The Newest Hot Topic

Seems to be this post from Sam DeSocio. Darryl Hart weighed in here, followed by Scott Clark, and then John Bugay. There is a discussion on it over at the Puritanboard as well.

There seems to me a very good reason why this topic is so hot right now: many people have been thinking about the PCA as being in need of a split purification. Sam merely brought out the elephant in the room. This is the topic that no one wanted to be the first to talk about. However, now that Sam has done so, the floodgates are open now.

What is the issue? How do we go about defining the problem? Sam’s categories are a tad vague (how exactly would he describe the groups within the PCA?). And this, in my view, is the biggest difficulty I see, a difficulty that Ken Pierce pointed out rather cogently in the comments on Sam’s post: there are many people in the PCA who don’t necessarily like to be pigeon-holed. Ken himself described his own view as confessional, but wanting to be in the same denomination as, say, Tim Keller. Incidentally, this is proof positive that not all confessionalists are out for other people’s blood. Can the overly paranoid, guilt-manipulating, unity-mongering, can’t-we-all-get-along folks please take notice? (Now why, oh why, can’t you laugh at this perfectly accurate description of yourself coming from a witch-hunting, Pharisaic, camel-swallowing/needle-straining bigot?) Maybe we all be taking ourselves a wee bit too seriously? Check. Oh wait, I just pigeon-holed myself, didn’t I? Well, of all the…

Not that there aren’t serious issues going on in the PCA. There are. However, many people, including myself, are just a little bit too fond of grand-standing, and listening to our own way-too-clever bunk. (Mental note to self: do more shutting up, and do more listening!). Personally, I agree with Scott Clark. The issue surrounds the confessional standards of our church. When does the PCA become a non-confessional denomination? Many would argue that it already has. Probably everyone draws their own line in the sand. Of course, there’s always the danger of the movable line in the sand, as the Trinity Foundation folks rightly point out. Are we headed for a split? I don’t know. I think it is more profitable for me to concentrate on promoting the peace and purity of the PCA (and especially promoting them as inseparable: no peace without purity, and no purity without peace). If that becomes impossible, then I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it. It hasn’t come yet.

How would I describe the PCA? I think, instead of sharply-defined groups, it would be more accurate to say that there exists a continuum with foci at four points on that continuum. On the far right, the confessionalists (here am I, and I can do no other). On the far left, the progressives who at least appear to despise the confession as an antiquated irrelevancy. One focus point in on the continuum (from the progressive side) is the general evangelical crowd, who want unity, are soteriologically Reformed, but are willing to compromise on just about anything other than the Gospel. One focus point in from the confessionalists are the “mostly confessionalist” crowd. This focus point can be hard to distinguish sometimes from the confessionalists, but they are more willing to allow exceptions to the Confession than the confessionalists are. The thing is that none of these focus points are rigid, not even the confessionalist point. None of the focus points are monolithic. To use a term from statistics, there is a lot of scatter data, it seems to me, that refuses to be pigeon-holed.

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21 Comments

  1. Michael said,

    January 16, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    You ask: (is the PCA) headed for a split?

    I don’t know either but I can unequivocally state Jesus Christ is headed for unity with things in heaven and on earth:

    Eph.1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
    8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
    9 making known[fn] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
    10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

    I’m not sure if those verses give anyone comfort in they trying times?

  2. paigebritton said,

    January 16, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Speaking of pigeon-holing, if anyone wanted to read the Tim Keller article on the PCA that Darryl Hart mentioned not being able to access online, here’s a PDF of it (2010: “What’s So Great About the PCA?”). Keller describes what he calls the doctrinalist, pietist, and culturalist influences within the PCA, and concludes that they are all three organically with us, like it or not.

  3. David Gilleran said,

    January 16, 2013 at 9:41 pm

    The possibility of division within the PCA was talked about not long after the PCA was formed! We have lived with different tensions for a number of years. What Sam brought into the open are the most recent tensions. This is why the PCA fathers wrote BCO 25-11 the way they did.

