Presbyterian Sociology, part I

This link is months old, and the discussion stale, but it’s an interesting read anyways.

The 2007 General Assembly was notable, not only for its debate and subsequent vote on the FV report, but also for several mésalliances forged in the lead-up to that vote. On one side, the middle-aged lions of the Keller/Redeemer/hipster/missional party provided some support for the FV camp. On the other side, the old lions of the southern/tall-steeple/rich/broadly Reformed party provided some support for the Truly Reformed (TR) conservatives of the PCA.

When the heat of battle passed, though, both the hipster middle-aged lions and the rich old lions woke up to strange bedfellows. Neither alliance could last. Redeemer hipsters may hobnob with FVers for a day or two, but there’s only a finite number of sentences that begin with the words “Wright is right, you know….” Similarly, tall-steeple broadly Reformed rich men may hobnob with TRs for a couple hours in the morning, but then the country club calls and TRs don’t know the dress code, can’t come up with the green fees, and never got an invitation to join anyway.

Neither alliance lasted longer than GA. But what were the rationales behind those alliances?

The post goes on to describe a sociology among various facets of the PCA; I find it fascinating to see the PCA through this perspective, and understand a little more about us. And as interesting as that is, the post presses past the sociology to make a point, and a rather pointed point at that:

FV theology remains the whipping boy of PCA conservatives. With the exception of a few conservative voices, Wright’s influence among Redeemer/Missionals and at Covenant Seminary is simply ignored.

That this approach is short sighted is obvious. That it’s the result of cowardice is increasingly clear as well. It’s easy for conservatives to attack the FVs: they’re powerless, everyone’s against them, they can’t hit back. But conservatives have given the Redeemer/Missionals a desperately wide berth in their march to war against the FVs for reasons that should be obvious.

Dealing with Redeemer/Missional powers such as Covenant Seminary and Tim Keller jeopardizes a continued presence at the PCA feeding trough. Those who oppose such men and institutions of power may never again get voted onto the leading comittees of the denomination, never again be able to hobnob with pastors of 5000-member churches at GA. Attack such targets and you’re not nibbling at the margins, you’re attacking the PCA’s moneyed, prestige-seeking, cultured heart.

If you find that intriguing, you should pop over to the post to read the seven reasons FV should be treated as less of a threat than Redeemer/Missional elements, leading to the conclusion:

A denomination that rejects the orthodoxy of Doug Wilson out of hand while embracing Tim Keller unquestioningly is a denomination which has lost sight of what Reformed theology is all about. No one bears greater responsibility for this sad state of affairs than the conservative TRs of the PCA who have made a virtue of turning a blind eye to the wealthy and powerful even as they attack the marginal and disenfranchised with a vehemence bordering on fanaticism.

This is a pretty stinging indictment, of somebody at least, but here in the Outhouse, I think we’ve always been just as hard on Keller as on FV. (Doesn’t it feel good to pat yourself on the back?)

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12 Responses to Presbyterian Sociology, part I

  1. Echo_ohcE says:

    It’s hard for me to get past all the cute and clever turns of phrase in order to get at the meat behind the author’s point.

    But eventually I think I did get the point, I think, which seems to be that yes, FV is probably a worse error, but it has lost all of its power at this point (since everybody has come out against it), so the threat is minimal. Why continue to attack it when there are bigger fish to fry, like Tim Keller? Oh, right, because he’s successful by the world’s standards, so no one questions him.

    That’s a pretty ridiculously serious charge. I’m not sure, but I think it might be sinful to say that about the leadership of an entire denomination.

    For me, I’ve read two of Keller’s books with immense profit (Reason for God and Prodigal God). I have really enjoyed both books, particularly Prodigal God, which I can endorse with unqualified enthusiasm. Reason for God occasionally has something in it here and there that makes me a bit squeamish, but nothing that makes me say to myself, man, I wish this guy weren’t polluting the Reformed waters.

    I don’t agree with the whole concept of a megachurch. I don’t see how this can be good for the congregation when the Pastor doesn’t know them personally. But this is a relatively minor concern in my opinion.

    Now I HAVE read statements on the internet attributed to him that have made my blood positively boil. He’s too forgiving of Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, for example, which churches cannot reasonably be considered part of the true church. So, OK, his ecclesiology needs some work. But I don’t see him as a threat to the Reformed Church. I think that’s a bit much.

