Response to "Why One Should Read Before Writing" by R. Scott Clark

R. Scott Clark kindly responded to my previous post (link) with a post of his own (link). I write to correct a few errors in his post.

1. My State of Mind as to Understanding

After a brief tangent about my pseudonymity, Prof. Clark characterizes my comments as being that I didn’t “understand how [Prof. Clark] could have raised questions about possible plans by federal officials to force teachers/schools to monitor Facebook for “bullying.”” That characterization is not correct. I understand how he could raise questions about such plans.

2. My Recognition of the Status of Prof. Clark’s Blog

While Prof. Clark leads with this:

First, since rotting fish stink, let’s clear away the red herrings from this discussion.

1. The Heidelblog is not the church. It’s a personal blog devoted to Recovering the Reformed Confession (theology, piety, and practice). I discuss things here that, as a minister, I would not discuss from the pulpit.

I myself had written this in the original article:

I think most of the Escondido folks would say it is ok for a minister to comment on political things on his personal blog. Perhaps some would not, but I think most are ok with that – as long as he doesn’t use the pulpit for those political comments.

But imagine if Prof. Clark had raised the same point from the pulpit. I think that some of the Escondido folk would have a problem with that, in that it would seem to involve the church getting involved in political matters.

It’s hard to say whether Prof. Clark missed this important caveat. His response does not reflect that he saw it.

3. Quotations Seemingly Attributed to Me

Prof. Clark provides a number of items in quotation marks. For example, Prof. Clark wrote:

3. If we’re going to discuss this like gentleman and ladies it would go some distance toward restoring civility to this conversation if the critics would not use Jim Dennison’s grossly misleading nomenclature, “The Escondido Hermeneutic.” This phrase begs the question (i.e., it assumes what it has yet to prove, that there is some distinctive, unique biblical hermeneutic being practiced at Westminster Seminary California). This claim is demonstrably false.

Yet I did not use such a term. I used “Escondido position” and “Escondido folks,” but not “Escondido Hermeneutic.”

Likewise, Prof. Clark wrote:

5. There is no such thing as “the two-kingdoms view.” Distinguishing between two kingdoms is nothing more than applying Calvin’s categorical distinction to contemporary questions. Different folks will do it differently.

Yet I didn’t write “the two-kingdoms view.” I wrote “the Escondido position on the two kingdoms” and “as extreme a view of the two kingdoms as Darryl Hart or others who are associated with Westminster West.”

I acknowledge, of course, that Prof. Clark uses quotation marks in a variety of ways in his post.

4. What I Said/Suggested About The Escondido View of the Two Kingdoms

Prof. Clark wrote:

It seems to me a significant misunderstanding of a two-kingdoms analysis to say suggest [sic] that one who distinguishes between Christ’s general, sovereign providence over all things and his saving work through the visible church may think about or comment on only one sphere.

Yet I did not write or suggest such a thing. Quite the contrary — as noted above — I indicated that I believed that those holding the Escondido position on this subject not only would say that people can think about the other sphere but also would say that they could comment on it on their blogs.

6. Reformed Theologians Holding to Perpetual Virginity and Geocentrism

Prof. Clark wrote:

The 16th and 17th-century Reformed theologians held several views that most of us would not want to hold today (e.g., theocracy, perpetual virginity of the BVM, geocentrism).

This comment is true but a little misleading. While Reformed theologians did express opinions about the latter two subjects, they didn’t place those topics in their confessions (at least not any of the confessions of which I’m aware). On the other hand “theocracy” (broadly understood to mean a system of government in which the first table is enforced to some degree or other) they did put in their confessions.

Moreover, we reject the perpetual virginity position on the strength of the Scriptural testimony, confirmed by a more thorough examination of the historical testimony. Even though I suppose few Reformed Theologians today would argue for geocentrism, few would think it important to argue about it. It’s not simply a matter of wanting to.

Finally, of course, the standard of what “most of us” “want” is not the way we should conduct ourselves.

Prof. Clark goes on to state:

We’re not bound to the mistakes of the past but to the degree the tradition helps us to understand what we confess, we should learn from them. The distinction between the two kingdoms is one of those valuable resources we need to recover but before folk start commenting on these questions they do need to do some basic reading.

