Interview with Theologian R. Scott Clark

November, 2007
Nightlight Christian Adoptions

As part of our blog’s adoption interview series, I’m interviewing several theologians about the doctrine of spiritual adoption and its implications for earthly adoption. I believe that the practice of earthly adoption will be significantly enriched as we grow in our understanding of what it means to be adopted by God.

Our second interview with a theologian (you can read the first interview here) is with Dr. R. Scott Clark, Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California since 1997. Dr. Clark has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson), and Concordia University (Irvine). He is also presently Associate Pastor of the Oceanside United Reformed Church, where he preaches and teaches regularly.

1. What do you cherish most about the doctrine of adoption?

There are three things that should be mentioned. First it is the God by whom we have been adopted that makes adoption significant. The God who adopted us is the God who made all that is (Gen 1:1-3; John 1:1-3) and who, by the power of his will and grace, redeemed his people out of sin and bondage (Exod 20:2).

Second, we should remember that spiritual adoption is a significant truth embraced and confessed by the Reformed churches. It is expressed either implicitly or explicitly in our Reformed confessions and it underlies much of what is confessed by the Reformed churches even if the language of adoption is not used explicitly.

For example, the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) uses the truth that we are “also the children of God” as the basis for a question about Christ’s sonship. Though Christ “alone is the eternal, natural Son of God” we are “children of God by adoption, through grace, for his sake” (Q. 33). The Belgic Confession, (1561), speaks the same way (Art. 34). This doctrine is significant enough to the Reformed Churches that it merited an entire, albeit brief, chapter in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) where we confess that those who are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (WCF ch. 11) are to rest in the fact that we are also “partakers of the grace of adoption.” As a consequence of this free gift we, who are not God’s children by nature, are treated as if we are natural children, as it were. We have the “liberties” that belong to God’s children, we have his name, we have his Spirit, and we have free access to the Father. We are “pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as a Father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption.” In Christ it is as if we have done all that Christ did for us and, on that basis, we are heirs of all his promises.

Finally, the doctrine of adoption is a biblical doctrine. The Apostle Paul teaches explicitly that those who have true faith (and by that faith) are united to Christ (Gal 2:20; WCF ch. 12). By virtue of that union we have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” Therefore, we have the privilege of intimate, personal communion with the Creator and Redeemer God. The Spirit of God testifies to us that we, who believe, are God’s children (Rom 8:15-17). Paul teaches that we have been redeemed by grace alone, through faith alone “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:5). Indeed, we who believe have been “predestined…for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will….” (Eph 1:5).

2. Do you believe that the doctrine of adoption has received its due attention within the history of the church?

Probably not, but I worry a little, in reaction to that neglect, that, in our time, we tend to overemphasize the relational aspects of the faith. We live in a time when “legal” ideas and categories are not in favor whereas “relational” categories are very much in vogue. There is a strong tendency in our culture and in our churches to set the one against the other. The problem is that the turn to relational categories (over against the legal) defies reality and Scripture. There is no good reason to set one against the other.

Those who are adopted are those who have been justified. God’s declaration of our righteousness in Christ is the legal basis for our adoption. Think of how husbands and wives relate. This is a most intimate or personal relationship that is based on a prior legal relationship. The words “husband” and “wife” imply a binding, legal relationship between persons that can only be broken by the gravest of sins and by legal action. That fact doesn’t make the marriage less relational, personal, and intimate.

The same is true with adoption. It is an eminently legal and personal, relational act. In adoption, someone chooses to incorporate someone else who, by nature, is not part of one’s family, into one’s family. Because adoption is a legal act, it has standing, it has permanence, and it has a firm basis. Because it is a personal act, it is not a mere “transaction.” By definition, a personal act entails a person coming to know and entering into deeper relations with another person. Adoption is a wonderful metaphor for God’s gracious relations toward us and more than a metaphor, it is a fact of the Christian faith.

3. Do you see a difference between the apostle John’s model of entrance into God’s family and Paul’s

Each Biblical writer has his own favorite ways of speaking. Nevertheless, there is a strong affinity with John 1:12 where John uses the same sort of language as Paul. John’s “sphere of discourse,” as Prof. Murray used to say, is strikingly similar to Paul’s in Romans 8 and Ephesians 2. We see the same ways of speaking about our being Christ’s children in 1 John 3:1-2.

4. Paul’s references to adoption (Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 9:4; Gal. 4:4-5; Rom. 8:15-16; 8:22-23) seem to serve as markers along the path of redemptive history. Would it be a fruitful exercise to view redemptive history (i.e. creation, fall, redemption, consummation) through the lens of the doctrine of adoption?

Yes, certainly. Scripture certainly uses this sort of language about Israel’s temporary adoption as the national people of God. Think of Deuteronomy 7:6-11. The covenant Lord, Yahweh, has adopted, as his peculiar people, Israel. He redeemed them out of Egypt and has delivered them into the Promised Land. There is one caveat about this analogy. The Lord entered into a special, temporary relationship with national Israel as the visible, institutional people of God. Not every one of those who were in that national people, who were part of this outward adoption, enjoyed all the benefits of that adoption. Paul makes this distinction quite clear in Romans 2:28 and Romans 9:6. Not all Israel is Israel. There is an “inward” Israel, united to Christ by grace alone, through faith alone and an “outward” Israel, who are members of the national covenant, who nevertheless, did not receive all the benefits of Christ because they were “were not united by faith with those who listened” (Heb 4:2).

5. What difference should the doctrine of adoption make in a Christian’s spiritual life on a daily basis?

Like all gospel truths, this one should form the basis for our Christian life. In Christ we are to die daily, moment-by-moment to sin and live daily, moment-by-moment to Christ. This touches on the choices we make, the things we love, the things that occupy our minds and energies. Because our gracious Father, in Christ, by the Spirit, adopts us we can and ought to live in that grace. If we had the consciousness of having once been orphans and having been brought into the household of the King, I think we would, to that same degree, lives worthy of the grace (Eph 4:1) that we have received.

