by Presbyterians, it should not be controversial in Presbyterian circles.

Back to the issue. The Reformed downgrade it seems starts with Karl Barth, the "reformed" revisionist, and his sympathizers. At around the same time, the form of Reformed theology was held to by people like Van Til, but it is coupled with a fondness for innovation and re-interpreting doctrine according to what they think the doctrine means for the modern age. Thus, the archetypal/ ectypal distinction was "transformed," or distorted, into the idea of analogical knowledge which has no point of contact between God and Man. The fondness for innovation in light of the Dispensational challenge caused John Murray to emphasize the unity of the covenants to the formal denial of the Covenant of Works. With Kuyper's unique model, some of those after him ran off with his idea of antithesis to deny common (providential) grace and thus the idea of the common realm of creation, while others so accentuate common grace they practically capitulated to the Zeitgeist. And all the while, monocovenantalism crept in through introducing confusion over Law and Gospel from the pens of Karl Barth, Daniel Fuller, John Piper, Herman Hoeksema, Norman Shepherd among others.

We must recover Reformed Orthodoxy. Not because Reformed Orthodoxy is perfect, but there can be no talk about progressing above them until we have reached their level. In some way, recovering Reformed Orthodoxy helps ameliorates the problems with Vantillianism, and in so doing I am hopeful it will be able to resolve the Clark-Van Til controversy by affirming the good points of each, and rejecting the excesses of the other.


MikeD said...

May I ask what you see to be some of Clark's excesses? Just a few words as to each would be great. Thanks.

PuritanReformed said...


1) His emphasis on epistemology such that ontology gets swallowed up in epistemology

2) His redefinition of the term "person," and its subsequent impact on his understanding of the hypostatic union