Al Mohler To the Rescue

I have often thought of the PCA as Southern Baptists who sometimes baptize infants. The autonomy of PCA congregations, the convention-like atmosphere of the General Assembly, and the original southerness of the PCA are reasons for the comparison. To be fair, the OPC is likely the Presbyterian equivalent of Reformed Baptists. Our assemblies work twelve hours a day (minus meals and devotions), we take doctrine seriously, and we can be ornery about baptizing infants (just as Reformed Baptists can be tenacious about dedicating babies). The difference between the PCA and the OPC is like that between the superintendent of schools in a county outside Birmingham and a plumber who fixes toilets in the suburbs of Toledo.

If this comparison has any merit, then perhaps the most famous Calvinist in the SBC can work out what ails the PCA. Once again the theological doctors have taken out their thermometers and found the patient in need of some program either for six-pack abs or foods that counteract stress. The rest of the ecclesiastical world seems to receive these reports every five years or so. Word of encouragement to other denominations: if you’re not asking what’s broke, you’re probably okay in a church militant sense. What is curious about Bryan Chappell’s assessment and Rick Phillips’ reply is how much the culture matters to each side of the PCA.

For Chapell, the division between traditionalists and progressives breaks down precisely along culture-war lines. His desire to avoid the culture wars is precisely why the BBs confuse the PCA hipsters with 2k even though 2kers avoid the culture wars not to avoid embarrassment but for spirituality of the church reasons. Chapell writes:

The generation that is 50-plus years old was raised in a time of perceived Christian-majority culture; according to Francis Schaeffer it was the time of “Christian consensus.”

The priority of many evangelical Christians who matured in that cultural context was to mobilize this “silent majority” in order to control the religious and political processes of the nation to halt cultural erosion (e.g., Schaeffer’s “A Day of Sober Rejoicing” delivered at the General Assembly marking the RPCES’s “Joining and Receiving” with the PCA). These dynamics created a “Halt” mission for Christians of that generation. The goals: Halt abortion, pornography, drugs, promiscuity, tree huggers, socialism, liberalism, and illegal immigration.

By contrast, Christians in the generation that is 40-minus years old have never perceived themselves as a majority but always as a minority in a pluralistic culture. As a consequence, this generation’s calling is perceived not as gaining control, but as gaining credibility to deal with an already eroded culture.

The need to win a hearing for a credible faith has resulted in a “Help” mission for this generation’s church leaders. The goals: Help orphans (to counter abortion through adoption), AIDS sufferers (to win a Gospel hearing from gays and a gay-sympathetic culture), sex-trafficking victims, addicts (enslaved by chemical, gambling, gaming, body-image, or sexual brokenness), the environment (to teach the world that we are stewards of God’s creation), and poor and oppressed foreigners within our borders.

Perhaps nothing better illustrates these generational differences than the way many Christian leaders feel about major figures in prior conservative Christian movements. To mention Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jim Dobson, James Kennedy, and Chuck Colson is to identify the heroes of the 50-plus generation. Church leaders of that generation are shocked to discover that younger leaders consider these figures exemplars of failure, representing attitudes and approaches that have led to the church’s cultural ineffectiveness.

Phillips responds:

“But we are being culturally isolated!” progressives respond! Our answer is that we are indeed, just as the Chinese Christians were culturally isolated under Maoism and as the early Christians were culturally isolated as they were marched into the Coliseum to be fed to the lions. Both of those groups ended up doing pretty well. Now, we do lament this isolation, mainly because we earnestly expect that we will soon be fed to the lions, so to speak, or at least excluded to cultural gulags. What we do not understand is why cultural persecution is a cause for cultural accommodation, as if Christ had anything to fear from Caesar or the cultural elites. The confessionalist concern is whether we will stand with our fellow courageous Christians who are being slaughtered around the world because they will not bend the knee to an imperious pagan culture and with the saints of the early church as they were urged by Christ in Revelation, or whether we will cringe before the powers of cultural elitism in the media, government, and entertainment structures. A statement like this may come across as religious arrogance, and for this we are sorry, but we simply want to join the ranks of those who conquered “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony,” not loving our lives even to death (Rev. 12:11). We want this not because we have embraced a traditionalist martyr complex but because we sincerely believe that this is the best way both to love God and to love the world.