6. More and more couples are considering adopting transracially adoption. What might the doctrine of adoption contribute to our thinking on the issue of transracial adoption?

At the risk of being trite and obvious, what matters in adoption is that we are adopted! It is true that those who are adopted may come from different backgrounds, and that is not an insignificant fact. The importance of our background, however, pales before the fact that we, who were once strangers and aliens (Eph 2:19), have now been included into the royal household. It was in view of these profound truths that Paul declared that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This glorious truth does not obliterate our humanity. We all have a history but that history does not trump God’s unmerited favor. The fact that we are “in Christ” is the first and most important fact that defines our identity. Our adoption practices ought to reflect this fact. Just as Christ has adopted us from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 5:9) and therefore, having made a wise decision, ought to reflect that sort of love. Our children are members of the covenant of grace, not by solely in virtue of our birth, but by virtue of the fact that we are included in the house. In this regard, we should probably pay closer attention to the way Scripture regards the members of “households.” It was not only children who received the sign and seal of covenant initiation, but also those who were in the household and this was done without regard of national or racial origin.

7. Most people who read this blog have adopted children, are considering adopting a child, or are just interested in adoption. What implications might the doctrine of adoption have for couples who have adopted or are interested in adopting a child?

Though there are great analogies between adoption in this life and the adoption that we enjoy in Christ, there are differences. Human adoption is an act of love but it means inclusion of sinners into a fallen human family. We sin against our adopted children and they sin against us. We are joint heirs of grace. Thus, human adoption, as distinct from divine adoption, is not a panacea. It is a starting point, a way of thinking about our children and us. Those Christian parents who adopt children do so as those who themselves have been adopted. In other words, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). All parents, whether adoptive or natural parents, need to remind themselves of the fact that they were are recipients of grace with their children. This consciousness of our own sin and of the grace of Christ should color our relationships with our spouses and our children.

5 Minutes With R. Scott Clark

By Timothy Raymond
Credo Magazine
May 2012

[W]hat theologians in church history do you recommend reading to better understand the doctrine of election?

Among the Fathers, Augustine’s On the Predestination of the Saints is essential. Gottschalk’s little treatise, On Predestination witnesses to the vitality of doctrine in the early middle ages. Thomas’ discussion in Summa Theologica 1a 23.1 is masterful. My favorites, however, are Calvin’s exegetical treatment in his commentary on Romans (1539, 1551) chapter 9 because of its strong commitment to understanding the passage in its redemptive-historical context and his doctrinal treatment in the 1559 Institutes (3.21-24) because there he helps us address it a posteriori by asking not, ‘Am I elect?’ but rather, ‘Do I believe?’ Herman Witsius’ 1677 treatment of election relative to the covenant of grace (Economy of the Covenants 3.4.) is encouraging as he points to the spiritual bene ts the doctrine brings to the believer.

[H]ow might a Reformed understanding of the doctrine of election help the Christian who struggles with issues of assurance of salvation?

One of the more unfortunate facts in the history of Protestant piety is that the doctrines of election, and reprobation (predestination) have sometimes become a source of doubt and spiritual uncertainty. It is unfortunate and perverse because, understood properly, the doctrine of predestination should be a source of comfort and encouragement.

Perhaps the single greatest reason that Christians have found the doctrine of predestination spiritually troubling is that they have o en asked the wrong question: “Am I elect?” is is the wrong question rst because it is not a question that Scripture ever encourages us to ask. It is the wrong question because it seeks to know things in a way that has not been revealed to us. We might call this the medieval question. One result of asking the question this way is that one could never know with certainty if one is elect and any claim to know, with certainty, that one is elect, would be regarded as presumption.


The question that the Scriptures teach us to ask is quite different: “Do I believe?” Let us call this the Protestant question. It is a question that we can answer, and by doing so, nd comfort and certainty. The Apostle Paul used the doctrine of election to encourage the Ephesian church. Writing to them on the basis of their profession of faith in Christ, he explained that the Father has “blessed us in Christ” and “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” and that “in love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… (Eph 1:3–6).

Paul’s point was to remind helpless sinners, whose state, outside of Christ, he described as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), of God’s free, unconditional favor in Christ. His reasoning works this way: A er the
fall, under Adam’s headship (Rom 5:12–21), we are spiritually corrupt and at war with God. We have no inclination to believe. If we believe, it is because “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him…” (Eph 2:4–6). In other words, God’s free election of his people to spiritual life, true faith, and union with Christ means that salvation and righteousness are his free gi s to his people. ey were given unconditionally and they are received, through faith alone (Eph 2:8). If you believe, it is because God loved you, in Christ, and willed from all eternity to bring you to life, to give you the gi of faith and through it all of Christ’s bene ts. is way of thinking about God’s election gives us rm, unshakeable ground on which to stand. It means that believers belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to their faithful Savior Jesus and that no one can snatch us out of his hand (John 6:40, 10:28; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1).

It is not only medieval Christians who have asked the wrong question. Since the Reformation evangelical Christians have o en been tempted to ask the medieval question and have reached the same troubling conclusion. As a result they have made uncertainty of the essence of faith. We see none of this, however, in Paul. Even when he thinks about his struggle with sin in the Christian life (Romans 7) he nds certainty on the basis of God’s free, electing grace and promises in Christ (Rom 8-10). Let us follow Paul, and his followers, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and countless other evangelical Protestants before us and do the same.

