The PCA’s Original Vision Network

I would recommend you look at my friend Wes White’s blog (here and here) for the recent discussion about this initiative. This seems to me to be an attempt to redefine our history. The PCA’s origin is not broadly Reformed, but rather confessionally Reformed, as is proven by the documents Wes White cites, which, interestingly enough, has Kooistra’s signature on it (and I do not note that to somehow denigrate Kooistra: it’s just that he signed a document claiming to want a thoroughly Reformed denomination, and now, almost 40 years later, he wants a document that advocates a “broadly” Reformed ethos. I think he has changed over 40 years).

I have been banging this drum for a while now, but I guess it needs to be banged again: stretching the boundaries of the PCA does not result in more unity! Instead, it results in more chaos and disunity. You cannot be united unless it is a union around the truth! We are imbibing our culture’s distaste for boundaries when we use pejorative descriptions like “a narrow sectarianism that could consume our energies building a theological fortress.” Quite frankly, right now the PCA could use some theological fortress-building. Otherwise, our confessional heritage will go the way of the dodo bird.

As an illustration, take music composition. One of the single best insights into the nature of musical composition (or any art endeavor, for that matter) came to me from one of my composition teachers at St. Olaf College. She told the class that boundaries spark creativity. If I sit at the computer, where my composition program is located, and say to myself, “I am going to write a piece of music,” that is actually quite stultifying. If I take that approach at all, I immediately have to start asking limiting questions. I am setting up boundaries, in other words. What is the instrumentation? Long or short? Bombastic or meditative? If a song, then what lyrics? Which voice part? As a matter of fact, it is much more freeing and energizing to creativity to have very small and tight boundaries. The fastest piece I ever wrote was a piece I wrote for organ pedal solo. Talk about limitations! Just the feet! That piece flew from my pen, even though it wound up being at least ten pages long. In theology, the most creative theologians are always the most confessional, because they are exploring the depth of the same old truths, and they are not trying to shift sideways into supposed newer truths, which are usually old falsehoods. We need to dig deeper, not shift sideways.

If our denomination is headed for shipwreck (and it might very well do that!), whose fault is it going to be? Supposed narrow-minded sectarians? As a person who is usually attacked by this appellation, I would have to demur: the confessional folks haven’t moved anywhere! We’re still here, advocating a confessional, thoroughly Reformed orthodoxy. There is only so much boundary shifting that confessional folk can take. Wouldn’t the sectarians instead be those who are constantly trying to push the boundary in the name of creativity and unity (which ethos, given the above, seems more than a bit ironic to me)?


  1. justsinner99 said,

    May 11, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Well said!

  2. Todd Gwennap said,

    May 11, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I wonder if we might be making too much of the distinction between “broadly” Reformed and “thoroughly” Reformed. When I hear terminology like that, my initial question is usually, “With respect to whom/what?” Historically speaking, the answer to that question was the PCUS. And with that as a referent, I think thoroughly Reformed accurately captures the spirit of our founding church fathers.

    However, to speak more anecdotally, I do think that the PCA has become more confessional over time, not less. I know of many churches in the PCA that entered the PCA as broadly-evangelical/Reformed. I even know of some with dispensational leadership. I’m not sure how widespread that kind of “broadness” was, but like I said, I know of its existence. I’m sure that for every church like that, there were others desiring to be a truly confessional Presbyterian church.

    Someone like Sean Lucas could definitely shed a good deal more light on the situation, but I’m not sure that, in its early days, the PCA was a uniformly committed to confessional Presbyterianism as Wes suggests. My sense is more that many of the churches who joined the PCA in its first decade were churches grateful to be in a communion that openly and without qualification proclaimed the Gospel. They were just glad to be done with fights over encroaching (and encroached) liberalism.

    I say this not to advocate for a broadly Reformed denomination. My sympathies are a bit more confessional. I was just wondering if we are making too much of the “broadly” and “thoroughly” distinction in verbiage given a four-decade time lapse.

  3. Stuart said,

    May 11, 2012 at 11:56 am


    I don’t usually get involved in discussion like this online . . . and I don’t necessarily disagree with what you’re saying here. I do, however, wonder what’s behind the remarks of a guy like Kooistra when he uses the term “broadly Reformed.”

    What is actually meant by the term “broadly Reformed” when PCAers use it?

    If “broadly Reformed” means becoming exactly like the EPC or the PCUSA or supporting FV or deviating from the historic Reformed positions on the infallibility of Scripture, justification, God’s sovereignty, etc., then I would think many, if not most, of the PCA’s TEs and REs would adamantly reject such a position.

    If, however, the term is being used to argue against a strict subscriptionism that does not allow any deviation from any statement or proposition of our Standards, I can see how some in the PCA would rally behind such terminology . . . and perhaps unwittingly align themselves with the more “progressive, boundary stretching” folks who find themselves in the PCA.

    Since terminology like “broadly Reformed” can be slippery in usage, we need to make sure we understand the way people are using that phrase. Otherwise even those who are mainly on the same side will talk past each other.

  4. justsinner99 said,

    May 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Good point, Stuart. I think that the problem lies in that we are already seeing what many mean by “broadly Reformed.” You mentioned FV, and we can add deaconesses & theistic evolution to that list. None of those things are really Reformed in any meaningful sense of the word, IMO.

    We already practice good faith subscription to the standards, so I am puzzled as to why we somehow need further “broadening” of the what qualifies as “Reformed.”

  5. May 11, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Well said, Lane. I sometimes wonder if we have become so obsessed with “reaching the culture” or doing “cutting edge theology” that we’ve lost our confessional way, and in some cases the gospel along with it.

    I believe that the real problem aren’t the FVers, paedocommunists, egalitarians, or evolutionists themselves, but the quiet middle that tolerates these errors “elsewhere” as long as it doesn’t bother them. They either want to be seen as “tolerant” or just don’t want to be bothered. Without the support of the “silent majority”, those willing to work for the peace and purity of the PCA are hamstrung in cleaning up the messes.

  6. Frank Aderholdt said,

    May 12, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Superbly done, Lane. “There is only so much boundary shifting that confessional folk can take.” I’ll quote that often.

    I too am not certain exactly what “broadly Reformed” means to Kooistra and others. What I am certain of, though, is that it’s not a term I’ve ever heard the “thoroughly confessional” brothers use. It conjures up images of ever-shifting boundaries and the ever-expanding Big Tent. If you’re committed to the details of the Westminster Standards and think that they are Biblical, you want to see everyone else adopt the same position. “Reformed” is defined by the Standards, not by where I want to see the church go or who I would like in it.

    Those who are, in Lane words,”advocating a confessional, thoroughly Reformed orthodoxy” will regularly use terms like thorough, full, entire, consistent, wholehearted, comprehensive, classic, principled — but not “broad.”

    I heard a wise brother say one time that “Doctrine divides, love unites” is wrong and dangerous. The truth is, “Doctrine unites, love unites.”

    Bob: Remember that the “quiet middle” is also the “quiet muddle.”

  7. justsinner99 said,

    May 12, 2012 at 10:27 am

    We live in a day when the church is characterized by almost anything but devotion to teaching or doctrine. These days you will often hear phrases like “doctrine divides”, as if it were even possible to have an absence of doctrine, or as if Christianity did not require belief in the great truths of Scripture. But there is no such thing as a doctrinal vacuum.

    One of the first things that we learn about the early church is that they “devoted themselves” to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42). If someone doesn’t believe that the Standards accurately represent the system of doctrine found in Scripture maybe that person should not be in the PCA? (There are other denominations where a “broadly Reformed” person would be quite comfortable no?)

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