From a recent Office Hours , OHS DGH defines what he means by the term “confessionalism”:
Well, first, it’s an odd word to use, “confessional”, because it suggests that it’s just about the confession or creeds, and Reformed creeds and confessions do teach about things that are the heart of confessionalism, namely the church, and worship. But “confessionalism” really stands for ecclesial, or churchly Reformed Christianity or Reformed Protestantism. Confessional Lutheranism stands for the same thing. Those who take the Reformed churches or the Lutheran churches seriously also take the creeds and confessions seriously, but to talk about confessionalism people think you’re just talking about doctrine, and well, you’re talking about doctrine of the church, you’re talking about doctrine of worship, you’re also talking about the practice of those things.
Part of the way I came to this was, in American history, cultural historians of the 19th century have actually used terms like Pietist and Liturgical, or Pietist and Confessional, to describe two different approaches to American politics, and the sort of [Whig? vague?], Evangelical consensus that was going on, people who dissented from it were Liturgical or Confessional, and those were some high-church types, Mercersburg, Anglicans, some Old School Presbyterians though, were in that group, as well as some German and Dutch Reformed. And so, I tried to adopt that language that political historians used, so it’s actually a political/historical concept, not necessarily a churchly one (even though you’ve done more with that in your own book, RRC).
So it’s really trying to think about Reformed Christianity apart from the approaches that we generally have, and the three approaches that are prominent — I’m drawing here upon Nick Wolterstorff… — we have a Doctrinalist Reformed Christianity, we have a Culturalist, and we have a Pietist, or Experiental. And none of those ways at looking at Reformed Christianity actually ever get close to the Church, it seems to me. They may all assume the church is there, but they don’t necessarily take the church seriously. … We have plenty of people who think they are Christians who aren’t members of churches, or whose membership in the church they wear very lightly, but it seems to me if the Church is the embodiment of, or the body of Christ, it seems to me we really do need to take the formal Church, the institutional church seriously, and that’s what I’m trying to do with “confessionalism”.
I liked this because it’s always unconsciously nettled me that “confessionalism” as a bare term, doesn’t seem to capture well the ecclesiological dimension of what we feel we’re about, as in this previous discussion.