WWDED? (Defenders of Edwards)

So here I am, a revived Reformed Protestant, sitting in an average Presbyterian worship service and I am not comfortable. Granted, they are singing hymns and so not guilty of that strange insistence on psalm-singing that plagued Calvin and Knox. But these tunes and words just don’t resonate with my soul.

Then there is the long pastoral prayer. I know my good friend at church wishes the pastor would pray the “long” prayer after the service. He seems to think the pastor could apply the sermon better by praying for the needs of the congregation in light of what the sermon covered. My problem is that the prayer is too long and doesn’t use the language I use in my own quiet times. The pastor feels distant from me and the way I approach God.

And the sermon itself is way too long on exposition and short on application and relevance. I get it that we need to enter into the world of the human authors and their audiences. But I have my needs and the pastor really could do a better job of bringing it down to the sort of temptations and problems I face.

But the biggest problem is the lack of emotion and energy in the service. This place is way too laid back. Talk about God’s frozen chosen. This worship needs to go up tempo, with room for the people to express their own feelings of joy, sorrow, gratitude, and praise. Why not let a praise band lead us in more vibrant songs? Why not let members of the congregation pray? And why not have some testimonies? This service is far too remote from my own experience of God and the way I express my trust in him.

So it looks like I’ll be heading down the street to the non-denominational church where the worship is far more compatible with the way I know and love God.

Okay, maybe I don’t have the logic and feelings quite right, but I’d bet that millions of Americans have left Reformed churches precisely with objections like these. And this would-be kvetch illustrates precisely the problem with efforts to balance the subjective and the objective in Reformed piety. When Edwards’ defenders talk about the need for more emotion or love or affections, and they worry about the dangers of formalism, then how do they respond to a believer like this? We are not talking about the ordo salutis. We are not talking about individual experience in relation to effectual calling, or the place of love in sanctified obedience. We are talking about something as basic as Lord’s Day worship: when people get a strong dose of experience, they invariably want that experience affirmed and empowered in worship.

The Old Life answer is – surprise – take the objective highway to true religion: worshipers really should have their private piety conform more to public worship. They should let the nature and cadence of prayers, the exposition of Scripture, and the idiom and content of hymns (preferably psalms) inform the way they express their own devotion, even in the hot and congested confines of their prayer closet.

If we don’t ask church members to conform their personal experience to corporate devotion, they we are walking with the time bomb of charismatic members putting a lid on it in Sunday worship.

And people wonder I stress the objective or why the subjective looks so threatening. Do they have a clue about the worship wars and who won?


68 thoughts on “WWDED? (Defenders of Edwards)

  1. “When Edwards’ defenders talk about the need for more emotion or love or affections, and they worry about the dangers of formalism, then how do they respond to a believer like this?”

    Well, although I’m not a defender of Edwards, I reckon that you may (at least partly) be talking about someone like me, so this — http://opc.org/nh.html?article_id=607 — is how I try to answer.


  2. Larry, thanks for the link. I agree almost entirely. But I was struck in rereading the piece of how often you used “vital.” This is an important consideration. If the faith of a mustard seed can move a mountain, then can’t even bored worship be “vital”? That is, we enter worship as both saint and sinner, as vital and cold. But some vitality is always there even if the affections are running English. My concern is that we keep telling people their worship needs to be vital. Why can’t it be ordinary? Why isn’t ordinary good enough?


  3. Quite right, Darryl. That article was my attempt to answer someone like your hypothetical “revived Reformed Protestant.” I was trying to tell him that worship that is *genuinely* vital — alive and life-giving — is worship that looks to the Lord in faith, even mustard seed sized faith, by diligently using the outward and ordinary means of grace.

    But sometimes it’s the case that our “revived Reformed Protestant” *had* been guilty of drawing near to God with his lips while his heart was far away from God. God has granted him repentance. But now he mistakenly thinks that what he had been guilty of us precisely what “traditional” or “ordinary” worship is, and that that is precisely what “old lifers” advocate. He needs to be disabused of that as well.


  4. Darryl

    Are you really serious in all of this?

    Are we often, if not usually, particularly in coming into worship, cold, dull, and lifeless spiritually? I think that we characteristically are.

    Is this a condition that we want to remain in? Do we not, in drawing near, find our hearts warmed? Does this not manifest itself differently in different people? Absolutely. Some people show little outwardly but this does not mean that they lack joy, reverence, awe, etc.

    Paul makes it clear in I Corinthians 13:1-3 that one may manifest the most striking gifts, faith, sacrifices, etc. and yet lack love and miss the matter altogether. What does that mean? My argument is not that one must come to worship or experience in worship some sort of particularly fervent emotions or affections. But one’s heart is to be stirred to love, a love that is the fruit of saving faith and yields good works. A love full of devotion to God and a desire to serve one’s fellow.

    How do we praise God with cold hearts? We do it, don’t we, all the time, and in the process of doing it discover afresh love for God and neighbor. Not always, but the goal is not to remain cold, which is another way of saying indifferent or uncaring, but to be full of praise and adoration for our God. This is not enthusiasm, esctasy, or anything else, but ordinary Christian experience–yours and mine!

    All of this is to say that I want not only to praise God outwardly but inwardly. Just like I want to love my wife and children both outwardly and inwardly. If we only have the outward, we might end up like the resentful elder brother who serves in the Father’s house but whose heart is never in it and who cannot abide the Father’s forgiveness of the prodigal. None of us want that.

    That’s why I ask, “Do you really mean to suggest that mere formalism is perfectly OK and need not be combatted?”


  5. “The Old Life answer is – surprise – take the objective highway to true religion: worshipers really should have their private piety conform more to public worship. They should let the nature and cadence of prayers, the exposition of Scripture, and the idiom and content of hymns (preferably psalms) inform the way they express their own devotion, even in the hot and congested confines of their prayer closet.”

