Morality Divides, Coalitions Unite

That is, as some may tell, an riff on the old line used during the fundamentalist controversy to counter conservatives — “theology divides, ministry unites.”

Our friend, Chortles Weakly explains how officers in NAPARC communions who also hold official positions in The Gospel Coalition — can anyone identify the Allies? — are looking the other way when it comes to the Second Commandment, the bedrock of the Regulative Principle:

As the cultural exegetes must surely agree, an organization’s use of images, technology, and messaging strategies is fair game for critics. What follows is my attempt to critique some of the ways TGC uses images and innovates. The standard will not be something I learned in business school, the standard will be the confessions of the Reformed churches.

My concern here is not really with Reformed churches as such (which cannot actually align with TGC) or with members (who are free to consume as they will). It is with the officers (elders and pastors) of confessionally Reformed churches who participate in TGC leadership, given the fact that TGC’s content so strongly influences the one culture that really matters, the one culture that truly ought to be ordered according to the Bible – the household of faith, the church of God.

My concern is that the officers of confessionally Reformed churches (basically those from denominations affiliated with the North American Presbyterian & Reformed Council – NAPARC) who sit on the TGC council are giving their stamp of approval to some things that are specifically forbidden by the Bible, the Reformed confessions, and the historic practice of the Reformed churches.

The TGC web page over the recent Thanksgiving weekend provided a notable example of TGC-endorsed aberrant practices. The front page of the site used an image of a nativity scene (with the second person of the Trinity supposedly represented) in support of an article on “8 New Resources for Advent”. This is not an isolated instance. Pictures of Jesus and commendations of movies and materials depicting him are nothing new at the TGC web site.

What specifically is wrong with images of Jesus? Well, simple logic tells us that any image of Christ is necessarily a lie – the Bible is not a picture book. No image of Christ can be accurate. Can inaccurate images be a help to those who view them? Some will argue that serve an essential pedagogical use when it comes to children. Some, as were heard at the last General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, will argue that we cannot appreciate the humanity of Jesus without images.

The Westminster Larger Catechism, to which the presbyterian ministers on the TGC council have taken vows of subscription, would seem to speak both to images of Christ and things like Advent in question 109:

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed. (

Now, I am aware that there are officers who take exceptions (where allowed) to portions of this section, especially concerning mental images. I am aware that some presbyterian bodies have in the last few decades allowed loose or “system” subscription to confessional documents. Still the question must be raised: Should a NAPARC church officer sit on a quasi-ecclesial body’s board when that that body condones and promotes violations of the second commandment as defined by the confessional standards of the officers’ own denominations?

At a time when America is leading the crusade for obedience to God’s law, do Gospel Allies really want to be caught on the sidelines?

142 thoughts on “Morality Divides, Coalitions Unite

  1. Scripture says “No man has seen God at any time.” But clearly men actually saw the human nature of the Second Person of the Godhead. Does your theology of the Person of Christ and its attempted depiction produce a contradiction in the Bible?


  2. Should those with the indelible mark of Reformed “ordination” review books for the Gospel Coalition?

    John Fesko— “Oliver Crisp’s essay on sin thoughtfully engages the subject and challenges the common Reformed doctrine of immediate imputation for original sin. He promotes a Zwinglian realist view. At one level, this is fine. But when he rejects immediate imputation, Oliver Crisp does so apart from any exegesis. To claim that immediate imputation promotes an arbitrary view of God or that no one ever authorized Adam to represent humanity are expected common objections, but to fail to provide substantive counter-exegesis to the exegetical support for immediate imputation renders the objections unconvincing.”


  3. wpeterg, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

    Not really a contradiction unless you want to rely on a verse fragment. Since John is apparently distinguishing between God the father and Jesus the son, he would have a point in saying that only Jesus has “seen” God who is spirit.

    And if you think seeing Jesus provides warrant for images, you still need to get around the Second Commandment.



  4. The “humanity requires images” line is precisely Eastern Orthodoxy’s defense of ikons. The pictures for the ignorant argument is addressed specifically by the Heidelberg Catechism answer 98 (LD 35).


  5. The Unificator has a legitimate gripe here. I take almost no issue with the Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, or Anglican use of icons and images, at least they are self-consistent in doing so. In my interactions with them, they all have fairly consistent arguments as to why their iconography is not in violation of the 2nd Commandment. However, Evangelicals don’t even have a rationale for why they use images, and often appropriate imagery from other traditions without even the slightest clue what they mean or what they are used for – so they are wandering in a no-mans land where they don’t have any tradition that justifies their practice or a biblical hermenutic that allows them to navigate the Decalogue.

    Historically speaking, those Christians who don’t make use of images have been in the minority – but even back into the patristic period they can be found. The 7th Ecumenical Council (Nicea II) in the 8th century rolled back the Council of Heiria which was pretty much the last we hear of the iconoclasts until the Reformed in the 16th century.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The simplistic world presented here of truly confessional people vs the TGC et. al. is what is disturbing. Yes, I am sure that the TGC does some things that not all reformed people will approve of. After all, the TGC is a broader coalition. But the above complaint seems to revolve around the idea that Reformed people in the TGC are associating with theological lepers and that such Reformed people need discipline because they are being unfaithful to the Reformed cause. That kind of division suggests that Christ’s Church consists only of Reformed people.

    I am not writing as a big fan of TGC. I see too many control issues involved in how they operate. But they also make positive contributions. Like the rest of us, they are a mixed bag. But being a mixed bag is not good enough for those Reformed people who do not believe in associating with theological lepers. In contrast, acknowledging that one is a mixed bag poses no problem for those who understand the 5 solas.



    We are a fellowship of evangelical churches in the Reformed tradition deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. We have become deeply concerned about some movements within traditional evangelicalism that seem to be diminishing the church’s life and leading us away from our historic beliefs and practices. On the one hand, we are troubled by the idolatry of personal consumerism and the politicization of faith; on the other hand, we are distressed by the unchallenged acceptance of theological and moral relativism. These movements have led to the easy abandonment of both biblical truth and the transformed living mandated by our historic faith. We not only hear of these influences, we see their effects. We have committed ourselves to invigorating churches with new hope and compelling joy based on the promises received by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

    We believe that in many evangelical churches a deep and broad consensus exists regarding the truths of the gospel. Yet we often see the celebration of our union with Christ replaced by the age-old attractions of power and affluence, or by monastic retreats into ritual, liturgy, and sacrament. What replaces the gospel will never promote a mission-hearted faith anchored in enduring truth working itself out in unashamed discipleship eager to stand the tests of kingdom-calling and sacrifice. We desire to advance along the King’s highway, always aiming to provide gospel advocacy, encouragement, and education so that current- and next-generation church leaders are better equipped to fuel their ministries with principles and practices that glorify the Savior and do good to those for whom he shed his life’s blood.

    We want to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus. Such a biblically grounded and united mission is the only enduring future for the church. This reality compels us to stand with others who are stirred by the conviction that the mercy of God in Jesus Christ is our only hope of eternal salvation. We desire to champion this gospel with clarity, compassion, courage, and joy—gladly linking hearts with fellow believers across denominational, ethnic, and class lines.

    Our desire is to serve the church we love by inviting all our brothers and sisters to join us in an effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ so that we truly speak and live for him in a way that clearly communicates to our age. As pastors, we intend to do this in our churches through the ordinary means of his grace: prayer, the ministry of the Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the fellowship of the saints. We yearn to work with all who, in addition to embracing the confession and vision set out here, seek the lordship of Christ over the whole of life with unabashed hope in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform individuals, communities, and cultures.
    You will find attached both our Confessional Statement and our Theological Vision for Ministry—a vision rooted in the Scriptures and centered on the gospel.

    About (Old Life) (excerpt)
    Old life indicates that the old things are actually valuable and capable of sustaining authentic Christian faith, and that historic Reformed Protestantism specifically embodies a piety as vigorous and alive as any of its rivals.

    The Old Life Theological Society has existed for over a decade, the creation of D. G. Hart and John R. Muether. Its aim has been to point the way back to the health and vigor of historic Reformed Protestantism.


  8. and so being reminded from this am (gty), thinking there is at least agreement about being united against this:

    DAY 1: Who were the false teachers that Peter describes in 2 Peter 2:1?

