Would Keller Be Even Welcome in the PCA?

What an odd question, but this group of Presbyterian women might help Princeton Seminary administrators not feel so bad about the kerfuffle over Keller and the Kuyper Prize:

Meanwhile, Todd Pruitt has found another sign of harmonic convergence between women on both sides of the mainstream/sideline Presbyterian divide. Pastor Pruitt writes this:

If you listen to the podcast what you will hear is typical boilerplate liberation theology which is fundamentally unbiblical and incompatible with the gospel and the church’s mission. Sadly this has been allowed a foothold in the PCA. Some of us have been warning about it, apparently to no avail. It is nothing more than the latest incarnation of the social gospel which ironically destroys the gospel by replacing it with something else.

During the discussion the hosts dismiss the biblical pattern of male leadership within the church as nothing more than a manmade rule. They also mock those who uphold that biblical pattern and join that mockery with crude language. Keep in mind that these men and women are members of and serve in churches whose standards uphold those biblical patterns of leadership.

Near the very end of the podcast one of the hosts gives a brief nod of legitimacy to transgenderism. This is not surprising given the radical roots of their categories.

I will not labor over every problem with the content of this podcast. You will be able to hear for yourself if you choose. But be warned. It is very tedious. It is something that would be warmly received in the PC(USA) for sure. What is so troubling is that it is being received by some within the PCA. This will not end well. Experiments in the social gospel never end well.

If Tim Keller had done more to warn Presbyterian urbanists and Neo-Calvinists about the pitfalls of making the gospel social (and political or cultural), he might have shielded himself from recent controversy. That’s right. If he had done that, he’d never have been nominated for the Kuyper Prize.

Did Machen found Westminster Seminary for nothing!?!

Sunday School as Open Forum?

Scott, Aimee and (here I tread in rake territory) Todd try to sort out the differences between Sunday school teaching and authoritative church instruction. I tend to sympathize with the point made (I hear) by Carl and Aimee that women can do whatever non-ordained men do (except of course when it comes to reproduction). And I think Scott’s points about the flimsy origins of Sunday school as a church institution should make all Christians re-think the mechanisms by which churches instruct the faithful. Need I remind folks of the fun that even H. L. Mencken had at Sunday school (even though the Christian religion didn’t really take hold):

The one thing I really remember about that Sunday-school is the agreeable heartiness of the singing. It is, of course, the thing that all children enjoy most in Sunday-schools, for there they are urged to whoop their loudest in praise of God, and that license is an immense relief from the shushing they are always hearing at home. . . .

My favorite then, as now, was “Are You Ready for the Judgment Day?” — a gay and even rollicking tune with a saving hint of brimstone in the words. . . . We grouped it, in fact, with such dolce but unexhilarating things as “In the Sweet By-and-By” and “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” – pretty stuff, to be sure, but sadly lacking in bite and zowie. The runner up for “Are You Ready?” was “I Went Down the Rock to Hide My Face,” another hymn with a very lively swing to it, and after “the Rock” come “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus,” “Throw Out the Lifeline,” “At the Cross,” “Draw Me Nearer, Nearer, Nearer, Blessed Lord,” “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Where Shall We Spend in Eternity?” . . . and “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Revive Us Again.” . . . It was not until I transferred to another Sunday-school that I came to know such lugubrious horrors as “There Is A Fountain Filled with Blood.” The Methodists avoided everything of that kind. They surely did not neglect Hell in their preaching, but when they lifted up their voices in song they liked to pretend that they were booked to escape it. (Happy Days, 178-79)

Not sure Sunday school is the best method of delivery for passing on the faith.

The problem however goes beyond the qualifications posed. What session wants to deal with questions and complaints that arise from non-ordained teachers providing instruction on subjects revealed in Holy Writ? It’s one thing for a woman or non-ordained man to teach math, plumbing, banking or baking. But what about a Christian view of math, plumbing, banking, or baking? Doesn’t the Christian character of the instruction indicate some kind of normative (hence authoritative) instruction? I mean, if I offer a Christian view of history, should Christians not feel a certain pull in the direction of considering this is THE way believers should think about history? Or are Christian views of subjects simply optional for Christians (that’s accepting the premises of w-w thinking).