This is not at all to say that Christian courage and reliance on divine grace are the exclusive province of the confessional wing of our church. We know that this valor is shared in all factions of the PCA. What we do not understand is how this leads to a strategy of cultural engagement in which the assumptions of a spiritually rebellious culture are embraced as an evangelistic starting point.

Parenthetically, let me pause to ask where these cultural attitudes put TKNY. If the culture is so broken (Chapell), and so hostile (Phillips), then why is it that the culture thinks so well of Redeemer Presbyterian Church? Or why has that NYC congregation to which professionals, artists, journalists, and movers and shakers in the culture — as we constantly hear — become the model for PCA church planting in North America? Would Tim Keller share either Chapell’s or Phillips’ assessment of “the culture”? Or should more pastors in the PCA join Bill Smith in the REC?

But this is where Al Mohler can help. Chapell is truly troubled by the pluralism that he sees in the United States:

Right now our eyes are not focused on pluralism as our greatest enemy. We are more focused on what others in our ranks are doing or not doing. Debates about charismatic gifts are unlikely to divide us. Discussions about the role of women will continue to marginalize us but probably will not break us. Dealing with changing sexual mores may drive our youth away but will probably not divide us. All these issues are secondary to the challenges of pluralism.

Does Chapell want to return to 14th-century Italy or 16th-century Massachusetts Bay colony? “Enemy” sounds hostile, war-like, more Benedict than Eusebius.

In effect, Phillips agrees that pluralism is a danger, whether it’s tolerating wrong views about race or sex:

Confessionalists note with concern the different strategies taken by progressives today regarding homosexuality versus our past strategy concerning sins like racism. One of the better moments in the PCA took place when our denomination boldly repudiated and rebuked racism, without seeking permission or giving apology, an action in which you and I were actively joined. On that occasion, no one complained that we were alienating the racists by speaking so forthrightly from Scripture. So why is that charge made when we seek to speak biblically regarding homosexuality and other sexual perversions? Is it because while racism is reviled by the culture, homosexuality is celebrated by the culture? Do we, then, only confront boldly those sins which the culture also hates, while accommodating those that it loves? Why would we do this? Where does this assumption come from that we must blur the Bible’s anathema of sexual perversion and concede ground as an initial stage in our witness to homosexuals?

But since Al Mohler is on THE council of the Gospel Coalition with Bryan Chapell and Tim Keller, an organization that Phillips supports, and since Al is also part of Together for the Gospel with Lig Duncan, one of Phillips’ associates among PCA conservatives, perhaps the difference between the two sides is not as great as each man thinks.

The parachurch, with help from Southern Baptists, will lead them.

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41 thoughts on “Al Mohler To the Rescue

  1. Real (one of the few) Reformed baptist Tom Chantry takes offense at the baby dedication comment, but I explained to him that I thought you meant that they were AGAINST that goofy practice — is that right?

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  2. They used to – and may still – sell nodding head dolls in the book shop in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The bookshop was just along from the excellent little boutique where you could purchase bow ties and upmarket leather effects, pen holders, advanced shaving gear and similar helps for male grooming. Which was just opposite a map illustrating how little of the world had been evangelised. But I digress. The nodding head dolls sported heads of Luther (great!), Spurgeon (ok …) and … the seminary president. Without a hint of irony.

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  3. cg – “bobble head” dolls is the proper nomenclature.

    BTW, reading through the post brings to mind a thought about how popular culture (and, of course, all of evangelicalism) decries human slavery (at least the antebellum U.S. version) even though scripture is more or less silent on the matter – depending upon how you want to view Philemon. Yet there seems to be a general acceptance, particularly among mainline Protestants, of homosexuality, which is condemned by scripture, especially in the Pauline epistles.

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  4. Why do Christians want to be popular? I dunno, I was bullied growing up so I never had the chance to be cool. 😛

    As an aside, we use Bryan Chappell’s book in our homiletics class and I think he taught a class on Gospel centered worship. The more I learn.