  4. Frank Aderholdt said,

    January 17, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Thank you, Lane, for this helpful taxonomy, and the emphasis on continuum. As someone firmly on the “far right,” I find myself increasingly isolated in the PCA. Even basically conservative PCA churches are more and more a mixture of the two groups between the far left and the far right. My motto of “All Reformed, all the time” falls largely on deaf ears. Most of the preaching I hear in the PCA can scarcely be distinguised from any non-Calvinist evangelical. The basic exegesis is often quite good, and the essentials of the gospel with Christ at the center are clearly preached, but the “doctrines of grace” and other Reformed distinctives are nearly invisible. And on the practical level, I hear “Peace, Peace” constantly in bold caps, but purity in confessional commitment is often an afterthought, if it’s mentioned at all.

  5. Frank Aderholdt said,

    January 17, 2013 at 11:43 am

    I need to make it clear that I’m in one of the stronger confessional presbyteries in the PCA (Grace). My remarks are based on observing the PCA as a whole, talking to RE’s and TE’s in other Presbyteries, reading articles, books, and blogs, and listening to a wide variety of PCA sermons.

  6. Frank Aderholdt said,

    January 17, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    Last year, a prominent PCA pastor, who is viewed as a leader among the “far right,” said that he believes about 30% of the PCA is strongly confessional. I agree with that assessment, having suggested 1/3 myself for several years.

    At this point, I don’t believe that 1/3 of the PCA leans “far left.” They are very vocal, however, and seem to be pulling the other two groups toward them.

    In my opinion, one positive factor is that each group on the far end of the continuum is more knowledgeable than ever before about what they believe and why they believe it. At least it’s easier in most cases to have a real conversation with a man of principle, rather than slogging through some hard-to-define “mushy middle.” (Though there’s still plenty of that, too.)

  7. sdesocio said,

    January 18, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Lane,
    I didn’t got into the groups because Im not sure where they land. I think that Keller’s taxonomy (my understanding is that he borrows it) is somewhat helpful, but that most people will probably pick two out of the three. Maybe striking to some I’d see myself as both a culturalist and doctrinalist.

    If I can push just a bit…you say:
    “On the far right, the confessionalists (here am I, and I can do no other). On the far left, the progressives who at least appear to despise the confession as an antiquated irrelevancy. ”

    I hope that you hamstring your goal of unity with the way you talk about those elsewhere on the spectrum. With your above comparison on the far right you have your Martin Luthers, but on the left, people who hate the reformed faith (at least how it is described).

    You might be surprised how sharp, faithful, and gracious those confession haters on the left are.

    Im really hurt Lane. Maybe Ill let you buy me a drink at GA to make up for my broken heart.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Sam, thanks for dropping by. Did you mean “I hope that you DON’T hamstring your goal of unity?”

    I have no doubt that there are many on the “left” who are sharp, faithful, and gracious. Tim Keller is surely a good example of this (although his position on theistic evolution is really raising questions in my mind).

    It’s a good thing that a drink is all that you need to heal a broken heart. In which case, I’ll be happy to provide it.

  9. sdesocio said,

    January 19, 2013 at 10:06 am

    I certainly did mean to say don’t. I hope you can see when you set the scene as: “on the right the reformers 2.0. On the left, the haters of the reformation,” it isn’t going to create any real interaction that brings peace.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Yes, Sam, I can see that. However, it is not too strong to say what I said. I have seen many on the left issue statements that are rather contemptuous of the Westminster Standards. I allowed for exceptions when I said “appear.”