Believers are what they are by God’s grace and his promise is as sure as God is immoveable and faithful. We should not ask whether we are good enough (we are not) or whether we might fall (we shall) but whether God is faithful (he is) and whether he has sealed his promises with Christ’s obedient life, bloody death, and resurrection (he has), and whether we believe: by God’s grace we do.

R. Scott Clark teaches church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California, where he has taught since 1997. He hosts the O ce Hours broadcast. He is also the author of Recovering the Reformed Confession.

Scott Clark: “Let’s Get Back to the Word of God”

By Will Graham
Greetings brothers and sisters and welcome once again to Fresh Breeze. This week it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Dr. R. Scott Clark.
R. Scott Clark was raised on the Great Plains in the USA. He earned his BA in the University of Nebraska, his MDiv in Westminster Seminary California, and his DPhil in St Anne’s College, Oxford University. He was a minister in the Reformed Church in the United States (1988–1998) and has been a minister in the United Reformed Churches in North America since 1998. He has served congregations in Missouri and California. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1995 at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, Concordia University, Irvine and Westminster Seminary California.
He is the author of two books and the editor of, co-editor, of and contributor to several others. He writes regularly at and maintains as a reference site. He hosts two podcasts, Office Hours and the Heidelcast. He and Mrs. Clark have two children.
Let’s move onto the interview.
Will Graham (WG): Greetings, Dr. Clark. It’s great to have you with us today. Could you maybe start by telling us about how you came to know the Lord?
Scott Clark (SC): I began to come to faith through the witness of a layman in an evangelical Southern Baptist congregation in the mid-1970s in Lincoln, Nebraska. I made profession of faith in St John’s Reformed Church in Lincoln in 1980.
WG: When did you know that the Lord was calling you to the pastoral ministry?
SC: I did not see clearly that I was being called to pastoral ministry until the summer before my senior year in seminary. That summer I realized that what I ought to be doing was to be teaching catechism, preaching, making house visits and the like, that the church really is where “the action” is, i.e., it is the institution established by our Lord for the advancement of the kingdom of God through the foolishness of Gospel preaching and through the administration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
WG: Let’s move onto some theological matters. Could you elaborate a little on what concerns you about ‘The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty’ (QIRC) and ‘The Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience’ (QIRE) within the reformed camp for our readers?
SC: As I tried to explain in Recovering the Reformed Confession, QIRC is the desire to know what God knows, the way he knows it. Biblical and confessional Reformed theology, piety, and practice is content to receive God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, in which God has condescended to reveal himself truly. We read God’s Word and submit to it as creatures. We understand that we are image bearers, analogues of God. The quest to know what he has not revealed is destructive of genuine Christian piety in a variety of ways. It destroys humility for one thing. The QIRE is search for the next great, sublime religious experience. In RRC I drew a contrast between the warm, vital piety of the 16th and 17th centuries and the rather different piety of the First Great Awakening in the 18th century. The theology that undergirded that episode was, in significant ways, different from the theology of the Reformed confessions and the great Reformed theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries. Further, the quest for certain types of experience devolved, in the 19th century into a theology and practice that did great damage to the Reformation churches and which continues to influence evangelicalism today.
WG: Now that you’ve touched upon the topic of evangelicalism, what do you think is the key difference between being reformed and being evangelical? Is there a distinction between the two?
SC: It is helpful to distinguish between being “evangelical” in the old, Reformation and post-Reformation sense of the word and “an evangelical” in the more contemporary sense of the word. The Reformation was intensely concerned to recover the evangel, the Good News that Christ obeyed, died, and was raised as the substitute for sinners and that all who trust him are justified, saved, being sanctified, and shall be glorified by God’s favour (grace) alone, through faith alone. The modern evangelical movements, however, inasmuch as they are the children of the so-called Second Great Awakening have not proven to be very interested in the gospel or in the churches of the Reformation. The evangelical movements have been organized around busy-ness, around extraordinary experiences (e.g., the modern Pentecostal and charismatic movements) and around social concerns more than they have been around the good news and the Reformed theology, piety, and practice.
WG: Thanks for clearing that up. Since you’re a real lover of church history, who are some of your theological heroes? And why?
SC: As a church historian I understand that all men are sinners and they all have clay feet but I am impressed with Polycarp, among the early fathers. He combined a remarkably mature understanding of the faith with a courageous piety during one of the more difficult periods in the history of the church. Gottschalk of Orbais preserved for us the authentically Augustinian doctrines of grace in a time when much of the church had abandoned them and him to house arrest in a monastery. That they actually beat him for teaching what Augustine taught says much about the 9th-century church in the West. Luther turned the church on its head for the gospel and for the Word of God. Without Luther there would not have been a Reformation. In the period 1513-21 no other figure was as clear about the gospel, how to distinguish law and gospel, the supremacy and clarify of Scripture, the nature of grace and faith, and about the Christian life as Dr. Luther. We owe him everything. Calvin and the Reformed orthodox did a marvellous job of helping to put Luther’s great Reformation insights into a more comprehensive and covenantal context. To Calvin we owe a superior explanation of the Lord’s Supper and the nature of Christian worship. I am very impressed with Herman Witsius’ ability to focus on the most important things and to draw together the best parts of Reformed covenant theology as it developed in the 17th century. I’m grateful to B. B. Warfield for his remarkably intelligent and thoughtful defence of the faith, to Machen for his courage and grace, and to Van Til for defending the Christian faith consistently and for seeing the true nature of Barth’s theology.