    I’ll probably supplement with Horton’s book on worship now that I read this :/

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  5. I would argue that the “traditionalists” within the PCA are for the most part not really Confessionalists. No church is perfect , I know that well and I could well go off on a tangent about how my own denomination (though I love it and see its greatness too) engages far too much in the holy huddle. I just could not but find this very interesting and intriguing as it has to do with my former denomination , the PCA, on its decline. It’s Decline is not in question, even all of its key leaders debate solutions about it. The tragic thing is very few if any of them come up with the right answers. Many of those right answers from a historic Reformed presbyterian confessional perspective would be tied directly to the regulative principle of worship and being more true to our historic confessions. But alas those are answers and solutions their plugged up ears will just not here of. Looking for love in all the wrong places if you ask me.

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  6. No Hart library shelf is complete without LSAP. Start there, if no where else. For reals.

    And I haven’t even mentioned Recovering Mother Kirk

    Get reading, Mr. the third. You’re young yet, you have no excuse @_@

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  7. Sorry SGJ, stealing your thunder, but those are awesome.
    That’s my three, someone else to hole this bogey while we’re still awake, yo?

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  8. Talking to fast SJGIII (what I meant by those are your smileys – good work).

    If I had to rank my favorite DGH books (which I haven’t completed all of them yet, but I have some sense of what he’s driving at), thus far, it looks like this:

    – RMK (aka recovering mother kirk, find Erik’s link here and you can read the first essay in that book for free)(haven’t finihsed it yet)

    LSAP (see above)(finished it)
    Calvinism: A History (his latest is a slam dunk, so says WSJ) (finished it)
    Defending the faith (haven’t finished it yet)

    He has lots published on opc dot org go here

    opc[dot]org/machen.html

    and then here

    opc[dot]org/TurningPoints.html

    one at a time of course, just, if you want to learn, you are in the right place. 33 here (not so young as 25, though I know I don’t act my age)

    next.

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  9. D.G. Hart:
    Word of encouragement to other denominations: if you’re not asking what’s broke, you’re probably okay in a church militant sense.<<<<<<<<<<

    Of course, you could just be asleep. Presbyterianism is broken, and I am glad that there are people willing to ask why.

    How do you read Jesus’ words, here?

    John 17
    20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

    21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

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  10. How do you read Jesus’ words, here?

    John 17
    20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

    21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

    Watch this:

    [video src="http://opc.org/videos/OPCvid5.mp4" /]

    start at the 7:30 minute mark. it answers your question.

    peace to you on your faith journey, MW.

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  11. @ Mrs. W: How do you read Jesus’ words, here?

    Jesus: John 17
    20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

    21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

    That the oneness Jesus speaks of is so far richer and complete than institutional identity.

    In what ways was Jesus one with the Father? It wasn’t that they were on the same team. Jesus was fully obedient to the Father. He was actually one in being with the Father (this, we cannot emulate). The Father cared for Him, sustained Him, jointly sent the Spirit with Him.

    When we are one like that, when there is true unity of belief and true care one for another, when there is true obedience to God’s word, then Jesus’ words will be fulfilled.

    Now the Catholic apologist points to the one billion who have institutional identity with the Pope and says, Look! Unity! Never mind the complete lack of unity of belief. Never mind the shoddy state of obedience within the Church. And please, don’t tell us that we might be misinterpreting the Bible.

    That’s not unity. It’s team partisanship, of the same sort that leads Patriots fans to swear that Tom Brady had nothing to do with underinflated footballs.

    The Pope’s demand to be the head strikes at the very heart of being one. We are to be united under one head, who is Jesus.

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  12. Mrs. Duck Toes – then, there’s this: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Mark 18:8

    We’re not alone in as protestants, ya know…

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  13. Sean Lucas thinks Jayber Crow might save the PCA:

    In some ways, Jayber Crow describes the PCA. As a particular, placed people, we are held together by imperfect, frayed, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of affection, struggling with disappointment with ourselves and each other, and yet a membership of those who have been loved by somebody who has been loved by Somebody else.