  11. sdesocio said,

    January 19, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Lane if you really believe that you and your friends are the heros, and those who disagree with you are enemies of the truth, it seems like you are unwilling to take on the tone you used in your own post.
    That is disappointing.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2013 at 10:22 am

    Sam, what I am trying to do is to remind people of their oaths. I am not actually (at this time, anyway) trying to overly polarize people into truth-defenders and truth haters. I freely acknowledge that those on the left are often truth seekers. I’m trying to get at how people view the doctrinal boundaries. Are they straight-jackets or life-savers? All too often, the attitude I see on the left is that the boundaries are straight-jackets. What I have been trying to do for a long time now is to argue that, instead, the boundaries are life-savers. Outside of them is danger, not freedom.

  13. Dave Sarafolean said,

    January 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Lane,

    I appreciate the article and your tone.

    Here’s a question related to the confessional end of the spectrum. Who’s more confessional: A young-earth creationist with tendencies towards Kuyper or a Framework/Analogical creation guy who is also Two Kingdom?

    I can see the question answered with either hypothetical man being categorized as “confessional” or “mostly confessional”. I guess it depends where you sit.

  14. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Dave, interesting question. I would definitely say that the young earth position is more confessional. However, I am not sure when it comes to Kuyper/2 Kingdoms. At the moment, I see both of them as being within confessional boundaries (at least, with regard to a more moderate 2 Kingdoms perspective). I’m just not sure that the WS directly address that issue. Our BCO seems to be a bit more 2K in terms of our not giving counsel to the government unless they ask for it, etc.

  15. Dave Sarafolean said,

    January 19, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    Lane,

    Thanks for your reply. I wasn’t trying to put you on the spot at all. I raise these two question because they seem to be at the forefront of what divides confessional folks, who otherwise are agreed on a whole host of things.

    Your answer about young earth creationism is interesting. That would mean a large swath of our brothers in the OPC would be considered less confessional than a young earth creationist (at least on this point). I’m sure that you’ve read their report on Genesis 1-3.

    Furthermore, a man like R. Scott Clark would be considered less confessional than a young earth person (at least on that point). Clark once wrote about the creation debate in terms of substance and accidents of the reformed faith (borrowing from Turretin I believe). Using that distinction the “substance” is God creating all things out of nothing while the “accident” is the length of the creation process.

    Anyway, I’d love to see the “confessional” and “mostly confessional” folks could talk their way through issues like these. Who knows what God might do if they could forge an alliance.

  16. Dave Sarafolean said,

    January 19, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    Lane,

    One more comment. To inject a little humor in all of this, your distinctions about “confessional” and “mostly confessional” remind of the Princess Bride and the discussion about “dead” and “mostly dead”. Maybe that’s how the rest of the theological spectrum in the PCA views us who are on the right. Thanks again for the post.

  17. Alan Pontier said,

    January 21, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    Lane,
    I am a frequent reader, but this is the first time I have written. The issue of a PCA split reminds me of the story of J. Gresham Machen voicing his hope to B.B. Warfield that there might be a great split in the old church. Warfield is said to have responded that “you can’t split rotten wood.” As an OPC minister and one who was a PCA member for a few years I have often wondered if there would some day be a split.

    I am not inferring that the PCA is “rotten wood”. I think that remains to be seen one way or the other. The PCA has a long history of tolerating divergent positions that are at least at first glance incompatible. If tolerance of mutually exclusive positions becomes the normal habit, as it seems to have become, then why would anyone think that there will be a split. There will, in fact, be lots of rationalizing and hand wringing, but in the end there will be no split.

    I was a little surpised in the replies to your blog that there was no reference to the increasing number of very public and influential people in the PCA who are “coming out” in favor of evolution. Would that be the final straw? Will someone bring charges against those men? Will you satisfy yourselves with a G.A. resolution?

    I fear what will happen is that when push cmes to shove there would be not great split but rather a congregation here or a presbytery there will decide they’ve had enough and either join with others to form a new denomination or seek to join the OPC or URC.

