Between Tim and Carl — The NAPARC Dilemma

Rod Dreher calls attention to one NAPARC pastor who is not thrilled with current ecclesiastical options and so curious about — wait for it — The Benedict Option:

Meanwhile younger evangelicals are busy recapitulating the 20th century church’s fatal embrace of theological liberalism. As long as it’s packaged in an emotionally compelling way, their elders can be induced to swallow it as well, as “The Shack” easily demonstrates.

Within the more conservative strains of Reformed and Lutheran Protestantism there are other problematic dynamics. I have many Lutheran friends, but I’ll stick to generalizing about the Reformed. There is a spectrum in the PCA, for instance. The disciples of Tim Keller are almost as ready to give away the store in the name of reaching the culture as the mainstream evangelicals are, and there is a small but significant number of these Young Turks who are busy trying to combine AngloCatholicism and hipster feminism into a small enough package to smuggle into the PCA. On the other extreme are the Confessionalist Conservatives (with whom I mostly identify, tho less and less) many of whom seem to be suffering from Asperger’s Syndrome. Carl Trueman’s denomination is chock full of these. The focus here is on doctrine in an increasingly nuanced form, but it’s not particularly connected to real life most of the time. They tend to build small, unattractive churches full of Christians with advanced degrees in physics or engineering. They love doctrinal controversy, not because they love controversy, but because they love debating ideas. But regular people have no desire to follow the subtle arguments and hate the atmosphere of conflict coupled with a lack of any recognizably pleasing social interaction, so they run away pretty quickly. At my worst, I could easily fall into these pitfalls (indeed, I have) but the Lord is graciously restraining me and reshaping me, and by grace I am better than I was.

Pastor Brian, as he identifies himself in Rod’s comment boxes, should add that an important help to his dismissal of Keller’s giving away the story is the doctrinal zeal for which Carl Trueman’s Asperger Presbyterians are known.

But missing from this pastor’s dilemma is a recognition that the politics of identity (think race and gender) are leaving Tim Keller without a secure legacy in the PCA. Could it be that Keller is too white for the Leadership and Diversity Resource (talk about an Orwellian title) of the PCA?

When Wy Plummer invited one African-American seminarian to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to see a multiethnic PCA congregation, he had no idea the weekend would turn into an annual event attracting hundreds of men and women in Reformed denominations.

The event is now called Leadership and Development Resource (LDR), a weekend for African -Americans to see that they have a place in Reformed denominations. Since blacks are usually the minority in a PCA church, many feel as though they need to hide their ethnic culture in order to fit in at church, Plummer said. . . .

Now Plummer works with Tisby and Michelle Higgins to organize the annual gatherings. As LDR attracts more people, Higgins wants to equip teams to host regional LDR gatherings.

Plummer believes that LDR is playing a key role in creating diversity in the PCA. It gives Reformed African-American leaders the chance to address a national audience. For whites who attend, it is a place to learn about how African-Americans preach, pray, and worship.

If the OPC is getting too much doctrinal precision (haven’t heard that one before), has the PCA been getting too much Keller? Then again, the PCA establishment has to know that if push comes to shove and they have too choose between Tim and Kathy Keller or Jemar Tisby and Michelle Higgins, they’ll choose New York City over Chattanooga.

These days, though, you never know.


12 thoughts on “Between Tim and Carl — The NAPARC Dilemma

  1. ” unattractive churches full of Christians with advanced degrees in physics or engineering. ”
    He says that like it’s a bad thing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 1) It’s not Aspergers’ it’s Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    2) Rod is very ablelist, waiting for the Buzzfeed article on that.

    3) Higgins is in charge of a thing in the PCA? Oy vay. I can’t wait to be called a self hating Latino for being a political conservative

    Liked by 2 people

  3. D.G.,
    Again, you seem to be riding in on Keller’s coattails by criticizing him. It isn’t good. Yes, Keller needs corrections on some points. At the same time, he has made valuable contributions. An all-or-nothing approach to Keller denies either that some of his views and practices warrant criticism or the contributions he makes. And when we take the former all-or-nothing approach, we are in danger of becoming the pharisee from the parable of the two men praying.

    As for Dreher, I would call his attention to the latest article on BenOp from the Reformed African American Network’s website. His concerns are somewhat valid but he hasn’t used all of Church history as a resource to help form solution to the problems he sees.


  4. Curt, how is identifying someone as New Life and New School either or? Last I checked, New Lifers and New Schoolers were good evangelicals. Not so great at Presbyterianism.

    I get it. We want religion to matter. But not if it gets too demanding. Cafeteria mattering.


  5. This is not quite the same thing as the Benedict Proposal

    “Multicultural Normativity means your congregations’ worship and relationships and ministries are so defined by the presence of ethnic minorities—so built from the ground up on a racially integrated foundation—that if your members of color WERE TO LEAVE one day, nothing about your church or denomination would ever be the same.”


  6. D.G.,
    But in your analysis comes the assumption that Presbyterianism is the standard by which evangelicalism must be measured. This], again, goes back to Jesus’s confrontation with the Pharisees about how their traditions excused them from honoring their parents. Now the point here is not on whether some are pharisees here. Rather, it is on what is our ultimate standard. Is the Scriptures or our confessions? Is Presbyterianism justified in thinking that it has everything to teach evangelicalism and nothing to learn from it?


  7. D.G.,
    Again, I feel like I am conversing with Kellyane Conway because you try to change the subject rather than answer the questions. The questions are:

    Rather, it is on what is our ultimate standard. Is the Scriptures or our confessions? Is Presbyterianism justified in thinking that it has everything to teach evangelicalism and nothing to learn from it?


  8. I do question Brian’s comments regarding allegations that younger evangelicals are adopting 20th-century liberalism. I don’t see that at all. Classic theological liberalism of the Bultmann variety has been dead for decades. I think it’s true that we still do church according to a 20th-century paradigm. That’s been true of conservatives and liberals for a while.

    For all of this blog’s talk of confessionalism, it’s still a confessionalism that centers around a certain set of historical events that occurred in 1935-36. It’s hard to know what the OPC would have become without Machen’s untimely death. It’s not unclear that Machen wouldn’t have rejoined the mainline church as Ed Rian did. Like it or not, the OPC, as one finds it today, is much more reflective of Van Til and his Kuyper-influenced neo-fundamentalism than it is of Machen. This blog is an exception. But it’s a blog, not a local church.


  9. evan/Bobby, all you need to do is factor in that evangelicalism is liberal and you’ll get it. The awakenings of St. Jonathan and George the Greater destroyed confessionalism — the baseline for Protestantism unless you are an Anabaptist (I hear some moisturize). Ever since then, “conservatives” have been avoiding church authority, the sacraments, and the creeds like the plague.

    At least Van Til and the Kuyperians represent a strain of pietism that was also trying to uphold confessionalism — Dort and all.

    Try that the next time you lecture on history (or the OPC — as if you’d ever let your moisturizer near an OP congregation).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. “What is our ultimate standard. Is the Scriptures or our confessions?” OK. But then, what if I suggest that neither speak directly to so many of the hot button issues the newer voices are insisting on or grouping around (even CT is now quite woke [which even Wikipedia now know means “awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice”]? Scripture doesn’t speak explicitly to gender equality, or to structural race privilege, or to education financing, or to even abortion for that matter. Or to exactly where our obligations in a democracy lead. Which would suggest that ultimately we can take a stand on these against the zeitgeist and still be an esteemed church member. Or not? Conformity in Christ suddenly takes on uncomfortable meaning.


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