It’s true that we’re not bound to the mistakes of the past, but the use of the Reformed theologians is not just to help us to understand what we confess – the fact that they held to things should be something that helps to persuade us as a fallible guide.

Moreover, the “distinction between the two kingdoms” was something that they held and held consistently with what Prof. Clark refers to as “theocracy.” It’s remarkable to see Calvin cluelessly quoted on the issue of two kingdoms, as though he would have supported the Escondido position. In point of fact, Clark in this very post quoted Calvin thus:

Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man (duplex esse in homine regimen): one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the “spiritual” and the “temporal” jurisdiction (not improper terms) by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. Now these two, as we have divided them, must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man, so to speak, two worlds, over which different kings and different laws have authority (Institutes 3.19.15.

So why didn’t he quote Calvin’s consistent comments here:

This consideration ought to be constantly present to the minds of magistrates since it is fitted to furnish a strong stimulus to the discharge of duty, and also afford singular consolation, smoothing the difficulties of their office, which are certainly numerous and weighty. What zeal for integrity, prudence, meekness, continence, and innocence ought to sway those who know that they have been appointed ministers of the divine justice! How will they dare to admit iniquity to their tribunal, when they are told that it is the throne of the living God? How will they venture to pronounce an unjust sentence with that mouth which they understand to be an ordained organ of divine truth? With what conscience will they subscribe impious decrees with that hand which they know has been appointed to write the acts of God? In a word, if they remember that they are the vicegerents of God, it behaves them to watch with all care, diligences and industry, that they may in themselves exhibit a kind of image of the Divine Providence, guardianship, goodness, benevolence, and justice. And let them constantly keep the additional thought in view, that if a curse is pronounced on him that “does the work of the Lord deceitfully” a much heavier curse must lie on him who deals deceitfully in a righteous calling. Therefore, when Moses and Jehoshaphat would urge their judges to the discharge of duty, they had nothing by which they could more powerfully stimulate their minds than the consideration to which we have already referred, – “Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgement. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons nor taking of gifts,” (2 Chron. 19: 6, 7, compared with Deut. 1: 16, &c.) And in another passage it is said, “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods,” (Psalm 82: 1; Isaiah 3: 14,) that they may be animated to duty when they hear that they are the ambassadors of God, to whom they must one day render an account of the province committed to them. This admonition ought justly to have the greatest effect upon them; for if they sin in any respect, not only is injury done to the men whom they wickedly torment, but they also insult God himself, whose sacred tribunals they pollute. On the other hand, they have an admirable source of comfort when they reflect that they are not engaged in profane occupations, unbefitting a servant of God, but in a most sacred office, inasmuch as they are the ambassadors of God (Institutes 4.20.6.)

Is it simply because Prof. Clark doesn’t confess that? Perhaps so, yet it is strange for him to quote Calvin so selectively while suggesting that some of his readers haven’t done basic reading on the subject. If his readers haven’t done basic reading, he should be more careful to provide them with a complete picture.

7. What Does VanDrunen’s Book Suggest?

Prof. Clark wrote:

4. I say “demonstrably” because anyone who has bothered to read David VanDrunen’s book (see above) on the question of the history of the two-kingdoms ethic could see that there’s nothing novel about this way of analyzing the relations between church and civil life or between Christ and culture more broadly.

I’m not sure whether there’s nothing novel in what Kline did with Vos’ groundwork, but we don’t really need to go there. Certainly the Escondido view of the two kingdoms is in fundamental disagreement with Calvin’s Institutes (4:20), the Westminster Confession of Faith (23:3), Belgic Confession (Art. 36), 39 Articles (Art. 37), and the Second Helvetic Confession (Ch. 30). This is not something like geocentrism, but is rather something that the Reformed creeds generally taught.

8. What’s So Extreme?

Prof. Clark wrote:

I have no idea what TF means when he says “extreme.” It seems like more question begging. It’s true that VanDrunen and others are seeking to apply the two-kingdoms distinction in a post-theocratic setting but it’s hard to see how that’s radical unless one wants to go back to a pre-1789 status. In such a case, who is the radical here, those seeking to work within the status quo or those seeking a theocracy?

