What's The Difference Between the Gospel Coalition and the PCA?

If this were a joke, the punchline might be, “only Tim Keller’s hair dresser knows for sure.” Ba dop bop!

I understand that this question might wind up some readers, especially those who think the Gospel Co-Allies do no wrong. But it is one that need not be pejorative. It could say good things about the Gospel Coalition, for example, that it resembles the PCA. Since the latter is still a Reformed church and Reformed churches are good things, a comparison between the Coalition and a Reformed church could be possitive. Of course, the answer to the question could go the other way and liken the PCA to the Gospel Coalition, a parachurch agency that fancies itself Reformed.

The reason the question could go either way is the lengthy explanation that Tim Keller and D. A. Carson gave (though the text uses the first person singular several times) to the recent imbroglio over James MacDonald’s invitation to T.D. Jakes. They distinguish between a “boundary-bounded set” and a “center-bounded set,” and claim that the Coalition has always been a center-bounded institution. I’m still scratching my head over these concepts. They sound more like sociology than ecclesiology and I tend to be skeptical when ministers or theologians employ jargon outside their own expertise. Be that as it may, the use of these concepts does not necessarily clarify the difference between a parachurch agency like the Coalition and a Reformed denomination like the PCA.

First, the nature of a boundary-bounded body:

. . . you establish boundaries to determine who is “in” and who is “outside” the set—whether the set of true believers, or the set of faithful Presbyterians, or the set of evangelicals, or any other set. For the boundary to have any hope of doing its job, it has to be well defined. If the definitions are sloppy, the boundary keeps getting pushed farther and farther out.

What makes this definition odd, especially in reference to Presbyterians, is that Keller has been involved in the recent debates over subscription within the PCA in ways that have expanded the boundaries. Even if someone wanted to interpret the recent changes in the PCA’s constitution in a conservative manner, it would be hard to read Keller’s understanding of the PCA or his presence in those debates as placing him on the side of tightening the PCA’s boundaries. In which case, I wonder if Keller really sees that big a difference between boundary- and center-bounded identities.

Next comes the center-bounded conception:

. . . center-bounded sets don’t worry too much about who is “in” and “out” at the periphery. Instead, there is a robust definition at the center. For TGC, the center is defined by our Confessional Statement (CS) and Theological Vision for Ministry (TVM) and sustained by the Council members. There we expect unreserved commitment to these foundation documents.

This still sounds to me like a boundary-bounded set up. But what makes this different is that no one can join the Coalition.

Individuals and churches may choose to identify themselves with us and use the thousands of resources on our site, but Council members do not fall into paroxysms of doubt as to whether or not this individual or that church truly belongs to TGC: we are not a denomination, and we do not have the resources to engage in the kind of vetting at the periphery that a boundary-bounded set demands. At the margins there are many who love part of what we stand for and not other parts.

So it would seem that the big difference here is membership. The PCA has members and the Coalition doesn’t. This gets confusing because Keller and Carson, among others, are “Council Members” of the Coalition. Why some parts of the Coalition have membership and others don’t is a mystery. Yet, the same thing — that some in the PCA love, Keller included, parts of what the denomination stands for and not other parts — can be said of a denomination or a boundary-bounded set. In fact, it is true of most Reformed churches. In which case, Reformed churches may actually be much more center-bounded than the Coalition, except that the center of confessional Reformed Protestantism happens to be much bigger than the Coalition’s center, and for that matter, more biblical because the Reformed confessions try to do justice the whole word of God, not simply the bits about which guys from different denominations might agree.

One last similarity comes when Keller and Carson describe the diversity of ministries that exist outside the Coalition among the various “members'” activities:

Within these bounds, Council members discharge ministries that are highly diverse, with their own networks, specific aims, and relationships with many people outside the Council. Sometimes these relationships make other Council members uncomfortable. A Council member may choose to participate in discussions with an organization known for its laxness in doctrine and practice. He may do so in order to serve as a voice for faithful Christian confessionalism within that organization. Looking at this ministry, other Council members might evaluate things differently and warn the participating Council member that he is merely being used: it would be wiser for to avoid the association. But those are judgment calls. TGC does not normally take any position on whether a Council member’s associations are wise or expedient, even though there are not a few Council members who will offer their private judgments out of genuine affection and concern for gospel fidelity and clarity.

