How Scott Clark is Unconfessional

Scott Clark takes on “legal preaching” and the “good fellows” of Moscow here. As I read through his post, I am struck by how unconfessional his basic approach is. He dissects legal preachers and preaching, and he does so while by-passing the confessions entirely.

He objects to the following sorts of errors. The legal preacher “majors in” the law, and he does so “to the neglect of” the gospel. But how can a man know whether he has fallen into this error? Clark began his post by insisting that the law must be preached in its first and third uses. So in order to be confessional, a man must preach law more than 0% of the time, but less than . . . what? What are the margins? Clark says that it is not enough to “every so often” mention “grace and faith.” Okay, so what is the threshold past which I am not doing it “every so often”?

Since the confessions don’t tell us how many yards of law to use, or how many pounds of grace must be included, this means that we cannot judge on the basis of touchy-feely emphases. And so this drives Clark to insist that such an error must be found in a corrupt intent of the preacher’s heart, or as Clark put it, “he isn’t really enamored with the gospel.”

Now the fact that I agree with all three uses of the law, and I agree with them in the standard and ordinary way, without fooling about with definitions or anything, and can still be tagged as a “legal preacher” is interesting. This can only be done if Clark peers into my heart, and finds out that I am “not enamored” with the gospel. The most striking thing about this approach is how unconfessional an approach it is. Pietists can discern the thoughts and intents of somebody else’s heart at 50 yards, but confessionalists?

In the old fashioned world I live in, the way you would demonstrate someone to be unconfessional would be by pointing out that the confession says “x,” and the unconfessional guy says “no, no, not x.”

Say, for example, a preacher refuses to say from the pulpit that the civil magistrate has a responsibility to ensure that “the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed” (WCF 23.3). He refuses to say anything like that because he disagrees with all that stuff, and because he teaches at Westminster West. That really would be unconfessional, and it would be fair to say that it was unconfessional because that is how confessions work — with words, affirmed or denied.

But let us pretend that Clark affirmed that he did actually believe the Confession at this point. And then suppose I called him unconfessional anyway because I didn’t think he meant it deep down in his heart. Now what? Well, somebody should point out that my heart-reading is probably about as accurate as one of those bad-lip-reading videos, and that my reading of hearts like this is about as unconfessional a way of proceeding as you can imagine.

Having said this, let me return to the general problem that Clark identifies. I can agree with him here — I know what that kind of suffocating preaching sounds like. The third use of the law places applications, like nails that hold the board up. A bumbling use of the law creates a heavy blanket over the congregation that is entirely exhausting. All exhortation makes Jack a dull boy.

But I can only agree here because I think “high confessionalism” is not all of life, and when attempted, it ends, as I have argued above, with a functional rejection of the confessions at the very place where confessions were designed to operate.

I entirely agree that it is our job to preach Christ, and not our petty moralistic lists.

“And it is undoubtedly a chief defect in the sermons even of evangelical pulpits, that there is not enough of Christ in them . . . Flavel was right: ‘The excellency of a sermon lies in the plainest discoveries and liveliest applications of Jesus Christ’” (Fish, Power in the Pulpit, p. 6).

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  • Toby Wilson

    Good words, Pastor. This is the same Scott Clark who can’t read the first 11 chapters of Genesis, right? If a fellow can’t read Genesis, he sure as shootin’ can’t make good sense of the WCF.

  • Andre’

    What ever happened to preaching the texts as they are? In Carrick’s book, a book I thoroughly enjoyed, that is what he suggests. He highlights the different aspects, emphases, or tones, (indicative, imperative, exclamative and so on) as they appear within the Scriptures and gives examples through the sermons of other faithful preachers. Approaching everything through a “grid” regardless of the “grid” is exhausting and not required. Major where the author majored. That doesn’t mean that I can’t apply as a preacher, but spend more of your time understanding the author’s thought process and the main point that he was driving at when he wrote. Isn’t that the beauty and tremendous benefit of expositional preaching, you get a healthy and well-balanced diet. And by well-balance I don’t mean 50% Law and 50% Grace, I mean I get encouragement, hope, challanged, a better picture of myself…the church…and the world around me; according to the text that is before and as I pray and shepherd God’s people.

  • george

    Great stuff pastor Wilson! I am still waiting for Clark to take you up on your invitation…

    I was wondering if your former colleague words might apply to him and his overall ministry of scorn and screed as well… Clark IS A GNOSTIC.

    “Almost every aspect of modern Christianity assumes that the faith is first and foremost a set of ideas to be believed. That’s it. Sure, we encourage some marginal action on the side, but that’s not truly important, not central. Our worship is primarily about explaining and singing ideas, our schools focus on transferring ideas, our evangelism spreads our ideas, our apologetic tries to persuade others of ideas, community means chatting with people who share our ideas, our entry into heaven requires holding the right ideas in our heads. In centuries past, this strange obsession with ideas simply went by the name of Gnosticism – the ancient heresy that ideas and intellect are more important than bodies and people and actually doing something. We even have a safe, approved word to hide our new Gnosticism – worldview.
    “Many Christian traditions have spent the last few decades fine-tuning what it means to have a Christian worldview. It seems to be all we’re good at. Notice that viewing can take place at a nice, safe distance. You don’t need to be involved or get your hands dirty. It would just be awkward to call it Christian worldsmell or worldtouch. Those would require closeness and bodies. We just want a Christian set of ideas, and sight has long served as a favorite sense of Gnostics throughout history” (Dismissing Jesus pp 45-46)

  • Andrew Lohr

    Clark says the legal preacher can hardly think of any sins of his own to confess? Hmmmm, it might not hurt Moscow to confess more than it does, but my pietistic heart fails to discern this particular flaw in Moscow’s heart. I assume, subject to correction, (1) that pastor Doug prays the general confession along with the group he serves, and (2) that, without obsessing over them, he has one or two specifics of his own in mind when he does so. Also (3) that he deals with his own specifics in due course. QED he’s not a legal preacher??

