Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics

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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The PCA’s New Strategic Plan (V)

Creating a Perspective for Planning (V)

The more one progresses through the PCA’s Strategic Plan, the more the impression begins to force itself upon you that you could be reading something from the Social Gospel. I do not want to impugn false motives on the ones who put this document together. In the last installment I mentioned the references made to the “Global Challenges” facing the PCA and wondered out loud how we expected to remedy the 25 items listed under the heading of Global Challenges, since according to the Strategic Plan the PCA has not been able to figure out what it means to be Reformed over the last 30 years. How, one might ask, can we be looking at global challenges when we seem unable and incompetent to solve our own domestic challenges? I’m just askin’.

Quite honestly, some of the 25 items listed as Global Challenges are, well, laughable. This doesn’t mean that they’re not serious and well-meant, it simply means that they are difficult, if not impossible, to control or change. I am not intimating that God cannot intervene sovereignly and change the whole course of events. I am convinced that he is fully capable of doing just that, if he so pleases. That being said, however, I am not totally convinced that the PCA can do much about Third World debt increasing and leading to greater disparities (item 11, p. 10). If we want to add a 26th Global Challenge, I’d like to add “Islamic jihadists cutting off people’s heads on YouTube.” We can do about as much about that as we can “Russian Federation re-militarization,” which is item 18 or, “Waning impact of U.S. on global economy (and interdependence of all economies), which is item 12.

There is, of course, an economic reason why there is a waning impact of the U.S. on global economy that has to do, in part, with the fact that we have sold our economic soul to a thuggish country like China and our children and grandchildren will not be able to pay the trillions of dollars of debt we’ve accumulated. Moreover, monetizing debt is the most foolish of foolish ideas. If, however, the PCA can figure out how to get the government to stop trying to spend our way out of a recession/depression, perhaps there’s hope that the PCA can figure out what it means to be Presbyterian and Reformed.

Item 4 is so convoluted that most will just scratch their heads and pass on to “Expanse of Global Pentecostalism,” which seems to be somewhat understandable. Here is the way item 4 reads: “Majority World church deserving and demanding influence on global Christianity development and doctrine with significant challenges ahead, e.g., Male and female leadership of Chinese Church vs. Male leadership of Developing World church vs. Male and female leadership of Western mainline & new Evangelicals vs. Male leadership of PCA).” If I still lived in the South, I’d say, “Say what?” This item sounds like a doctoral dissertation in the Department of Obfuscation. What or where might the Majority World church be? If we cannot locate it, how can it be demanding influence on global Christianity development and doctrine? Why is it that many, myself included, have never even heard the phrase before? How does any church, Majority World or otherwise, demand influence on doctrine? Apart from the formulation of this item; it sounds like a veiled, or less than veiled, attempt to raise the issue of “female leadership.” Before I pass on, I want to add my two cents. Whatever the Bible teaches about male and female leadership is universal, absolute truth. Therefore it matters not at all whether the truth of the Word of God is taught in Southern California, New York City, or China, Majority World church notwithstanding.

I want to move on to page 24 of the Strategic Plan, which is “Theme 3: In God’s Global Mission.” The goal that is stated reads this way: “Participate in God’s Global Mission with Exemplary Unity, Humility & Effectiveness.” Naively, I thought that’s what the PCA had been striving for since its inception. If this does not describe what the PCA has been doing, then would someone please tell me what it has been doing? Quite honestly, this “goal” resembles breaking down an open door. But it does get more interesting when we read on. The “Means (General)” says that the PCA should “Provide internal means & will to make the PCA a significant contributor to God’s Global Mission.”

The “Objectives” listed are beyond vague. For example, we are to “Participate meaningfully in the largest expansion of Christianity in world history.” Participating meaningfully far exceeds participating meaninglessly. The number two objective is to “Salt the world movement of Christianity with sound Biblical teaching.” That’s interesting, since the document suggests that we haven’t quite grasped what that sound Biblical teaching is yet. Number three: “Learn from the global church Biblical truths beneficial to our own growth in God’s purposes.” Would someone please point me to the address of “the global church”? Who will decide which of these global truths from the global church will be beneficial? Ah, I know. We’ll need to appoint a committee for that.

