Comments Open and Closed

Alliances close comments, churches open them.

That conclusion is hard to avoid after recent developments in the PCA and at the Gospel Coalition. The PCA sponsored an enclave of fifty officers, a “Meeting of Understanding,” to discuss challenges and differences within the denomination. The rationale for the meeting was akin to marriage counseling. Spouses who live and work together have differences and the way to overcome them is through better communication. (I wonder if that would be Mark Driscoll’s advice since it sounds overly feminine, as in girls want to talk, guys reach for the remote).

Meanwhile, the Gospel Coalition (doing a pretty good imitation of the Presbyterian Church, USA’s apologetic acceptance of Pearl Buck’s resignation) said so long to James MacDonald. At the blog of D. A. Carson and Tim Keller (who appear to be the co-arch allies), MacDonald’s departure received these warm words:

James MacDonald publicly announced his resignation as a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. James was one of our founding members, and we would like to thank him and Harvest Bible Chapel warmly and publicly for their years of service and support. As the reason for his departure, James notes that he “has very different views on how to relate to the broader church.” He added, “I believe their [TGC’s] work will be assisted by my absence, given my methodological convictions.” We acknowledge that James feels called of God into these spheres, and we wish him well in his far-reaching endeavors, and many years of ministry both faithful and fruitful.

But that is the only talk going on at TGC. Comments are closed at both the Carson-Keller post, and Justin Taylor’s aggregation of it.

Some in the PCA are concerned about the nature of the meeting in Atlanta. From worries about irreconcilable differences that talk won’t address to concerns about a buddy-buddy system that excluded some from the meeting, the Meeting of Understanding has arguably escalated misunderstanding within the PCA.

At least our Presbyterian brothers in the PCA are talking about their differences, both at their meetings, and in comments about the meeting. Our Presbyterian allies in the Gospel Coalition are not.


17 thoughts on “Comments Open and Closed

  1. But if you look at Trevin Wax’s blog (now on gospel coalition), you can still find the input of McDonald (and Driscoll). For your edification, I suppose.

    I find it interesting how Tim Keller talks about his differences with Mike Horton. It seems that he thinks that Horton is becoming more like Keller, and thus that the differences are no longer so great, and that this is a good thing. I hope it’s not true.

    Keller: Although six years ago Horton wrote: “There is no difference between Christians and non-Christians with respect to their vocations . . . ” and “there is no ‘Christian politics’ or ‘Christian art’ or ‘Christian literature,’ any more than there is ‘Christian plumbing,'” Horton now writes: “Nothing in the 2K view entails that ‘Christians do not, then, pursue their vocation in a ‘distinctively Christian way’ or ‘that neither the church nor individual Christians should be in the business of changing the world or society.'” Then, after reminding us that no political movement can “transform the kingdoms of this age into the kingdom of Christ,” Horton added that nevertheless Christian-led social reforms were good things. Horton confirmed the importance of Kuyper’s distinction between the church as organization and organism…


  2. I’ve not read all of Horton’s works, and while I admire the man greatly, I think he’s all over the map on the issue of politics and activism, rightly or wrongly.


  3. Though I was hoping for the resignation of all remaining Presbyterians, less Keller, I remain slightly confused about MacDonald’s post. On precisely what grounds was he resigning? Driscoll and McD seem in agreement on relating to the world (see: Drisky and McD vs. Dever). Also, it’s a coalition. They have no real “distinctives” despite what pamphlets and posts they write about “center” stuff. The idea of the GCers is to unite on that which denominationally divides, basically. So, with what does McD really disagree? It certainly isn’t baptism. Most GCers are probably Credos. It isn’t church polity. I am not sure GCers are thinking long about their distinctiveness on this issue.

    Is it eschatology? Maybe. He’s affirms some modified version of tribulational rapture theory. While that might not be too popular amongst the more popular historic premillers and postmillers of GC fame, it would have little bearing, in my opinion, on how McD “methodologically” relates to the church and world.