    Bingo. While probably not a favorite of Old Lifers, the Book of Common Prayer accomplishes that very thing with its services of Daily Morning Prayer and Daily Evening Prayer – services that also form, at least historically, the backbone of Lord’s Day worship.


  6. I agree with Kane. My daily devotions are a modification of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer (1979). I’ve taken to singing the psalm for the day and read all 3 appointed readings. This follows the pattern of Sunday worship where I worship. Sunday worship there is “vital” without being formal or emotional. The liturgy sets the pace. The Lord’s Table culminates the service and we are reminded again of Christ’s work for us.

    We also have a contemporary service which I don’t particularly like for various reasons. One of the reasons probably is that the leaders try to pull emotions out of the congregation, rather than letting them flow.

    Formalism is always a danger no matter how the service is structured. Worship leaders and congregation both have bad days. It is important to pray as did the psalmist: Lord, open our hearts that our lips may show forth your praise.


  7. So Alan, it’s come to this? “Mere formalism?” As if formalism wasn’t bad enough, now we need to add mere to it? I feel a broad brush.

    Come on, you are defending Edwards and departing from him as quickly as you can because you know that Edwards won’t hold. You have to qualify all the emotions and affections in all sorts of Old Side ways. But you are resolute that the New Side was on the right side. Huh?

    I’m not defending formalism. I’m not defending mere formalism. I am defending the Christian who goes to worship and says Lord I believe, help my unbelief. I don’t see a lot of room for unbelief in Edwards or his progeny. The charge of mere formalism is supporting evidence. If you defend some kind of formality, then you are defending coldness.

    And yes, I am serious with the post. Have you not been paying attention during the worship wars. This imaginary quotation is precisely the logic that has either led people away from Reformed churches or has altered sensible Reformed worship. When will you concede that antiformalism is more of a problem in our culture and our churches than formalism? Can you say Osteen? Can you say Oprah? Is there a Nevin-like figure that resonates with so many moderns? Jim Jordan? Huh?


  8. Larry: I don’t know what this means: “But now he mistakenly thinks that what he had been guilty of us precisely what “traditional” or “ordinary” worship is, and that that is precisely what “old lifers” advocate. He needs to be disabused of that as well.”


  9. Certainly I have seen long-term Presbyterians leave for somewhat shallow and silly churches and wondered why. My best guess: they see their Reformed Presbyterian church as one evangelical church among others; a little smarter, a little more picky, but ultimately just one tent on the evangelical campground. But what do the big tents on the evangelical campground have in common? It’s not doctrine, but, rather, a core of lingo, culture, politics, fluid worship and experiential religion. We can’t out-evangelical the big church down the road, and haven’t sufficiently distinguished ourselves from it. So they leave, plausibly with the kind of thoughts Darryl sets forth above.

    DGH, I don’t think I have an adequate understanding of your remedy: “worshipers really should have their private piety conform more to public worship. They should let the nature and cadence of prayers, the exposition of Scripture, and the idiom and content of hymns (preferably psalms) inform the way they express their own devotion, even in the hot and congested confines of their prayer closet.” Would you expand on this a bit?


  10. Darryl

    I am not sure how profitable this has become as I am not sure that we are successfully communicating. I have acknowledged that antiformalism is a big problem in the broader evangelical church in this country. And even in our own churches (New Life).

    But I have also maintained that in liturgical churches like ours in the OPC (all are not so liturgical, I admit that as well), formalism is one of the sort of things that threaten us. Think of your own local church–a fine church. It is not likely that people in your church would be anti-formal, i.e., rejecting that God ordinarily communicates His grace to us through the appointed means.

    It is more likely that one of the problems of your congregation, or mine, is that we are tempted to rest in the outward forms and neglect the inward reality. All that I am saying, Darryl, is that the outward forms are to be heartily inwardly embraced. I have acknowledged that anti-formalism is a problem in some corners (even more than formalism). Can you not acknowledge that formalism is a possible problem in our churches that are tradtional and employ a historic Reformed liturgy? That was the point of Bavinck and Duncan.


  11. I’ve been in the OPC now for several years (more than 5). It has recently come to my attention that my understanding of religion has been all head and no heart. I would say that I was a sinner, and ask God to forgive my sins, but this was always general, not, as the Confession states, particular. I didn’t want to think about particular sins of mine. It just didn’t seem to matter. I thought the moment of silent prayer after the reading of the law was stupid, and mocked it calling it “quiet time”. I thought that what a sermon was supposed to do was tell me how the passage is testifying to Jesus Christ, his person and work. Tell me a story about redemptive history, and I can sit here and marvel at the literary complexity of Scripture. But I’m not interested in being confronted with my sin, so don’t tell me about that. Let’s just hear about how cool the Bible is and how intricate and beautiful the story is, and I’ll go home and do whatever until I come back tonight and we can do it all again.

    I cannot speak to the scope of the problem of formalism in the OPC. I can only say that in my case, I fell for it. I don’t blame the OPC for it, because it was in the OPC that I discovered my error, and I remain in the OPC, seeking to correct it. So I have only me to blame for my formalism. The cure for my formalism wasn’t leaving the OPC or abandoning formality, but repentance.

    I think my own problem with formalism stems from an overcorrection against the overly emotional/experiential form of Christianity I began my life with. Joining the OPC was nice because it meant I didn’t have to cry to get assurance of salvation, that I could look outside myself instead of inside myself. What a relief! The problem, as I now see it, is that I stopped looking inside myself at all. No self examination whatsoever. Since the proper basis of my assurance of salvation is outside of me, I thought, nothing inside of me matters at all.

    My identity as a Christian was, “I’m not a charismatic anymore”. Emotionalism was my big enemy, and as long as that enemy was defeated, everything was fine. Of course, that left me vulnerable to the other enemies that surround us on every side. I became unbalanced because my focus was imbalanced.