In “Means (Specific #1a),” you really need to read the fine print—and it is fine print. Here it is: “Identify & support national & international efforts that develop Gospel eco-systems (e.g. church-mercy-evangelism; church-school-community mission; church-arts/media-outreach; church-university ministry-discipleship.” (Emphasis added.) Then in “Means (Specific #1b)” we’re told, “Fund join research of Covenant College & Covenant Seminary, CEP, MTW & MNA re: the most effective Gospel eco-systems and how to multiply them beyond the PCA.” (Emphasis added.) Boom! There it is. Gospel eco-systems. The “vision of the anointed,” as Thomas Sowell calls it must know what Gospel eco-systems are. If you go to this particular web site (, you can learn from Tim Keller first hand what a “Gospel eco-system” is.

If you’re pressed for time, let me summarize the concept for you. It has three “layers” or “components.” First, at the core is, “an effective, contextualized way of communicating and embodying the gospel for center city residents.” Okay. Let me see if I have this straight. “Center city residents” are people who live in the inner city? What if you don’t live in, say, New York City? What if, for example, you live in opulent Orange County California where even the homeless live better than most of the wealthy in France? What if you live in Des Moines or Yellow Knife or Moosejaw? According to the podcast, “If you have an…effective, contextualized way of communicating the gospel and embodying the gospel for center city residents, you’re actually going to win large numbers of them, it’s just going to happen.” I see. One has to wonder why the Lord never revealed this to his Church before now, because there have been “center city residents” in the history of the Church.

From this core component a whole series of church planting movements emanate; at least 5 or 6. These are “different denominations and traditions, that are using the core…whether it’s Anglican, Episcopal, whether its Methodists, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, so on.” Ah, we resolve the PCA’s identity crisis by joining with the United Methodists, liberal Anglicans, and others celebrating the absolute truth that doctrine doesn’t really matter; besides it just divides anyway, doesn’t it? We need to stop being so concerned about how Chinese Christians will view the role of female leadership and abortion and get on with this important eco-movement. If we bring our consummate confusion into the mix, we may solve the dilemma of “Global Pentecostalism,” since they will no longer be able to identify their core values. Great plan. We need to comprehend that in gospel eco-systems, ecumenical cooperation is not optional. It is mandatory. Any volunteers?

Third, there must be various categories of initiatives rooted in, but extending beyond the local church. At least three of these involve social action. First, Justice and Mercy initiatives are essential.

Second, Faith and Work initiatives are equally necessary. At this point in the podcast, Tim emphasizes that Christian artists have to have parties because that’s where art gets done. Really? I didn’t know that. I also thought that at most artist parties cocaine gets done, and maybe a little meth, but hey, I’ll drink to that. Apart from the emphasis on the arts has become a little tedious because we’ve never quite defined it, have we, it seems that we’re striving to reverse the real intention of common grace.

E. Calvin Beisner correctly observes that in many of our endeavors “We depend too much on the insights of common grace, not recognizing that the reality of common grace is the overflow of grace from Scripture through the community of the redeemed to the unredeemed, not the reverse.” This begs the question: Where did we derive the notion that Christian artists need to have parties? Was it because secular, pagan artists have parties, or was it from Scripture?

Finally, Overlapping Leaders from business, the arts, technology, and the church working together to improve the city, form the third and final component.

The Strategic Plan, without giving all the particulars, which, of course, would be a huge turn-off to those not possessing the vision of the anointed, does mention that gospel eco-systems might contain the “Potential drift into social gospel.” (p. 24.) But not to worry, we know who we are as the PCA—or do we?—so there is no danger for us to drift into social gospel! Unbelievable! There is still time before General Assembly. Read this document from cover to cover and please, please, do not overlook the “fine print.” Apart from the draconian money grab that will force PCA churches to donate to organizations within the PCA that they refuse to support, this is a bad document and its implications and applications are very, very far-reaching.

The “fee schedule” it wishes to implement on PCA churches allows no variation and no place for conscience. For instance, my home church pays double to the PCA Administration Committee, but we refuse to pay the “askings” to another PCA committee, which will remain unnamed. Our Session is fully convinced that we have every right to do what we do. Moreover, one can only wonder why not paying the requisite askings would eliminate a delegate from voting at GA. Why wouldn’t the same principle come into play at the Presbytery and congregational levels? I pray that the PCA will have the presence of mind to vote this non-Plan Plan down. It is vague, it is politically correct, and smacks of the Social Gospel. Has the PCA degenerated so far so quickly that we know speak of gospel eco-systems all the while wondering who we really are? My concern is not that we don’t know who we are, but that we don’t know what we’re becoming.