WG: And how about books? If you could name –say- your top fifteen books, which would they be?
SC: In no particular order:
1. J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (New York: MacMillan, 1923). 2. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vol. trans. F. L. Battles, ed. J. T. McNeil (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960).
3. Johannes Wollebius, Compendium of Christian Theology in John W. Beardslee, ed., Reformed Dogmatics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965).
4. D. G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002)
5. Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Christian Focus Publications, 2009).
6. Caspar Olevianus, A Firm Foundation, trans. Lyle D. Bierma, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995)
7. Cornelius Van Til, The New Modernism (Philipsburg: P&R, 1946) 8. Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 2 vol. (Philipsburg: P&R, repr., 1990)
9. Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. Willard (Philipsburg: P&R, repr. 1985).
10. Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (New York: HBJ, 1949)
11. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948).
12. Peter Dathenus, The Pearl of Christian Comfort, trans. A. Blok (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1997)
13. Franciscus Junius, On True Theology, trans. David C. Noe (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014).
14. Anonymous, To Diognetus in Michael. W. Holmes, ed. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapidsl Baker Academic, 2007)
15. Martin Luther, On the Bondage of the Will, trans., O. R. Johnston, ed. J. I. Packer (Cambridge: J. Clarke, repr. 1973).
WG: Fantastic. Thanks so much. Now brother, what things concern you most about the current state of the evangelical world at large?
SC: Through the course of the Second Great Awakening evangelical theology in the USA and the West came to be dominated by the subjective, by feelings, impressions, and claims of extra-biblical revelation. The remnants of the older confessional Reformed theology, piety, and practice served as a curb on evangelical subjectivism until about 25 years ago. As broader evangelicalism has become self-aware of its antipathy for the Reformation the only course it has, it seems, is apocalyptic moralism and mysticism. There does not seem to be much space for the objective truth of God’s Word, the gospel of the incarnation, Christ’s substitutionary obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension. Those who tire of mysticism and moralism flee to some form of Byzantine Christianity or Romanism and the Reformation becomes even more marginal.
WG: That’s a pretty sad indictment. Something that’s troubling is here in Spain is pro-homosexual theology. What can be done to stop the advance of such a theology? And why do you think it has come about?
SC: Christians have always been tempted to baptize the culture and call it Christianity whether it was the imperial cult in the 4th century or the modern doctrine of human perfectibility in the 19th century. Homosexual behaviour and other sins have been normalized in the culture at the very time when Christians seem to be least prepared to confront it. Christians seem shocked to find that the Bible thinks differently about creation and sexuality than they do but it does. There are two ways forward. The first is to recover the biblical doctrine of nature, that God is not only our Redeemer but also our Creator and that, in creation, he established certain universal patterns. Our late-modern culture is conducting a Blitzkrieg on the very concept of nature (that there are any universal, fixed, creational norms) but as Paul says in Romans 1 and 2, such a war is futile. The second thing we must do is to begin to read the Scriptures again at home and in our services. Pastors must be willing to risk alienating those who would be entertained on Sundays by reading God’s Word to the congregation and then proclaiming it thoughtfully and faithfully. The Scriptures are that Word that the Spirit has promised to use and we can trust that it will not return without accomplishing God’s will.
WG: Amen. Why do you think there has been such a revival of Calvinism amongst young Westerners? How do you feel about this phenomenon?
SC: It is a mixed blessing. The Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR) are not so young anymore and some would say that they are not so Reformed but they do still seem restless and that might be a good thing. It is well that people are paying attention to aspects of the Reformed confession but there is much more to being Reformed than the doctrines of election and reprobation. The Reformed theologians taught and, more importantly, the Reformed churches confess in catechisms and confessions much more than the YRR movement seems to have grasped. There is a reading of the history of redemption (a theology of the biblical covenants), a doctrine of Scripture, a way of reading Scripture (a hermeneutic), a doctrine of humanity (anthropology), a catholic Christology, a doctrine of the church and the sacraments (ecclesiology) that seems to be largely ignored. The YRR movement is like a foyer in the church or an on-ramp to a freeway: neither is a place to stop. My fervent wish is that folk would read our great writers, our churchly confessions, and embrace the Reformed theology, piety, and practice as an alternative to Rome, Constantinople, and Seattle.
WG: To wrap up, Dr. Clark. If you could give a piece of godly advice to our younger readers on Evangelical Focus, what would it be?
SC: Contrary to what you may have been taught, the world was made to be known and you were made to know it. Contrary to what you may have been told, the world around you, though corrupted by sin, is not an illusion and evil is not winning. Believe your eyes and ears but do not believe everything you read and hear. You can and should, however, trust that God’s Word is reliable and true, that Christ is the Saviour, that he really came, that he was really raised, and that he is really coming again to make all things right again. Until that time you and I have a great calling to trust Christ with all our heart and out of that confidence to serve him in this world by loving God and our neighbour. Find a true church where the gospel is purely preached, where the sacraments are purely administered, and where they love the people enough to practice loving, gracious discipline.
WG: Thanks so much, Dr. Clark. It’s been great chatting to you. Thanks for all your insights. We wish you every blessing in your labours for the Lord Jesus.

