Posted by Bob Mattes
Apparently, there was a small Denominational Renewal conference back in February. Not many noticed, so someone decided to have a blog conversation based on the original talks in February. Some noteworthy PCA figures have accepted the invitation to respond to the talks one at at time between Sept 15 and Oct 17, with one week dedicated to each presentation. Each week’s responses include one individual deemed sympathetic to the talk, one critical, one minority/woman, and one from outside the PCA. Others may respond to these posts on the blog site.
One warning about the Common Grounds site. Comments are processed using a cross-domain script. These are dangerous and typically used to hijack browsers, plan malware on sites, or steal personal information. In order to post with a secure browser like Firefox with NoScript active, you’ll have to disable XSS protection in NoScript to register that comment on the site. The fact that I did so speaks volumes on my loyalty to the PCA. This is a poor setup by the Common Grounds folks, and dangerous to your browsing security. They should eliminate the redirection script. You’ve been warned. And don’t forget to reenable XSS protection after your comment has been accepted.
This week’s topic is “Renewing Ethos” by Greg Thompson. If you’re wondering what a “Renewing Ethos” might be, so am I after listening to the talk. I posted a comment on the latest post asking a number of questions about TE Thompson’s talk requesting some clarity. The site there doesn’t seem all that active, so I’m posting my comment here verbatim in the interest of starting perhaps a wider discussion on a more popular theology site. Before reading further, I encourage you to listen to the series introduction, listen to the first talk and read the posts by the major players. Without at least listening to the original presentation (which runs about 30 minutes), my comments will be out of context because I do not directly recapitulate his talk in my comment:
Many thanks to Dr. Duncan, Mrs. Jones, and Dr. Doriani for their insightful comments. While I believe that Greg Thompson made some interesting points, I share many of these reviewers’ concerns.
First the talk lacked in specific fruit to be picked. One of the keys to any success is to have measurable goals against which to gage progress and success. If you don’t have these, then how do you know we are being successful in our quest? I’m not suggesting that we break so-called “denominational renewal” down to a set of metrics, but nor do I see any specific remedies in TE Thompson’s remarks. Becoming more like Jesus is a wonderful goal, but what specifically does that look like for the PCA in TE Thompson’s opinion? Especially in light of the real challenges that we face, multiple sides claim to be more faithful to Jesus’ teachings.
For instance, as others have pointed asked, to what specific ugliness does TE Thompson refer? He bypasses specifics at every point by saying something like “you know what I mean.” Well, I for one don’t. A Federal Vision proponent will take a completely different meaning than someone who backs the PCA’s actions against the Federal Vision errors. The specifics should not be left to our imagination.
Second, I do not see the things in my church or Presbytery as we engage the world about which TE Thompson seemed to have so much angst. We work in and with a local coalition that includes many evangelical denominations. We are very active in materially and spiritually supporting several local charities helping those most vulnerable in our society. We have an international congregation and active outreaches to international students studying locally, as well as prominent local minorities. And, we preach the gospel of grace without fail and without apology while doing all this. God has blessed us with a physical location that enables us to serve Him in this way. I don’t believe that a mid-west or other area congregation to have the same local opportunities outside of missionary support. Thus, I don’t see some of TE Thompson’s critiques about being insular as having any real basis. None were offered. Perhaps he was speaking to his own context in his own church or Presbytery, I don’t know.
Third, the PCA faces real issues that demand real answers and actions. Beauty without truth is pornography. Which means, of course, that there is no beauty apart from truth. The gospel is being challenged by the Federal Vision, real churches have been corrected by the GA for “commissioning” women deacons in violation of our polity. Real people and churches are being hurt and divided by these and other theological challenges. That’s not paranoia, that’s reality. I didn’t hear TE Thompson address any of these specific concerns. What specifically should a church or Presbytery do, in his opinion, when confronted with false teachings?
Proverbs tells us that iron sharpens iron. Physics tells us that butter does not sharpen iron. While I agree that we should be as gracious as possible when confronting threats to the gospel, our confessions, and/or our polity, we should not be butter but stand with spines of iron. Jesus was tender with the lost, but not so with the religious leaders of his day who taught and lived error. There’s a difference.
I’m not advocating witch hunts or search and destroy missions. All things should be worked out within the context of our Constitution. But we should work them out to conclusion, whatever that conclusion may be, not agree to disagree on the gospel or our polity. I’m left unsure of exactly how TE Thompson proposes that we handle these serious issues.
Lastly, I don’t know anyone in the PCA (and I do know a few) who doubt God’s gracious provision for His church and our denomination. Even at the most challenging times, I have seen men and women put their trust in Christ, that he would preserve us from error, splits, challenges to our church’s very survival, etc. As humans, we always have doubts and concerns arising from our sinful natures, but as the elect we know that God will ultimately prevail. At the same time as we trust in the Lord, we also must go about the building of His kingdom here, not because it ultimately depends on us, but because he has both commanded and privileged us to take part in this work with and for Him. What is it that prompts TE Thompson to doubt that all this is so and that somehow we are all cynical or hopeless with or without iPods? Maybe I’m the only one, but I don’t see it.
So, I’m left wondering exactly what is “denominational renewal” and what does it specifically look like? How specifically should we confront and overcome real errors in our midst under the umbrella of “denominational renewal”? What specific steps should we take today and specifically how will we know if we are succeeding? Looking more like Jesus in certainly the overarching goal of sanctification, but there wouldn’t be denominations at all if we all agreed what that goal looked like and how to work it out in this fallen world.
We all individually and covenantally need renewal and are being renewed day-by-day, nanosecond-by-nanosecond, through the work of the Holy Spirit. How does this specific call for “denominational renewal” fall within that context? Philosophy and generalizations won’t solve anything, only specific and focused action will. So, what actions should we take in this context?
Again, I appreciate TE Thompson’s thoughts and was challenged by some, but I cannot be either comforted nor challenged by others until he puts them into the specific context of the real, fallen world in which we live. Maybe that was too much to do with 7 points in 30 minutes. Perhaps that’s why Dr. Chappel teaches that we should limit our sermons to three points.
By His grace,