    And this membership, this placed people, rooted in a tradition called Presbyterianism, finds that all of its members–those who are angry, disappointed, longing and hopeful; those who are traditionalists, confessionalists, neutrals, progressives, doctrinalists, culturalists, pietists, or some combination thereof–all of its members are necessary and essential to it. More than acquaintances, more than affinity groups, this is a community that is being perfected by its and Jesus’ own self-giving, dying love.

    I like Wendell Berry and all, but Jayber has one thing Presbyterians don’t — place. What Presbyterians have the Jayber doesn’t is Lord, faith, baptism, God and father.

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  14. Mrs. W., I believe in the Holy Spirit. Christ prayed for the Spirit’s presence with his people. God has a way of unifying that fancy pants popes can’t (and haven’t).

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  15. If points are to be given over the musings on the state of the PCA, I’d probably give the nod to Lucas. BTW, does any other NAPARC denom do as much navel gazing as we do in the PCA? It seems like we are constantly trying to diagnose and seek the cure to what ails us.

    Anyhow, at the end of the day, while the demographics of the various factions of the PCA may shift, or respectively grow and shrink, I don’t think the dynamic of big-tent presbyterianism is going to change much in the PCA. I am not so sure that is such a bad thing either, I think we have about as much institutional unity as can be expected amongst such a diverse group. And, for congregations like the one I am member of, which are more confessional, the freedom to go about our business is nice.

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  16. Hart: “Christ prayed for the Spirit’s presence with his people. God has a way of unifying ”

    and so convicted by the warning to steer clear of the pattern of those devoid of the Spirit Jude 1:18-19

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  17. Jeff Cagle
    Posted May 20, 2015 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
    @ Mrs. W: How do you read Jesus’ words, here?

    Jesus: John 17
    20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

    21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

    That the oneness Jesus speaks of is so far richer and complete than institutional identity.

    In what ways was Jesus one with the Father? It wasn’t that they were on the same team. Jesus was fully obedient to the Father. He was actually one in being with the Father (this, we cannot emulate). The Father cared for Him, sustained Him, jointly sent the Spirit with Him.

    When we are one like that, when there is true unity of belief and true care one for another, when there is true obedience to God’s word, then Jesus’ words will be fulfilled.

    Now the Catholic apologist points to the one billion who have institutional identity with the Pope and says, Look! Unity! Never mind the complete lack of unity of belief. Never mind the shoddy state of obedience within the Church. And please, don’t tell us that we might be misinterpreting the Bible.

    That’s not unity. It’s team partisanship, of the same sort that leads Patriots fans to swear that Tom Brady had nothing to do with underinflated footballs.

    That’s not theology, it’s sociology.

    As for theological unity, long before Constantine and all that stuff Reformationists whine about, Christianity was up to its ears in heresy.* You can’t lay theological disunity on Catholicism. It was there before Constantine, it’s there exponentially in “Protestantism,” [whatever that means these days].

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_heresies

    It’s a human thing. Darryl wouldn’t understand. 😉

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  18. It’s a human thing. Darryl wouldn’t understand. 😉

    Is this TVD exhibiting his man-crush on DGH? This is a wierd comment right above mine.

    I guess TVD, you want theology? Plenty to go around, mate:

    for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.
    (1 Corinthians 11:19 ESV)

    Keep posting, every post you make increases the hosts’ image. You’re doing well!!

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  19. Jeff:
    That the oneness Jesus speaks of is so far richer and complete than institutional identity.>>>>

    Well, the Church is a body and a bride, not exactly an institution. How will the world see Jesus if His body is invisible and spiritual only?

    Jeff:
    We are to be united under one head, who is Jesus.>>>>

    Do you accept Catholics as your brothers and sisters in Christ?

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  20. John 17:6 I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.
    8  For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
    14  I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
    17  Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

    John 17. the great unity chapter, is all about unity in the truth and that truth is the Word of God, ie. Scripture or the Bible.
    IOW connect the dots. No truth, no unity.
    So Rome starts with unity and hopes to get to truth.
    Protestantism starts with truth and hopes to get to unity.
    Big diff there, but Tom still thinks that the P&R are all about numbers when that the papists’s claim to fame.