Blogging in the name of the Lord: R. Scott Clark

This is the second in a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is…

GD: Hello R. Scott Clark and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
RSC: Hello Guy. Thanks for the invitation. I became a broadly-evangelical Christian in the mid-70s. I found the Reformed faith (or perhaps I should that it found me!) about 1980. I was raised in the midwest of the USA and attended seminary at Westminster Seminary California and served a congregation in Kansas City, Missouri (pronounced “Miz-ur-rah” in Kansas City) from 1987-93. For the next two years my family and I were in Oxford, UK pursuing graduate studies. After that we were in Wheaton, IL at Wheaton College. I’ve been back at Westminster Seminary California since 1997.

GD: Your blog is called ‘The Heidelblog‘ please explain.
RSC: The title is a reference to the home of the German Reformed Church and theology, Heidelberg. It’s also a pretty blatant plagiarizing of Kim Riddlebarger’s “Riddleblog.”

GD: What made you start blogging?
RSC: I began the HB as a way to comment on the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), a worthy project from which I’ve been diverted and to which I need to return. Somewhere I read that “writers write.” I needed a place to write on a regular basis and to try to do on a more public basis what I found myself doing privately by email, namely, answering questions.

GD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?
RSC: One strength is that it has taught me certain particularly sinful habits and attitudes and thence it has taught me humility. It regularly reinforces to me the limits of my abilities and reading. The immediacy of the medium puts me quickly into contact with a wide range of questions and issues of which I would otherwise be ignorant. It usually takes months or longer to get an article into print and it usually takes at least a year to get a book into print. Because it can be done so quickly it can be a great way to start or have a conversation and to try out new ideas. It is not a good medium for presenting detailed, careful, academic research. Because blogging lacks editorial controls it demands of the writer the virtues of self-control and prudence—virtues that are not as much in evidence in me as they should be.

GD: Who has had the greatest influence on your theological development?
RSC: Packer’s Knowing God and Calvin’s Institutes were the first Reformed works I read. I’m sure that they have shaped me in ways of which I’m not even aware. Bob Strimple’s biblical-exegetical approach to systematic theology at WSC laid strong foundations. Bob Godfrey’s lectures in church history put me into contact with the whole Christian tradition. Reading 16th- and 17th-century Reformed orthodoxy (especially Wollebius) Recently I think I’ve been most influenced by Mike Horton’s series with WJKP and by Darryl Hart’s work (especially, ‘The Lost Soul of American Protestantism’).

GD: Why should today’s Christians be interested in church history and historical theology?
RSC: Christians are redeemed by Christ alone (sola gratia, sola fide) to be a part of the covenant community, i.e. the visible church. The church did not begin last week. It has a history and every Christian, by virtue of the the fact of being a Christian, is a part of a historic tradition. Consider the very name “Christian.” We are given the name of Christ in baptism. It is a historic name (given to us by others). It is the name of a historic person, God the Son who entered into history to be our Redeemer. Thus our faith itself is grounded in the history of salvation. The Christian faith is unavoidably historical. The way we worship, the way we read Scripture, the way we think of God, man, Christ, sin, salvation, the church, sacraments, last things, and the Christian life are all conditioned by history. Thus the question is not whether we are going think about history but whether we are going to do it well.

GD: There has been a reassessment of the value of scholastic theology in the last few years. What can Reformed Christians learn from the scholastics?
RSC: Much in every way. They mediated to us a theology, piety, and practice. Many of the great Protestant confessions were formed by and under the influence of Protestant orthodoxy. They gave us our vocabulary, a hermeneutic, an approach to worship, to prayer, to the Christian life that we’ve been begun to recover.

For much of the modern period we were tempted to try to think of the history of the church after the medieval period as consisting of the Reformation and modern churches. We sort of leap-frogged the post-Reformation church and theology. In this view we were too often willing victims of Enlightenment hostility to a rich resource for theology and church life. Now, however, thanks to the pioneering work of a number of scholars in the 70s and 80s we’ve begun to clear away the vines from a solid old footbridge between the Reformation and the modern church and we’ve found there was much to learn. My students can’t imagine what it be like to be without Ursinus, Ames, Wollebius, Turretin, or Wtisius, just to name a few.

GD: David Bebbington famously claimed (in Evangelicalism in Modern Britian) that evangelicalism is largely a product of the 18th century Enlightenment. What do you make of his thesis?
RSC: It’s all a matter of definition. If the adjective “evangelical” is used in its original Protestant sense, then “evangelical” simply means “confessional” or “magisterial Protestant.” It refers to the recovery of the biblical (and Pauline) doctrine of justification in the Reformation, the Reformation doctrine that acceptance with God is by God’s undeserved favor alone and received through faith resting in and receiving Christ and his righteousness imputed alone as the ground of acceptance with God. It refers to the notion that salvation (justification and sanctification) is mediated through the visible church, through the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments. It refers to the hermeneutical/theological distinction between law and gospel. As a matter of sociology and modern history, the modern evangelical movement is, in many important ways deeply influenced by modernity. The theology, piety, and practice mediated to us by the so-called “First Great Awakening” is at least partly indebted to the idealism of the Cambridge Platonists. The subjectivism of modern the evangelical movements is indebted to Romanticism. Modern fundamentalism was influenced by Enlightenment rationalism. In ‘Recovering the Reformed Confession’ I describe the subjectivist impulse of modern evangelical religion as the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE), i.e. the desire to experience God without mediation. This quest was fueled partly by a reaction to the doubt and fear created by early modern criticisms of the faith. The rationalism of modern fundamentalism reflects the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) or the desire to know things the way God knows them as distinct from the way he reveals himself to us. It is a desire to get behind revelation.

There is also a real question as to whether there really is such a thing as “evangelicalism,” at least in North America. The project of the modern evangelicals, especially since the mid-1940s was to form an alliance organized around a common religious experience and a high view of Scripture. The movement was intentionally churchless. The minimalism of the neo-evangelical movement, however, did not prepare it well for what was to come. Today, in North America, it’s almost impossible to say what makes one “evangelical” since there is no common doctrine of God, man, Christ, salvation, church, sacraments or last things. For example, the split over “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” revealed that there was no longer even a common definition of “the gospel” or of justification and that was the material doctrine of justification. There’s been no shared doctrine of Scripture since at least the early 70s. Thus, Darryl Hart, in ‘Deconstructing Evangelicalism’, has questioned whether “evangelicalism” even exists anymore.