    Perhaps, then, if formalism is your big enemy, you will end up being a pietist. Perhaps if pietism is your big enemy, you’ll end up a formalist.

    And perhaps if dispensationalism is your big enemy, you’ll shy away from saying that the Mosaic administration is a typological covenant of works. And perhaps if Norm Shepherd is your big enemy, that will make you nervous.

    Perhaps if your big enemy is the American mindset that says, “newer is better”, you’ll end up saying, “older is better” and romanticizing some period of church history. And if the romanticizers are what raises your hackles, perhaps you’ll embrace progress for progress’ sake.

    It seems to me that the best way to be balanced is to stop worrying about the imbalance in others to the point of defining yourself as one who has corrected their imbalance. At least, that strikes me as being wise. Unfortunately, I’m not yet wise enough to figure out how to do that. More than likely, I’m going to now go on to define myself as one who has corrected my own imbalance, and I’ll swing the pendulum too far in the opposite direction and get imbalanced again, wretched sinner that I am.


  12. Alan, you have been a tad slow to recognize here the problem of anti-formalism (even in our circles) and you are still holding on to a rosy view of the First Pretty Good Awakening, in my opinion. I’d like to come to detente by conceding a problem with formalism but I don’t like the terms of the agreement — it is still on decidedly pietistic lines as in “heartily inwardly embraced.” Why all the adverbs? Why isn’t faith good enough? Why the pressing demand that people really, really believe and show that they believe?

    I acknowledge the problem of the human heart. It is dark and will abuse psalms and praise-songs, long pastoral prayers and extemporaneous small group prayer. We cannot see the human heart. We can see which forms conform best to biblical truth and we can encourage people to attend to them faithfully. But if we keep asking people if they really feel it, we are going to create a caste system in our churches where the pietists are considered more godly than the stiff and tight-lipped.

    As I say, wearing it on your sleeve is a danger in our churches and in the culture at large. If Christians are going to be salt and light, formalism may be an item to put high on the list.


  13. OPC Guy, and what’s the way to correct the imbalance of anonymity. If you can go on so long about your experience, how about identifying your name? If not, the comment gets deleted.


  14. OPC Guy

    Well put and getting at just the kind of thing that I am talking about. We all have to “get over getting over” this or that from our past. This is part of what it means to grow in grace and in wisdom. Thank you for an encouraging word.

    May you, our host, and all of us enjoy a day in the Lord’s house in which we glorify and enjoy the triune God, seeing our sin, seeing our savior and enjoying a time of refreshing in Him.


  15. Actually I think if the question in the original post is being asked, that church is on the right track. I disagree with one of the subsequent posts – following what seems to be a “formalist” liturgy will necessarily make that church look very different than the non-denominational church down the street – that is, a simple reliance on the means of grace including prayer, the Word, and the sacraments rightly administered should be enough for a believer (and a non-believer!) to tell the difference between those churches.


  16. FWIW, I don’t think formalism is necessarily dangerous nor do I think it hinders the experiential or good works. There are so many safeguards and treasures in confessional liturgical worship services and careful catechesis that I could go on ad infinitum.

    I think the problem is us. The means of grace are not being defended and taught as the only pure well to drink from. Doctrine, catechesis, and ordered worship are not being seen as life-giving treasures that they are. The law is not preached in all it’s sternness with the gospel preached in all it’s sweetness. We do not want the unglamorous experience of a slow, humble process growing in grace and being dependent upon God to give us growth. We do not want to learn the language of the church and the theologically dense hymns are seen as too difficult to understand and too difficult to sing. We don’t want to learn about heresy and how we repeat history. No, it’s all too rote, too boring, too non-spontaneous, and too stifling for heartfelt response.

    We want sermons and music that make us feel like we experienced God. We want Miracle-Gro results and experiential highs that we can measure, quantify, and reproduce every Sunday. We do not want to hear about the dangers of seeking experiences. We want subjective, individualistic, experiential Christianity. We don’t like limits, boundaries, and being under authority. Indeed, since we are American consumers, we want to be in control and we want what we want – now! We dismiss the wisdom of waiting upon God to receive what he chooses to give us in his timing. We dismiss the dangers in seeking experiences. The problem is us not formalism.

    As Dorothy Sayer aptly put it – the dogma is the drama. Give me the dogma and the patience to wait upon God to receive what he chooses to give each Sunday. His word accomplishes what he sends it to do and it’s not always what we think. His ways are not our ways. His timing is not our timing. Truth be told, our experiences range from feeling like we’re walking on air to feeling like teflon not only from Sunday to Sunday, but in our daily lives as well. If we will let him, God will teach us to trust him and believe him no matter how we feel, no matter what we see in ourselves, no matter how dark the path ahead seems to be. We don’t like being weaned from our reliance on emotional experiences and we are always tempted to seek a way to manufacture experiences and fruit. It is good to remember that it is faith that pleases God not faith + experiences of good feelings. It is his work in us that produces the fruit of the Holy Spirit and it is his good pleasure to do it his way and in his timing. He has promised that we will have trials and tribulations. Sometimes, he lets us suffer from feeling as though he is absent or feeling like teflon for our own good, but he promises to work all things together for our good.

    American Christianity has been saturated with pietism since it’s beginning. It can be hard to see because we are surrounded by it. The history of pietism is long, complex, and worth learning about. The basics of pietism stay the same, it merely wears different disguises in each generation. There is a never ending battle against pietism’s desire to infiltrate orthodoxy and redefine it.

    It seems good to repeat two general warning signs of pietism:

    1. The importance of doctrine is downplayed and there is a strong emphasis on the lived Christian life (the sanctified moral life) at the expense of the confession of faith. We are not content with Christ for me (the alien righteousness). There has to be something more to TRUE Christianity. We want the invisible Christ in me (the sanctified life) to become manifest and visible for all to see. So… methods are developed to make emotional experiences, good works, and other such things identifiable and quantifiable. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. There are wrong ways to try to reform the church.