    Is it ecclesiology? Grant me it’s not ecclesiology. Those are, in my opinion, welcomed differences. In some way or another, most of them use the church as platform to institute cultural and social transformationalism. They love beauty, art, politics, education, etc. Few, if any, are RPW proponents. Most do not accept that the Lord’s Day is the Christian Sabbath and should be observed differently than common days.

    With what does McD actually disagree? His post is so ambiguous.

    I hope someone who follows this stuff more closely would help me out. Dr. Hart and Co., thank you for your commitment to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I have recently started to attend an OPC church, tautologically speaking, with my family and family friends because my PCA church doesn’t hold a nightly Lord’s Day service. We have been so delighted by the OPC’s confessional and biblical fidelity. We pray our PCA church imitates the churches of the OPC, however unlikely that may be.


  4. As a confessional guy in the PCA, I don’t mind the meeting. It reminds me that the PCA was always intended to be a fairly broad, big denomination.

    No reason to tear your robe because there are guys in it who are wrong (but still within orthodox doctrine).

    Was the southern church any better in Dabney’s day?

    Avoid the temptation to romanticize the past!


  5. I just glad to learn about and add “Chatham House Rule” to my vocabulary. From the official Chath House website:

    Q. Should one refer to the Chatham House Rule or the Chatham House Rules?
    A. There is only one Rule.

    Q. What are the benefits of using the Rule?
    A. It allows people to speak as individuals, and to express views that may not be those of their organizations, and therefore it encourages free discussion. People usually feel more relaxed if they don’t have to worry about their reputation or the implications if they are publicly quoted.

    So there’s only one Rule – singular, like the Benedictine Order or Franciscan Order. OR as in One Rule to bring them all and in the darkness bind them? With apologies to JRRT.


  6. Chris D.,

    Talk about alarming, Chatham House rules are hardly appropriate at meetings like Bilderberg, why would they be appropriate in the PCA? I understand the motives are probably not sinister here, and the desire to speak freely without fear of redress is important, however these men have been appointed to their roles by the consent of their congregations and presbyteries and as such anything that they discuss with regards to the PCA at large, or their congregations must be done so under the authority of these structures.

    The biggest problems facing the PCA are issues that have come to fruition since it’s inception – as a big tent denomination it is going to be increasingly hard to bring the disparate factions together as they galvanize over time. At some point the conversation might need to turn to how we can part ways amicably and still exist with close eclesiastical ties, most likely through NAPARC. This seems like a far more workable solution than the repeated attempts to bang round pegs into square holes.


  7. Ryan, this might be part of your answer:

    Apprising Ministries revealed soon after, however, that there was more to MacDonald’s resignation than mentioned in the blog. The ministry received an email from Kent C. Shaw, the executive director at Harvest Bible Fellowship, which it posted online.

    “Last week James was put under a lot of pressure from leaders of The Gospel Coalition, a reformed group of about 50 pastors he has fellowshipped with for the past few years,” the email reads. “They were asking that he pull the plug on Bishop Jakes coming to the Elephant Room (ER) conference.”


  8. Trevin Wax on the Gospel Coalition blog today writes about “minimalism” and explains that the coalition is “confessional”. Here’s some of what he wrote:

    “I understand there are multiple issues related to the resignation of James MacDonald from The Gospel Coalition. But at the foundational level, it’s safe to assume that the philosophy of The Elephant Room proposes a different way forward for evangelicalism than The Gospel Coalition does. And the primary differences zero in on the question of minimalism. In other words, what is the minimal number of doctrines and beliefs that must be agreed upon in order for there to be close friendship and fellowship between pastors?

    “Contemporary evangelicalism is a big tent that keeps getting bigger. A short list of doctrines must be in place in order for people to cooperate, fellowship, or share a platform together, but there is no consensus regarding how those doctrines should affect one’s ministry philosophy. Confessional evangelicalism seeks to renew the center of the movement by uniting likeminded believers around the gospel and promoting the centrality of the gospel in one’s teaching and preaching. A common theological vision for ministry leads these pastors to take associations very seriously, and even if there are no hard, fast rules in place, they generally refrain from sharing a platform together in a way that leads to a perceived endorsement.