How much more is instruction seemingly normative if a woman or non-ordained man is teaching the Bible or confession related material? Do such teachers come with a disclaimer — what you are about to hear is just one person’s opinion? If advertised that way, what church members would come (if not for having to find a place to wait while children are in Sunday school)? And if Sunday school is just a place for Christians to opine, is that a good way to prepare for worship (if services follow Sunday school)? Can I really get another member’s objectionable opinions out of my head simply because the pastor invokes God’s presence?

So the issue isn’t one of office, ordination, or even the history of Sunday school as an institution. The issue is the content of the instruction. If that content includes material that comes from the church’s standards — Bible and confession — then the setting involves some version of binding address. At that point, a session will likely want the teaching to reflect the norms of the communion. And at that point we are in the ballpark of having officers who have been vetted and approved for teaching up front behind the podium for — wait for it — Sunday school.

A New Calvinist becomes a Regular Calvinist

Danny Hide Hyde may not detect sufficient earnestness, but Todd Pruitt makes clear the limitations of New Calvinist awakenings among the Babdists (which is a big world but for every Southern Baptist Seminary there are three Furmans, four Baylors and six Wake Forests):

As I reflect on the past year as a Presbyterian several things emerge for me as sources of regular gratitude.

1. The Westminster Confession of Faith
The Westminster Confession of Faith is one of the most helpful and beautiful theological documents outside of Scripture. As a friend of mine once said regarding confessions of faith: “They need to have a lot of words.” Indeed. Many churches have built a sort of unity around a common set of “core values” or a mission statement. And while those things can be helpful, they are no substitute for a comprehensive and clear confession of faith. For the body of Christ, unity based on shared values, while good, is no substitute for unity based upon doctrinal convictions.

Likewise a unity based on the merest sort of Christian confession is not robust enough to navigate the confusing waters of contemporary evangelicalism. In the 1960’s and 70’s there was perhaps an evangelical center. That center was anchored to men like John Stott and Francis Schaeffer. This has changed of course. Once men like Brian McLaren and Rob Bell were tolerated within evangelicalism’s big tent the foundations of the once unified center could no longer bear the weight of its own contradictions.

Certainly there are many contributing factors, but the idea of a mere Christianity in today’s evangelicalism is, I believe, not possible. We need, and beyond that, ought to desire, a confession that carefully guards the church from being carried off by every wind of doctrine. For the denomination to which I belong the Westminster Confession of Faith is that confession. If you are a Baptist then perhaps you ought to investigate the London Baptist Confession.

2. The Book of Church Order
The Book of Church Order (BCO) is used by the PCA as a guide for governance and polity. It is a thick three ring blue binder. Some of my friends who attended a Presbyterian seminary refer to it as the “big blue sleeping pill.” It is true that the BCO does not always offer the most compelling reading experience. However, for this man raised in an autonomous church tradition, the BCO has been a welcome source of clarity and security. No more entering elder meetings with fear and trembling not know what will be done or said. No more making things up on the fly. No more trying to navigate issues of discipline without properly constituted church courts. No more ordaining nice but manifestly unqualified men for church office.

Also, the BCO makes things blessedly less efficient than a CEO model of church leadership. And while that will frustrate the entrepreneurial pastor, it is a source of protection for the church (and the pastor!). It means that there are clearly defined ways of running meetings, exercising discipline, administering the sacraments, ordaining and calling pastors, installing elders, running meetings of the session and congregation, ordering congregational worship, etc.

Does the BCO protect against every conceivable contingency? Is it a guarantee that nothing will go wrong? Of course not. Do things go wrong in Presbyterian churches? Of course! But I am convinced that the Book of Church order is the best game in town for properly, wisely, and biblically ordering the church.

This is of course what they said — they being the Old Side and Old School Presbyterians who always had to try to convince the enthusiasts (Gilbert Tennent) and moralizers (Lyman Beecher) that just because they thought they had the Holy Ghost (feathers and all) or the Decalogue, the rules of being a Reformed church were still in place. Maybe after two years, that penny will drop for Pastor Pruitt.