“Within these bounds”? I thought the Coaltion was center-bounded, not boundary-bounded. Be that as it may, this description of ministry diversity could also well apply to the PCA where the ministers who belong to the denomination have any number of ministries beyond the denomination’s. Think of New Life Presbyterianism and the different agencies that this wing of the PCA sponsors. Think of the Perimeter Church of Atlanta. Or how about Briarwood in Birmingham, Alabama? But speaking of Elephants in Rooms, what about Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church? What about all of the networks that Keller has established?

Which leads to the question that I asked at the outset: how different is the Gospel Coalition from the PCA? Judging by the Tim Keller’s involvement in the Gospel Coalition and the PCA, not much.

P.S. I might actually have received more counsel on these musings from the Coalition if the Keller-Carson post had been open for comments, but not even Justin Taylor’s post about the statement permitted discussion. I guess the indirect rebuke to MacDonald was all that the Coalition could bear.

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42 thoughts on “What's The Difference Between the Gospel Coalition and the PCA?

  1. Surely a “center-bounded set” is just a very small “boundary-bounded set”. The difference seems to be solely about how much is seen as adiaphora.

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  2. Can the Gospel Coalition ordain ministers? Does it claim to have the authority to administer the sacraments? Can it discipline members? Can it compel attendance? Does it send out missionaries? I know for a fact that one of the PCA churches you mention has in fact excommunicated an elder. Can the Gospel Coalition excommunicate? By your standards, one might also ask if there’s a difference between the Bayly(sp?) Bros. and the OPC as there is an OPC head minister in one of the cities you mention in your article who is a thoroughgoing–and I mean passing legislation that allows the stoning of infidels kind of thoroughgoing–Theonomist. I have this on the authority of another OPC minister. And in terms of boundary lines, to what degree is the OPC opposing the FVers in its midst? Drawing analogies is always a dicey business as certain parts of it will work and others won’t or even most parts of it won’t work. And arguing by analogy is just one of the worst ways to argue for that very reason. Yes, in a few ways the GC is like the PCA, or rather, the GC is like particular PCA churches or even GC personalities are like PCA personalities in certain respects. But in other, more significant ways, as adduced in the list of questions above, they are not the same.

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  3. Enough socio-academic newspeak. Boundary-bounded? Makes sense like arm-armed or roof-roofed makes sense. This is language meant to distract, mislead, or strategically redefine.

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  4. DG wrote: “Why some parts of the Coalition have membership and others don’t is a mystery.”

    Doesn’t this underline one of the main problems with all para-church organizations, namely that it undermines the notion of the priesthood of all believers? I don’t see how there can be any such thing as the priesthood of believers outside the bounds of the visible church. The concept is a non-starter. But the leadership of a para-church organization, whether vested in a person or a small group, is inherently exercising quasi-ecclesiastical and spiritual authority, but doing so not from a position of ordination and calling. By what right can they form judgments of any kind with respect to other believers and not violate the notion of priesthood?

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  5. Mr. Beall, in the world of voluntarism — where churches have no support from the civil magistrate — all churches and parachurches are on the same spectrum. But the main question for me is why folks like Keller or Piper, who are in a denomination, feel compelled to join a parachurch organization. What makes this all the more odd, is that Keller and Piper already have within their own congregations “ministries” that the Coalition duplicates. It would be one thing if you had a Reformed or Baptist church and looked to the Coalition for endeavors beyond the congregation. But Piper and Keller have enough going on between Desiring God and City 2 City that the Coalition needs them more than they need the Coalition.

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  6. Prosperity gospel aside, their explanation would still not make sense of why someone who is fuzzy (at best) on the doctrine of the Trinity would be invited to participate.

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  7. I’ve never visited the GC web pages so I poked around a few minutes and found this:

    By being a counter–culture. We want to be a church that not only gives support to individual Christians in their personal walks with God, but one that also shapes them into the alternative human society God creates by his Word and Spirit. (See below, point 5c.)

    http://thegospelcoalition.org/about/who (vision for ministry tab)

    Either it’s poorly written or the GC views itself as a denomination. I would have thought the ministry statement would be more about what the organization does to support local churches but it doesn’t really read that way.