    “The Elephant Room aligns more with the ethos of contemporary evangelicalism (public platform-sharing with anyone who confesses Christ). The Gospel Coalition aligns more with the ethos of confessional evangelicalism (public platform-sharing with those who share a common theological vision of ministry).

    “It is good to celebrate an affirmation of orthodoxy, but even better to affirm the celebration of orthodoxy…. T. D. Jakes was asked to clarify his position on the Trinity. Thankfully, he did so – though perhaps not in a way that would satisfy all of his critics. I believe we should celebrate his affirmation of the truth that there is one God in three Persons.

    At the same time we celebrate Jakes’ affirmation of truth, we should also look at what it is that he celebrates in his preaching and teaching. Surely one must ask why we have to discover Jakes’ view of the Trinity in a friendly panel discussion in Chicago instead of in the sermons he delivers to his church in Texas. In other words, the issue is not if Jakes believes in the Trinity, but to what extent Jakes’ belief in the Trinity matters to his ministry? Does the weight of this truth come out in his preaching and teaching?” from Trevin Wax’s blog on the GC

    mark mcculley: You can read the rest, but I am reminded again of the relativism of the “modernist/conservative” conflict. There will always be somebody more modernist than you, and thus the goal line keeps changing, and what counts as “Reformed” and “confessional” is not what it used to be.

    I suppose we could discover Tim Keller’s view of effectual atonement for the elect by looking back at a panel discussion he had about the Westminster Confession once upon a time when he was ordained, but perhaps the issue is to what extent that shelf doctrine influences his preaching, his apologetics, and his associations.


  9. Mark quoted “Confessional evangelicalism seeks to renew the center of the movement by uniting likeminded believers around the gospel and promoting the centrality of the gospel in one’s teaching and preaching.”
    So confessional = uniting around the gospel? Then, a confessional movement promotes the centrality of the gospel? When did “confessional” start meaning “not confessional”?


  10. The liberals in the PCA (Keller et al) should just re-join the PCUSA and the confessionalists should join the OPC, much like the latter should have done in 1936 rather than waiting another 40 years to start a new denomination.


  11. @ Mark Mcculley

    Can you please provide the source of Keller’s comments regarding Horton going soft on 2K? Even better, can you provide the source of Horton’s comments?



  12. I admire much of what Dr Horton writes and I hope he is not straying from his earlier comments, simply because I think they are important — and Biblical. We do not need “Christian movies, Christian literature” et cetera, —- and they cannot be as such — in order to justify lawful, secular vocations. Distinctions should be made between Holy Things, common things, because it would seem to me the Holy Scriptures (in the course of the NT Church) makes such distinctions.


  13. Religious views of Thomas Aquinas

    While affirming the unreflective character of most participation in practices, it is also helpful to reflect in the light of our faith on the shape and character of the practices that make up our way of life. Indeed, reflection may be especially important at this point in history, when the shape of our lives is changing so rapidly. These are practices in which Christian communities have engaged over the years and across many cultures, practices which it is now our responsibility to receive and reshape in lively ways in our own time and place. When we do reflect on practices as those explored in Practicing Our Faith, we can see that central of Christian theology are integrally related to each Christian practice: our practices are shaped by our beliefs, and our beliefs arise from and take on meaning within our practices. For example, bases her Honoring the Body on the theological convictions that God created human bodies and declared that they are good; that God shared our condition in the incarnation of Jesus; and that God overcame death through Jesus’ resurrection. Through everyday activities — for example, resting, and caring for those who suffer — we live out our deepest convictions about who we are as embodied children of God in specific, often stumbling, and ways. We learn to do so from those with whom we share our lives, and likewise, it is with them that we need to reflect on practices as they take shape in the light of and in response to God’s grace.
    This issue of Lifelong Faith is part of a larger initiative of Lifelong Faith Associates on “Faith Formation in Christian Practices.” The focus of the project is to develop new ways to nourish the faith of families and individuals across the whole life span through Christian practices. With development grants from the Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith, we have been working over the past year to develop resources for households, and training and tools to help churches integrate education in Christian practices into faith formation efforts. We have created a new resource for households, Living Well—Christian Practices for Everyday Life, with sixteen Christian practices: 1) Appreciating Beauty; 2) Caring for the Body; 3) Celebrating Life; 4) Discernment, 5) Doing Justice; 6) embodying wisdom; 7) Eating Well; 8) Forgiving; 9) Hospitality; 10) Keeping Sabbath; 11) Listening to God’s Word; 12) Managing Household Life; 13) Participating in Community; 14) Praying; 15) Relating, and 16) Serving. We have developed a three-day seminar program to provide the knowledge, skills, tools, and resources church leaders need to make faith formation in Christian practices an essential element in faith formation. We will be consulting with parishes to assist them in implementing a Christian practices approach to faith formation. In spring 2009 we will assess the impact of the resources through an evaluation process.