    Peter described false teachers in detail in this chapter so that Christians would always recognize their characteristics and methods. The greatest sin of Christ-rejecters and the most damning work of Satan is misrepresentation of the truth and its consequent deception. Nothing is more wicked than for someone to claim to speak for God to the salvation of souls when in reality he speaks for Satan to the damnation of souls.

    Peter says they will be from “among the people.” “The people” is used in the New Testament of Israel (Acts 26:17, 23). Peter’s point, though, is that Satan has always endeavored to infiltrate groups of believers with the deceptions of false teachers (John 8:44). Since Eve, he has been in the deceit business (2 Cor. 11:3, 4). The false teachers parade themselves as Christian pastors, teachers, and evangelists and “secretly bring in destructive heresies.” “Heresies” means self-designed religious lies which lead to division and faction (1 Cor. 11:19; Gal. 5:20).The Greek word for “destructive” basically means damnation. This word is used 6 times in this letter and always speaks of final damnation (vv. 1–3; 3:7, 16).This is why it is so tragic when a church makes a virtue out of the toleration of unscriptural teachings and ideas in the name of love and unity (2 Thess. 3:14; 1 Tim. 4:1–5; Titus 3:9–11).

    “Denying the Lord.” This phrase exposes the depth of the crime and guilt of the false teachers. This unusual Greek word for “Lord” appears 10 times in the New Testament and means one who has supreme authority, whether human authority or divine authority. Peter here warns that false prophets deny the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ. Though their heresies may include the denial of the virgin birth, deity, bodily resurrection, and Second Coming of Christ, the false teachers’ basic error is that they will not submit their lives to the rule of Christ. All false religions have an erroneous Christology.


  9. Truth telling matters. If you take a vow to adhere to the Westminster standards (note not all members of PCA churches are required to make such a vow – only officers), then lead a group that blatantly violates those standards, then there is a big problem. My understanding is that when one takes exceptions to items in the standards, one also agrees not to flaunt that exception. I would think that means not teaching that it is OK to take exception to that standard and not leading an organization that flaunts that standard. This is divisive to one’s communion and confusing to those you are charged to shepherding.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The problem is not that the TGC is a mixed bag. All organizations on earth are such. The problem is taking a vow to uphold standard X and then leading an organization that blatantly violates standard X. It is like the president of PETA joining the board of Ruth Chris.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. sdb says: The problem is taking a vow to uphold standard X

    Good point – upheld in belief and in outworking of it in practice, as the Lord Himself says –

    retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me (Paul), in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.

    let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.


  12. Oops, forgot to pick up from the ESV also
    Rom 5:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.


  13. Hmmm. I understand the OL heartburn with TGC. It’s just too bad the great as-advertised Presby ecclesial oversight and discipline isn’t there when it’s needed.


  14. To be against coalitions is to be fundamentlist and schismatic, even if you call your sect “the church”.

    Muether—Far from anti-worldly escapism, THE CHURCH enables us to see the world as it truly is. We can follow a sixteenth-century Reformer just as much as an eighth-century monastic to find THE CHURCH which Dreher yearns to see, that “will live in small circles of committed believers who live the faith intensely, and who will have to be somewhat cut off from mainstream society for the sake of holding on to the truth”


  15. MM, this is not about “see(ing) the world as it truly is”, this is about not having to see violations of the second commandment. John Muether’s church (and their media) does not employ second commandment-violating images. I know this for a fact because my wife worshiped there last Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Did I see Jesus? Did I sin?

    About a decade ago, in an engineering office where I worked, I saw a digitized image, of what appeared to be an eastern Mediterranean man. He appeared to be of average height and build. He was wearing a robe, what I would image was first century Jewish garb. This was back in a day when high resolution graphics were first becoming available on high end personal computers. However, this was by no means a high resolution graphic image. I would describe it as a low to mid resolution graphic. It had what I would describe as certain Mona Lisa characteristics. As I contemplated the image, it was hard to tell how much I could see, and how much my mind was filling in what I thought I saw. As I studied the image, I remarked to two colleagues that I thought this man looked like Jesus. What I meant by this was that he looked middle eastern, and if I were to meet the man in the image, I would have a very difficult time trying to determine if the image was the same as the man I had just met. He met the criteria in my mind of all of the required data to be a match for Jesus, and little to no extraneous information.

    I was with two colleagues at the time. One was a solid state physicist. He was an atheist. The other was a mechanical engineer. I knew both he and his dad were of a Calvinist evangelical bent. Both of these men scorned and derided me for offering an opinion that this man could look like Jesus. I concluded that I had stumbled upon a mutual “hot button” issue for both of these men. Later, the engineer told me that he had come across African, Hispanic, Korean, Caucasian, to name a few, images of Jesus when he was at a local Christian boarding school, and yes it was a “hot button” issue for him.

    The teaching in my home, when I was growing up was in line with the gist of Westminster Larger Catechism question 109. The only church in town where I grew up was a Methodist Church, consequently, I was not catechized. Before landing at this wide spot in the road, both of my parents grew up in the United Presbyterian Church of North America. We had no images of the second person of the Trinity displayed in our house. The creshe that we displayed at Christmas season had no baby Jesus.

    Did I see Jesus? Did I sin? Right or wrong, correct or incorrect, I don’t know to this day. However, I did feel scorned and derided in that moment, just as my Lord did in his days walking this earth. Sometimes, I think it is easy to get so caught up in trying to be orthodox in our thinking that We miss opportunities for a life of orthopraxy.

    p.s. Thanks for the link to Westminster Larger Catechism.


  17. KJ, seeing is not a sin. In my opinion it is sin for Westminster-subscribing elders to impose these images on their members or to enable (actively or passively) their use and distribution via coalitional websites among other things. It is violation of the standards and of the consciences of their members.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Petros,

    I think Presbyterianism, when properly followed, is a good system. Sometimes I wonder if we Presbyterians make too much of it’s advantages, however. In the PCA, for example, we can hold ministers accountable by defrocking them, but we can’t then stop them from going on to serve in another denomination that will have them. Tullian is example number one of this. Sometimes I’m not sure how a Congregational system is less effective. A Baptist church could, in theory, defrock its minister for grievous sin. But it’s a free country and He can go on and serve in another church or denomination that will have him.

    I guess in Presbyterianism you have a situation where a defrocked PCA minister can’t go on to serve as PCA minister elsewhere whereas in a Baptist setting, I suppose a defrocked SBC minister could serve at another SBC church. Does that happen very often? I don’t know.

    Bottom line, I think we all have to recognize, no matter our church polity, that polity is only as good as the willingness of leaders to enforce it and the willingness of individual congregations to abide by it.


  19. Jeff and CW,
    I agree, see is not sinning. However, I verbalized the thought. That is more than see.


  20. But, Petros, the great-as-advertised mechanism for settling doctrinal disputes is actually the Roman church, not the Presbyterian churches. The former says there’s a continuing infallible human source that can settle things. But lo and behold, that communion is quite fractured.

    The latter puts forth an understanding of ecclesial authority and procedure while at the same time a doctrine of human depravity, i.e. there’s ecclesial theory and then there’s human deficiency, the church only works as well as sinners can muster.

    You continue to misunderstand these distinctions. It’s the Roman church that doesn’t deliver on its claims and the one you should actually be gaslighting.


  21. Curt, the OPC has:

    Orthodox Presbyterians may not always care for their church’s history. For some, the OPC was always too combative, uncompromising, even sectarian. But without that militancy, the OPC would not exist, nor could its history be told. In fact, the OPC came dangerously close to rejecting its past and ceasing to exist. For a time, the efforts of Machen, Stonehouse, Woolley, Van Til, and Young appeared to be characteristic of a particular time in American church history that was no longer relevant for a contemporary expression of Orthodox Presbyterianism. But when the church began to recover its past it also became familiar with the original mission and character of the OPC. Only then did the efforts of the first generation start to make sense as not simply a conservative response to liberalism’s infidelity but also as an effort to recover a comprehensive Reformed witness in a disciplined church. Only then too did the church understand that its existence, no matter how apparently insignificant and marginal, was important and even necessary if the Reformed faith really were, in Machen’s words, “grand.”

