I have been too busy and a bit distracted to keep up with continuing discussion over R2K and “transformationalism.” I just checked in on the latest from Carl Trueman and R. Scott Clark yesterday and, after digesting their logic, let’s just say that it did not “refresh my bowels” (Philem. 1:20 KJV). I will address both in this post.
Carl Trueman posted a month ago now (sorry for my delay) on “The Case of the Missing Category.” The missing category, I take away, is one that Trueman wants to remain missing for a while. He objects to being categorized with R2K merely because of what he’s not—a transformationalist of any sort. Fair enough. Yet he talks like an R2K, argues like one, and holds positions essentially indistinguishable from theirs. So what are we supposed to say?
It is also notable that Trueman’s post is little more than riffing on a theme after patting fellow anti-transformationalist D. G. Hart on the back for criticizing (poorly in my view) Bill Evans on the topic. I read both of those third-party posts and came away impressed with Evans’s balanced grasp of some of the issues, and dismayed by Hart’s skill at cramming so many fallacies into a single paragraph, though Hart does have a good point to which I wish to return at a later date.
It sounds to me, though, like Trueman wants to support something very close to the R2K position without being accountable for its baggage. This is not an uncommon trend in that crowd: let us stake our position so as to buffet and criticize you, but we do not want to hear your criticism of us. We want to shoot from the R2K bunker, but not take return fire. More on Trueman’s in a moment.
On the same day I was informed by a Facebook friend of the latest on the subject from R. Scott Clark: “Things That Don’t Help the R2K Discussion.” After just a brief few interactions with Clark, I am painfully aware of not only his hypersensitivity to some criticism, but his masterful ability to try to frame the terms of debate in a way that makes him both judge and jury of the discussion. Well, you know, he’s got lots of seminary students reading that he needs to keep in line. But I am not one of them.
His latest post is a response to R.C. Sproul, Jr., on the topic “What is R2k theology?” Good question. I read R.C.’s post, and then RSC’s response, and the latter for me raised the exact same sort of problematic questions for which RSC previously called me a jerk, quarantined me on his blog (I am still free to click on his Tetzel box, however), and blocked me on twitter. That kind of thing really complicates the hammering out of difficult discussions.
Without covering all the inter alia—you can read for yourself—my analysis is that R.C., Jr., wrote a very clear and concise introduction for a first-time inquisitor, but it too clearly and accurately laid out some logical implications and practices of R2K doctrine for some people. This sent RSC into Authoritative Confessionalist Official-Error Correction mode, which means that embarrassingly clear lines of thought need a treatment of lengthy qualifications, doubletalk, a dozen references to past ReformedTM-RSC, URCNA approved scholars, Latin phrases, long block quotations, and generally overwrought footnotedness and bullet-pointedness—a treatment sometimes leveraged for purposes of obfuscation, but we shall not suggest such here.
We shall outrightly say it. It is obfuscation. And it is ironic that after confounding R.C.’s clear and concise 600 words with five times as many of his own (and of the nature just described), RSC concludes by chiding R.C., “This is a difficult debate. Why make it more difficult needlessly?”
I’d toss that question back at RSC and then answer it for him: You make it more difficult for the purposes of maintaining one position (R2K) without having to deal with its logical and practical baggage.
It’s easier to try to control the definition of what it means to be Reformed, and those who shall get a hearing in the Great Halls of Refromedom, than it is to acknowledge that perhaps, some more Reforming of doctrine needs to take place. But this is exactly where appeals to “The Reformed Tradition” (and various versions of this) begin to run ashore of that great island of authoritarianism, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
This is where the grandaddy of Reformed tradition, John Calvin, is quoted yet once again: to prove by authority that R2K is genuinely Reformed. And I agree, what Calvin wrote in Institutes 3.19.15, and later in several parts of book 4 chapter 20, are as radically two-kingdom as anything Luther ever wrote. There is no denying this. But what RSC and so many others continue to dismiss is that Calvin (and Luther) did not remain consistent with this when preaching from the pulpit—and that’s one of the main issues at odds here. The Pulpit. Anyone reading Calvin’s Institutes or even Commentaries may come away confirmed by parts of them in something like the modern R2K sentiment; but anyone reading the hundreds of Calvin’s lesser-known Sermons (for example, on 2 Samuel or Deuteronomy) will experience the 180 degree opposite from his pulpit. He preached on very explicit social and political topics, made clear political proclamations from the pulpit, and did so regularly, sometimes not even mentioning the Gospel at all.