  • Ryan Collins

    Scott Clark needs to put the keyboard to rest and start debating. Why is he so hesitant to have a debate (let alone a recorded conversation) with you, Pastor Wilson?

  • jay niemeyer

    Great Scott! Clark has got to be the most hair-brained judge of the ministry and teaching of Doug Wilson since… well, Scott Clark!

    Suppose somebody simply quoted a measure of Scripture – and nothing else – every Sunday from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.
    I wonder just how much direct emphasis one would find on “The Gospel” proper. How many words would Mr Clark find devoted to Justification compared to – well, the rest of God’s Word?
    We know that the entire panoply of the Word is to be interpreted in light of “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified”; but my goodness, there is a lot that our Lord put in there besides just the Gospel proper and justification, isn’t there?

    Be that as it may, every Sunday, Pastor Wilson provides for his congregation an exhortation and invitation before we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
    I invite you, Mr Clark, to look through them all -
    – and if mere repetition provides so much weight toward your astonishing ability to discern a minister’s heart, I suppose you’ll find you’ve sorely misjudged a man enamored of Jesus and the grace provided in His glorious Gospel.

  • Randy Compton

    Interesting quotation as Clark rips into his target audience here: “In his application he presses them as to whether they really believe it enough and whether they’ve really obeyed God. Is God really pleased with them? He doesn’t want them to become lazy or presumptuous. We all know what the gospel is. In our age what we need to do is to get busy applying the Scriptures to everyday life and getting after the hard work of obedience and sanctification.”

    What strikes me is that Clark must be applying some “law” here as he seems to indicate that the people he is describing are not pleasing God–at least I assume that he would say that they are not–so in order to get these folks to preach more gospel and change their wicked,controlling ways, he has to lay into them with law–some sort of standard they are not meeting. Maybe I misunderstand his point, but it seems strange to have to make the point he seems to want to make in such a condemning way. His whole approach seems to me to undercut his main point.

  • katecho

    R Scott Clark is still operating under his initial misunderstanding of FV. The central problem is the question of apostasy. Prominent names in FV desire to take John 15 at face value and argue that covenant people must abide in Christ or be broken out like fruitless branches and cast into the fire. FV proponents are careful to repeatedly distinguish that such would be an example of historical apostasy from covenant union with Christ (as happened with many “elect” Hebrews in the old covenant, 1Cor10:1-12), not apostasy from the number ordained to eternal life (which remains fixed by God’s decree). However, R Scott Clark seems constitutionally incapable of parsing the meaning of such a distinction. Mustering his full powers of ready-fire-aim and condemnation by first-impression, Clark insists that any real possibility of apostasy requires that FV must be asserting that: 1) the eternal decrees of God are mutable, and 2) that believers have to maintain their salvation by works. Clark refuses to amend his original blunder and simply digs in deeper when challenged. ————————————————————————————-

    So if you are sitting in your confession-cave in Westminster West, stewing about those apostasy-believers in Moscow (those who are busy maintaining their salvation by works), then you just know automatically what kind of anti-grace sermons that Doug must be preaching to them. They must be law-sermons on how to maintain their salvation by works. Ironically this is actually how Clark understands that people were saved before the new covenant, namely by their works. For example, Adam was saved in the garden, by his meritorious works. (Clark vehemently denies that grace could have had meaning or application before the Fall.)

    Now can you see how guilty Doug must be to the charge of preaching too much law? See how obviously it follows from Clark’s presuppositions?

  • J

    If Clark is under the impression that Doug is preaching to much law then that must mean he has been listening to his sermons a lot…and he probably did it in secret…which would obviously hint at him actually like them. Conclusion: Scott Clark actually has a secret obsession with Doug Wilson that clearly cannot be allowed due to societal restraints therefore this obsession manifests itself in slanderous articles. ;-)

  • LeRoy E. Miller

    Clark is very anti pietist, so, your comment about pietism was deliciously delightful. I love seeing my anti pietists act like pietists.

    I also love how they ignore that pietism was an attempt to bring Reformed piety into Lutheran State Churches without bringing in Reformed theology.

  • Rob Steele

    I read SC’s post as kind of passive-aggressive. The things he deplores are bad but he only sort of by the way flings out at Moscow and doesn’t really name names, marshal evidence, or even make specific charges. It’s probably best to ignore it. The problem with reading other people’s hearts, especially from a distance, is that we mostly end up reading a projection of our own hearts.

  • Ron Smith

    If Clark had it his way, there would have been no protestant reformation.