    We used to attend a Baptist General Conference church http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptist_General_Conference and their structure is more of an association and not very presbyterian. I asked once what would happen if there was a dispute in the church. The congregation would be left to choose their own resources for resolving issues. In the particular congregation we were part of it was more important to be finger-printed than be a church member to teach in Sunday School. I’m not against finger-printing but rather against a loose commitment to church membership.

    I can’t make any comments about the PCA. Our family is very grateful to have found the OP mission church in our area.

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  8. Jeffrey,

    At its best, the PCA isn’t like TGC, operating within the bounds of our Standards, and BCO. However, the PCA, strengths notwithstanding suffers from many of the identity and definitional issues that TGC does. Our ‘big tent’ has invited so much diversity, that I often wonder if it hasn’t also invited too much trouble. We have an amalgam of confessionalists, theonomists, FV-ers, transformationalists, those who adhere to an Old School Presbyterianism, and those who are incline to New School moorings, not to mention a stronger than average personality cult among some of out leaders. The PCA does some have some commonality around a nebulous understanding of what constitutes “Reformed”, but while its diversity isn’t as pronounced as TGC, it isn’t as if the diversity between the two doesn’t warrant any comparison.

    The current FV crisis plays into this as well, where we have some presbyteries that are open and inviting to FV adherents in spite of the GA’s position on the matter. MacDonald similarly invites someone who is fuzzy on the doctrine of the trinity, in spite of TGC’s (scant) doctrinal statement on the Trinity. If the PCA is to survive meaningfully in the coming decades we do need to get our own house in order and decide who we want to be, or limit some of the extreme diversity within the denomination, otherwise TGC and the PCA could ultimately wind up in similar states of disarray down the line.

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  9. Jed. Great comment. Quick question, why do you stay in the PCA being one (as I deduce from your comments…forgive me if I am wrong) who is for a more confessional communion? Why not join the OPC?

    I ask because I am curious. I figure there must be good reason the more confessionally inclined don’t leave. It seems more and more tension is building in the PCA and I wonder why so many continue to stay.

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  10. Along side the impulse to be more confessionally bound, I really would like to see the confessional denominations address and rectify the whole “Johnny Can’t Preach” malady that afflicts so many of these same denominations. Otherwise, we’re really gonna be the group that dots it’s i’s and crosses it’s t’s but still can’t shoot straight.

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  11. Funny, I always thought the Nicean and Athanasian creeds were enough of a boundary marker on the Trinity to exclude men like T. D. Jakes. Regardless, American evangelicals will have their celebrities.

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  12. Jeremy,

    The reason why I stay is because of the confessional quality of my own congregation, and the fact that my membership vows are to my church and not to the denomination. If our elders sought realignment at some point in the future, I wouldn’t be kicking and screaming though. If I moved to a different town, I wouldn’t give deference to the PCA, since it is such a mixed bag – but that doesn’t look likely anytime in the near future.

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  13. Sean, but has anyone established that the non-Reformed Johnnies can preach? That’s not to say that Gordon’s argument is without merit. But in my survey of the radio dial and television channels, I can’t say I have encountered exegesis. Then again, is that what itching ears want to hear?

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  14. Jed, right answer, except that your membership vows also involved the presbytery and General Assembly. Still, I think it’s a wrong move to vacate a local congregation for another one simply because of a bad ruling at presbytery or GA. The right move is to fight until they pry the BCO from your cold dead fingers.

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  15. Jed,

    Thanks for the response. Makes sense. I’m with DGH…I thought there was some kind of allegiance to the presbytery and GA, but I applaud those that stay and fight.

