Just when I was recovering from the sobering news of Jason Stellman’s decision to leave the PCA along comes Carl Trueman’s double-whammy of heaping scorn upon those “for whom the doctrine of the church and 2K are all they ever seem to talk about.” (For Stellman’s response, go here.) Trueman’s is a remarkable performance since Trueman admits his own 2k inclinations and reports on those in Sovereign Grace circles who also concede a better doctrine of the church would have saved them some grief. He also acknowledges that 2k avoids “the excesses of Christian America, Theonomy, and the various social gospels — left and right.” So Trueman is in the 2k camp, as his own book on religion and politics in the United States attests, along with his own high regard for Luther. But he is apparently not extreme about it, thus protecting his standing seemingly among the gospel’s co-allies. His is supposedly a moderate 2k despite his invocations of Marx, Nietzsche, and Led Zeppelin. This is where his decision to echo John Frame’s swipe at Machen’s warrior children comes in handy even if it is a blow that conflicts with Trueman’s own combative posture, as the Peter Lillback ‘s foreword to Republocrat confirms. (Trueman is a fan of boxing, after all.)
As unnecessary and contradictory as Trueman’s jab at 2k was, I don’t readily associate him with Rabbi Bret who also used Stellman’s announcement as yet another proof of 2k’s errors and harm. Never mind that the Rabbi’s interpretation of 2k’s dualism as the path into Roman Catholicism’s nature/grace divide would seemingly indict Trueman’s own positive accounts of Thomas Aquinas. The attacks on 2k never need to be consistent in order to be consistently negative. As Bill Smith remarked to me by email:
I believe that soon high churchism and 2K theology will be blamed for global warming, the lagging economy, the high price of gas, the decline of western civilization, the composition of RUF tunes and their twangy singing by females, the election of Barak Obama, praise bands and worship leaders, and the banning of biggie sized soft drinks. And, I am not surprised. I could see it coming.
Still, it’s a curious way to respond to Stellman since not even the Baylys used the occasion to pounce on 2k. Instead, they took Stellman’s decision as an occasion to go after Peter Leithart’s weak affirmation of Protestantism. Instead of affirming justification, Leithart rejects the exclusivity of Rome’s sacramental theology. Going to Rome will leave Protestants outside the sacramental fold. For the Baylys the division between Rome and Protestants is all about the doctrine of justification.
That was encouraging to read even if their critique of Leithart and defense of justification came a little close to stepping on the toes of their hero in the culture wars, Doug Wilson, who is in some way Leithart’s boss and fellow minister at one of Moscow’s CREC congregations. Wilson also could not help but reflect on the disputes between Leithart and Stellman in the Presbytery of the Northwest. He also welcomed Stellman’s coming around to the “biblical” understanding of justification:
With regard to sola fide, he is quite right to see the very narrow position he was nurtured in as contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to sinners, and the instrument of a God-given faith is what receives that gracious gift. But the gift received is that of living faith, breathing faith, loving faith, the only kind of faith the living God bestows. It is sola fide, not nuda fide. Stellman was wrong to identify his previous narrow view of sola fide as the doctrine of sola fide itself.
Where that puts Wilson and other Federal Visionaries on the matter of the Reformed churches’ confessions and Roman Catholic teaching is a mystery since Stellman led the prosecution of Leithart precisely on the conviction that the latter’s teaching was contrary to the Westminster Standards. Now that Stellman no longer finds the confession’s teaching agreeable, he has done what he thinks Leithart should have done — leave the PCA (going to Rome may be another matter). Meanwhile — keep your eye on the bouncing ball, Wilson agrees with Stellman on justification but doesn’t think he should leave the Protestant fold.
That confusion over justification — whether Federal Visionaries actually adhere to the Reformation’s teaching or whether their views are beyond the pale and more compatible with what the Reformers opposed — is the best place to situate Stellman’s regrettable decision. The source of this confusion was not 2k or ecclesiology. It grew prominent in the teaching of Norman Shepherd which gained a hearing among the proponents of Federal Vision and received defense from John Frame, the man who first ridiculed those who identify with Machen.
Scoring points against 2k of course has its appeal and plays well in certain circles. But 2k and ecclesiology have virtually nothing to do with this. If you want to look for the clearest defense of Reformed Protestantism and its teaching on salvation, the church, and worship — convictions and practices that were pretty central to the sixteenth century — you’d be clueless to ignore those who promote 2k.