  2. RubeRad says:

    Some details from near the end of the post about how Bayly considers the Keller crowd to have the same errors as FV, plus more:

    Redeemer/Missionals add further dangers to the mix of threats perceived in FV theology by PCA conservatives. To a perceived FV attack on justification by faith alone is added a clear threat to the substitutionary atonement in Redeemer/Missional teaching on Hell and the Church’s role in redeeming culture. To the perceived FV weakness of spurious allegorical interpretations of Scripture must be added the Redeemer/Missional tendency to ignore clear Biblical teaching in areas including, but extending well beyond, human sexuality. To the perceived FV weakness on the covenant of works is added a view of the value of good works that at times eclipses the necessity of salvation from sin.

    I assume Bayly not just making stuff up. I have read at that Redeemer has problems in the departments of social gospel, women in office, homosexuality, and theistic evolution. Without tempting you to waste days in the comment thread where these allegations are hashed out, you might want to search for the succinct comments from Lane Keister, James Jordan, and Doug Wilson, who each express various forms of approval of the post.

  3. Zrim says:

    But can anything good come out of Bloomington? What one has to keep in mind, if the “Gap Issues” from ClearNote Fellowship mean anything, is that the Baylys think that “the doctrine of man is central to the Christian faith.” This instead of the doctrine of justification, evidently. The upshot is a politics of sex that chokes and hyperventilates on Keller’s insufficient moral indignation against homosexuality and fuzziness on women in office, as well as regular glowing descriptions of Doug Wilson’s pastoral acumen.

    But while FV and Redeemer/Missional/Transformationalism are problems, so is the hard transformationalism and social gospel of Bloomington. The reason FV gets so much protection here is that it typically comes with a heavy dose of anti-2k, and since the Baylys are all about a social-political Christianity the errors of FV are mainly negligible.

  4. RubeRad says:

    Well, I’m not too informed about the Bros. Bayly or what goes on in Bloomington. That whole website does get my hackles up, what with a name like “ClearNote Fellowship”, links to Westminster artifacts hidden away, etc. A couple times they describe themselves as “Reformed, Protestant, and Evangelical”. Are they Presbyterian? I could not find that word anywhere on the site, not even a mention of belonging to the PCA. And listing time of baptism a “nonessential,” that’s pretty weird.

    As for their Gap Issues and focus on the “doctrine of man”, yes I agree those issues are problems in the church (and the world), but I would say those problems take a back seat to the lack of Christ-centeredness (i.e. the problem is more “Christless Christianity” than “Manless Christianity”).

    But still, I think they have a point. If the FV are wolves, then I think the Keller/Redeemer/Missional/Emergent/Hipster branch are more like wolves in sheep’s clothing. FV are 1984, and K/R/M/E/H are Brave New World. We’re more likely to be duped by nice heretics than angry heretics.

  5. Zrim says:

    A Michigan PCA pastor friend of mine recently conveyed his relief that midwest presbytery lines were drawn such that his and the Baylys’ did not share space (something that evidently was possible at some point), which seems to suggest that they are indeed PCA. The sacramental latitudinarianism serves as another clue.

    But instead of sheep-and-wolves metaphors, I tend to think that Bloomington attacking NYC by way of protecting Moscow is more like Reformed evangelicals fighting about how best to be evangelical. Which is fun for a Reformed confessionalist to watch.

  6. Echo_ohcE says:

    Well, I guess I’d like to see direct proof that Keller is soft on homosexuality and women in office.

    By the way, there’s a legitimate exegetical question on whether or not women can be deacons. Mike Horton argues in favor of it, along with several other professors at WSCAL. Of course, in most of today’s reformed churches, it wouldn’t work because the office of deacon isn’t properly understood. Horton said that Calvin agreed that women could be deacons, but not in any administrative role. He distinguished, he said, between deacons who were in charge and deacons who merely carried out the service (making meals for the needy, bringing them clothes, etc.) Men alone could administer. But I’m not sure if that distinction is warranted IF one says that Phoebe in Rom 15 is actually a female deacon, because it seems that Paul, by saying, “Give her whatever she needs”, is putting her in charge of an administrative task. But whatever. Horton went on to say that we really DO have women deacons the way the Bible envisions it, we just call them the hospitality committee.