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  16. D G, I don’t know if the non-reformed johnnie’s can preach or not I stopped listening years ago. I got the zionist Hagee down the road from me and he’s got Duplantis and Creflo Dollar coming in to help him fleece the devotees this weekend, so that sampling of the non-reformed isn’t worth my dime, literally. The other direction I’ve got a dinner theater turned church, which last I heard decided to continue with the dinner theater theme on sundays, so that’s a no-go. Finally I’ve got an LCMS around the corner which got lost along the way and thinks it’s Lakewood church minus Osteen’s hair. Oh yeah, then I got Doug Phillip’s home church about 2 blocks away. I gave up on the evangelicals years ago, but most of the PCA or OPC churches I’ve attended the past ten years, though not full of schlock, thankfully, are fairly underwhelming from the pulpit. We’ve got 1 out of 3 PCA’s in town who have a clue, the other two are trying to reinvent the wheel.

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  17. Sean, I hear you. Calvin thinks God gives us lousy preachers to keep us humble. But then in Presbyterian circles they come with a committee — a session, that is. Don’t discount oversight.

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  18. DGH, Jeremy,

    Point well taken, our presbytery (South Coast – PCA) also reflects the “big tent” of the rest of the PCA with churches ranging from Keller type churches (Harbor Pres.) to our more confessionally oriented church. It is my understanding that our presbytery is less tolerant of FV theology, and much of that is attributable to our proximity to WSC.

    There are elders and members of our congregation that have close ties to Stellman through his WSC days all the way down to his Calvary Chapel days, and we all have been saddened by the ruling of the PNWP. However, there are still processes that need to take place before this fight is over. I can’t speak for where our church would stand if an unfavorable ruling were to be handed down at the GA. However, I can say this is part and parcel of the discomfort that the “big tent” modus operendi of the PCA generates, since there are so many competing ideals of what constitutes “Reformed”. In many ways the URC and the OPC are not plagued with these problems, though I am sure they have their own. I could only hope we could approach our standards with the same intensity of these sister-denominations, but as a layman in the PCA, I am not sure if we will ever be able to get there. This makes me wonder what becomes of confessional congregations in the PCA in the coming years. Suffice to say, I could see realignment if the situation worsens, but for now that is a battle being fought through our elders, I can only observe and pray.

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  19. Jed,

    My guess would be the confessional PCA churches are not going to be directly asked to leave but there will be no lack of suggesting that we may be more comfortable elsewhere.

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  20. I can say this is part and parcel of the discomfort that the “big tent” modus operendi of the PCA generates, since there are so many competing ideals of what constitutes “Reformed”. In many ways the URC and the OPC are not plagued with these problems, though I am sure they have their own.

    Well, from where I sit, the URC may be more doctrinally and confessionally Reformed than the CRC from which it came, but it also seems just as culturally Reformed. Which means that there are indeed competing ideals within it about what it means to be Reformed.

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  21. I’ll dispense with the surname as it looks like most everyone else does as well. Thanks Jed and Dr. Hart for your responses. Full disclosure: I have an affinity for the PCA because Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) had such a positive impact on my life. This likely colors my assessments of the denomination as well as my assessments of others’ assessments. And let me be quick to say that my time at RUF, far from producing in me a college group/small group bible study/parachurch (non)ecclesiastical mindset, RUF taught me to love and cherish the Church as the body of Christ and as the God-ordained institution that it is. Well, let me step out of the confessional now, and try to interact with my intellectual and theological betters. Dr. Hart, based on your response, then, am I to assume that your title is meant to be hyperbolic and provocative and that your real point is that for some “leading figures” in the PCA, there is no functional difference between denomination and parachurch? If so, you may be on to something there. I don’t know enough about Dr. Keller et al. and their actions and rationales to say. But, and this may ironically point up the problem that Jed delineates, I think any valid comparisons would have be with individuals or sub-groups within the PCA. Jed, thanks for raising some good points, but could you be falling into a problem analogous to the recover Christian American crowd when there is no Christian American to recover? Is there really a confessional purity that has been lost as time marches on or was it never there to begin with? The PCA was to some degree founded in instability and with less-than-ironclad boundaries and distinctions with respect to some of the issues you raise. Sociologically speaking, it was also founded in a genteel Southern culture whose hospitality and Southern niceness would have made it hard to exclude dissenters at the original GA, which was held in the heart of Dixie. Some PCUS churches in the South who joined the PCA at its founding were more akin to Bible churches or Baptist-lite churches, ie, without a real emphasis the catechisms and confessions. They joined not because they were all hot a bothered about declining confessionalism, but in a general opposition to liberal theology. Thanks for the discussion and for interacting with me. Can you tell where I’m from based on that last line?

