R. Scott Clark and “Reformed”
I speak often on this blog of the need to be accurate in one’s representation of others. As a sinner living in a fallen world, I fail my own standards, though not on purpose, to be sure. I seek to honor Christ by accurately representing those I oppose in debate, whether I consider the “other side” to be my fellow believers, or to be lost, even enemies of God’s truth.
It strikes me that especially when we are discussing theological differences between believers, accuracy is important. How many times have I documented the most ridiculous misrepresentations of the Reformed position by famous Arminians? The number of straw-man arguments I have documented on the part of Norman Geisler, Ergun Caner, Dave Hunt, etc., is legion.
One of the oddest areas of constant straw-man argumentation that is very troubling to me, and very surprising as well, arises when I engage my dear Presbyterian brothers in the inevitable discussion of baptism. I have debated the subject a number of times, though, always at the invitation of others, never at my own instigation. When I have prepared for these debates (in particular, those of the most recent past, with Pastor Bill Shishko in New York, and with Gregg Strawbridge shortly thereafter on The Dividing Line) I have taken the time to listen carefully to the other side, and seek, as best I can, to accurately represent it. I listened to over 20 hours of Pastor Shishko’s lectures on baptism. I have obtained the primary works on baptism published by the great Presbyterian scholars of the past, and of today, including that edited by Gregg Strawbridge. As with all of my debates, but even more so here since I am dealing with fellow believers, brothers in Christ, I seek to enter into their own understanding of the subject as accurately as possible.
But it is just here that I have seen—over and over again—an odd, but not unusual, phenomenon. My dear brothers will stand with me in defending the great doctrines of the faith, and we will stand arm in arm in using sound principles of exegesis and argumentation. But when it comes to this one, single topic—the baptism of their infants—all of a sudden the hermeneutic changes, and arguments are used that would never, ever be used in any other context. And, most troubling, in the vast majority of instances, my Presbyterian brethren refuse to hear the specifically covenantal argumentation I, as a Reformed Baptist, present. It is almost as if it is impossible for them to believe that someone who sees and accepts God’s covenantal actions over time could possibly reject the conclusions they have reached since the days of Calvin. Sadly, as a result, many of these men choose to ignore the distinctions that clearly exist amongst Baptists on this topic, sometimes, to their shame, I believe, broad-brushing us all with the “Anabaptist” brush, hoping to impugn us with the specter of Munster! Such an action is reprehensible at its best, but sadly, I have experienced it numerous times.
A few days ago Micah Burke commented on R. Scott Clark’s regular practice of defining “Reformed” on the sole basis of the objects of baptism. That is, Dr. Clark, a professor at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, California, does not believe a credobaptist can ever be called “Reformed,” effectively transferring the primary weight of “Reformed” from the great central doctrines of the gospel, the sovereign power of God, the perfection of the work of Christ, the resulting emphasis upon worship, Scriptural authority and sufficiency, etc., to the single issue of covenantal signs upon infants. The result is that Clark is forced to identify as “Reformed” the liberal Presbyterians and others who continue to practice infant baptism as “Reformed” while denying the term to those who stand closest to him in the key areas just noted. Of course, it is his right to do so, just as it is my right to respond.
In any case, Dr. Clark replied to Micah’s comments, and as the conversation proceeded, I was taken aback by his assertions. Once again I was confronted with a leading scholar who clearly has not taken the time to actually listen to the other side. I see no evidence of his ever having entered into what it is that specifically Reformed Baptists are saying, and sadly, given the rhetoric he produces, it seems to be due to tradition and nothing else. This troubles me, not just because I am a Reformed Baptist, but because I think it should trouble any follower of Christ. For example, out of the blue, Dr. Clark writes,
As a consequence, we regard our children as Christians and as baptized persons. Baptists, of course, do not regard our children as Baptized persons nor do they regard those of us who’ve not been re-baptized as Baptized persons!
That’s a huge matter. According to the Baptists I’m not a Christian. That’s no small thing.
How could anyone make such an outrageous statement? I truly hope this is a terrible typographical error, but given that Mr. Burke replied to this, and refuted it, and Dr. Clark did not identify it as an error, it is hard to see how this could be. Dr. Clark could not possibly be so far removed from his contacts with his Reformed Baptist brethren as to think they say he is not a Christian! This kind of rhetoric is simply incomprehensible from someone in his position, and it surely does not assist in communication and understanding.
But the statement by Dr. Clark that attracted my attention most specifically was this: Continue reading