    Know up.


  22. Q: What is sin?
    A: Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

    Sin = immorality. Why is TGC okay with immorality?
    Why is the first table not as big a deal as the second?

    Two observations: The Coalition’s catechism (the name of which includes a marketing term) is anemic. (, and the catechism uses the term “Redeemer” a great deal, seems to be unique in this. Is this also marketing?


  23. glad you’re so passionate about not sinning cw.

    Robert, you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge
    1)Willow Creek Presbyterian Church in Winter Springs, Florida
    2a)TGC:”In Tullian’s case, it was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom. Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity.”
    2b)presbytery: on that matter –silence


  24. @ Ali:

    Presybtery is bound by process, so as to not act on innuendo. To act in Tullian’s case required a complaint.

    Since you wanted Presbytery action against him, did you pursue process?


  25. @zrim. I agree with Robert.

    @dgh, yes, if your guys take vows, I’m with you that they should live up to them. But, why do your presbyters let them stray so far?


  26. @ CW

    Style and form — slickness — seem to be very important to the Coalition

    This is precisely the problem. Their appropriation of images is aesthetic, and frankly looks more like marketing than any spiritual impulse. Call me a snowflake millennial on this, but it smacks of cultural appropriation, inasmuch as the Coalition wants to project the image of depth without slowing down to consider what their paltry use of iconography even means. Say what you want about devout Catholics or Lutherans or Orthodox, but they certainly don’t make use of images just because they look pretty – it is part of their piety and their ecclesial self-understanding. When the Coalition uses images it demonstrates their fundamental lack of an ecclesial self-knowledge and their uncritical use of secular marketing forms in some of the most crass ways.

    It is one thing to self-consciously depart from Reformed confessional standards – and where office-bearers do so they should be entirely up front and honest with why they are doing so and not pretend that they are doing otherwise; still another to insist that they are meaningfully Reformed while they pay lip-service to the RPW and the standards.


  27. Jeff Cagle says: @ Ali:Presybtery is bound by process, so as to not act on innuendo. To act in Tullian’s case required a complaint.Since you wanted Presbytery action against him, did you pursue process?

    Jeff, why are you asking me that question? Robert is the one bringing it up and defending the Presbyterian ‘system’. Shouldn’t you ask him?

    Also, why aren’t you asking your brothers here the same for all those second commandment violators about whom, they have such heartburn?

    And have you asked them about their step 1 -Matthew 18:15?

    And have you asked them about their preeminent first, middle last steps -Luke 16:7?


  28. DG,
    Yes, it hurt on an emotional level, but perhaps like would be a better word than as. “Like” as in, “similar to” but by no means “to the same extent as”. As a child of God who realizes my most sincere and earnest pray, will always be blasphemous before a perfect God – Yet He did send his Son, because his character is that of a pardoning God.
    Micah 7:18
    (This makes me feel as though I am arguing what the meaning of “is” is.)


  29. D.G.,
    It’s like you say potato and I say potato. You say militancy, I say self-righteousness. It’s not that everything done to create and maintain the OPC was bad; it is that much of it was and still is bad in order to get the result you brag about. That makes the OPC a mixed bag just like the TGC with the compromises it makes to get its desired result.

    So if both the OPC and the TGC are mixed bags, is it safe for one to judge the other too much?


  30. Ali: Jeff, why are you asking me that question?

    Trying to encourage some wisdom.

    You’ve expressed concern with TT’s teaching (with cause, I would say). Yet you have not pursued process against him. And yet you are frustrated with others who also have not pursued process against him.

    I want you to reflect on the reasons why you haven’t — and there are many possible — and then consider that other people might have some of those same reasons. Since you have positioned yourself here as a corrector of others, I want you to see your own motes.

    Ali: Also, why aren’t you asking your brothers here the same for all those second commandment violators about whom, they have such heartburn?

    That’s not a bad idea.


  31. @ CW, DGH:

    Ali raises an interesting point that has bothered me about blogging since 2007.

    You have highlighted what appears to be a fairly clear violation of IIComm.

    At what point does it become your responsibility to raise the issue with the individuals in question, and thence their presbyteries?

    The reason this question bothers me is that at some point of “complaining without taking action”, we are simply reduced to being grumblers and potentially, defamers.

    The same issue applies to me in my view of Mark Jones. Having read “Antinomianism” and some of his comments on imputation, I am becoming fairly sure that he is teaching divisive and contraBiblical, contraConfessional doctrine. Granted that I’m still studying on the issue. But still and all — if I become firmly settled that this is so, at what point do I have responsibility to approach him? His presbytery?


  32. Ali – don’t hold your breath waiting for anyone here to file a complaint with any TGC board member’s presbytery. Lots of paper (or digital) tigers on Old Life.

    And anyway, the TGC is not a Reformed church: it readily admits to being a “mixed bag” of evangelicals, mostly with broadly Reformed bent. There are plenty of non-NAPARC TEs on the board – it’s hardly the NAPARC TEs’ fault if a Baptist editor puts an image of Christ on the TGC website.


  33. @jeff, wrt your “At what point does it become your responsibility to raise the issue with the individuals in question, and thence their presbyteries?”

    You nailed the issue, exactly, Jeff! Amen.

    I’ve got lots of love for the solid scholarship that emerges from the presby world. But, as an outsider, it seems the presby world is itself quite a free-for-all-food-fight, which belies its claims to decorum.


  34. Jeff, hasn’t it been more or less agreed that blogdom is that informal and breezy medium where talk can flow freely without over-realizing its place?

    And at what point is something escalated about an individual’s public writings? Wouldn’t that be the place of those formally connected to and in oversight of said writer, rather than a gaggle disconnected yahoos on a blog? Petros may be looking at P&R blogdom shaking his head at what he perceives to be non-P&R conduct, but he’s always had trouble with making certain distinctions, i.e. a blog isn’t a presbytery.


  35. @ CW: You might be reading more into my questiom than is intended. I’m npt siggesting through the back door that we cannot talk about views and violations. Your critique above seems in-bounds.

    What I’m asking is, “at what point do we have responsibility to begin process?”

    I think answering that qn. ahead of time helps us to be objective and freer from partiality.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Zrim, thoughtful as always, but …

    Z: hasn’t it been more or less agreed that blogdom is that informal and breezy medium where talk can flow freely without over-realizing its place?

    I don’t think so. Practically: blogs (not just P&R) are used to whip up factions. Think about what happened during the FV kerfluffle.

    Blogs are also used for serious theological polemic. Think about the distribution of “Merit and Moses” via the web, and the countervailing “Meredith Kline Resource Site” page. And Ref21, and GreenBaggins, PuritanBoard, GodsHammer, &c. and Mark Horne’s blog as was.

    I’ve even heard, from a friend, that Confessional Outhouse runs some polemic every decade or so.

    While blogs are not nearly approaching the level of peer-reviewed print publication, they *are* reaching audience with a message that goes beyond “10 likes = one prayer”

    And finally, blogs are used as evidence in proceedings. Think about Lee Irons, and Wes White who ended up apologizing and taking down material from his blog.

    So yeah, blogs are breezier than books, and some bloggers are breezier than others. But I’m not finding that talk flows freely or stays in its place; most blogs are compelled to police the combox.

    Z: And at what point is something escalated about an individual’s public writings? Wouldn’t that be the place of those formally connected to and in oversight of said writer, rather than a gaggle disconnected yahoos on a blog?

    Well, of course. Which means that said yahoos (*raises hand*) need to know when to say when. Which was the point of my question.

    Z: Petros may be looking at P&R blogdom shaking his head at what he perceives to be non-P&R conduct, but he’s always had trouble with making certain distinctions, i.e. a blog isn’t a presbytery.

    Right … so given that a blog is not a presbytery, how should bloggers exercise wisdom in knowing when to escalate?

    Think about it like this. I have friends and family who are medical doctors. The thing that drives them crazy is when non-professionals offer medical advice, whether in person or over the internet.

    So, I have a certain filter when people (students) mention their ailments to me. Not “You have X”, but “you might want to get that checked out”; ie, escalate to the school nurse and thence out to primary care or a specialist.