The closest I have heard of RSC addressing this problem is to say that we must pay attention to the Institutes instead of the Sermons. This is somewhat analogous to saying, “Pay no attention the man behind that curtain.” Let’s be clear: the man is Calvin’s political sermons, and the curtain is the modern Reformed seminaries and leadership.
On a closely related front, RSC and many other R2K guys openly note that the Reformers all the way up to the 19th Century called from pulpit and publication alike for the State to enforce the First Table of the Law in general. To a man, these modern guys argue that those Reformers were all wrong to do so.
So, note carefully, that RSC (et al) believes that in some cases the Reformed Tradition needed some more Reforming to take place. Thus Calvin is rendered into Calvin-Edited-As-RSC-Approves-of-Him. Says who? Says me, someone has to say. And RSC wants to be one who gets to say, and the one who gets to keep you from saying.
And this is exactly where Trueman’s cheerleading of Hart ends up as well. Trueman’s post is to argue that he is unjustly lumped in with the R2K guys. Wrong category, he implies. He goes on to argue that he has not aligned with any such position, and indeed, “I have not read widely enough in the literature to commit myself one way or the other.”
I can appreciate such an admission. But it annoys me, then, when he goes on just a few sentences later to say: “Many readers may disagree with my views on this matter. That is of little account” [my emphasis]. If you haven’t read enough to commit one way or the other, then you should either stay out of the debate, or it should be of considerable account when many of your learned brethren do disagree with your pronouncements on the subject.
But it gets worse. For those who draw the logical inferences and create “polarity” in the rhetoric, Trueman goes on to say their statements are somewhere between “next to useless” and “completely useless.” These are dramatic judgments coming from one who has confessed he has not read enough on the subject. I get the feeling such a man is not interested in reading much further either.
There’s a confirmatory parallel to RSC’s method as well. Trueman writes, “My own position is one I have drawn from what I understand to be a strong strand of nineteenth/twentieth century American Presbyterian thinking on the church, on Christian freedom and on church-state relations.” It’s that same 19th/20th-Century revision of the Reformed Tradition again.
But this circles us back around to the same question. Why is that particular reform of the Reformed Tradition the Authoritative one? Especially considering that it came from the one generation most influenced by the humanistic Enlightenment in regard to those particular issues specifically? Why do we not start first with Scripture—like Calvin’s pure exegesis in his Sermons—instead of culturally-influenced dogmatics (which, arguably, Calvin’s Institutes was as well)? It sounds to me that some people are letting culture rule Scripture and not asking the question in the reverse.
I can only hope that these men begin to see that their views on the church and the civil realm are essentially liberal—liberal in the sense that Machen said liberal Christianity is a different religion, a humanistic one.
And I agree, this is the logical outworking of the R2K doctrine as Luther and Calvin in some places radically defined it. But they did not practice it themselves that way, because it isn’t Scriptural. Well, it’s one thing when the doctrine on paper is compromised, but the near-universal cultural assumptions and practice are less so. But when the culture has caught up with the bad parts of the systematics, the church is forced into the logical corner into which it painted itself. And that’s an Inglorious Kingdom.
These men feel that tight squeeze, and they are working hard to justify their position. The only results I see are obfuscation of the issue or a refusal to engage it. In either case, they reserve the right to pronounce how incorrect those of us on the other side have to be—even though some of them haven’t read widely enough to determine.
So, in short, don’t be too clear about the logical implications of R2K doctrines (and, indeed, of the actual behavior of many who follow R2K principles in practice). That’s not helpful. Letting those self-interested in one side of the debate control the discussion as the authoritative judges and juries of it, and the teachers of those who will fill the pulpits for the next generation, apparently is helpful. Sure it is.
I can understand why these guys argue this way. I can’t understand why any interested in the truth would fall for it.
 Yes, “bowels” is the literal translation, which sends all the newer translations into dynamic equivalence mode.