Wilkins’s Rationale

I would like to blog just a bit about the rationale that Wilkins has issued in leaving the PCA.

We (AAPC) have tried to seek peace and reconciliation with our brethren in the PCA. Though we have not been successful in every case, we have made sincere and good faith efforts to do so. We have also sought to preserve our relationships with our brothers and though we have not always been successful here either, we continue to stand ready to receive them and welcome them back into our fellowship at any time.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but this paragraph sounds a bit presumptuous. Why would AAPC be the governing body that would receive the PCA back into their fellowship, rather than vice versa? Is this an attempt to label the critics as schismatic?

Further, we (AAPC and I) have sought to be submissive to Presbytery throughout the entire time. More than once I have expressed my willingness to submit to their judgment regarding the controversy over my views. I have made it clear throughout that, if Presbytery judged my views to be out of accord with the Confessional Standards of the PCA, I would submit to that judgment and withdraw if I believed I could not in good conscience agree with it. I have been willing to submit to the directives of Presbytery in each of the investigations that were carried out and sought to be completely honest regarding my views in response to Presbytery’s inquiries.

I don’t actually doubt the truth of most of what is said here, except that it is irrelevant, is it not? Presbytery never judged AAPC or Wilkins to be out of accord, because they never brought him to trial. Even the plea of guilty that the Presbytery made to the second charge is not identical to declaring Wilkins to be out of accord. The plea of guilty means that the Presbytery admitted that they should have put Wilkins on trial. As to his being completely honest, I am troubled. I just finished listening to a seven or eight cd lecture series that Wilkins did on covenant theology. It was vastly different from the more qualified statements he made while under fire. In the cd series, for instance, he said that the grace given to the elect and the non-elect within the covenant is the same. Not only that, but he repeated it, and held to it even after being questioned on this point. Obviously, someone is going to be more careful in a Presbytery grilling. But should not one be just as careful in front of the church (which is really in front of God)? What we say in front of Presbytery ought to be exactly the same thing we are preaching in our churches. I don’t doubt that Wilkins believes that he has been honest. But his teaching in front of the church is not the same as the answers he gave to Presbytery.

We strongly disagreed with the indictment brought against our Presbytery by the Standing Judicial Commission charging the Presbytery with gross neglect. I thought the charges were unwarranted and without basis in fact and was very sorry that Presbytery was willing to admit guilt to either of them. The Presbytery has sought to be conscientious and faithful in dealing with this matter, and, by and large, the spirit with which they sought to fulfill their duty was remarkable given the pressures that were put upon them from outside.

Naturally, Wilkins would think that the charges were unwarranted and without basis in fact. Naturally, Wilkins would be sorry that Presbytery was willing to admit guilt in such a matter. Let us be clear, however, that this is an opinion (it is not fact) which the SJC has judged to be in error. I wonder what Wilkins means by the pressures from outside. I suspect he means the pressures to conform to a preconceived idea of Wilkins’s guilt in regard to his teaching. Undoubtedly, there was pressure from outside…to conform to the BCO and the standards of the church! That is precisely the nature of charge 1 and charge 2.

The next several paragraphs discuss the decision-making process through which the session and congregation went in voting to leave the PCA. I do not really have a comment on that except to say this: what did the session think when it was the Presbytery on trial, not Wilkins? Did they think Wilkins should have gone on trial? If so, then why did they change their mind? I’ve heard a lot of clamor before now about the fact that it was Presbytery, not Wilkins, that was on trial. As soon as it looks as though Wilkins will be put on trial, he leaves. In any case, he can no longer bear the name of “Machen,” since Machen faced his trial. That being said, I still do not think that AAPC’s leaving was a wrong decision, ultimately. I just wonder why they didn’t do this far earlier, avoiding all the divisiveness that has resulted.