    I’m suggesting that theological bloggers need to start talking and thinking about when to escalate.


  37. Curt, I repeat. The OPC has admitted to being a mixed bag. TGC is like the most amazing parachurch group in the world.

    Tell me how many people don’t know the OPC is a mixed bag and then we can talk about judging too much?

    Where’s your sense of social justice? You’re always on the side of the poor and oppressed. Now the OPC is Goliath?


  38. Jeff, I hear you. Can I get absolution by supposing that a letter to Keller’s presbytery or session would go nowhere? Then I send it to GA. What are the chances of it receiving consideration?

    Liked by 1 person

  39. ” That makes the OPC a mixed bag just like the TGC with the compromises it makes to get its desired result.”

    Maybe the OPC is a mixed bag in an entirely different way than the TGC. Perhaps OPC’ers who are oursiders to TGC see flaws TGC could learn from (and in theory vice versa though I get the sense that TGC doesn’t find the OPC a sufficiently big fish to deserve their attention).


  40. ” What are the chances of it receiving consideration?”

    Probably less than the chance that you would take an internet scholar’s criticism of one your books seriously (even if they were thoroughly documented with wiki links!).


  41. D.G.,
    If the OPC has admitted to being a mixed bag, not everyone in the OPC has gotten that memo. THat is especially true with those who to easily look down on other groups and are compelled to criticize their every flaw. Such people say that they see the OPC as a mixed bag, but they don’t act like they see it

    Where is my sense of social justice regarding the OPC? It is alerted to the fact that too many in the OPC can preach about personal til the cows come home but cannot for the life of them admit to corporate and how many denominations and churches support that corporate sin.


  42. @Curt,
    I have not criticized the OPC for being small. I pointed out that the TGC doesn’t return the favor of helping the OPC see its flaws because the OPC is small. I don’t know the OPC’s flaws, because I am not part of the OPC and I have never attended an OP church. My point is only that being a mixed bag does not preclude offering a helpful critique. Do you disagree? Or is your point really that unless one gets on your idiosyncratic SJ bandwagon, they don’t deserve to air an opinion?


  43. @dgh, it’s really too bad that NBC didn’t have you around to chaperone Mr. Lauer and hold him accountable.


  44. DGH – “Jeff, I hear you. Can I get absolution by supposing that a letter to Keller’s presbytery or session would go nowhere? Then I send it to GA. What are the chances of it receiving consideration?”

    Wow, so much wrong with this way of thinking. First of all, whatever you think about the Metro NY Presbytery, you would also need to send letters Ligon Duncan’s presbytery and Harry Reeder’s presbytery, among others. Maybe you would get a different response from those? Why is Tim Keller’s presbytery your only target?

    Second, you won’t address what you consider to be a blatant, willful Second Commandment violation on the part of NAPARC elders because you don’t think you will get the response you want? Where is the precedent for that? Is that what Machen would have done? Is that how Paul responded to Peter’s hypocrisy (Gal 2:11)? Did Luther recant his theology of justification by faith alone at the Diet of Worms because he thought it “would go nowhere”? To Zrim and Jeff’s point, blogging isn’t a presbytery, but it is real life, not mere academic discussion. I can understand overlooking a one-off mistake or some minor theological nuance, but you are accusing the TGC members of blatant Second Commandment and WLC violations.

    It’s easy to kvetch about these matters on a blog or podcast, much harder to actually step up and take action.


  45. Oops Jeff, that above was supposed to be Luke 18:7 – now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?

    Jeff says Ali: Also, why aren’t you asking your brothers here the same for all those second commandment violators about whom, they have such heartburn? That’s not a bad idea.
    -I thought you weren’t into ‘calling out’ 😊

    Vae victis (@masonmandy) says: Ali – Lots of paper (or digital) tigers on Old Life.
    -Interesting personal judgment Vae victis (@masonmandy).
    PAPER TIGER:one that is outwardly powerful or dangerous but inwardly weak or ineffectual


  46. VV, Chortles, et al.

    Here’s a general question about TGC. Maybe you don’t have the answer.

    It’s always been my impression that the governing council of TGC really doesn’t do all that much. I don’t get the sense that they’re actively directing things or determining editorial content. This would be particularly true of people like Reeder and Duncan. Maybe less so for someone like Keller, one of the founders. But in any case, I don’t really know who is steering the ship over there, and I don’t get the impression that it is any of those guys.

    So the question becomes, how much do Reeder, Duncan, and even Keller have to answer for in regards to confessional violations with respect to TGC? Maybe they don’t have a clue. In that case, would the real problem be that they’re putting their name with an organization that they don’t really pay much attention to?


  47. Robert – exactly my point in my first comment yesterday. I don’t think any of these guys have much to do – if anything – with the day to day operations, much less the editorial content (i.e. picture selection for articles or blog posts) of the TGC website. It’s not like they personally approved the picture in question. They also may have been “outvoted” so to speak by the non-Reformed leaders at TGC. I have no idea what the situation is, but I don’t believe they can be held accountable. For those who do believe the NAPARC TEs should be held accountable for TGC content, I can’t see how simply voicing an opinion on a blog or podcast is sufficient.


  48. Ali: I thought you weren’t into ‘calling out’

    That’s correct. And here’s why: we don’t know nearly enough to “call out” people — which is really accusing them of sin.

    Below the level of “calling out” are things like

    * Asking clarifying questions
    * Raising open-ended issues (as done above)
    * Declaring opinions (as done here)
    * Stating areas of disagreement (as done with VV in re: fornication)

    Those ways of dealing with errors and exploring potential problems are wiser than a direct accusation because they do not assume sin in the absence of compelling evidence. And wouldn’t it be a shame to be on the side of the accuser of brethren by leveling a charge of sin when none exists?

    Those ways are also wiser because at times, we don’t have a complete picture. Hence my questions above; I honestly don’t know how to deal with this new(ish) thing called “social media” which seems to be part casual conversation, part permanent record in hard cement, and part megaphone.

    And those ways are wiser because they give our counterparts space and dignity to come to their own conclusions. Doesn’t Proverbs teach that soft answers break bones? “Calling out” almost always leads to defensiveness and wrath. So of what value is it? There is some value, when used sparingly and in extremis. But not as a steady diet.

    One of the problems for Christians is that they see Jesus “calling out” in the gospels and think “go and do likewise.” But what they sometimes fail to remember is that

    — Jesus knew the hearts of men, and
    — The gospels give us the exceptional, memorable sayings and doings of Jesus. They are not representative of his daily conversation with his disciples. He had a relationship, a friendship, with the disciples. That relationship, which reflected His authority as Lord, gave Him the ability to say things like “O you of little faith” and be received.

    When we try the same thing over the Internet, without relationship and without recognized authority, it falls flat on its face.


  49. I don’t believe the PCA Great Men on the council would put their name on something lightly. Whether it’s “don’t know” or “don’t care”…I can’t say. The council does have power. They have posted pictures of their meetings. Everyone looks very serious. This org is run one of three ways: one to four council members call most of the shots, the paid staff call most of the shots, or the council as a whole calls most of the shots. Why be on the council if you 1) don’t care what the org does or 2) you can have no influence on it its direction? If council membership is meaningless, by all means set it aside if the org is running roughshod over your convictions. If you’re just in it for the prestige (which I don’t suggest) that’s another problem.


  50. If one serves on the board of a pharmaceutical company, are you responsible for everything that company sells and advertises? What if one of the things it prominently displays on its website is RU-486? Is it sufficient for the teaching elder to say that they don’t have much of anything to do with the editorial content or day to day operations of the site? Or can the elder say, “this is a secular role and not part of my ecclesiastical duties. While I’m personally opposed to the use of RU-486, I can’t be expected to agree with the morality of every thing the company I govern does.” Since TGC is not a church, is it also secular? If so, could an elder just say that he is doesn’t endorse everything the organization does? Secularism…it isn’t just for movies anymore!


  51. CW,

    That’s the question. I’m not sure why anyone would want to be on the coalition council except maybe that it makes you look like you hang with the movers and shakers of evangelicalism. It’s pretty clear that the coalition isn’t moving in a confessional Presbyterian direction.