    Even some scholars specializing in Protestant Reformation studies have advanced the notion that the Reformers endorsed natural law. “No real discontinuity” with a natural law emphasis. Except possibly he concludes, the Reformers accept natural law and even consider it affirmed by Scripture. “The assumption of some contemporary theologians that natural law has no place in the company of Reformation theology,” he asserts, “be not allowed to govern historical inquiry or to lead us to ignore, minimize, or evacuate of reality the positive on law scattered through the works of the Reformers.” argues that evangelical interpreters have misunderstood and he insists that the Reformer affirms natural law.

    Not only for the intellectual elite but increasingly for popular culture also, truth and right reflect only a synthesis of empirically observed relationships; they are unanchored in a transcendently based authority and require no reference to an eternal supernatural God. However exacting modern empirical methods claim to be, they cannot for all that attain to the unrevisability of divine attributes. Neither a cosmos-centered nor a human worldview can transcend space-time relativities.
    If the only human relationships of power, human reasoning even at best cannot identify universally valid norms or transcend fallible approximations of any perfect standard. The greatest appeal of natural law theory lies in the claim that it mirrors universally shared norms and moral principles that lift humanity above modern subjectivism and relativism. The Reformers in principle questioned the epistemic viability of natural law theory, whether stated in pre-Christian Greco-Roman terms or on premises pursued by Thomas Aquinas.

    Christian History and Human Rights: The concept of human rights is not a “secular” notion but instead finds expression in Christian sources long before the Enlightenment. More secularized versions of the human rights ethic which came to occupy a large place should be seen as derivative of earlier religious arguments. Twentieth century assaults on human rights by totalitarian states led to a renewal of “rights talk”. Most branches of the Christian tradition, including evangelicalism, now embrace a human rights ethic.
    Ethical Implications: Everyone bears an obligation to act that recognizes human rights. This responsibility takes different forms at different levels. Churches must think biblically about morally difficult and emotionally intense public issues. Our own government must honour its constitutional and moral responsibilities to respect and protect human rights.
    The detailed and complicated discussions on the Eucharist led to the publication of the encyclical Mysterium Fidei by Pope Paul. This Eucharisticum Mysterium by the Sacred Congregation of Rites and the Consilium for the implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. While expressing appreciation for the recent discussion, the document states that “the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, is at the same time and inseparably: a sacrifice in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated; a memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord . . . ; a sacred banquet in which . . . the People of God share the benefits of the Paschal Sacrifice” The interior reality of the Eucharist is not only sanctifying grace, as in the other sacraments; it is Christ himself, Body and Blood, soul and divinity.

    Moreover, “the mystery of the Eucharist should therefore be considered in all its fullness, not only in the celebration of Mass but also in devotion to the sacred species which remain after Mass and are reserved to extend the grace of the sacrifice” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, From the earliest days of the Church, the Eucharist has been reserved for veneration and for Viaticum. In Mysterium Fidei repeated the Church’s teaching on the permanent presence of Christ in the Eucharist: “It is not allowable . . . to propose and to act on the opinion according to which Christ the Lord is no longer present in the consecrated hosts left after the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass is ended”.


  14. Can I simply just say what a relief to find a person that actually knows what they’re talking about online. You certainly understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people need to read this and understand this side of your story. It’s surprising you’re not more popular because you certainly possess the gift.


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