At least here Prof. Clark acknowledged that he had no idea what I meant. He then went on to suggest that the comment was question-begging, but at least he started from acknowledging that he did not know.

I provided some clue as to what I meant by extreme: “as extreme a view of the two kingdoms as Darryl Hart or others who are associated with Westminster West” (emphasis added). Darryl Hart (author of Secular Faith) has indicated that he does not believe that the Bible norms the civil magistrate. He specifically wrote:

If the Bible reveals a set of standards that are required of the government, and if Christians believe the Bible, then they have an obligation to make sure that their state follows the Bible.

I don’t understand how the Bible functions as the norm for both civil society and the church and yet you can have women barred from office in the latter but not the former. Is not the state bound to conform to biblical norms? f not, why not. Just because the state applies biblical law with the sword, doesn’t mean that the law is not in effect. Remember John Knox? On biblical grounds he was not real pleased with queens running affairs in England or Scotland. Ever heard of the Baylys who regularly claim, on biblical grounds, that women should not hold public office?

In which case, you have your own fancy footwork for separating the norms of the church and the state but it is riddled with a major inconsistency — namely, that the Bible is the norm for the state but it is not really the norm for the state, or only the norm on the matters on which you say it counts. Please tell me how I too may become pope.

if the Bible requires rule by elders, why doesn’t the state have elders? You simply keep peeling off another layer of the onion.

The reason why this is important is because 2k is constantly criticized for not advocating biblical morality or biblical norms in public. Well, now you, who are not 2k, tell me that it is okay for the state not to be ruled by elders. But that means that the state doesn’t have to follow Scripture. So it’s okay if you say the state doesn’t have to follow the Bible, but not if I do it. Huh?

But again, if you think the Bible is the norm for the state on murder, why isn’t the Bible the norm for the state on worship (i.e. religious freedom or lack thereof), or on which sex gets to rule. I am baffled at a hermeneutic that allows you to pick and choose from Scripture which norms apply to the state, unless, of course, that hermeneutic is convenience.

(source – comment box here)

I consider that extreme or radical in at least two ways. The first way is that it takes the principle of the two kingdoms and extends it too far. There is a difference between church and state, but Hart’s approach takes that difference and extends it to an extreme. The second way is that it is outside the bounds of even the revised Westminster standards. The denial that the Bible norms the civil magistrate logically involves a denial that the Scriptures teach what the revised Westminster standards say are the duties of the magistrate.

9. Missing the Point

The point of my post was two-fold: (1) to point out to my reader (who had the question) the easy resolution of the matter; and (2) to highlight the fact that on the other hand such material would seemingly be unwelcome in the pulpit. I think that Prof. Clark actually accepted these. His comment, “I discuss things here that, as a minister, I would not discuss from the pulpit,” suggests he agrees (violently) with my comment: “I think most are ok with that – as long as he doesn’t use the pulpit for those political comments.”

There was also an additional point or two lurking in the shadows. Is the Escondido position that the Bible teaches that the Civil Magistrate ought to give people religious liberty or not? If so, it looks like (according to that position) the Bible norms the Civil Magistrate at least that far. Moreover, if the Bible teaches it, it is hard to see why it would not be proper subject matter for the pulpit. Or is it the Escondido position that the Bible does not teach that the Civil Magistrate ought to give people religious liberty, but that the light of nature does teach it?

10. Unanswered Questions

And it seems, after reading Prof. Clark’s reply, that he has left the important questions of the original article unanswered. Those questions were these:

This, however, would create an odd tension. Why? Because the Westminster Standards (in the American revision) as well as the Belgic Confession (in the American Revision) call for the civil magistrate to protect God’s church. Yet, the duties of the civil magistrate are always a political matter.

So, can the church speak to political issues or not? Or is there an exception for certain political matters and not others? If there are exceptions, it starts to look like the prohibition on political speech by the church is ad hoc. And if the church can speak to political issues, then why are the Escondido folks so upset when people like the Bayly brothers preach sermons on highly politicized topics like abortion?


P.S. If Prof. Clark should desire to hold me accountable to the appropriate elders for my words, I’m more than happy to provide him with their names and contact information – I believe I’ve already previously offered to give him my name, so long as he keeps it confidential.

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