  52. Ok, Jeff; then in addition to pulling up a lounge chair and having a drink, add a bucket of popcorn – may as well be as comfortable and sated as possible while spectating and being entertained.
    Jeff, I know what you’re saying. We each and all need to listen to (and heed) the Spirit more .
    Proverbs 16: 32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.

    Robert says: I’m not sure why anyone would want to be on the coalition council except maybe that it makes you look like you hang with the movers and shakers of evangelicalism.

    Interesting personal judgment, Robert. I can think of several noble reasons.


  53. As an eeee-guy, I’d say Council members are likely motivated by hanging with the movers/shakers, as it gives the member a measure of instant credibility (ok, maybe not with OL folks), probable speaking deals, book endorsements, a forum to get their own blog opinions and materials out, etc. Whether those are necessarily ignoble motivations is less clear. There are certainly noble ways that TGC provides valuable resources (themelios comes to mind, among others).


  54. These all seem to be questions correlated to the question of what is a parachurch org? When you claim to be about the work that is the particular charter of the church but then claim you’re not the church(militant,) by definition you are in fact illegitimate. Or, I want all the consideration as if we are(indoctrination in the faith) but none of the accountability or responsibility as if we are. I like lots of things I can’t have too.


  55. Vae Vic, so you think chortles and I are wrong not to follow protocol. But the violations of the 2nd commandment were okay with you?

    You’re in NYC. Why don’t you say something?


  56. Peter, “it gives the member a measure of instant credibility (ok, maybe not with OL folks), probable speaking deals, book endorsements, a forum to get their own blog opinions and materials out”

    You left out, all for the glory of God.

    You yourself can’t say these are noble motives, but then you turn utilitarian — the end justifies the means. Way to have a backbone.

    Liked by 1 person

  57. DGH – I don’t believe images of Christ violate the Second Commandment (1 John 1:1-2), so I’m not the one with the problem here. But if I did believe NAPARC TEs were willfully violating Scripture or the Confessions I believe I am obligated to address the issue formally. Isn’t such accountability one of the hallmarks of presbyterian polity?

    Sean – TGC does not claim to carry out the “particular charter of the church.” They actually say TGC exists “to serve the church we love by inviting all our brothers and sisters to join us in an effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ so that we truly speak and live for him in a way that clearly communicates to our age. As pastors, we intend to do this in our churches through the ordinary means of his grace: prayer, the ministry of the Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the fellowship of the saints.”

    sdb – comparing images of the incarnate Christ to abortion is not a fair analogy. I would bet that greater than 95% of pastors of all stripes – including 100% of Reformed pastors – would agree that using RU-486 is sinful. But the vast majority of pastors – including a large number of Reformed pastors – would have no problem with the images of Jesus Christ, especially in the context of Christmas. You are comparing something that is a universally acknowledged grievous sin with something that is debatable.


  58. @DGH, and you can’t say TGC’s motives are definitively ignoble.

    Your leadership of the OL club is all to the glory of God, right?


  59. VV, I understand how they position themselves, It’s still an illegitimate overreach and in practice often functions as a virtual church without the same accountability. I always like those jobs where I can get the lion’s share of the benefits while minimizing the downsides.


  60. VV, they even double down on the obfuscation and conflation by trading on their cultic credentials(ordained pastors) and seminary degrees in both attracting and assuring others in their credibility and reliability to perform this function. It’s even better than when I flash my Deputy Dog Badge.


  61. cw – the “early church” held widely different views on this. There have been plenty of excavated 1st and 2nd century churches with images of Christ. As for Continental and Scottish Reformers: they were wrong. One of multiple overreactions to RCC excess and idolatry.

    And the hypostatic union is exactly the point. Before Christ no one had ever seen God, and therefore it was impossible and inappropriate to make any sort of representation of Him, especially something created on the earth, or in sky or in water. But in Christ God became visible with substance – people could see, hear, and touch him, even in His glorified body. We even have a basic description of His physical appearance. Of course images of the Father, Holy Spirit, and pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity are forbidden. But images of a human to depict what Christ was – a human – seem to be in line with the entire purpose of the Incarnation.


  62. VV: …to serve the church we love by inviting all our brothers and sisters to join us in an effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ

    Which means they are taking it upon themselves to define for churches what that ancient gospel is.

    Isn’t that a structural problem?

    The problem is realized when it comes to defining sanctification. The Confessional definition of sanctification makes clear that it is an inward renewal that is a work of God’s grace; all of the Reformed teaches who touch the subject make clear that

    (1) We are active in sanctification, BUT
    (2) All growth is the work of God.

    By contrast, TGC has taken to labeling many who teach exactly that as “antinomian.” (See here, point 13)

    This places Reformed pastors in the TGC in the position of letting an outside organization make doctrinal declarations about pastors in their own denomination.

    In other words, TGC becomes a sock-puppet.

    Is that right?


  63. @ VV: Point re: incarnation heard. But consider: because of the hyp un, we call the person Christ “God.” In other words, doesn’t the argument “Jesus became human, so we can make images” leave us treating Jesus as just another human?

    Put another way: We could lawfully worship Christ. Could we therefore lawfully worship His image? If not, then on what ground?

    Liked by 1 person

  64. The OL pot calls the TGC kettle black:

    – TGC is bad, because it “functions as a virtual church without the same accountability”
    – Presby churches, in theory, are good, because they are ‘real’ churches, presumably with accountability. But per astute OL observation, Presby churches really have no discipline or accountability either.

    Sounds like Presby-OL’ers and TGC have lots in common! Unificate!


  65. Jeff – first of all, I’m not an apologist for The Gospel Coalition – they produce plenty of material that I don’t like and that I with which I disagree. But I don’t believe their mere existence is problematic. They are not claiming to define the ancient Gospel; they are not saying “Here is what the gospel is, and here is what all our churches must believe.” Rather, they are joining together because they all agree on what the “ancient gospel” is, and want to see that understanding advanced in broader culture today. It is a shared definition of the Gospel that unifies TGC, not TGC that promulgates the true Gospel.

    Regarding your example of sanctification, Kevin DeYoung wasn’t making an authoritative declaration about sanctification – it was an opinion piece on a blog, and it was highlighting an area where people disagreed, not making “doctrinal declarations about pastors.” To me that is the real value of TGC: a place where Reformed (broadly speaking) folk can discuss theological and cultural issues within the framework of a common belief in the Gospel.

    Regarding images of Christ: we are not to worship any images (2nd commandment), but we can make images as an aid to worship. This was commanded in the Tabernacle and praised in Solomon’s temple. There is no precedent whatsoever for worshiping any image of anything or anyone. However, using images from the Bible or nature or Christ Himself as a learning tool or aid to worship seems entirely appropriate. Granted, images of Christ can be used for idolatrous purposes, but that doesn’t mean that correct use of images are sinful.


  66. @VV NAPARC Ruling and Teaching elders subscribe to the WLC (at least the presbys – not sure what the TFU says about second off hand). The WLC teaches that making images of Christ is a violation of the greatest commandment. I understand that one can take exceptions, but I wonder how common that really is. Confessions/catechisms can be modified, but for whatever reason the overwhelming majority of our teaching elders and ruling elders have not seen fit to propose that we change the teaching on images of Christ.

    Abortion on the other hand has not been seen as a grievous sin universally. The minority report from the OPC on abortion indicates disagreement, it does not show up in any creed or confession, and movement against abortion in protestant circles didn’t really rise up until the late 60’s/early 70’s.

    But whatever the case, the issue is that a pastor has taken a vow to uphold a religious teaching and that religious teaching is being violated by an organization on whose board they sit. Is it a problem for a Ruling elder to serve on the board of a pharmaceutical company that advertises RU486? It it a problem for a Ruling elder to serve on a board of a nonprofit that displays images of Christ? If abortion is too inflammatory, feel free to substitute in some other corporate board (a production company that makes R-rated movies?).


  67. @vv Here is a link to the minority report on abortion. Not all agree that it is sinful, much less egregious, and no confessional documents require you to assent to the sinfulness of abortion.


