Vanilla Presbyterianism

Bryan Chapell serves a modest and healthy variety of Reformed Protestantism to Ed Stetzer:

Ed Stetzer: What are some of the distinctives that make you different than other Evangelical groups?

Bryan Chapell: The PCA affirms the inerrancy of Scripture and places a high value on biblical preaching and worship. This is because we believe the Bible is our only infallible rule of faith and practice. By the design of the Holy Spirit, all that is necessary for a life of godliness are within its pages. The Bible was never intended to address every subject or science that we may confront in our world, but it does provide the standards for truth and life that we require to honor God in every situation.

While holding its Confessional standards secondary to the authority of Scripture, the PCA seeks to maintain its peace and purity by requiring ordained pastors and officers to subscribe to the theological doctrines detailed in the Westminster Standards (i.e., the Westminster Confession of Faith with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms).

Those standards also indicate that we believe churches should be in accountability relationships with one another, just as individual church members are. So we have regional presbyteries (gatherings of pastors and elders that seek to do ministry and mission together). Local churches are governed by elders and pastors elected by the local congregation. We practice the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, as the Scriptures instruct. We believe the Scriptures teach that baptism is for adult believers and their children. We do not practice infant baptism out of tradition and sentiment, but out of the understanding that God pledges his faithfulness in covenant relationships that are consistently taught in the Bible.
The PCA affirms the inerrancy of Scripture and places a high value on biblical preaching and worship.

Our Reformation heritage is reflected in a “Reformed/Calvinistic” system of doctrine. The first thing most think of in this category is an emphasis on the sovereignty of God in salvation. We believe that a necessary implication of the Bible’s teaching about our all-knowing and all-powerful God is that he must elect and predestine those who will be saved. The Bible uses these terms and we accept them. We also affirm that God accomplishes our salvation without “doing violence” to our will. . . .

The subject of sovereignty is not exhausted in discussions about salvation processes. Our Reformed commitments teach the sovereignty of God over “the whole of life.” The Lord of all creation is not confined by the walls of the church. That means that there is no sphere of life, no occupation, no recreation, no craft or art that is beyond the bounds of his concern or without obligation for his glory. We believe that the church does not do its work on Sunday, if it is not preparing its people for Monday – and every other day. All occupations and recreations need to be considered as opportunities for glorifying God. There are no secondary callings.

The PCA has a commitment to the “regulative principle” of Christian worship (i.e., only what God instructs in his Word should be practiced in corporate worship). But, because this principle results in rather general requirements about practices related to the Word, sacraments and prayer, worship styles vary greatly between local churches.

That’s the skinny. If you want a “fatter” version of Presbyterian distinctions, see my autobiographical description in “Why I am an Evangelical and a Presbyterian,” in Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity, eds. Anthony Chute, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).

I guess that makes TKNY the Rocky Road and really fattening version of the PCA.

If only PCA leaders like Chapell could keep Presbyterianism that simple and that by the book. Is this a sign of an Old School Presbyterian return? Or is this how you distinguish yourself from a w-w Southern Baptist?

Advertisements

23 thoughts on “Vanilla Presbyterianism

  1. I don’t know if it’s encouraging or discouraging that Chapell can still say that great stuff while promoting the progressive state of the PCA.

    Or maybe its something about diamonds shining brighter on black than white?

    Like

  2. Walton, let Chapell speak:

    The denomination, as a whole, is clearly divided between traditionalists, progressives, and neutrals. The traditionalists are highly committed to Confessional fidelity and are often worried about perceived doctrinal drift.

    The progressives are frustrated by the perceived cultural isolation of the denomination and the lack of Gospel impact upon the larger culture.

    The neutrals are happy (even proud) for the PCA’s biblical fidelity, are at a loss for why their churches are not growing, and perceive that the traditionalists and progressives fuss too much about too little.

    Theological zeal and institutional loyalty keep the traditionalists engaged despite their concern about the church. The progressives are increasingly concerned that the church cannot move forward without controversy, and segments of this wing occasionally talk about whether it’s worth staying — even though most votes go their way at the General Assembly level. The neutrals always hold the swing votes at the General Assembly level — they can be frightened into action by the traditionalists but generally are more inspired by, and aligned with, the progressives.

    Our Strengths and Weaknesses

    The PCA’s best features include its fidelity to Scripture, its spiritually and doctrinally mature leadership, its congregations of highly committed believers, and a strong missional impulse. Weaknesses include its litigious culture, its cultural paranoia, and its blindness to its America-centricity, making it largely unaware or unconcerned about its role in the global Christian community.

    An oft-repeated statement about the PCA is that “it’s a mess, but it’s the best mess around.” That statement is usually made by those who don’t know where they would go for greater fidelity to biblical and Reformed distinctives. Attitudinally, many younger pastors would prefer to be in the EPC or the new Anglican denominations. However, the squishiness of doctrine in those circles, the low likelihood of local churches changing affiliations, and, of course, divergent views on the role of women are concerns that combine to keep most from jumping ship and also keep them trying to contribute to PCA health.

    In a curious way, a spate of recent controversies has actually settled down the PCA in recent years. The controversies, while stimulating lots of rhetoric, have actually involved few people, and that has led to an easing of tensions and some better dialogue among leaders.

    Despite this relative peace, if more progress is not made in cultural engagement, demographic diversity, and world-Christian involvement, my own children will struggle to stay with the PCA (although all are presently in PCA churches). Still, the only way I know to help her is (1) to work for the Gospel in the corner of the kingdom where God has placed me; (2) to keep trying to help the different strands understand each other; and (3) to work with leaders from the different strands to develop mutual trust that will be needed to work together for Christ’s purposes in our world.

