The Baylys not too long ago wondered why conservatives in the PCA were so agitated by the Federal Visionaries but calm about Tim Keller. They had a point even if one could return the favor and ask the brothers who are fraternally out of their minds why they are so worked up about Keller and seemingly indifferent to the dangers of Federal Vision (hint: antinomianism versus neo-nomianism goes a long way to explain the difference).
But the recent verdict in the trial of Peter Leithart suggests that the Baylys misunderstand the PCA altogether. Watching the release of different parts of the transcript has been jaw-droppingly astounding. The defense’s cross-examination of a witness against Leithart — Lane Kiester — was something worthy of a Hollywood production. Now comes Jason Stellman’s closing statement for the prosecution (which refers to the committee’s treatment of Kiester). Here are a few excerpts:
When Dr. Leithart was asked, why is it that people misrepresent you or misunderstand you. I was happy to hear that question asked from a member of this commission. That’s a question that I have often desired to ask of various proponents of the Federal Vision or the New Perspective on Paul. Why is it that your critics somehow never seem to be able to represent you fairly in your own estimation? Why is it that you’re never quoted fairly or in context? Why is that anyone who disagrees with you is somehow always misrepresenting you or failing to understand what you’re saying? And a follow up question would be, and why is it that all these people who misunderstand what you’re saying are all misunderstanding you to be saying the same thing? The answer that Dr. Leithart gave was, well, the reason that I’m so often misrepresented is a clash of paradigms. And I think he’s absolutely right. However, I would describe it as a clash of systems of doctrine. . . .
The Westminster Larger Catechism 69 teaches that our union with Christ is “manifested” by our “partaking of the virtue of his mediation, in [our] justification, adoption, [and] sanctification.” WLC 77 distinguishes justification from sanctification, insisting that while the latter is owing to the infusion of grace, the former is the result of the “imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”
TE Leithart writes:
“The Protestant doctrine has been too rigid in separating justification and sanctification, more rigid certainly than Scripture itself…. Justification and definitive sanctification are not merely simultaneous, nor merely twin effects of the single event of union with Christ (though I believe that is the case). Rather, they are the same act.”
The confessional, Reformed doctrine of justification (which TE Leithart calls “illegitimately narrow” and “distorted”) teaches that justification is a legal declaration of God, based upon the work of Christ, by which the obedience and satisfaction of Jesus are imputed to the sinner by faith alone. TE Leithart’s desire to see justification as a “deliverdict” (or, a delivering verdict) that contains within it the deliverance of God’s people from the power of sin (which our Confession calls “sanctification”) is to collapse what Reformed theology has always distinguished (and we have already heard expert testimony to the fact that definitive sanctification is much more closely related to progressive sanctification than it is to justification).
The entire statement is valuable and Jason deserves great helpings of gratitude for his courageous stand against the vagaries and errors of the Visionaries.
But the recent verdicts acquiting Federal Visionaries by two presbyteries within the PCA raise yet again questions about the state, coherence, and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America. Yes, the denomination has studied Federal Vision and disapproved at the General Assembly level. But life on the ground in the PCA appears to be very different from what the Assembly does. Some have been circulating the website of a congregation in the South which describes a female counselor as a pastor (though since our correspondents in the South and Northwest sent word her title has changed). The Baylys have continued to notice the feminist friendly practices of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
But even in much less controversial ways, pastors and congregations in the PCA give evidence of uncertainty about matters Reformed. Over at Vintage73, a blog of young PCA pastors, one contributor comments on three pastoral mistakes he has made so far in his ministry. One was thinking that Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church would be fix what ailed his congregation:
2. Going for the silver bullet- this is the ministry mistake of thinking the latest and greatest will solve all of your problems. A few years ago we were all told that using the “40 Days of Purpose” would increase attendance and giving! Great! How do I order? Where do I sign? Churches of all stripes were using it. Sadly, silver bullets only work on werewolves (or so I’m told). Now the silver bullet may be the latest and greatest in technological advancement. “Hey, if we get a Facebook page, start a Twitter account, and use some video that will turn Andy Stanley green with envy, we’ll turn this thing around!” It’s not that we can’t glean some insights from others, but if you think you’ve found the mystery method that will solve all of your ministry’s problems that doesn’t involve theological reflection, prayer, and repentance, my advice is to take your shiny ammo back to where you got it. Here’s an idea: What about starting with a renewed commitment to the primary tools God put in the church’s toolbox such as the ministry of the Word, prayer, sacraments, worship, and fellowship? Just a thought.
seems to think that his understands it a mistake to was think ing that churches have easy cures. He also indicates a commitment to the means of grace. But even more basic was the problem of a Reformed pastors contemplating using dubious schemes from a Southern Baptist minister. If he Presbyterian pastors simply had a conviction about following Reformed teachings and practices and using Reformed sources, he Rick Warren’s methods would never have had appeal to PCA pastors considered Warren’s project.
In other words, the PCA seems to need a broken windows ecclesiology. This is the idea that if you pay attention to the little things — like what books you use in Bible studies and Sunday school, elements and order of worship, national flags in the auditorium, avoiding both the church and secular holiday calendar — the big things (Federal Vision and Keller) take care of themselves. This means that a communion that practices a level of ecclesiastical policing (i.e. discipline) at the local level will inevitably reflect that same discipline at the denominational level and in turn will likely discourage the less disciplined to affiliate or join.
Which is another way of saying that the reason why certain figures in the PCA get away with what they get away with owes to the ethos of the communion itself. Folks in the PCA show discomfort with putting limits on its officers and agencies. If Keller and the Federal Visionaries find a home in the PCA it is because the PCA is increasingly spacious. Why the denomination has lost that older sense of combating the broadening effects of liberalism is a real question. When it started the PCA was not exclusively an Old School church. But its officers and members had a shared sense of needing to oppose error and that denominations have a record of going off course. Now that liberalism is supposedly defeated, the PCA does not exhibit such wariness. Only the Old Schoolers have it and some dismiss them as crazy TR’s because — well — everyone in the PCA loves Jesus (as if liberals did not). But for Presbyterians, liberalism was not the only problem. In fact, non-Reformed communions, teachings, and practices were also erroneous. To tolerate or overlook their errors was a form of liberalism.
I cannot fathom how the ending to this denominational story will be happy.