Friday, June 04, 2010

The PCA’s New Strategic Plan (IV)

Creating a Perspective for Planning (IV)

It’s getting close to time for the PCA’s 38th General Assembly in Nashville, so I’ll probably only write this and one more installment on the proposed 2010 PCA Strategic Plan. By necessity, I will skip over quite a bit of this document, but will comment that the general tone of the SP is what I’d call “PC.” In other words, it smacks of something you’d expect to hear at the U.N., on Oprah, or read in the Los Angeles Times. You may take that with however many grains of salt you wish.

On a more positive—sort of—note, the document does speak of “Perspectival Divides” in the PCA and contains an admission that we are made up of “cynical progressives,” “Emergents,” “Transformationists,” and “Planters” who are entrepreneurs and innovators (p. 13.). Two other groups are worthy of note: “Aggressive TRs,” who are out to eradicate unReformed people, and “Doctrinalists,” who constitute the “theological-erosion policemen.” I would add to this list the “Euphemists.” They are those in the PCA who refuse to call illegal aliens, illegal aliens. They prefer the euphemism, “undocumented workers.” I am not certain why some in PCA headquarters insist on calling felons, who are in gangs, “workers,” unless, of course, they’re selling the drugs that American drug dealers just will not sell. The felons are probably categorized with the rest of the illegal population so that we can sound compassionate. Personally, I believe there is something dreadfully wrong about not calling a spade a spade.

For instance, there were—and probably still are—two brothers at PCA headquarters who admired a great deal in the “Emergent Church” or “Emerging Conversation.” Whatever. They were given ink in byFaith to espouse their view. Others, who took an opposing view, were not given the same access. I contacted headquarters and left messages for a colleague who insisted on calling illegal aliens “undocumented workers.” I would have been fine if he would have contacted me and said, “I think you’re all wet.” Fine. At least I get a response. Instead, I got nothing. I wonder if these same people will actually answer questions from lowly delegates on the floor of GA if the Administration Committee presents this Strategic Plan.

Back to the spade issue: Something goes “bump” and “crash” in the night. Your wife says, “Honey, I think there’s a burglar in the house,” and you reply, “Nah. It’s probably just an undocumented hurting soul.” But I digress. I’m skipping ahead to page 17 of the plan (VI. Questions to Address in Making Strategic Plans for the PCA). The “introduction” reads this way: “The questions below identify issues that should be addressed by a Strategic Plan for the PCA in light of the preceding analysis.

Most questions were suggested by the 2008 Cooperative Ministries Committee after reviewing the analysis. Additional questions were added by 2008 General Assembly commissioners who attended its Strategic Planning Seminar and also reviewed the preceding analysis. The questions are not arranged in any priority order.” Okay. Let’s take a look at some of these “questions.”

Providing Safe Places

Number 1 (in no particular order, mind you) reads, “How to Provide Safe Places to Talk about New Ideas to Advance the PCA’s Faithfulness to Biblical Belief, Ministry, and Mission.” What jumps off the page for me on this one (in no particular order) are the words “Safe Places.” I mentioned in the previous installment that this document suffers horribly from a lack of precision and definition. This first “question” (in no particular order. I cannot help but wonder what the psychological effect would have been if this first question had been shoved to number 12, which is the last one. I’m just wonderin’.) begs the question: What constitutes a “Safe Place”? In my home congregation, it is safe to bring up any topic you want. There are no taboos. Once you bring that question to the forefront, however, you can expect to have to defend it biblically.

So, for example, let’s say that Jennifer Knapp, the Christian singer, dove award winner, and lesbian wants a “Safe Place” to discuss female homosexuality, or homosexuality in general. We can have that discussion in an age-appropriate setting. In that sense, the venue is “safe.” It is also “safe” in the sense that no one will do bodily harm to Ms. Knapp and it is “safe” in the sense that the conversation will be polite and respectful. Nevertheless, I do not believe that Ms. Knapp will like the conclusion of this “safe” conversation because she will be presented with biblical truth and that presentation will be unbending, uncompromising. She would receive simple yes and no answers regarding whether God considers homosexuality a sin, no matter how much “in love” the couple in question might be.