    2. There is a preemptive separation of the sheep and the goats (making distinctions that range from the overt to subtly implying that a REAL Christian has definable emotional experiences, quantifiable good works, identifiable Christian dispositions, and visible fruit of the Holy Spirit versus a nominal Christian). A caste system of two kinds of Christians develops and room for doubts, fears, struggles, suffering, and a seemingly un-victorious Christian life is edged out. There is pressure to prove that we are Christians by our emotional experiences, dispositions, and good works. Our life experiences begin to define the church rather than our confessions. We end up with a quasi-Christianity. Christ alone is no longer the answer to what ails the Pharisee who thinks he can live the Christian life or offered to the despairing sinner who knows he cannot live the Christian life. The definition of Christianity becomes Christ + the lived Christian life.

    Would you please direct me the deadest orthodox church in town, where God’s frozen chosen commune, and the dogma is the drama?


  17. DGH,

    wrt the Book of Common Prayer, you mentioned it in at least one lecture as being a possibility for our churches, and consistent with Calvin’s concerns about elders with varying skill in extemporaneous prayer. What do you make of the original Directory of Public Worship, especially, “Add hereunto that the Liturgy hath been a great means, as on the one hand to make and increase an idle and unedifying ministry, which contented itself with set forms made to their hands by others, without putting forth themselves to exercise the gift of prayer, with which our Lord Jesus Christ pleaseth to furnish all his servants whom he calls to that office”? Could any BoC revision address such a concern?

    OPC guy, point taken, but that criticism doesn’t address how anything that we do as embodied creatures happens as a form and can be formalistic, including your pentecostal background, silent prayer, and self-examination. RH sermons are also not about the Bible’s literary merits. There’s been a lot of work done to prevent that misunderstanding, though I can’t speak to exactly what you sat under.


  18. Thanks, David. Everything good in there is due to faithful pastors and I am grateful to them. Anything off-base is most naturally mine. 😉


  19. Mike K., the question is whether the directory is calling for extemporaneous prayers, and whether it’s stating that anyone called to the ministry must be capable of praying eloquently on moment’s notice. If it is, then the prayer book seems to be a non-starter. But that also means that a pastor who writes (or outlines) his own prayers is also faulty because he should be able to pray off the cuff — it must be added — in a way that is fitting for any public occasion (since praying privately is one thing, but leading others in prayer is another).

    So if writing prayers (or outlining them) is permissible, then I don’t see what is wrong with forms of prayer from a book of prayer. Separating out the question of the state telling state ministers what to say at certain parts of the service — funny how those who pine for Geneva or Edinburgh seem to forget that uniformity prevailed often among the Reformed pastors and what transpired in worship — the issue seems to be one of written prayers vs. extemporaneous prayers. I’ve heard many extemporaneous prayers that could have benefited from preparation.

    I would attribute this part of the directory to the Puritans’ battle with Canterbury over prescribed worship. In a voluntary church environment I don’t see how it makes much sense any more.


  20. Zrim, yesterday I wrote a post saying that you are absolutely right that pietism can also be a form of externalism, but sorry, somehow it got lost in cyberspace. But yours is a good point. “Formalism” can be “traditional” or “contemporary.” The problem is primarily one of the heart.

    Darryl, you say, “Larry: I don’t know what this means: ‘But now he mistakenly thinks that what he had been guilty of us precisely what “traditional” or “ordinary” worship is, and that that is precisely what “old lifers” advocate. He needs to be disabused of that as well.’” You’re right. That was kind of jumbled. Let me try again.

    But first, let me clarify that when I speak against “formalism,” I am not speaking against formality or order or ordinariness in worship; I am speaking against — as J. G. Vos put it — “that perversion of Christianity in which emphasis is placed upon the mere external observance of the ordinances of worship, while the heart remains unaffected by the power of godliness (2 Tim. 3:5). Formalism affects all churches, not only those with an elaborate ritualism, but also those which insist upon Scriptural purity of worship” .

    Now then, is this any more helpful? What if our “revived Reformed Protestant” *had* been guilty of drawing near to God with his lips while his heart was far away from God (in other words, “formalism”), but God has granted him repentance? Now, however, he is inclined to overreact. He is ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater. He mistakenly thinks that the “formalism” of which he had been genuinely guilty of is precisely what “traditional” or “ordinary” worship is; i.e., he mistakenly thinks that what you and I advocate is the sin of “formalism.” Accordingly, at the same time that we warn him against the revivalistic errors to which he is tempted, do we not also need to disabuse him of that wrong conception of biblically Reformed worship. We are not summoning him back to the “formalism” from which he is seeking to repent, are we? Rather, we are summoning him to genuine communion with the Triune God by faith through the means of grace, are we not?


  21. Larry, this helps but I still worry about where this lips vs. heart contrast leads. Did I do my best to attend to the means of grace today? No. So how far was I from God? And if I was far, what about the word that I did hear? Should I forget about that and worry about the distance between my heart and lips?

    Maybe you see my dilemma. Maybe TMI. But as sensible as it is to desire for a conformity of lips and heart, since we know it never — I mean Never — happens unless you are a Wesleyan or Pentecostal, then isn’t that gap always going to absorb our attention rather than attending to Christ and what he has done to wipe away the guilt that comes from hypocritical lips?

    I guess, what I’m asking in a nutshell is since we are all hypocrites, where is the tipping point? How much hypocrisy is so much that we need to get revived, awakened, quickened, really, really pious?

    My own sense is that Edwards, along with most pietsts, set the bar way too high (for piety) and low for hypocrisy.