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  22. Jeffrey, you make some good points about the origin of the PCA. Whereas the OPC was doctrinally-minded from the beginning, the PCA has always had the tension that exists today. The following quotes may be of interest to you. Note the year of this exchange:1977.

    How To Reform the Church
    DAVID R. GILLESPIE
    … most PCA members are very conservative but not Reformed in theology and practice. This was characteristic of these members long before they left the PCUS. On the whole, these people were not concerned with gaining an understanding of the Reformed faith; they were caught up in the battle in which lines were clearly and easily drawn: conservative versus liberal. THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 35.46 (16 MARCH 1977)

    The Faith in Perspective
    by WILLIAM E. HILL JR.
    preoccupation with Reformed theology makes theological snobs of us and creates pressure groups within a denomination…. Some try to rule out what God is doing through Billy Graham and Campus Crusade, saying they make salvation “too simplistic.” But we should beware lest our presentation becomes too complicated…. The Christian faith is balanced in every respect. … The same is true of the Reformed faith. It is good, but when it gets out of perspective, it can work much mischief. Brethren, let us keep our Reformed faith in perspective, just as we claim to do carefully in interpretation of the Scriptures. THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 35.47 (23 MARCH 1977)

    How To Reform the Church
    DAVID R. GILLESPIE
    a person true to the Reformed faith cannot be content to sit back and not seek the reformation of the Church, content merely with a congregation of “evangelical” members. If the Reformed faith is the purest form of Christianity, then all of us must seek its infusion into the people of God.
    THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 35.46 (16 MARCH 1977)

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  23. Jeffrey,

    Inasmuch as we are called to strive for a pure church, yes I will continue to pray that God will guide us to this place. But your points are well taken. I don’t think we so much seek a confessional golden age in the way that “take America back for Jesus” crowd, we simply long for our communions to not shirk away from a robust, and courageous confession of the faith. History demonstrates that there is no golden age, but the call for the officers of the church remain the same. The option of acquiescence is not a good one, especially with pressing issues like the FV. I think that the struggle of any organization (spiritual or social) that starts with an aim of inclusiveness bakes strife into the proverbial cake over the long run, because there will always be a fight on to continue to press the inclusiveness spirit that was present from the begining to include more and more in the warm confines of the tent. That said, I am doubtful that the PCA will move toward more doctrinal unanimity, nor do I see a widespread, full-orbed confessional praxis coming anytime soon.

    But I doubt that any of Machen’s Warrior Children will shirk from a fight simply because they stand a good chance of loosing. We tend to take the Scriptural concept of victory through defeat pretty seriously.

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  24. Is this blog operating at an analogous level that Hart claims TGC is to the PCA? The essential claim is that a para-church (i.e. non-ecclesiastical ‘ministry’) is parading (consciously or sub-consciously) as the church. Well, a blog which talks about theology is a para-church in the broad sense. Hart has leveled serious criticism against ministers of other churches through the use of a para-church vehicle even though some might argue such criticism is more appropriate through ecclesiastical courts (or at least through loving confrontation).

    Anyway, without claiming TGC is a perfect para-church ministry(it certainly isn’t), couldn’t one side with Michael Horton and say that TGC lives on the Village Green and that those involved in TGC also have houses and rooms to live in to do the work of the visible church? I get the feeling that not all the Reformed Confessionals on the west coast agree on this matter.

    Then again, it might be that we don’t like Keller because he is a system subscriptionist in a strict subscriptionist organization. The PCA was founded as a strict subscriptionist denomination right? They were supposed to be a small tent Presbyterian church, right? Oh, wait…

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  25. Daniel, actually the point is about two organizations, the PCA and the Coalition. If you think a blog is like an organization, then tell me where my board of directors are, or where membership is, or where I filed for a 501c3 status.