    Al Pontier
    Big Bear Valley OPC
    Big Bear City, CA

  18. Steve Drake said,

    January 22, 2013 at 11:24 am

    I was a little surpised in the replies to your blog that there was no reference to the increasing number of very public and influential people in the PCA who are “coming out” in favor of evolution. Would that be the final straw? Will someone bring charges against those men? Will you satisfy yourselves with a G.A. resolution?

    It’s been a heavy winter, the snow is melting on top of the mountain, and the little stream meandering along the valley floor is now filled with rushing water, its momentum building, the rapids shooting up over the rocks in fits of anger as if trying to pulverize them into rubble.

    The ‘evolution’ issue, one of several that the confessionalists see as extremely important as it relates to the Gospel: it undercuts and undermines it, is no trivial matter. I’m happy to grand-stand on the Word of God and it’s accurate portrayal of a six-day creation. Evolution and its millions and billions of years foundation, whether theistic, progressive, temple-dominated, framework-hypothesized, or whatever other machinations one wishes to bring to the party, is modern man’s creation myth, a deceptive lie from the father of lies himself. Oh, that my brothers and sisters would bow in humble acknowledgment of Christ’s work in creation in bringing into existence all that is, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, the way He said He did. We rob God of His glory and majesty by any other means.

    A position paper, and resolutions for the 2013 GA, detailing the great doctrines we hold dear, and the incompatibility of these doctrines with evolution and its millions and billions of years foundation, might just be the impetus that forces that now rushing little stream to find the fork.

  19. Steve Drake said,

    January 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Cleaning up my #18 above:

    I was a little surpised in the replies to your blog that there was no reference to the increasing number of very public and influential people in the PCA who are “coming out” in favor of evolution. Would that be the final straw? Will someone bring charges against those men? Will you satisfy yourselves with a G.A. resolution?

    It’s been a heavy winter, the snow is melting on top of the mountain, and the little stream meandering along the valley floor is now filled with rushing water, its momentum building, the rapids shooting up over the rocks in fits of anger as if trying to pulverize them into rubble.

    The ‘evolution’ issue, one of several that the confessionalists see as extremely important as it relates to the Gospel: it undercuts and undermines it, is no trivial matter. I’m happy to grand-stand on the Word of God and it’s accurate portrayal of a six-day creation. Evolution and its millions and billions of years foundation, whether theistic, progressive, temple-dominated, framework-hypothesized, or whatever other machinations one wishes to bring to the party, is modern man’s creation myth, a deceptive lie from the father of lies himself. Oh, that my brothers and sisters would bow in humble acknowledgment of Christ’s work in creation in bringing into existence all that is, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, the way He said He did. We rob God of His glory and majesty by any other means.

    A position paper, and resolutions for the 2013 GA, detailing the great doctrines we hold dear, and the incompatibility of these doctrines with evolution and its millions and billions of years foundation, might just be the impetus that forces that now rushing little stream to find the fork.

  20. Brad B said,

    January 23, 2013 at 12:30 am

    Right on Steve, I’ve been spending much of my blog reading time lately at the Uncommon Descent Blog, it is painfully obvious that proponents of any kind of evolution, guided or unguided has no physical evidence to support their religion. It is a position clearly contrary to biblical revelation, and it is constantly being exposed as bad science at every level, making it an unreasonable faith, a faith apart from reason.

    Those who think that orthodox Christianity is threatened by these hoaxters simply need to look a little deeper and see the ever increasing and impossible challenges that Darwinists are failing to to address and looking quite foolish while they are doing it. Before Christians lose their nerve for fear of looking foolish in the face of a challenge from modern science, they should at least see if the challenge is legitimate–in this case, it is not.

  21. Steve Drake said,

    January 23, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Thanks Brad,
    Another good one from the Intelligent Design guys is Evolution News and Views at http://www.evolutionnews.org.

    Also, from some of the creation scientists, an excellent blog is Creation-Evolution Headlines at http://crev.info/.

    Why any Christian would adopt an ideology that at its outset was formulated to ‘do away’ with Christianity once and for all, is beyond me.


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