GD: You have written on Recovering the Reformed Confession. If “the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants”, why do we need confessions of faith?
RSC: In the book I use the word “confession” in two ways. In the first and narrow sense it refers to those public, authoritative, ecclesiastical summaries of the Word adopted by the Reformed churches in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the broader sense, however, it refers to the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed churches that forms the context for those documents and in light of which they must be read. I wrote the book to try to encourage those who identify with the Reformed faith to see the confessions as the definition of the adjective “Reformed.” Too many folk think that the doctrine of predestination is the alpha and omega of Reformed theology. The Reformed churches know nothing of such a definition! The Reformed churches confess much more than divine sovereignty and predestination. They confess a holistic theology, a distinct piety (that is neither pentecostal nor sterile), a churchly, sacramental practice of the faith. So the confessions themselves are essential to being Reformed and to recovering an authentic Reformed identity and life. Confessions are unavoidable. Every Christian has a confession, even if very brief. “No creed but Christ” is still a confession. The church has always confessed her faith whether in the Shema of Deut 6:4 or in 1 Tim 3:16, to name but two places. So the question is whether one will have a confession that reflects the scope of biblical revelation and practice. The original evangelicals were confessing people. Modern evangelicals have experimented with churchless, “creed-less” Christianity for two centuries and it has been a failure. We should take note of Luther, Bucer, Bullinger, and Calvin and of all the great Protestant churches of the Reformation in virtually every place. They were all confessing churches.

GD: What factors under God have led to a widespread recovery of Reformed teaching in the States?
RSC: If you’re referring to the ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ movement or the increased interest in divine sovereignty among some segments of evangelicalism, that is a cause for encouragement. The doctrines of grace essential to the historic evangelical faith but they are just an on-ramp to Reformed theology. The most obvious cause for a turn to the doctrines of grace is the vacuous, narcissistic, therapeutic, and moralistic nature of so much modern “evangelical” theology, piety, and practice. The baby-boom generation largely wrecked what they inherited from Carl Henry (and that inheritance was problematic). It is not surprising that the children of those ruins have begun to cast about for an alternative. I hope they don’t try to add a doctrine of divine sovereignty to the rickety house of modern evangelicalism.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical Church history would you most like to meet and what you say to him/her?
RSC: Oh, this is very difficult choice for a historian! I have questions for some many different people. I think I would enjoy talking to Luther more than to Calvin (whom, I fear, I might find a little solemn). I would ask Luther about his view of baptism (did he really teach baptismal regeneration?) and his view of Calvin.

GD: Martin Luther said that when it comes to contending for the faith we should fight for the truth that is most under attack at any given time. Where is the battle raging most fiercely today?
RSC: The most fundamental question of the modern (early and late) period has been the authority and reliability of Scripture. The great question of the pre-modern period was, “What has God said?” The Roman and Protestant communions gave different answers but they they agreed that divine authority is pre-eminent. In the modern period the question became, “Has God said?” Of course that’s not a modern question The current attempt to revise the doctrine of justification is probably a manifestation of that problem. It has been in the background for the last two decades but it appears to be re-emerging into the foreground. Related to both of these is the hermeneutical crisis of the last several decades. These were the formal and material issues of the Reformation: sola Scriptura and sola fide so it shouldn’t surprise us too much to see that they are the most basic issues we face today.

GD: What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?
RSC: This is very difficult to answer. For one thing my interests tend toward history and historical theology. One volume that stands out might be Herman Selderhuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). Everyone should read it because it’s a model of how to read texts and how to write about them winsomely.

GD: Care to share your top three songs or pieces of music?
RSC: In no particular order here are three tunes I always turn up.
Green Onions, Booker T and the MGs
I Wanna Be Sedated, Ramones
Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones

GD: Tell us three things you know about Wales and the Welsh.
RSC: The Welshmen I know (and have known) have
1) a wonderful grasp of the English language
2) a dry sense of humor
3) dislike generalizations about the Welsh

GD: You must be thinking of your colleague at WSC, Hywel Jones, who was Principal of the London Theological Seminary when I studied there many years ago. Do give him my regards. Now, what is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
RSC: There are three great problems: Christlessness, Wordlessness, and churchlessness. The very fact that there is likely no such thing as “evangelicalism,” i.e., virtually no common confession among those who identify themselves as “evangelicals” signals the magnitude of the problem faced by those who identify themselves as evangelicals. They are bound together by a common experience of or quest for the immediate experience of the divine but they are united in and defined by little else. Such could not have been said about the original evangelicals. The original evangelicals were united by their understanding of the gospel, the doctrine of justification and the unique and normative authority of Scripture as God’s Word and by their conviction that God has promised to work savingly in the visible, institutional church through Word and sacrament. Modern evangelicals have really been gradually becoming Anabaptist in their approach to theology, piety, and practice since the 1970s. However passionate the Anabaptists were they were not Protestants and they were not evangelicals. The Christian hope is not grounded in immediate experience of the divine presence nor in continuing, extra-biblical revelation, but in the good news of the risen Savior revealed in the inerrant, canonical Word of God and sealed in divinely instituted sacraments and administered in the visible church.

GD: Which blogs do you enjoy reading and why?
RSC: I’m subscribed to more than I should admit. I am enjoying many, including this one. If I had to pick five (with apologies to all the other outstanding blogs):
Martin Downes, Against Heresies
Darryl Hart and John Muether, Old Life Theological Society
The Confessional Outhouse (Zrim, Rick, and Ruberad)
Creed or Chaos (Brannan and Chaos)
These, among others, come to mind because they are consistently faithful or thoughtful, and thought provoking or all three. I always learn from them.
GD: Well, that just about wraps things up. Thanks for dropping by for this conversation. Bye!

