More from The Academy… This is from Riddlebarger’s series of lectures on Francis Schaefer, but it has nothing in particular to do with Schaefer. Responding to a question about the mantra “Always Reformed, Always Reforming”, and the “trueness” of confessions, Riddlebarger had this to say (for fuller context, you can listen to the whole question and answer starting at 1:07:20 of the .mp3 at this link):
Confessions are written for a particular time and place, and there is a sense in which any confession is outdated probably twenty years after it is written, because a whole bunch of new things come up. …I think it’s the task of the church — every other generation or so — to write new confessions. … At the end of the day, truth doesn’t change, but circumstances do. And because the Bible is sharper than a two-edged sword, and the Spirit is always speaking to God’s people through it, we should expect our scholars to always be finding new insights in scripture. Those new insights are not going to contradict stuff that’s already true, but really create a need to continually update and keep things current, and the problem in our own tradition right now is that we’re 450 years out of date in our confessions. And that’s an issue. And there’s some of us that would like to see all the Reformed churches call an ecumenical assembly, and write some new confessions.
Now I don’t want to be accused of taking Riddlebarger out of context; he is not at all talking about chucking any of the existing confessional truths we hold dear (the gospel, election, predestination, the doctrines of grace…), but adding to what we already have, in order to cover circumstances that have arisen over time.
There are two categories Riddlebarger identifies as candidates for confessional upgrade, which I guess would roughly correspond to doctrine and life.
In terms of the evolution of the practice of churching since the 1600’s, the 3F speak of three “marks of the true church”, but they don’t deal with what we see often today, namely churches that exhibit only one out of three marks — i.e. gospel preaching, but incorrect administration of the sacraments, and no church discipline. (How the confessional, reformed church is supposed to relate to churches like that is a central theme of this whole blog!)
In terms of doctrine, Riddlebarger notes a historical, cyclical trend of advances in Biblical theology, which need to be followed by systematic theologians to organize it all and fit it into the framework. As an example, he gives Kline’s biblical theology work concerning Suzerainty treaties and the implications of their structure showing up in Biblical covenants. (I’m at a bit of a loss as to how this would fit in a confessional framework).
My point, however, is this: when accused of championing “Always Reformed” at the expense of “Always Reforming,” I am accustomed to hearing some form of, “Well, that phrase ‘Always Reforming’ doesn’t mean what you think.” So I was quite surprised to hear OS Riddlebarger say basically “Yup, we’ve been lax in keeping our standards fully up-to-date,” and I wanted to kick this around a little here at the Outhouse.