  22. Hi Darryl,

    TMI? What does Three Mile Island have to do with it? (heh heh. just kidding). No, it’s not TMI. Instead, it’s time for me to shift gears. Now I say, “Welcome to the club.”

    When I teach communicant classes and membership classes, I often use a trick question to try to make an important point. I ask, “How strong does your faith have to be for Jesus to save you?” The answer I’m trying to get across is, “It’s not the strength of your faith that saves you; it’s the object of your faith who saves you.” It’s not a matter of degrees of faith or heartfelt sincerity, but rather a matter of looking to Jesus. Our faith doesn’t save us; Jesus does.

    So it is in worship, is it not? A faith that looks to Jesus, however feebly, by using the means of grace is not the same thing as “formalism.”

    The two worshippers in Luke 18:9-14 both went to the temple and prayed. But only one went away justified, the one who looked to the grace of God in Christ and not to himself, the sinner.

    In our circles, we preach the doctrine of total depravity. (We practice it too.) But how difficult we find it to admit our own helplessness. But isn’t that part of the remedy that our Lord Jesus prescribes, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev. 3:17-18)?

    It’s not our thinking or feeling or doing that tips that balance; it’s his doing and dying for us, thanks to the sheer grace of God!


  23. Larry

    You’ve made the point so well in these last two posts that I have been endeavoring to make.

    It’s the ism part in formalism that we ought to oppose. Formalism does not mean having forms but having forms in the way OPC Guy did without really seeing one’s own native wretchedness and misery.

    Seeing one’s sin and that Christ is the sole remedy–being poor in spirit, iow–is quite the opposite of formalism. Formalism is not bothering to see any of this because one simply takes for granted that being in the presence of the forms is sufficient.

    When we see how small our faith is that’s not formalism because we are appropriating the truth of our sin and need. How thankful we can be that smallest faith in Christ is saving because that which is saving is faith’s object: the person and work of Christ.

    I even make clear in a review of Nichol’s book on Edwards (almost 10 years ago) that Edwards must be read in context and not wrongly applied or we’ll end up navel-gazing and unable to deal with how sinful we really are. But every thinker should be taken properly in context and not simply rendered usable to make points (positive or negative) that others wish to make who have de-contextualized and then re-contextualized him.


  24. Re: “It’s the ism part in formalism that we ought to oppose.”

    Alan, may I politely point out that the OPC guy’s experience is not unique and that it happens in all flavors of churches with all kinds of forms? Stories abound of people sitting in churches for years and then God convicts them about going through the motions or they finally hear the gospel and receive salvation. I think you are swinging at a straw man. It is God’s pleasure to do his work, his way, and in his timing. Pax.


  25. Larry, thanks and agreed. But doesn’t the charge of dead orthodoxy or going through the motions generate introspection that looks away from Christ? Maybe the challenge is to pastor individual believers and challenge them through the normal channels of session oversight about inconsistencies between faith and practice. But even here I’m not sure any set of pastors and elders can profitably prompt a believer to see if he or she is a hypocrite without starting the introspection engine.


  26. I make no claim that OPC Guy’s experience is unique, Lily. How is my evocation of him a straw man?

    I agree perfectly with what you say in your post. All sorts of folk in all sorts of settings come to realize that of which you speak. That’s the important thing: to see what we need to see by God’s Spirit and not to content ourselves with outward forms, whether those forms be high or those of New Life. I agree that everybody has forms, even the anti-formalist, just as everyone has a creed, even those who reject creeds.

    My point in all this has been that formmalism is identifying the forms with that which the forms by the operation of the Spirit are meant to convey: the grace of God in Christ. My plea has been all along that resisting formalism is resisting turning means into ends. And in that respect I have been arguing that no one here really wants to defend formalism, though in the process it has been implied that I am a pietist. I have been called that elsehwere as well, merely for defending the need for a vital use of the means of grace. I find such ad hominem risible and simply an evasion of the inescapable point that we must never rest in formalism.


  27. Warm greetings, Darryl. I’m not defending pietism. Indeed, one reason I read this site is because I appreciate the challenges. But at the same time that I want to shuck off pietism, I also want to pursue true piety.

    So, is the real problem “introspection” (self-examination)? Is it not rather, as you say, “introspection that looks away from Christ”?

    The law uncovers our sin. It exposes to us the fact that we are even worse than we thought we were. The gospel assures us that God’s love for us never did and never will depend on us; and that where we keep failing, Jesus has succeeded for us. That sets us free to examine ourselves, not in a legal way to try to earn God’s love — which he freely lavishes on us in Christ — but in a gospel way, to show love to him in response. As WCF 19:6 (slightly paraphrased) puts it:

    “True believers are not under the law as a covenant of works to be thereby justified or condemned. Nevertheless, it is of great use to them — as well as to others — in that, as a rule of life informing them of God’s will and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly. It also discovers the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives so that, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions in that it forbids sin. And its threatenings also serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions they may expect for them in this life, even though they are freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. Its promises, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof — although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. So as, a man’s doing good and refraining from evil because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.”


  28. Alan,

    I checked my comment to you and could not see anyway that I accused you of pietism. This is a difficult subject to discuss via comment boxes. It would be so much easier if we could all be face to face.

    What I find impossible to understand is why formalism is seen as a danger of not being a “vital means of grace” (as you wrote) or “emotionless” (as some others write). I find confessional liturgical worship anything but those two things (as well as many others). Thus, I see the charges against formalism as baseless (a straw man). Aa far as I can tell, any form of worship can become misused and seen as a means to an end (eg: trusting in emotional experiences – as you are well, aware there are those who think if they don’t “feel” something then nothing happened, the service was useless, or a waste of time – they see emotions as a means of grace).