SAET Interviews In Politics And Theology #10: R. Scott Clark

With regard to political action:  American Christians (particularly evangelicals) must get over the microwave mentality. We need to think more in terms of camp fires and cook outs. It takes a long time to make a decent meal outdoors and it might all go wrong . . . . If we substituted the camp fire for the microwave we might also be useful by becoming more critical of reigning cultural paradigms. For example, many American Christians are suburbanites. They make take the existence of suburbs for granted but should we? . . . . Christianity is not middle-class American suburbia nor is it neo-Romanticism about “the city.”  Where is the evangelical, missional passion for rural America?


1. For those who are not familiar with your work, can you describe your contribution to the question of how the individual Christian and the Church relates to the State?

RSC: I doubt that I’ve made any contribution to this question. My interest is partly historical, partly biblical-exegetical, theological, and pastoral. I have an academic interest in the history of Reformed theology and ethics and particularly in the way the classical Reformed theologians (and confessional churches) understood creation, natural law, and the intersection between those categories and Reformed soteriology and understanding of redemptive history. As a pastor I have seen the damage done to the visible church by confusing the kingdom of God with the kingdoms of this world.

2.  Richard Mouw and Carl F. H. Henry have suggested that the Church’s role is not coterminous with the responsibility possessed by individual believers.  Do you agree or disagree?

RSC: If I understand the question correctly, yes, I agree. What Christ has commissioned the visible church, as an institution, to do is one thing; and what he has commissioned the Christian to do is rather broader. This distinction goes back at least to the early Reformation’s doctrines of vocation and its distinction between the two kingdoms. It also has roots in St Augustine’s distinction between the two cities. Christians have a dual citizenship. St Paul says that we have a heavenly citizenship (Phil 3:20) but we also have an earthly citizenship (Rom 13:1-7). If we understand that the Israelite theocracy was fulfilled by Christ then we also understand that God has made no special covenant with any nation. The visible church is the Israel of God (Gal 6:16). The responsibility of the visible church is to be the principle representative of the kingdom of God (the heavenly kingdom) on the earth (Matt 16; Matt 18). Historically considered, the church as an institution has had very difficult time fulfilling the responsibilities given to her by our Lord: administration of Word, sacraments, and ecclesiastical discipline (Belgic Confession article 29).

Christians, however, as members of the common kingdom, under God’s sovereign rule, have civil responsibilities. They may form private associations (outside the visible church) to address social issues which are common to believers and non-believers. They may and should speak, as Christians, to social questions. Because we confess that, as Creator and Redeemer, Christ is Lord of all and because we seek to live out our faith daily in God’s good creation and active providence in the world, we cannot withdraw from it. The great error of “world flight” is that it denies the essential goodness of creation. The essential error of the theology of glory is that confuses heaven with earth. Confessional Protestants have a doctrine of vocation that calls the Christian to engage the God’s world to the benefit of his neighbor and the glory of God while always distinguishing this world from the world to come.

3.  Please identify for our readers two influential thinkers or political concepts to which you often respond (perhaps one positive, one negative)?

RSC: My politics have evolved considerably during my lifetime. I was raised a liberal (Humphrey) Democrat. I was catechized on the Sunday paper and local politics. When other children we in Sunday School I was putting up yard signs. In university I read political philosophy and the combination of Plato, Augustine, Calvin, and Hobbes led me to a sort of democratic socialism.  Herbert Schlossberg’s Idols for Destruction was helpful in alerting me to the theological errors (and cardinal sins) inherent in socialism. Plato (or neo-Platonism) is wrong. The Spirit-matter dualism is an error. It is not Paul’s (Holy) Spirit-flesh (sin) dualism. Jesus is true God and true man. It was Calvin’s doctrine of creation and natural law and the epistemological (common sense) realism of the Reformed orthodox that began to push me and my Augustinian view of sin in a more libertarian direction. Along the way I have been influenced, in different ways, by the early fathers (e.g., Ad Diognetum), Augustine,  Eric Voeglin, Hannah Arrendt, C. S. Lewis, W. F. Buckley, and Dorothy Sayers among others. From Reformed orthodoxy I learned the distinction between the covenants of works and grace. In theological terms, civil life, whether in local communities or in international relations,  is a covenant of works (“do this and live”) and not a covenant of grace. The administration of the covenant of grace (“for God so loved the world”) belongs to the visible church not to the magistrate.

4. How would you summarize the political responsibilities of the average American in the pew—that is, someone with voting rights, but little political capital, and little or no economic capital for political action?

RSC: In this world one either spends time or money (and sometimes both). Even when the latter is lacking there is a great deal that might be done on the local level and Christians are willing to get involved and spend the time. Political capital, like economic capital is accumulated over time. Local politics is about involvement and taking risks. American Christians (particularly evangelicals) must get over the microwave mentality. We need to think more in terms of camp fires and cook outs. It takes a long time to make a decent meal outdoors and it might all go wrong. It might not taste good but it’s necessary. If Christians involve themselves in the local school board or local council races or even on advisory committees these are inexpensive ways to become involved in local civil life.

If we substituted the camp fire for the microwave we might also be useful by becoming more critical of reigning cultural paradigms. For example, many American Christians are suburbanites. They make take the existence of suburbs for granted but should we? We are all creatures of a given time and place but being Christians gives us the opportunity to step outside our own time and place a bit and to see it more objectively, more critically. Christianity is not middle-class American suburbia nor is it neo-Romanticism about “the city.” God may be glorified in both places but he may also be glorified in rural settings. Where is the evangelical, missional passion for rural America? Re-engaging rural America will not happen quickly. It might take decades but there are opportunities all through the American Heartland for those who want to engage civil life on a micro-level with limited resources.

5.  How does Romans 13 help us understand the limits placed on the church and/or the individual believer in our engagement with political matters?