From DGH on Which is Better Submitted on 2014/11/11 at 10:32 am

Mark,

Your post greatly encouraged me because you finally seemed to understand the import of justification compared to sanctification (if we need make such comparisons). I thought you got it right when you wrote:

I am so thankful for my right standing with God because, after all, my sanctification is more imagined than real. But my justification is more real than imagined.

I know you don’t think quoting Machen solves much (even though whether quoting M’Cheyne resolves anything), but after your admission about the centrality of justification you might appreciate this by Machen:

Regeneration means a new life; but there is also a new relation in which the believer stands toward God. That new relation is instituted by “justification” − the act of God by which a sinner is pronounced righteous in His sight because of the atoning death of Christ. It is not necessary to ask whether justification comes before regeneration or vice versa; in reality they are two aspects of one salvation. And they both stand at the very beginning of the Christian life. The Christian has not merely the promise of a new life, but he has already a new life. And he has not merely the promise of being pronounced righteous in God’s sight (though the blessed pronouncement will be confirmed on the judgment day), but he is already pronounced righteous here and now. At the beginning of every Christian life there stands, not a process, but a definite act of God. (Christianity and Liberalism, 141)

You might also like the way that Machen describes “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6):

It is a significant thing that in that last “practical” section of Galatians Paul does not say that faith produces the life of love; he says that the Spirit of I God produces it. The Spirit, then, in that section is represented as doing exactly what in the pregnant words, “faith working through love,” is attributed to faith. The apparent contradiction simply leads to the true conception of faith. True faith does not do anything. When it is said to do something (for example, when we say that it can remove mountains), that is only by a very natural shortness of expression. Faith is the exact opposite of works; faith does not give, it receives. So when Paul says that we do something by faith, that is just another way of saying that of ourselves we do nothing; when it is said that faith works through love that means that through faith the necessary basis of all Christian work has been obtained in the removal of guilt and the birth of the new man, and that the Spirit of God has been received − the Spirit who works with and through the Christian man for holy living. The force which enters the Christian life through faith and works itself out through love is the power of the Spirit of God. (146-47)

This understanding of the Spirit, I’m sure you’ll agree, puts the idea of the imitation of Christ in a different perspective. And after reading Todd Pruitt’s post about Christlikeness, I must admit that I’m not sure I have understood your series of posts that recommend Christ as “the greatest Christian ever.” Todd, after all, thinks you’re merely talking about foot-washing (I wonder if Pastor Pruitt has dipped any feet in a basin lately), humility, and suffering. But as I read you, you are talking about Christ being sanctified by the Spirit the way we are, or his living by faith the way we do, or his being tempted by Satan being similar to the temptations that confront sinners who are not the Second Adam.

Maybe you and Todd could clear this confusion up by devoting a podcast to how Jesus would discuss the contemporary church scene with co-hosts like Carl and Aimee.

I Wonder What He thinks of Earnestness

From the fellow who thought the comparison of Scripture reading to oatmeal needed an injection of sanity:

I had never heard the phrase “God’s ordinary means of grace” until I was introduced to the reformed faith. As a result I had no doctrinal or experiential category for the true significance of those ordinary elements that make up the corporate life of a biblically informed church. If you are unfamiliar with the term “ordinary means of grace” it refers to those elements of our gathered worship to which the Lord has attached his blessing: the preaching and reading of God’s Word, the sacraments (Lord’s Supper and Baptism), prayer, praise, and fellowship.

These ordinary means of grace are the things that the Lord has given his church. They are not the inventions of man. We call them means of grace because the Lord has appointed them as means by which he blesses and builds his church. We call them ordinary because there is nothing about them that is spectacular. They are not rare like miracles. They are ordinary. They are to be practiced regularly in our Lord’s Day gatherings precisely because we regularly need what God offers us through them. But these are gifts not given to movements. God has given these means of grace to his church.

Sounds rather oatmealish manna-like to me.