    One of the beauties of formalism is it’s consistent presentation of the gospel in it’s practice of liturgy, hymns, psalms, prayers, and confessions. The pastor can have a bad day or be a mediocre pastor and the means of grace have been clearly presented for all to hear and receive. Our faith in Christ alone is consistently taught and worked into the hearers through our practices. It also lessens the danger of celebrity pastors where people put their trust in the man over the Word. The ageless written prayers in our tradition have been carefully scrutinized and have great value in teaching us how to pray and their memorization by usage of them are used by God many times to remind us of things in our daily prayers. To condemn the form and fail to see the content is a mistake that needs to be corrected.

    People can go through the motions in any church service. People can misplace their trust in the forms of any church. The problem is not formalism. As Pogo would put it: “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.”

    As for pietism, not only do I believe it is wrong theologically, I’ve seen too many people’s faith torn to pieces by it to not take a stand against it. One problem with pietism is that the emphasis upon feeling emotions in worship services is as detrimental as the emphasis on feeling emotions for your spouse in a marriage. Many a divorce is based upon no longer feeling romantic love most of the time, so they conclude they fell out of love. They do not understand what love is.


  29. My plea has been all along that resisting formalism is resisting turning means into ends. And in that respect I have been arguing that no one here really wants to defend formalism…we must never rest in formalism.

    Alan, I think your points are all well taken. Like I’ve said, everybody wants heart and mouth to be linked up. But the standing counter point I think is worth repeating is that this just isn’t always the case and so consequently there has to be sane space made for the lingering hypocrisy and abiding sin. And it almost seems like the greater balance of responses here wants to deny we are hypocrites by making up for the gap between heart and mouth with a lot of adverbs. What’s wrong with confessing faith and pleading for help in our unbelief? It really seems to be that simple, and isn’t simplicity a Reformed virtue?

    I get the sense that when you say “formalism” you mean our institutional forms, not the revivalist or pietist forms. Fair enough. But from where I sit in Reformeddom, the danger really doesn’t seem to be that folks rest in the former. It seems to be that they reach for the latter in order as a way to avoid the dangers of the former. They put the revivalist hymnbook right next to the Psalter, as it were. But how is wiping a greasy nose with an oily rag really all that helpful? Some here may want to point to the FV as an example of over-correcting for informalism. But I happen to think FV is a Kool-Aid spill on the linoleum floor. Revivalism is vomit in the shag carpet. That’s not to diminish the errors of the FV. It’s to say that pietism and revivalism are the bigger dangers because they really have so infested Reformeddom over time that they have become largely acceptable. And I’m not sure you get the FV without revivalism.


  30. Lily, I by no means meant you when I said that it had been implied in this discussion that I am a pietist.

    Anyone who knows Larry or me would find the suggestion of pietism laughable. Larry was a primary architect of the new OPC Directory for Public Worship and teaches the MTIOPC course on Worship. He usually has the contemporary worship folk coming after him, if anyone. I teach Presbyterian polity both at my seminary and for MTIOPC. I customarily have the folk who don’t want to follow the Book of Church Order or conduct the meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order coming after me, usually accusing me of something like formalism. Perhaps it is only here that Larrry and I would be considered anything other than rather traditional! 🙂

    Because Larry and I so regularly work with and uphold the forms in our worship, government, and discipline, I think that makes it all the more important that we do not simply reify those forms and see thems as ends in themselves. It’s a kind of self-critique for me to realize how prone I am to rest in the forms and miss the heart of the matter. I have always found Larry (especially his MTIOPC course material and related writings) to be a breath of fresh air, having a solid commitment to historic Reformed worship that is fresh and vital. Who does not want such worship?


  31. Alan, but here’s the thing you don’t seem to acknowledge. Yes, you and Larry have defended the forms admirably. And yes, the forms always need to be empowered by the spirit. You can’t have the forms truly without the Spirit (which is a long way, by the way from my spirit or whether it’s faking). But can you have the Spirit without the forms? That’s been the key question since Edwards. And because Tennent thought he had the Spirit — in Luther’s words, feathers and all — he didn’t think he needed the forms. And ever since Protestantism has limped along with a suspicion about the forms, one that you even manifest when someone like Nevin defends the forms.

    And to keep the historical point going, when and where did Edwards ever defend the forms. References to the church and the means of grace are meager in his writings. You might think that in order to defend against the charge of enthusiasm he would resort to at least the position that you and Larry advocate. But he didn’t.

    So again, why beat up on Nevin and not also on Edwards? Do your historical rooting interests suggest why Lily might think you lean pietist?


  32. Larry, I think the problem is that introspection, once started, is very hard to stop. I’m not trying to defend an unexamined life. But chap. 18 and 19 of the Confession have always been more detailed than I think necessary, and much more detailed than earlier Reformed statements. I chalk it up to the influence of Puritan practical divinity.


  33. Darryl

    Thanks for your last post. That is very helpful.

    I appreciate your admitting that you find WCF 18-19 “more detailed than I think necessary.” It is little wonder that you have a problem with me since you have a problem at that point with the Westminster Confession. That might have been a helpful place to start the discussion. Perhaps you could more clearly spell out your differences with these chapters so that I might be clear on just what your differences are.


  34. Alan,

    “Little wonder”? As if quoting the WCF settles differences in the way you and judge the FPGA? Why not address my question to you, which was why Edwards didn’t defend the means of grace to avoid the charge of enthusiasm.


  35. Alan,

    I appreciate your reply and that we are on the same side in this issue. Regarding your final comment, “Who would not want such worship?” It baffles me when people dismiss formalism’s value. I can only wonder that the person has not yet been catechized on why we do or do not do specific things in worship and have not yet learned to appreciate it. It is such a rich treasure chest of sound theology and I trust the liturgy, confessions, etc. because they contains sound theology and proclaim the truth. I trust the words in the liturgy, confessions, etc. because they have been written and examined by our best theologians and our ordered services are put together with great care. And since the liturgy is proclaiming the truth, God will do what he has promised to do through the Word and Sacrament. I can be content and trust what I am taught by the liturgy, confessions, etc. regardless of whether I feel an emotional response or whether I recognize God working in me that Sunday. In that sense, I do rest in formalism and cherish the way I can fall into the rhythm or harmony of corporate worship with everyone else.