RSC: When I was in seminary I recall a fellow-student with theonomic inclinations dismissing Romans 13 as if it were insignificant. It seems to me that if one finds Romans 13 insufficient or insignificant for ones understanding of the Christian’s role in civil life then one is likely asking the wrong questions or beginning with the wrong assumptions. One should ask, “why do I find Romans 13 unsatisfactory?” Could it be that one is seeking outcomes or working with expectations that St Paul did not? Americans have invoked and abused Jesus’ teaching about   a “city shining on a hill” (Matt 5:14). The American colonies were not that city. Jesus is the light of the world and his Christians are the “light of the world” (Matt 5:14) by virtue of their union with him. It’s important to note, however, how Paul called us to be light in the world principally by living a “peaceful and quiet life” (1 Tim 2:2). That American Christians bristle at God’s calling Romans 13,  for submission to established authorities, says a great deal about the continuing influence of the revolutionary spirit. Paul clearly teaches at all authorities, even Nero, are instituted by God. This is why Calvin was so careful to stipulate that popular revolution is immoral, that it is the vocation of the “lesser magistrates” to hold civil rulers in check. Paul understood what he was saying. Christians suffered under Nero and they would suffer more grievously in centuries to come. I think the treatise Ad Diognetum (c. 155 AD possibly by Polycarp) is most a instructive application of Romans 13. His argument was that the Christians were false accused of being seditious. He responded (5:.1-11):

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric way of life…For while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. The live in their own countries but only as nonresidents, they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are in the flesh, but they do not live according to the flesh. They live on earth but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws. They love everyone, and by everyone they are persecuted.

Would that the same could be said of us today.

6.  How do biblical books such as Deuteronomy and Proverbs help us to understand God’s perspective on politics?  Does the fact that they share political and ethical insights with other Ancient Near Eastern cultures (or that they offer critiques of those cultures and their political systems) influence your view of their relevance?

RSC: I think these are two distinct, if related, questions. The Westminster Divines (chapter 19) answered the first (regarding the contemporary application of Deuteronomy) by reminding us that there are three aspects to the Mosaic law: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The Decalogue (Deut 5) is a typological, Israelite, summary of the moral, creational law. It is permanent and it like the other two aspects of the Mosaic law (613 Mitzvoth) have been fulfilled by Christ. The divines, however, were at pains to point out that the civil and ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic law have been fulfilled. What remains is the moral law, given in creation, that binds all people in all times. The “general equity” of the Mosaic civil law continues to be of use to us but we should understand, as your question suggests, that the Israelite civil law was not absolutely unique and thus though there are general principles to be discerned it is because those principles are grounded in creational (natural) justice which existed prior to Israel and which continue to bind civil magistrates two millennia after Christ fulfilled them. The principal function of the Pentateuch (Torah) generally is to point us to Christ. Only secondarily and indirectly does it provide guidance to contemporary civil life and even then only in general terms.

Proverbs is important for the civil life of the Christian because it was intended to serve as an introduction to wisdom, as a collection of maxims that, properly understood and skillfully applied, will result in benefit to the one who obeys them. Ultimately, of course, wisdom points to Christ, the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18). Proximately, however, Christians as much as anyone need practical wisdom to live life “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). Inasmuch as evangelical political engagement has lacked a lot of wisdom for the last several decades one might say that we are much more in need of Proverbs (and perhaps Ecclesiastes and Job!) than we are Deuteronomy.

7.  Some political theologians note that Daniel simultaneously models service, critique, and a message of divine judgment.  Are all three of these to be implemented by believers?  Are they postures we should always exhibit, or are they more appropriate at some times than others?

RSC: Darryl Hart and David VanDrunen have both properly pointed us to Daniel as a good model for Christian social and political engagement. We are not in Canaan. We are in exile. Daniel did not seek to overturn the established social or civil order. He served God faithfully within it, within the limits established by God’s Word. This is how it has always been. When the magistrate called Daniel to transgress God’s law, Daniel refused and accepted the consequences. The paradox of Christian political influence is that it will most likely come not through the acquisition of power but by the quiet (and perhaps therefore conspicuous) adherence to God’s Word that transcends all political and civil authority.

8.  If a young church planter says to you, “In my social and cultural context, I need to avoid political topics.  This enables me to address the gospel without any baggage and has helped our church create a community of diverse perspectives centered on Christ and his work.  But am I doing the right thing?  Should I be bolder?”  How would you respond?  Which passages would you use as a resource for guiding his or her thinking?

RSC: Of course a church planter must be wise. He must know his setting, his limitations, but he  must also know and be faithful to the whole counsel of God. I doubt that any pastor is called to preach on “political” topics, depending upon how one defines political. Preaching Romans 13 or 1 Timothy 2 or 1 Peter 2:13-17 is not “political.” If it is true, as the Reformed have thought, that we live in two kingdoms simultaneously, then the preacher is called to proclaim the advent of God’s Kingdom in Christ (Mark 1:15), to call everyone everywhere to repentance and faith but he is also called to preach and teach God’s Word as it applies to our life as citizens of the creational kingdom, which we share with those who do not confess Christ. Christians want to know how they should conduct themselves at work, with the non-Christian co-workers, neighbors, and family and God’s Word speaks to those things. If the word “politics” refers to partisan politics, to calls to elect this candidate or to vote this way or that, then no preacher, let alone a church planter, should be speaking to those things that way from the pulpit. A minister is not called to be an emissary from the civil kingdom. There are plenty of those. He is called to serve as an ambassador from the Kingdom of God to this world and he is to announce the in-breaking of that kingdom, in Christ, in Word and sacrament, into this world.

9.  What is the best article or essay a young pastor could read on politics, political interpretation of Scripture, or political theology?  The best book?

RSC: Darryl Hart’s A Secular Faith and David VanDrunen’s Living in God’s Two Kingdoms are two excellent places to begin to think through these issues. Ken Myers’ Mars Hill Audio is indispensable for continuing to grow in this area.

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