    No, the problem with the PCA and Coalition, especially for Keller, is that membership does not seem to matter or provide any constraints on what he does. In which case, talk about centers and boundaries is blowing smoke. And for your point about Keller and subscription — if only! From what I can tell about his cooperation with Baptists who don’t believe in Covenant theology or with Pentecostals in New York City who don’t exactly have an orthodox doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure what system you’re talking about except the systematic transformation of large metropolitan areas.

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  26. Jeffrey, I agree about the origins of the PCA. But can’t you/we try to make it better. I mean, if a marriage is on the rocks, does the couple simply throw up their hands and say that’s impossible recover the salad days?

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  27. Okay, D.G., fair point. I guess my analogy breaks down, as all analogies eventually do.

    But I do have another question. How come you only give harsh criticism against Keller and not to other PCA men who are on TGC’s Council? How come Ligon Duncan, Ric Cannada, and others escape criticism for their joining with charismatics and Baptists (oh, the horror) in writing blogs, putting on conferences, and writing TGC tracts?

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  28. Daniel, who says it’s harsh criticism? Have you read Hodge or Warfield on Wesleyans or Finney? (It’s like asking if I still beat my wife.)

    Maybe the answer has something to do with Keller’s celebrity?

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  29. DG, I’m just asking for consistency and charity. If it is unwise, or even sinful, for PCA ministers to be TGC council members, then give criticism to everyone else along with Keller. (Trust me…as a former seminary student, many other pastor-theologians such as Carl Trueman, Terry Johnson, and others are just as celebrated as Keller). Otherwise, it looks like your problem is not really with TGC but with Keller merely because he doesn’t agree with your particular view of confessionalism. Indeed, I know conservative PCA men who would be more in line with Ligon Duncan than Tim Keller, yet they still have a problem with your strict view of confessionalism…especially regarding a denomination (PCA) that historically has a different view of subscription than the OPC.

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  30. Daniel, Keller was the co-author of the piece in question. I have criticized other PCA and OPC ministers for such involvements.

    Do you think Keller is above criticism? And do you think that if folks like Keller were subject to more criticism, the PCA might be clearer about what membership and ordination in its communion involves? After all, people take vows in the PCA and don’t in the Coalition. Plus, the vows PCAer’s take includes a whole chapter on the importance of vows and oaths. Shouldn’t a promise count for something?

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  31. Daniel,

    What it seems like you are missing here is that TGC and the PCA, along with the leaders in these organizations are public figures, and therefore should be scrutinized. Not everything Keller or TGC does is bad, but we have to be discerning, able to sift out the good from the bad. TGC’s a fantastic resource for theological content, many of the articles are of great benefit, especially access to Themelios for free. As an aggregator of information, TGC is at it’s best, but there are structural issues that give rise to many questions among those in the confessional community. How well TCG actually serves the church is questionable, as it really does feed a celebrity cult, and Christians are often more inclined to listen to a Reformed celeb than their own pastors.

    Similar problems beset the PCA that afflict TCG, and the comparisons aren’t entirely without warrant. I know you want DGH to be an equal opportunity ciritic, and focus on WHI/MR and Horton as well, but it could be argued that while WHI isn’t perfect, it’s issues are far different from TGC. I don’t think that criticism for one demands criticism for the other, so please plead your case, we could be missing something. DGH keeps a pretty open forum here for lively debate, if you have a problem with WHI or Horton, then by all means do tell and we can discuss.

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  32. Jed and Dr. Hart,

    Thanks for the responses that give me plenty to think about. My initial response, though, is that the way both of you are framing the question might elide a significant issue, which is that if the PCA originated as a confederacy of various constituencies, then should any of these constituencies work to conform the others to its standards? Did they tacitly cede this right at the founding? I suppose the response to this will be that no one ever cedes the right to fight for confessional and Biblical truth. However, when challenged, each side will claim Biblical and confessional grounds for its particular emphases and views–and all can dig up dead churchmen and theologians to come to their defense–thus creating a debate that perhaps should have taken place before the denomination was formed. But those who were “there at the creation” decided (knew?) that these kinds of debates could (would?) destroy unity and therefore did not have them. Or at least not in a rigorous way. Finally, forgive me, but I just cannot help myself as it would not be good manners where I come from to leave out the following: I appreciate the opportunity to interact with both of you.