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  21. Do you accept Catholics as your brothers and sisters in Christ?

    Nope. For the nth time, Romanism is not Christianity. If it was prots would be sinning for not joining up.

    And remember, it’s Rome who is doing the sucking up to the formerly anathematized, but now separated brethren, according to Vat2. The reformed “sb” for their part don’t consider romanists to be sb.

    For the reformed, genuine sepbreth don’t glory in the accursed idolatry of the mass, for one or call Mary Co-Redemptress/Mediatrix.

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  22. RC’s as brothers and sisters? Machen anyone?

    The fact is that in discussing matters about which there are differences of opinion, it is really more courteous to be frank – more courteous with that deeper courtesy which is based upon the Golden Rule. For my part, I am bound to say that the kind of discussion which is irritating to me is the discussion which begins by begging the question and then pretend to be in the interests of peace. I should be guilty of such a method if I should say to a Roman Catholic, for example, that we can come together with him because forms and ceremonies like the mass and membership in a certain definite organization are, of course, matters of secondary importance – if I should say to him that he can go on being a good Catholic and I can go on being a good Protestant and yet we can unite on common Christian basis. If I should talk in that way, I should show myself guilty of the crassest narrowness of mind, for I should be showing that I had never taken the slightest trouble to understand the Roman Catholic point of view. If I had taken that trouble, I should have come to see plainly that what I should be doing is not to seek common ground between the roman Catholic and myself but simply to ask the Roman Catholic to become a Protestant and give up everything that he holds most dear.

    . . . So to my mind the most inauspicious beginning for any discussion is found when the speaker utters the familiar words: “I think, brethren, that we are all agreed about this . . .” – and then proceeds to trample ruthlessly upon the things that are dearest to my heart. Far more kindly is it if the speaker says at the start that he sees a miserable narrow-minded conservative in the audience whose views he intends to ridicule and refute. After such a speaker gets through, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I regard him as just as narrow-minded as he regards me, and then having both spoken our full mind we may part, certain not as brothers (it is ridiculous to degrade that word) but at least as friends.

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  23. If not Machen, how about Hart?

    Eleni Failoni Failon
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
    Dr Hart, do you believe Roman Cathlicism is a false relgion? Thank You

    D. G. Hart
    Posted September 3, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
    Eleni, Not if you judge solely by Nicea. But if you judge by Trent, well, not so good. Even worse is Roman Catholicism post Vatican 2. Do they believe Nicea? Trent? How would you tell from whom they let teach theology at their official universities?

    Who’s next?

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  24. Everyone is a Christian who realizes and confesses their sin, then repents and through their faith in Christ aims to live a life worthy of the name Christian.

    Any fruit of the Spirit whatsoever is welcome in this world. Never enough of it. Even the weakest sauce can be comforting.

    Doesn’t mean i will listen to this person’s theology or join their church or want to spend time with them or discuss differences.

    And I’ve met a lot of people with faith who for various reasons attended churches that were not even 1% helpful, but they didn’t pay any attention to the bad things. It is hard to describe the feeling at a funeral where I had full belief they were His but the eulogy from their clergy was a complete train wreck.

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  25. Since the title is about Al, I will mention that his podcasts for preaching on Matthew, Hebrews, and James has been very helpful and instructive over the last few years.

    All distinctive diffs aside…

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  26. Camden Bucey says:
    May 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm
    I concur. It’s not fair that DGH and I could be considered at the same level. On another note, if a Machen bobblehead gives Moody bonus points, what does the life-size wax statue of Machen in DGH’s living room give him?

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  27. Tom,

    Sounds like you think your savior is Constantine.

    You’ll look to anyone but Jesus – Constantine, Aquinas, The RCC…

    Look to Jesus and be born again, brother

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  28. Tom,

    You do hit on something with Constantine, though.

    Magistrate willing to enforce theological interpretations = visible unity.

    Magistrate unwilling to enforce theological interpretations = no visible unity.

    Makes the RCC look like just one large denomination.

    Like

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