The same drill would be followed by questions regarding abortion on demand, adultery, fornication, kleptomania, murder, foul language, and the like. I contend that by being so vague and supplying virtually no parameters regarding what a “Safe Place” might look like or be, this report does a huge disservice to the PCA. Moreover, the phrase “New Ideas” is as vague as it is broad. Besides, new ideas typically have to be “time tested” to ensure that they achieve and advance the PCA’s stated goals: Faithful to Scripture, True to the Reformed Faith, and Obedient to the Great Commission (p. 3). Since the document has already stated that the PCA has struggled to implement being true to the Reformed Faith, it might seem both wise and plausible to work on that “Old Idea” before we try to move forward with a bevy of “New Ideas.” I’m just ponderin’. It might seem like a worthwhile undertaking for the PCA to sit down and try to figure out what it means to be Reformed. That might cause some people to leave the PCA because they are not Reformed, but rather broadly evangelical


More Seats at the Table

Number 2 (in no particular order, mind you) asks how “to Provide More Seats at the Table,” (especially younger leaders, women, and ethnic leaders) for PCA Ministry Direction and Development. Where are we heading with this one? The older I get, the younger everyone else begins to look. It seems to me that the average age of the lion’s share of today’s PCA pastors is “young.” Just how young are we talking about here? If the idea is to get 15-18 year olds at the table, I might pass. Don’t get me wrong: I love that age group and personally have a lot of fun with them. I can relate to them well, I think, but I don’t want them setting “PCA Ministry Direction and Development.”

Hey, I got it! This is a “New Idea”! Depending on what it means, it could be a very bad new idea. Besides, it’s not really new. I came to faith in a liberal PCUS congregation in Knoxville, TN. As an available “warm body,” I became the youth leader two weeks after my conversion. Yikes! The next year I became a deacon. Double yikes! While I served and before I went to seminary, there was a movement afoot to have at least one eighteen-year-old serve on Session. Unless that kid was Charles Spurgeon, there was going to be mega-trouble. Is this what the PCA is asking for now? I don’t know. It is very, very unclear.

Moreover, what role would women serve “at ‘the’ table,” wherever “the table” is. Does anyone know where to find “the table”? Where should we start looking? Does this mean the Session table? The Presbytery table? The GA table? None of the above? All of the above? What role will the women serve? Will it be in an authoritative capacity? Will their place at “the table” mean that what they decide must be considered settled and binding? Why or why not? As far as “ethnic leaders” are concerned, we’re all PCA colleagues. While we can all learn from one another, I am very hesitant to start dividing up and separating our “ethnic leaders.” One of the great joys in my congregation is the diversity represented there. We are Christians. I tend not to think about Christians in terms of their ethnic backgrounds, but rather in terms of who they are as Christian people.

Corporate and Global Missions

This one really disturbs me for a number of reasons, not least of which is the progressive (meant as a political movement) and PC tone of the wording. Apart from finding the phrase “How to Do Mission Corporately and Globally” (this includes learning from the Global Church, as well unifying ourselves to minister to and with the Global church) cheesy, it is more important that I find that it can lead to the secularization of the Church. Let me explain what I mean.

Most recently, we have heard very liberal politicians and pastors speaking more and more about global-this and global-that. The liberals speak frequently these days about “Global Governance.” If you haven’t heard that, you’ve been watching too much CNN. Everyone from President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Al Gore, and virtually every “czar” in the current administration drops the phrase “Global Governance” with a high degree of regularity. In terms of number 4 (no particular order, mind you), where do I find “the Global Church”? Is it anywhere near “the table”?

If this question is referring to the universal Church of Jesus Christ, then it begs the question: Haven’t we been doing this all along in the PCA? What has MTW been trying to accomplish, if not this very thing? I am hesitant to adopt the language of the secularists on this and the so-called “undocumented worker” plane, but it appears that our headquarters has less trouble with it than I do. As negative as this plan is towards NAPARC, are we now going to go the route of a quasi-Reformed (we still haven’t figured out what Reformed is) World Council of Churches? I suspect not, but some clarification would be helpful. Once we get out our ecclesiastical GPS devices, we’ll probably have more success locating “the Global Church.” This criticism—and it is a criticism—also applies to number 10, “How to Inspire and Engage Churches and Presbyteries in a Global Strategy.” If we cannot figure out who we are in three decades and change, how are we going to be able to implement a global strategy for others? “Hey, you might want to copy the PCA, even though we’re not sure of who were are or what it is to be Reformed,” doesn’t sound like a good action plan.

As promised, I’ll finish next time.