    So why not tell Ed Stetzer this? Is it like Roman Catholicism? Doctrine doesn’t change but discipline may?

    Like

  3. “But, because this (the regulative) principle results in rather general requirements about practices related to the Word, sacraments and prayer, worship styles vary greatly between local churches.”

    That must be the vanilla part.

    If TKNY is rocky road, Old School will give you diabeetus.

    Like

  4. Apparently the only thing worse than being called a confessionalist traditionalist at GA is being called a broad evangelical on The Exchange.

    Like

  5. Any thought as to why “progressives” stay in the PCA? They may have won recent small battles, but these are likely not the battles they really care about. If the progressives ever got what they want (mainly, women’s ordination), I suspect that traditionalists would storm out of the denomination.

    Like

  6. Eighteen wheelers loaded to capacity are driven through the term ‘missional’, and still, nobody is sure what it means. Spiritual and doctrinally mature leadership? Yea, I’m not so convinced. And I wouldn’t say it’s trending that way.

    Like

  7. Weaknesses include its litigious culture, its cultural paranoia, and its blindness to its America-centricity, making it largely unaware or unconcerned about its role in the global Christian community.

    I don’t know, but shouldn’t the Presbyterian Church in America be America-centered? That’s where it’s congregations are located. In fact, isn’t that structure of its church polity a feature of Presbyterianism, not a bug?

    Like

  8. I have a question that hopefully someone can answer. When Chapell states:


    While holding its Confessional standards secondary to the authority of Scripture, the PCA seeks to maintain its peace and purity by requiring ordained pastors and officers to subscribe to the theological doctrines detailed in the Westminster Standards (i.e., the Westminster Confession of Faith with its Larger and Shorter Catechisms).

    does he mean subscribe the way that conservative Lutherans mean? For conservative Lutherans, subscribing to their confessions means not having any exceptions because they view their confessions as being inerrant.

    Also, I think the criticisms of Keller and his work at Redeemer are both unloving and go too far. Noting that no one’s work is above criticism, if we are going to point out the faults of Keller and his church, should we not include the positives we see in both as well?

    Like

  9. Reformation Day celebrations are an excuse to drink beer and eat brats. We’re doing ours on the Saturday before. There will no hymns to Luther or Calvin. Sam Adams may be roundly applauded, though.

    Like

  10. C-dubs, it’s also an exercise in the great man theory of history, of which Hunter saith:

    It is a Hegelian idea of leadership and history, popularized by the nineteenth-century Scottish historian, Thomas Carlyle…For Carlyle, heroes shaped history through the vision of their leadership, the power of their intellect, the beauty and delight of their aesthetic, and animating it all a certain inspiration from above…[from Moses to Jesus to Buddha to Aristotle to Julius Caesar to Napoleon to Aquinas to Luther to Darwin to Freud to Monet and Degas] All form an aristocracy of knowledge, talent, ability, ambition, and virtue, and so endowed have stood like switchmen on the train tracks of history; it is their genius and the genius of other heroic individuals that have guided the evolution of civilization this way or that; for better or for worse.

    The only problem with this perspective is that it is mostly wrong. Against this great-man view of history and culture, I would argue (along with many others) that the key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks. And the more “dense” the network—that is, the more active and interactive the network—the more influential it could be. This is where the stuff of culture and cultural change is produced…My point is simply that charisma and genius and their cultural consequences do not exist outside of networks of similarly oriented people and similarly aligned institutions.

    Refrain from Reformation Day hoopla?

    Like

  11. Z—Reformation Day, as we know it, is misleading. It creates the impression that the Reformation was about “cleaning up” the church. It wasn’t. There were moral reform movements about in the late middle ages and early 16th century but the Reformation wasn’t one of them. The Reformation was a theological event that was intended to have moral consequences, but it wasn’t first of all about moral self-improvement and tidying the ecclesiastical house. Beware all the various “reform” movements in our churches today that want to turn the Reformation into moral renewal (and that’s most of them). Beware when folk invoke a “new” Reformation who don’t understand the old one. Beware when folk call for a Reformation that requires a repudiation of the first Reformation. Those movements abound.

    https://confessionalouthouse.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/a-meditation-for-reformation-day-2/

    Like

  12. Noll- It was Calvinists, not Lutherans, who in 1617 first proposed a centennial marking Luther’s attack on indulgences. Alarmed by an increasingly assertive Tridentine Catholic Church and lacking legal status in the Holy Roman Empire. early in that year church and royal officials in the Reformed German Palatinate proclaimed in October they would hold a centenary “jubilee,” to remember how “the eternal, all-powerful God has looked upon us graciously and delivered us from the horrible darkness of the papacy.” The ruler of the Palatinate, Friederich V, urged all Protestants (by which he meant Lutherans and the Reformed) to put divisions aside and offer thanks giving between October 31 and November 2 for recovering the bright light of the gospel.
    http://heidelblog.net/2008/10/what-reformation-day-really-is-2/

    Like

  13. MM – not only was the Reformation not what some (Lutherans) like to think, but it was also far from initially successful. To his dying day Luther himself had his doubts about whether or not Protestantism was moving forward or if it was just a slowly dying failed attempt. It took the secular effort of some like John the Elector of Saxony to help it along.

    Like

  14. CW,
    Keller probably doesn’t even know what socialism is let alone adhere to it. But what I wrote has nothing to do with that. What I wrote has everything to do with realizing who died for the sins of the people we criticize.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s