  68. sdb – relying on a single dissent from the OPC 1971 report on abortion is thin gruel indeed. RCC, EOC, and the vast majority of Protestants recognize abortion as sinful – the opposite is true of images of Christ. I would bet a significant number of PCA elders – probably a majority – take exception to the WLC on images of Christ. It may be different in the OPC, but in the PCA it is fairly widely accepted based on my experience across the country.

    Petros – your last comment is right on the money.

    Sean – access to sermons? I’m pretty sure I can fine links to sermons any number of places – certainly in written form if no recording is available. Treatises on church doctrine? So is every seminary not affiliated with a church problematic now? Seminary students write treatises on church doctrine all the time! I’ll give you half a point for the catechism, but they did publish it in conjunction with Redeemer, which is a church. I would recommend that catechism by the way, especially the kids’ version. I’m pretty sure the app is free.


  69. VV, you are dead wrong on exceptions to images among PCA elders. Among younger guys exceptions to “the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind” are somewhat common. Otherwise exceptions to the rest of WLC 109, et al are not common at all. In fact, a presbytery was cited at the last GA for having a (supposed) picture of Jesus on their order of worship. You are pulling stuff from your lower parts.


  70. VV, I’m sure you can, it doesn’t make it any less problematic. The *other people do it too* defense is unsatisfying. Seminaries can become problematic, seminary drifts into aberrance and outright apostasy are well documented and always an opportunity. You forgot independent mission boards and agencies. I get full points for all of it. As with all things of Keller’s post modern contextualization, color me unimpressed.


  71. sdb says: Abortion on the other hand has not been seen as a grievous sin universally.


    Jeff, just to reiterate from yesterday – We each and all need to listen to (and heed) the Spirit more… since we are each personally accountable to the Lord.


  72. Relying on a single dissent from the OPC 1971 report on abortion is thin gruel indeed.

    One might also consider folks like Criswell, the SBCs early prochoice stance, and the infamous 1968 CT issue on abortion to see that evangelicals were not universally united on its sinfulness.

    RCC, EOC, and the vast majority of Protestants recognize abortion as sinful

    Why are the rcc and eoc relevant here. They don’t see veneration of mary as problematic. If the analogy works better, sub in serving on the board of a catholic charity that calls on people to pray to the blessed virgin.

    As far as numbers go, about a third of white evangelicals are prochoice. According to Gallup 57% of self identified PCA adults are prochoice. I’m skeptical of PCA stats as I suspect some mainliners mis identify by mistake. The SBC is 33% and AoG is 20%. Given the relative demographics I suspect the PCA is more prochouce than the SBC even if it isn’t 57%.

    – the opposite is true of images of Christ. I would bet a significant number of PCA elders – probably a majority – take exception to the WLC on images of Christ.

    I don’t know how that works. Do candidates study the docs and identify exceptions or does the candidate take an exception if it happens to come up?

    It may be different in the OPC, but in the PCA it is fairly widely accepted based on my experience across the country.

    Could be.

    Now all that being said…. so what? These men took a vow to uphold a standard that states that activity X is sinful. They then serve on
    the board of an organization that promotes X. I see a few possibilities:
    1. Serving on a board that oversees an organization that promotes sin can be ok.

    2. They serve as figureheads and are not aware of what the organization does.

    3. They and evidently the majority of their colleagues think the standard is in error, but are OK with burdening the consciences of parishioners who take the catechism seriously.

    I have no idea how to voice a concern about this to anyone who is in a place to matter, but I think it is helpful to think through the issue.


  73. @Ali

    As ridiculous as we may find their position, many conservative prots have not viewed abortion as inherently sinful. Criswell stands out here. The story of how evangelical consciences were moved on this issue is contested, but I find the case that Schaefer and Koop played a key role compelling:

    My point to vv is a narrow one. In the world of conservative protestantism, opposition to abortion has not been universal. Perhaps you can weigh in on my parallel… why is it ok to serve on the board of an organization that promotes sin?VV seems to think it is because violating the 2nd commandment is less scandalous than abortion (fair vv?).


  74. sdb,Vae victis (@masonmandy) has already said: I would bet a significant number of PCA elders – probably a majority – take exception to the WLC on images of Christ.

    I didn’t read your link yet.Do I need to? My allegiance is to the Lord, as should each one’s be.
    This is the covenant He has made – He has put His law within us and has written on our hearts – He is our God and we our His and we, who are His, all know Him.Each one of us will give an account of himself to God, even every careless word. And each leader will give an account of how they have kept watch over the souls of their sheep.

    And He formed our inward parts, weaving us each in our mother’s womb. Before He formed us, He knew us. It is the LORD who gives and it is the LORD who gets to take away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.


  75. @Ali If the majority of teaching elders realize the WLC is incorrect, shouldn’t they work to correct it so that it properly teaches what the 2nd commandment requires? Do you think the scriptures are less clear about not making images of God than they are about abortion? Or is the 2nd commandment less important?

    “I didn’t read your link yet.Do I need to? My allegiance is to the Lord, as should each one’s be.”

    I would think that allegiance to the Lord entails truthfulness. Not all evangelicals have always opposed abortion. There has been a remarkable shift, but I doubt 95% of pca’ers are prolife. A good test would be to count the number of families with down syndrome kids.
    can’t remember the last time I was in a congregation with one.


  76. sdb says: I doubt 95% of pca’ers are prolife.

    but you don’t think that’s because they actually think that abortion is not wrong, do you? but that even knowing that it is, it is overridden by self-desire, self-convenience


  77. cw – I don’t have stats on the number of PCA elders taking exception to images of Christ contra WLC 109, but it has to be a very large number in practice. I haven’t visited every PCA church, but I have visited a lot of PCA churches literally coast to coast and just about everywhere in between, and in all of them – including those with the “great men” of the PCA, using your parlance – images of Christ were found somewhere. Now, I will concede that I can’t remember seeing any used in a worship center, worship itself, or in a worship bulletin. But as far as the churches and their pastors tolerating images of Christ in general, that practice is certainly widespread. I streamed the debate about images of Christ in the bulletin at the PCA GA, though I was at work and didn’t follow it closely. My understanding is the main issue was the image being used in worship – had it been otherwise I’m not sure there would have been as much angst. I could be wrong, but that was my understanding based on the GA discussion. Regardless, I still maintain a large number of PCA churches allow images of Christ, whether or not the pastors have recorded an official exception to the WLC.

    Sean – I’m not using an “other people do it” defense; there is nothing wrong with linking to a sermon on a blog or other website. I cannot see how that is contrary to Scripture or the Confessions. And your point about “treatises” is likewise extremely narrow. Is your argument that the only people who can write a theological discourse are ordained elders in the context of their pastoral duties? If it is then I completely disagree, and again maintain that it is impossible for you to defend your stance via Scripture or Confession.

    sdb – we have some points of agreement and some points of disagreement. We disagree about the prevailing Christian view of abortion. Being pro-choice is a political matter, so one can be pro-choice but still believe abortion is a sin. For example, I believe gay marriage should be legal, but I also believe it is sinful; I suspect many Christians have the same view of abortion (not a view I share, FWIW). I have a very, very hard time believing anywhere close to 57% of PCA members believe abortion is not sinful. But you’re right, that is really a side issue. My guess is that many of the TEs on TGC board/council don’t have a problem with images of Christ (hence it is less “scandalous”). But even if they do, I don’t believe they should necessarily be held accountable for that. TGC itself is not bound by the Westminster Standards, and I don’t believe an appropriate remedy is for all the NAPARC elders to leave TGC just because it may occasionally violate the Westminster Standards.

    Where we do agree is on what should be done about the WCF/WLC on this or any other matter many elders believe is incorrect. I agree with R. Scott Clark that we should revise and develop new confessions relatively frequently. In my opinion the Reformed community – maybe the NAPARC – should develop an entirely new confession de novo. In other words, they should write a new confession from scratch without considering the original confessions, using Scripture only as the basis. But until that happens, I agree with you that the Standards should not simply be ignored on this or any other matter. I take exception to the WLC on this particular issue, but if I happened to be an elder I would register that exception with the presbytery and would refrain from using or teaching the use of images of Christ. Likewise, if I believe a church or elder is blatantly disregarding the WCF/WLC, I believe I am obligated to address that formally. If we have doctrinal standards we must ensure those are maintained, otherwise we might as well not have them at all.