    Anywho, unlike others, I do not worry about the days I’m a space cadet or when my lips and heart are far from each other during the Divine Service because that is the reality of being a sinner who is need of daily repentance and forgiveness. I’ve been a sinner too long to have any hopes of perfection in my lived Christian life. I flee to Christ, am forgiven, and keep going. I appreciate the times when everything seems to come together for a blessed worship (heart, mind, emotions, and lips are all in sync), but since I’m Lutheran, I repent of those times too, for I know I am never without sin and always fall short of perfection in worship. I hope that makes sense and helps you understand why I defend formalism and rest in it’s soundness. I greatly appreciate not having to filter liturgy like I have to do with a bad sermon.


  36. Darryl:

    OK. Here’s a quote from JE’s Religious Affections:

    “And it is true, that for any to expect to receive the saving influences of the Spirit of God, while they neglect a diligent improvement of the appointed means of grace , is unreasonable presumption. And to expect that the Spirit of God will savingly operate upon their minds, without the Spirit’s making use of means, as subservient to the effect, is enthusiastical” (Yale edition, v. 2, Religious Affections, p. 138)

    There are many others from Religious Affections, Freedom of the Will, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, etc. Here’s a good one about the outward from that last work:

    “Another erroneous principle that there has been something of, and that has been an occasion of some mischief and confusion, is that external order in matters of religion and use of the means of grace is but little to be regarded: ’tis spoken lightly of, under the names of ceremonies and dead forms, etc. And [it] is probably the more despised by some because their opposers insist so much upon it, and because they are so continually hearing from them the cry of disorder and confusion. ‘Tis objected against the importance of external order that God don’t look at the outward form, he looks at the heart: but that is a weak argument against its importance, that true godliness don’t consist in it; for it may be equally made use of against all the outward means of grace whatsoever. True godliness don’t consist in ink and paper, but yet that would be a foolish objection against the importance of ink and paper in religion, when without it we could not have the Word of God. If any external means at all are needful, any outward actions of a public nature, or wherein God’s people are jointly concerned in public society, without doubt external order is needful: the management of an external affair that is public, or wherein a multitude is concerned without order, is in everything found impossible. Without order there can be no general direction of a multitude to any particular designed end; their purposes will cross one another, and they won’t help but hinder one another. A multitude can’t act in union one with another without order; confusion separates and divides them, so that there can be no concert or agreement. If a multitude would help one another in any affair, they must unite themselves one to another in a regular subordination of members, in some measure as it is in the natural body; by this means they will be in some capacity to act with united strength: and thus Christ has appointed that it should be in the visible church, as 1 Corinthians 12:14 to the end, and Romans 12:4–8” (Yale edition, v. 4, Great Awakening: Some Thoughts…, p. 454).

    I could continue at some length multiplying such quotes but I don’t want to take up too much room on your blog.

    Now, could you specify where you differ with WCF 18 and 19? Thanks.


  37. Thanks Alan. I don’t really think that Edwards’ references to “means of grace” is a defense of word, sacrament, discipline and polity. Some scholars, as you know, argue that Edwards was basically Zwinglian in his understand of the Supper.

    As for my own views on WCF 18 and 19, I repeat what I said. I find it more detailed than something like the Belgic Confession, which seems perfectly adequate in identifying the marks of a genuine Christian. Art. 29 reads:

    The Marks of the True Church

    We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church– for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of “the church.”
    We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves “the church.”

    The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church– and no one ought to be separated from it.

    As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

    Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.


  38. Dr. Hart,

    Surely you can imagine at least one legitimate reason why someone might not want their actual name attached to something they said that might be construed as controversial.

    OPC Guy


  39. Darryl

    You asked, “Why not address my question to you, which was why Edwards didn’t defend the means of grace to avoid the charge of enthusiasm?”

    I answered your question in the post above. Quite clearly and to the point. Your retort was dismissive, though the question was answered. I suppose that is one way to dispatch contrary evidence.

    I could go throughout Edwards and pile up quotes showing you that when Edwards mentions “means of grace” he does indeed refer to the Word, and especially its preaching, to the sacraments, and to prayer.

    I think that both his doctrine of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion fell short of Calvin. But so did that of so many others in Scotland and on these shores. This does not mean that they did not believe in the efficacy of the means of grace as empowered by the Spirit. It means that many of our Old School Presbyterian forefathers fell short here. I think Hodge did. Would you say that this means that he denies the means of grace?

    And Edwards certainly had a very high view of the ministry of the Word and prayer. Simply to dismiss what he says above about those who deny means as being enthusiastical is to refuse to see that he did defend the means of grace to avoid the charge of enthusiasm.

    You asked the question and I gave the answer. Then you shifted the ground of argument and alleged (without any citations)that Edwards’s evocation of the means of grace means something altogether different because he had a deficient view of the sacraments.

    Darryl, I got you on this one. Admit it. Otherwise, I shall have to call “Foul!” on you, an outstanding Phillies fan (My wife is a lifelong Phillies fan, too, Darryl, so I can’t be all bad!).


  40. Alan, I don’t think two quotes makes a pile. And I don’t think you have yet to consider the aid and comfort that Edwards gave to Presbyterianism’s own Tennents. Anyway, not sure you’re the umpire on this one.


  41. Darryl

    I agree, sir, that I am not the umpire. I could not resist the little baseball joke, though, as one in the Midwest (who comes from the South) becomes giddy at the onset of Spring and the prospect of baseball.