Presbytery’s decision not to conduct a trial of me was influenced by the stated unwillingness of some to submit to the outcome of a presbytery trial if that trial resulted in a decision in my favor. Some of the members of the Presbytery informed us that they had already decided to file a complaint against the decision of the Presbytery to the SJC if a trial by the Presbytery exonerated me — regardless of what the trial evidence showed. They also acknowledged that the SJC would reverse any decision which exonerated me. This seemed to influence Presbytery’s decision not to hold the trial itself, but rather to refer the matter directly to the SJC for final disposition. Furthermore, I believe Presbytery feared — based on threats set forth in the indictment of the presbytery — that if it did try me and, upon receiving and reviewing the evidence adduced by my accusers and by myself in my defense, exonerate me, the Presbytery would be cut off from the PCA.

This paragraph assumes that Presbytery is the last court of appeal. The language of “submit to the outcome of a presbytery trial” is pejorative. Let’s put it this way: someone in the LAP was teaching Arminianism, and this same situation resulted, and the Calvinist in the Presbytery had already made up his mind that so-and-so had actually taught Arminianism (keep in mind, now, that the entire Presbytery has had many, many hours of listening to Wilkins), but he knew that the Presbytery would probably acquit so-and-so, because the Presbytery wasn’t strong on Calvinism. What should he do? Should he not resolve to appeal? It is naive in the extreme to suppose that the members of the Presbytery have not made up their mind by now, trial or no trial. By the way, Presbytery would not need to fear the result of a trial. Let’s say the Presbytery did exonerate him after a trial, and someone appealed. Such cases happen all the time within Presbyteries. The SJC might have reversed the decision, but they would not cut off a Presbytery for coming to the wrong decision in this matter. The problem was that the Presbytery consistently refused to try him at all. They examined him, but that is not the same thing.

With that avenue of resolution foreclosed, I was left with the prospect of a trial before the SJC. This meant that I would have had to go before a group of men who had not only twice previously faulted Presbytery for failing to find a strong presumption of guilt that my views were out of accord with our confessional standards but had indicted the Presbytery on the basis that this fault was so clearly contrary to our constitution that it constituted a strong presumption of guilt that the Presbytery had committed grossly unconstitutional proceedings in “a fundamental neglect of the Biblical responsibilities of the eldership.”

These remarkable and unprecedented developments, coupled with the extraordinary judgment of my views by the PCA Study Committee, which had judged me to be out of accord with our confessional standards without asking for any clarification or for a response on my part (and without any constitutional authority for effectively trying me in this manner) led me to believe that the pressure to convict me would overwhelm the concern for a just, accurate judgment based on the evidence adduced at trial.

I have no comment on the first paragraph of this quotation. I only included it because it was a necessary context for the second paragraph. The second paragraph is the same old gripe: “You never contacted me to find out if this was what I teach!” We should ask Calvin if we can say anything positive about his theology. After all, we cannot call him up from the dead (Saul, Samuel, and the witch of Endor notwithstanding). Can we understand Calvin from his writings or not? Someone might say that we have far more of Calvin’s teachings. Granted. But why then does Wilkins publish any of his writings? The way scholarship works is on the fundamental basis of someone’s writings. Such writings are supposed to be clear presentations of the author’s views. Even today, scholarship is most often done without contacting the scholars whose views are being critiqued. This is not viewed as shoddy scholarship simply because this is done and because the authors were not contaced. Now, this is a separate question from whether the writings were understood correctly. I do understand this, and so did the study committee.

Secondly, the claim about effectively trying Wilkins by study committee is, quite frankly, ludicrous. The constitutional authority comes from the BCO, where the Presbytery (and, by the same token, the GA) has the power to condemn erroneous opinion. This power is explicitly given to the Presbytery, and mutatis mutandis, the General Assembly. Furthermore, a study committee report is not a trial, Sproul’s comments on the floor of GA notwithstanding (his words functioned as metaphor). If anything, the study committee put some particular theological views on trial. It did not put anyone on trial. So, there is nothing in that paragraph that is true.

That is all for now, except that the tone of this whole declaration by Wilkins does not seem to be in accordance with the claim that he leaves without bitterness or self-pity (last paragraph). Instead, it has the feel of a parting last shot. I know exactly how he feels. I did the same thing when I was kicked off the Wrightsaid group. I wrote a bitter letter to the moderators of that group saying that I hoped they enjoyed their hegemony. This has the same feel.