  78. Veeve, I still don’t see it as prevalent, but I will note that at least two of the PCA guys (one may or may not still be in the PCA — it’s complicated) on the TGC council have or recently had images in their church’s worship spaces.


  79. I have no idea Ali. The polling on the moral acceptability of abortion isn’t finely grained enough to answer that. My own position is that all human beings at any state of development are persons, so the life of a fetus should be treated the same as the life of any other human. I remain uncertain about the moral status of a fertilized egg that hasn’t started multiplying (and thus the morality of certain forms of birth control, IVF, cloning, etc…). My default stance is to “just say no” (not that I’ve ever had to make a decision about any of these things myself). Anecdotally, my evangelical colleagues in the life sciences all seem to disagree with the pro-life stance (one of whom is in the PCA). But we are talking about three people. My understanding is that Francis Collins, the evangelical geneticist and director of NIH does not agree with the immorality of embryonic stem cell use (and thus presumably early term abortion).

    At any rate, I don’t know if dearth of children with Downs Syndrome in evangelical churches is because so many people do not believe abortion is always wrong or because only a minuscule number of people who think it is wrong are able to overcome their self desire. That’s a heart issue we shouldn’t try to discern in others. At any rate, I think it is well established that a sizable fraction of evangelicals did not believe that abortion was always sinful back in the 60’s and 70’s. There has been a shift politically, but it is unclear to me that there really is a consensus here or that the shift was a matter of shifting moral views or political expediency. I think a case can be made for both. What is clear is that if we want to reduce the incidence of abortion, we have a lot of work to do in our own congregations. Making parenthood easier by helping parents with special needs children, expanding fostering/adoption support for families that do this, and helping struggling families will go a long way towards helping moms who are considering abortion overcome that temptation.

    But this is all a red herring from my original point and the topic of this thread. If it is OK for a pastor who has taken a vow to believe that images of Christ violate the second commandment to serve on the board of an organization that does something else he agrees is sinful (produce R-rated movies if you will). What I am hearing is that no one really thinks that producing images of Christ is a violation of the second commandment. That’s a major shift from the view of the reformers. That’s OK…they could be wrong. But if that is the case, we should not be spreading false teaching and burdening the conscience of believers with man-made rules. On the other hand, perhaps they were correct and saw things more clearly than we do in our post-christian, media saturated age. If so, perhaps CW is right to be bothered… I’m not sure what I think, and if I did come down squarely on the side of no images, I don’t know how I would go about doing anything about it other than gripe in a commbox. I doubt that any email I sent to one of them would get any kind of hearing.


  80. Peter, I can say that if anyone said this about me — “I’d say Council members are likely motivated by hanging with the movers/shakers, as it gives the member a measure of instant credibility (ok, maybe not with OL folks), probable speaking deals, book endorsements, a forum to get their own blog opinions and materials out” — I’d be embarrassed.

    Liked by 1 person

  81. Peter, you should not embarrass yourself. Keller could not get away with what he’s doing if he were in the OPC. Of course, by the time he grew to a celebrity large enough to do what he’s doing, he’d not be in the OPC. There is accountability in Presbyterianism. And your shrugs about Keller and TGC show you’re not the best arbiter of accountability.



    Garcia: “If we argue, with CJPM, that justification is the cause of sanctification, then we attribute to justification a generative, transformational quality and thus, ironically in view of the driving concern in CJPM, compromise the purely forensic character of justification, its nature as a declarative act rather than the beginning of a work.”

    Godfrey and Van Drunnen: “It is purely gratuitous for Garcia to say that we attribute to justification a generative, transformational quality. We do not describe justification as containing within itself a generative, transformational power .. Rather, we defend the idea that in the ordo salutis justification has a certain priority…


  83. D.G.,
    At least you know how to misrepresent others. I think that the OPC and the TGC should look at each other as fellow mixed-bags. But those who write as if one group has everything to teach another group while having nothing to learn from it are those who look down on a group. For the OPC to avoid doing that, it will have to admit to what is wrong in the Westminster Standards. Certainly, not everything in it is wrong, but there is quite a bit of culturally determined content in those Standards. For the TGC to avoid looking down on others, it has to acknowledge the authoritarianism that runs deep into the organization. It’s not until that happens that the TGC can honestly look at where it might be making too many accommodations. But at the same time, not all of its accommodations are bad, some help with communicating the Gospel. That is because not all accommodations have to do with compromising content.


  84. @ SDB:

    You might have just not run into any Down’s children. 250k families in the US w a Down’s child; PCA represents 350k people, ~0.1%. So there would be, assuming homogeneity, 250 Down’s children in PCA churches.


  85. DGH – ok, some TEs are bad presbyterians for tolerating images of Christ, and you and cw (and others) are bad presbyterians for not holding them accountable. Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly…


  86. @Curt wrt to your “At least (DGH) knows how to misrepresent others.” May it never be, Curt! DGH has taken vows to uphold the Westminster Standards, including the duties as enumerated in Q144!

    “The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between OL and TGC, and the good name of TGC….and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of TGC; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in TGC’s good name….freely acknowledging of TGC’s gifts and graces…” (Exceptions to all this are allowed if one merely posts stuff on a breezy conversational blogsite, of course.)


  87. Curt, “those who write as if one group has everything to teach another group while having nothing to learn from it are those who look down on a group.”

    You should open up shop as a lexicographer.


  88. Jeff
    The 1:1000 rate is about 10% of what the rate would be if no mothers aborted from what I understand. The rate goes up with the age of the mother, the age of mothers is increasing, and the rate is decreasing. If the maternal age distribution in the pca is the same or greater than for general society then the incidence of downs should be much higher. Given the relatively affluent demographics of the pca, I suspect this is a pretty good bet.


  89. SDB:

    I would bet a 6-pack of Rita’s water ice against you.

    Thus, the estimates of total births of infants with Down syndrome by year for 1909–2007 were further adjusted for pregnancy terminations. The adjustment for pregnancy terminations was estimated from the prevalence difference between live births plus pregnancy terminations versus live births alone reported by Parker et al (658 live births plus pregnancy terminations vs 575 live births

    Current Estimate of Down Syndrome…


  90. D.G.,
    I was just adapting a statement made by Martin Luther King Jr when he talked about the West in his speech against the Vietnam War. And while you try to distract people from what I was writing, the statement points to something in all of us when we feel we have everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them.


  91. cw l’unificateur says: apples, oranges, and cannon balls. But keep juking, by all means.
    …seeking to justify himself….

    sdb and Jeff, not sure why you are focusing on downs syndrome. 3% of abortions are due to fetal health problems;
    92 % are for reasons of convenience; 60% by women 30 or under

    also, according to LifeWay resesearch about 70 percent of women who had an abortion self-identified as Christians, while 43 percent say they attended a Christian church at least once per month at the time they aborted their child.


  92. Petros,
    Perhaps you should read what Martin Luther said to priest who took vows of celibacy. It is not right to take vows to do what is wrong.


  93. D.G.,
    Certainly there are things to learn from you. But there are things not to learn from you. Like the TGC, you are a mixed-bag. All of us are.


  94. @jeff I may owe you a few bottles when we are done, but I am skeptical of their downs rate. I seem to recall 90% of downs babies are aborted. Looking it up, that appears to be an international number and it is 92% of the 85% who have the procedure done. In the US, it is 67-85% of the 85% who have genetic screening (this fraction has shot up now that risky, invasive amino tests aren’t necessary). It looks like the number is something like a half to 2/3rds. That means the 12-14/10,000 who were born should be 24-50/10,000. Right? So in my 800 attendee PCA Church, we should have roughly 1-4. We have 0. That was also true at the other two PCA churches I attended regularly that weren’t quite as big. Maybe I’m reading this wrong….


  95. @Ali you are right that we are very far afield of my original point. It was simply to highlight why serving on the board of an organization that promotes sin is problematic. If images of the second person of the trinity violates the second commandment, how is what Keller and Duncan serving on the board of the gospel Coalition different from serving on the board of a pharmaceutical company that sells “plan-b”? One might argue that the good they do (share the gospel, save kids from malaria) out weighs the bad (violate one of the Ten Commandments). Or you might say being on the board doesn’t obligate you to follow the details of the organization.Or one might say that serving on the board does not entail you endorse all they do. Or you might say this pointless because one really is sinful and the other isn’t.