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  33. DG, I don’t think Keller is above criticism. I am a 6 day, young earther who doesn’t hold to women deacons. But never have I heard him deny the importance of vows and oaths for church membership. Perhaps I have problems with those who talk about Keller as if he is the second cousin of Bishop Spong.

    I also wonder if even a quarter of the PCA subscribe to the ecclesiology that DG subscribes to. I don’t see the disdain for parachurch ministries, and certainly DG’s thesis about evangelicalism isn’t subscribed to by even a majority of the PCA. So, perhaps your comments concerning PCA polity is out of line?

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  34. Daniel,

    PCA is a member of NAPARC, and therefore open to scrutiny from her sister denominations. Regardless of where the PCA stands on any given issue, those within the communion, and those with official ecclesiastical ties to the PCA should certainly be concerned with how the confessional standards are upheld and enforced and with the general health of the denomination. You seem to be asserting that on the basis of PCA’s diversity, all differences should be left alone, and that the criticizing its more visible leadership is out of line. I know you have said otherwise, but the tenor of your responses is that DGH has no substantive grounds to criticize Keller or the PCA.

    The fact is, it is exactly the opposite. Whatever the PCA is should never preclude seeking to become what it should be. Fidelity to Scripture and secondarily to our Standards should be the aim of any Reformed communion, and the further away from this we get, the further we drift from our godly heritage.

    I am not an anti-Keller honk, I wouldn’t even be a Presbyterian without his ministry, there is a lot of good that comes out of his unique gifting, and I am frankly grateful for his ministry. However, even a cursory study of Reformed theology and the history of Reformed churches shows that Keller is at odds with some important tenets of Reformed Christianity. The criticism should serve as a corrective to those who follow him unthinkingly, and hopefully would serve as a means to urge him to move more in line with our Standards. There is nothing out of line, vicious or vindictive about DGH’s criticisms here, you want the venom, go to the Bayly blog, where they would just assume burn him at the stake it would seem. The criticisms here were leveled at the content of his stances on the TD Jakes issue, and broader implications of what is occurring within the highly influential Gospel Coalition. Keller doesn’t shirk from his detractors, and he has engaged this blog from time to time, it has managed to be irenic in spite of the substantial disagreement between the confessionalists and Keller. So, really what’s the beef?

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  35. Jeffrey,

    Thanks for the response. I am glad that this discussion has sparked some thinking on the matter for you, that’s always a good thing. I guess the only thing I would say is it is less an issue of how the PCA started, and more of an issue of the PCA striving to be obedient to its call throughout the communion. I realize that we were a “big tent” from the begining, but does anything demand that the PCA continue with such laxity of what constitutes confessional orthodoxy. As the largest of the NAPARC denominations, the PCA has access to incredible resources, but to whom much has been given, much will be required. Suffice to say, some of the issues that the PCA has grappled with at the presbytery level, and at the GA will not suffice as an excuse in the final estimation on the grounds of “well this is always who we have been”. Problems such as the FV do demand response, and “big tent” certainly can’t be the answer.

    IMO, in a perfect world the PCA would become as confessionally robust as say the OPC, or the URCNA. However, with the unlikelyhood of that happening, I’d simply be happy with any move in this direction, even among the Keller’s and TGC supporters within our denomination. Any move in this direction would be a step in the right direction.

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  36. Daniel, I suspect you have heard me describe Keller as the second cousin of Spong in those same places where Keller has discussed the importance of vows and oaths.

    As for “my” ecclesiology, you may want to examine the Old School Presbyterians to whom at least some in the PCA look for guidance. You may see some surprising views about the parachurch.

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  37. Well brethren, I admit that perhaps my harsh language on the internet has been inconsistent with y criticism of Daryl. While I think theological debate and criticism among brethren is overdone on the web, I am the chief of sinners.

    I think the best way fellow NAPARC brethren may serve the PCA and Keller is perhaps to offer suggestions to decrease his celebrity status while continuing to do ministry. In the polemical pieces I’ve seen from Hart, Trueman, and others, I wish that more practical and helpful suggestions in love would be beneficial. Any thoughts?

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