    I only gave 2 quotes. I could give more. And the Tennents as a whole weren’t so bad–given that William had the first “Log College” that with others became Princeton in 1746 (with our man JE as the third president, albeit for a terribly short tenure).

    Yes, Gilbert really outdid himself with “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry,” especially as it contributed to the 1741-58 split. But, as you know, he repented of that and became one of the leading parties in the 1758 reunion. His sermon “Love to Christ” savored of a different spirit than his uncharitable and censorious “Unconverted Ministry.”

    He and Davies did great work for Princeton in travelling far and wide to raise money for Nassau Hall. Gilbert, the “Son of Thunder,” appeared to have grown wiser and more compassionate as he grew older. I make no excuse for that notorious sermon and his earlier behavior, however, and he himself appeared to regret such harshness.

    At any rate, it’s been good to think about these matters.


  42. Mark, I know you are addicted to book reviews, like your hero Dr. K. But a book review is not a pile. Perhaps you should get out more and read an actual book.

    BTW, it seems to me that the exchange between Clark and Strange largely boils down to Edwards and the FPGA. Since when did Edwards become the virgin Mary?


  43. It seems redundant to contribute to a discussion that includes DGH when your primary influence on the topic is Seeking a Better Country. Still, I don’t understand how to reassess the New Side positively … especially the Tennents … without agreeing with their accusations toward the Old Side.

    I also can’t remember encountering a positive view of the Old Side before SaBC, nor any record of it meaningfully surviving the reunion of 1758. Nevin seemed to be lonely a few decades later.


  44. Perhaps you should get out more and read an actual book.

    Dr. Hart, perhaps someday when you actually get around to reading Edwards, you will find many gems like this defense of the objective means of grace vis a vis subjective enthusiasm:

    “One erroneous principle, than which scarce any has proved more mischievous to the present glorious work of God, is a notion that it is God’s manner in these days to guide his saints, at least some that are more eminent, by inspiration or immediate revelation…. This error will defend and support errors. As long as a person has a notion that he is guided by immediate direction from heaven, it makes him incorrigible and impregnable in all his misconduct… And why cannot we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure Word of God, which we have in such abundance and clearness, now since the Canon of Scripture has been completed? Why should we desire to have any thing added to them by impulses from above? Why should we not rest in that standing rule that God has given to his Church, which the apostle teaches us, is surer than any voice from heaven? And why should we desire to make Scripture speak more to us than what it does? Or why should any desire a higher kind of intercourse, with heaven, than by having the Holy Spirit given in his sanctifying influences, infusing and exciting grace and holiness, love and joy, which is the highest kind of intercourse that the saints and angels in heaven have with God, and the chief excellency of the glorified man Christ Jesus.” {Works of Edwards, 1.404}


  45. Mark, it took you two weeks to find that?

    LOL…no, it took about 5 minutes. Which appears to be about 4 minutes longer than you’ve spent reading Edwards’ primary works.

    So how does Edwards’ quotation fit with your non-biblical insistence on Christian day school education?

    If I have not posited a non-biblical insistence on Christian day school education, must I answer your non-sequiter?


  46. Mark, how anyone could walk away from the below thread and not think you insist on Christian day school education as a matter of biblical warrant and necessity is a bit puzzling. To wit something like this:

    You [me] apparently assume Christian education is a “thing indifferent”, a matter of liberty as you said above. Drs. Kim, Johnson, and Godfrey enumerated some clear statements that Christian education is a necessary thing– a Biblical responsibility. You may find you can advocate either Christian education or public education, but it is done on a basis other than Biblical “necessity.”



  47. Mark, no, it’s my first. That means I can’t translate your assertion that Christian day schools are an obligation of biblical proportions into Dutch, nor your quotation from Edwards about the sufficiency of Scripture. Either way, your logic is having a hard time keeping up with your drive-by assertions.


  48. If you can’t translate your first language, how do you teach your college students?

    Back to the point of the Edwards quote which you’ve avoided, it clearly contradicts your and your fanboy Clark’s assertion that Edwards was a subjectivist. Are you able to acknowledge that, or do you need a translator?


  49. Mark, is this the way you practice law? You take the accused’s denial at face value? Or you assume the law of the state is right? What is the Dutch word for gullible?

    BTW, simple point about language. If someone only has one language and you’re speaking it, translation is not what you do.


  50. Darryl, both Alan and I have presented clear evidence defending Edwards against the charge of subjective enthusiasm. A good juror, like a good historian, would not ignore the evidence. Would you care to interact with it?


  51. Mark, any historian knows that Edwards wrote more than the quotation you supply. Anyone can find a quotation in Edwards to support their view (though they’d have a hard time locating a remark about the presence of Christ in the Supper).

    Here’s the argument, for the reason challenged. Edwards wrote things like Religious Affections that were pietistic. It can lead to subjectivism and has in much of evangelicalism where the affections and revivals are highly regarded. You think a couple of sentences refutes the evidence of two hundred fifty years? I sure hope you’re not on my jury.


  52. Darryl, then at least we agree the quotes supplied do support the argument that Edwards defended objective means of grace vis a vis purely subjectivist enthusiasm. And no, I certainly wouldn’t rely on just a few quotes, but as I pointed out, the evidence could be piled up, even from Religious Affections. If you read my review I linked, you would see the citation to other historians who have surveyed the same landscape you have, and did not find Edwards guilty of the subjectivist charge.

    As for subsequent history, Edwards is not responsible for those that would distort his arguments. The ills you observe are more properly laid upon Finney, a man who despised Edwards’ theology. I believe your colleague Horton would agree with this assessment on cause and effect.


  53. But Mark, have those other historians been to Christian day schools? Do they have Christian world and life views? Since confessionalism is such a rare position, it could be that other historians don’t see where Edwards stands in relation to the older Reformed churches.

    BTW, the link you supplied cannot be opened without becoming a member of some website.


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