    It seems to me that this case poses a good test of 2k thinking. A parachurch is not a church, so maybe 2k applies. But it isn’t secular either, so maybe 2k doesn’t apply. In the NT, we don’t see parachurch organizations. Perhaps they shouldn’t exist? I don’t know… It is worth thinking carefully about it.

    As far as abortion goes, I may be overestimating the rate at which downs babies are killed, and my experience at church isn’t telling. I remain unconvinced that the consensus on the sinfulness of abortion is as strong as we would hope. That just means we have to do a better job at teaching (for starters). But maybe I am wrong and we aren’t as off as I think we are.

    Liked by 1 person

  96. SDB,

    I think you have to take into account that the PCA is by no means representative of the population as a whole, skewing whiter and richer than the general populace. I don’t know how that would affect the numbers.


  97. Robert says SDB, I think you have to take into account that the PCA is by no means representative of the population as a whole, skewing whiter and richer than the general populace. I don’t know how that would affect the numbers.

    Good point. from that same source:
    -Black women were more than 3.5 times more likely to have an abortion in 2014 than white women (CDC).
    -The abortion rate of non-metropolitan women is about half that of women who live in metropolitan counties (NAF).
    -The abortion rate of women with Medicaid coverage is three times as high as that of other women (NAF).

    sdb says It seems to me that this case poses a good test of 2k thinking. A parachurch is not a church, so maybe 2k applies. But it isn’t secular either, so maybe 2k doesn’t apply. In the NT, we don’t see parachurch organizations. Perhaps they shouldn’t exist? I don’t know… It is worth thinking carefully about it.

    the Lord has provided the internet tool. For now, He allows it to be used for

    “Without a doubt, the Internet is the single most important venue for the radicalization of Islamic youth,” says Army Brigadier General John Custer, who is the is head of intelligence at central command, responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan.

    or good.
    It seems to me believers who unite together for its good use are part of overcoming evil with good. And we are to be all involved with:
    Ephesians 4:the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness [in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ….
    …..on the internet and off, in church and in the world.


  98. SDB:

    It looks like you’re reading it right, and you have a higher quality source than I, being a lit review over a single study.

    But those confidence intervals! 50% (0 – 100%) why not just wave the white flag?!


  99. @jeff I give. Where do I send the bottles?
    @robert yep. I assumed that the relative wealth ofvtypical pca congregant would mean older parents and thus higher incodence of downs. Since downs is rare in my experience, that means the majority of pca women with a downs diagnosis abort their baby. Jeff has convinced me the stats are not good enough for me to validly draw that conclusion (the uncertainty is too large).
    @ali I don’t follow.

    Hope you all had a great sabbath.


  100. It’s all good. “Betting a Rita’s” is what the missus and I do in jest (since the $ is all out of one account). It comes in little tubs.'s_Italian_Ice

    Despite the uncertainties, I think you may be right that PCAers are not uniformly pro-life in the pews. That is, having seen your numbers, my Beyesian update is in your direction.


  101. Jeff, SDB,

    Part of the issue, and I think this is what SDB is getting at, is that you don’t really know how pro-life you are until you’re faced with a difficult situation yourself. It’s easy to be verbally prolife, but when it’s your sonogram or test that reveals a less-than-ideal situation, what you do with that information is going to prove whether you have the courage of your convictions.


  102. @Robert
    I think there’s a lot of truth to what you say, but that wasn’t really my point. It is a long, convoluted rabbit trail! My claim was that there was less consensus on the licitness of abortion than often times supposed. My evidence is that:
    1. We see from the opc minority report that there is respectable dissent (views on abortion are not included in governing docs).
    2. As late as the 70’s conservative luminaries such as Criswell spoke in favor of abortion, the SBC passed a resolution favoring it, and CT ran an issue in 1968 that was lukewarm. While there has been a remarkable shift among evangelicals the past 40yrs, I don’t think it is safe to assume unanimity.
    3. Many evangelicals are prochoice. While it is logically consistent to believe abortion is sinful but shouldn’t be regulated, most evangelicals do not hold that view suggesting a significant proabortion minority.
    4. Older women are much more likely to have a baby with downs (from like 1%chance in 30’s to like 3% by 40). Professional and upper middle class women disproportionately have babies later in life. The PCA membership skews white collar. Thus one should expect overwhelmingly prolife PCA families to have higher rates of downs than general population. That is not what I have observed in PCA churches (or other evangelical congregations) suggesting either PCAer’s have unusually weak moral fortitude or opposition to abortion is lower than usually supposed. Jeff has convinced me that this line of reasoning is poorly substantiated.


  103. DGH – assuming arguendo you are correct in your view of the 2nd Commandment, don’t you vow to uphold the “peace and purity” of the church as a member of the OPC? And as an elder, isn’t it even more incumbent upon you to ensure the purity of the church? Aren’t you failing to uphold your vows by giving TGC men a “pass” on the 2nd Commandment?

    Robert, Jeff and sdb – Robert nailed it in his last comment. People can be anti-abortion through and through until they have an extremely untimely or unwanted pregnancy. That’s when many Christians – including probably some PCA people – fail to live out their faith. But the same is true of any sin: I’m sure David was very much against murder and adultery before he saw Bathsheba on the rooftop.

    sdb – I get your point about comparing Reformed men on TGC council to Reformed men on any other corporate board. My point is that they probably don’t see the image in question as a 2nd Commandment violation. Even if they do, I’m not sure we can hold them accountable if they were unaware it occurred. In that case what would the remedy be? Is it better for them to resign, or attempt to use their influence to change TGC’s practice? I would say the exact same thing if they were members of a for-profit corporation.


  104. sdb – the risk of Down’s syndrome increases with increasing maternal age, but it is still rare. I don’t think your personal observations – which are confounded by many variables – give us any insight into the abortion rate among PCA members.


  105. Robert (and Ali, and VV): …you don’t really know how pro-life you are until you’re faced with a difficult situation yourself.

    There’s definitely something to this. The Lord tested many people in the OT by placing them in situations that revealed their hearts.

    But consider also David, who was anti-adultery before the Bathsheba event … and after (see Ps 51). But not during.

    Further, we must also distinguish between our views (conscious or unconscious) and the temptations of the flesh. We already know that our sin nature is not pro-righteousness!

    So I wonder whether it makes sense to consider several categories of people

    (1) Those who are pro-life and act out of that conviction in the clutch.
    (2) Those who are pro-life, but believe that there might be cases where a baby might be licitly aborted. (Many many pro-lifers have an exception for life-of-mother).
    (3) Those who are pro-life, but carve out exceptions for their particular situations (ie, legitimate hypocrites)
    (4) Those who are pro-life, but abort, and repent.
    (5) Those who are pro-choice in their views.

    Is there another angle on this that doesn’t proliferate categories?


  106. @VV My understanding is that by age 45, the risk is ~3% of pregnancies (though much lower than the rate of downs births). Still, I agree that my initial observation was not valid.

    Regarding what do, I’m not sure. I think this is a conundrum for the transformationalist and the 2ker – para-church organizations exist in a sort of ecclesiastical no-man’s land. If it were a secular organization, one could say that your service is secular and a reflection of your own beliefs. By serving on the board (of the hypothetical pharma company), you may be able to be a good influence (even if they do promote RU-486). I can see how others would say that by serving on the board (i.e., being responsible as a decision maker) makes you culpable. For the TGC, serving does serving on the board make one culpable for the decisions being made or can you divide your professional role on the board from your ecclesiastical vows? And if you are a lowly non-officer who is concerned about laxity within the denomination, what can you do? I have the sneaking suspicion that the letter I sent would be ignored? But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t understand how these things work. I’m sure I have a lot to learn about this whole business, which is why I value the relative anonymity and openness of the comment sections here. It sharpens my thinking in a relatively low-stakes environment. It’s a good place to “think outloud” as it were.


  107. @Jeff I think that about covers the bases. I might change the wording just a bit and say “those who believe that abortion is morally licit” in lieu of pro-choice. This separates the political from the moral.


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