Imagine my surprise to check my comupter today only to find that R. Scott Clark himself took some time to notice, read, and comment upon my comments about his book, Recovering the Reformed Confession on his own blog. While I hardly think my meager blog is worthy of comment by the likes of Clark, and I suspect he may exagerate my having “hit on something really important”; nevertheless I am glad he found something of worth in all my dross.
I agree with Dr. Clark in that many “rank and file” FVers have become so because the Reformed churches have not been doing their jobs. We have indeed gotten caught up in revialism and all the nonsesnses of the broadly evangelical church.
On the other side of the coin, others of our churches have opted for the dead social club position. They successfully navagate all of the appalling silliness around them, only to have lost their first love. These sorts of churches do the churchly thing, they preach the confession, they sing the hymns and psalms, and they have all of the form, but none of the life. These churches do all the right things, but they have become lukewarm to them, as Ephesus had to its first love. Reformed theology and Reformed worship (orthodoxy and orthopraxy) are glorious things; they are exciting and thrilling to me.
And so some “rank and file” Calvinists look at the silliness of the revivalists on the one hand and the “lukewarm” social club on the other, and they are doubly dissatissfied. The FV promises to get rid of both; it offers to take Christ, Church, and faith seriously (unlike the broad revivalistic evangelicalism) and to combine form/confession and the sort of living faith we ought to have. We can disagree, perhaps, on whether the FV genuniely accomplishes this, but none can, I think, really deny it is one of the promises of the “movement.”
All true. But I think there are other reasons people are attracted to the FV. Those who are Postmillennialists see that theology woven intot the warp and woof of the FV teachings. Those who are typologists in interpretation are attracted to the FV because robust typology is woven into the foundations of it. Those who want to teach their children to believe rather than to doubt (as revivalism does) are drawn to the FV because of its robust promises to covenant children.
But I think one of the largest factors for many people is its promise to establish and live in true covenant communities, and it outlines incredibly clear and simple guidelines for building true community. Covenant community involves seeing the church as the center of the parish, and that community is built through living the gospel in our everyday lives, all the time. Loving one another as Christ loves us, working, fellowshiping, eating with one another, being a part of each other’s lives. Regular hospitality and ministries of mercy, carrying one another’s burdons, building one another up, etc. I have observed many churches which practice these things (and they are mostly FV or FV-related churches and churches in the CREC), and I have seen this sort of covenant community built up. There is a church about two hours from me here in Ohio that practicies that sort of stuff, and let me tell you that once you experience that sort of covenant community, you never want to go back. We cannot ignore theological issues, since they are important, but we are also told to judge men by their fruits, and the fruits of these churches is good fruit; not perfect fruit by any stretch, but you can see Christ shining through their love for one another and others. There is nothing, of course, special about the FV in this regard. Chalmers did the same thing long ago, as did Calvin and the Protestant Reformers. One does not have to be FV, or even sympathetic to it, to build true covenant community, and God is much to be praised for that.
Community is something of a buzzword in these postmodern times, and most postmodernists are dealing with community in one way or another. The Emergent Church movement is a perfect example of this; the leaders of this movement are desperate for it, and the mass response of people flooding into such churches exemplifies that people in the modern Western world are starving for real, genuine community. The only problem is that postmodernism cannot give then that community, and the whole project is doomed from the start.
Dr. Clark writes,
Well there is an alternative: plain old-fashioned Word and sacrament ministry in a real, honest-to-goodness local church. I admit that it’s not easy to find such and I get emails regularly complaining about how hard it is to find a congregation where the minister is content to a minister of Word and sacrament, where the law and the gospel are understood and preached rightly and where the divinely instituted means of grace are given their due place in the administration of the church.
I agree again (!) with Dr. Clark. If the FV goes too far in its emphasis on the sacraments (I don’t necessarily think it does, but this is likely my own failing and I hope Dr. Clark will forgive me for it), I think it would be the fault of the Reformed churches for denegrating them to equal length in the opposite direction. Imbalance produces imbalance, and I think we in the Calvinist/Reformed camp (all of us) ought to repent of our own imbalances and ask God as congregations for forgiveness. This too, is one of the attractions for many to the FV; it at least attempts to deal with sins not only in the eye of broad evangelicalsm, but also of the sins in our own eyes, of the failings of conservative, otherwise-orthodox Reformed churches. This too I think is part of the reason for its vehement opposition, though I do not believe so in Dr. Clark’s case.
Unfortunately, because the FV has been painted so beyond the orthodox pale of Reformed teaching, we may well see the emphasis move back away from the means of grace, rather than for a preacher or church to be seen as standing too close to Auburn Avenue. I pray this isn’t the case.