    My point is just that people who think women can be deacons aren’t necessarily driven to that conclusion by an egalitarian agenda. So I know that there are some in the PCA who are advocating women deacons, and I know many think that the only POSSIBLE reason to do this is to take a step in the direction of ordaining women pastors, which is really just a step in the direction of ordaining homosexuals, which means that anyone who is in favor of women deacons is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing sent from the devil to destroy the church and turn it into the PCUSA – but it’s not true.

    There are lots of reformed people who think that 2K and non-literal interpretations of Gen 1 are also merely steps on the road to the PCUSA, steps on the road to liberalism and worshiping the goddess. Well, it’s not necessarily true.

    And furthermore, not that anyone has argued in exactly this way, but just because Keller may think (I honestly don’t know exactly what he thinks) that we should give to the poor outside the church doesn’t mean he’s doing something unbiblical. I think there’s something to be said for the fact that Jesus’ miracles (feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc), which all pertained to THIS AGE stuff, was a matter of preaching about the age to come in the language of this present evil age. In other words, to speak to people about age to come stuff in a way that they would understand, he spoke in the language of this present age. So to tell them about eternal life, he spoke to a woman about a well that once you drink from it, you’ll never thirst again. She didn’t get it at first because he spoke to her in the language of this present age. Same with his miracles. They spoke of the coming of the kingdom. He healed the sick as a way of announcing the resurrection in glory.

    So I think there’s room for the church to speak to unbelievers in a language that they can understand in a similar way. I think too many have made 2K into an all controlling central dogma, not to mention a test for fellowship. I don’t think that’s wise.

  7. RubeRad says:

    Here’s a link with more links, you can decide whether he is soft on homosexuality, or whether he is unwilling (afraid?) to clearly denounce sin in a context that doesn’t want to hear that message.

    As for deaconesses, it’s one thing to be for deaconesses and to discuss the issue (I agree with Baugh that a woman should be able to do anything an unordained man can do, like teach mixed adult sunday school classes, or publicly read the bible text in a worship service. I could probably be convinced that Deaconesses are biblically permissible). It’s another thing to buck ecclesiastical process and just go ahead and do it.

    Also, on the slippery slope issue, I recall hearing of something written by I think Grudem documenting historically the scarily high correlation between women’s ordination, and departure from orthodoxy. I don’t remember the details, but there was a very consistent 50-year gap. I know that all sounds very sketchy and hearsay, so don’t take it too seriously, I’m just hoping somebody else knows more about what I can’t quite remember and can fill in some details.

  8. Echo_ohcE says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I think ordaining women to the office of elder or minister is a super serious sin involving throwing out some of the clearest teachings in all Scripture. Nor do I think a woman should be teaching Adult Sunday School. Frankly, the only reason why an unordained man might reasonably teach a SS class is if the congregation is considering electing him to the office of elder (or possibly sending him to seminary, etc.) But under no circumstances, none whatsoever, should anyone who is unordained read Scripture in the worship service. When someone reads from God’s Word in the covenantal assembly, they are speaking on God’s behalf to his people. This should be reserved for ministers alone, though I wouldn’t make a stink about ruling elders doing it. But I’m kind of uncomfortable with even that!

    Sorry to be so…polemical towards what you said. But perhaps now I don’t look so soft on women’s ordination. 🙂

    If they’ve just gone ahead and ordained women as deacons, that’s obviously wrong, but I suspect it’s to try to force someone to bring charges against them for it and let the church courts hash it out. In other words, it’s a shady way to force the issue to come up in the General Assembly. I think this is a shady practice. However, if they’re that convinced that Scripture allows it, it’s proper to obey God rather than men. And yet on the other hand, Scripture never COMMANDS us to set apart women as deacons. You can argue that it’s ALLOWED, but not that it’s commanded. So again, I think it’s a shady way of trying to manipulate what’s going to be on the General Assembly’s agenda. There are better ways to go about it that don’t violate good order.

    So I just watched the Keller video you pointed me to. Had a heck of a hard time hearing it by the way, so I’m not sure I caught everything he said. You’re right, he’s a bit wishy washy about sin. But it wasn’t specifically homosexuality he was being wishy washy about. He said very clearly that yes, homosexuality is a sin. But what he was very unclear about is: does sin send you to hell? His answer is no. The Bible’s answer is yes. But then he went on to say that what sends you to hell is self righteousness, trying to be your own savior. While those things are a great evil, and he’s right to emphasize them as such, he’s wrong that sin doesn’t send you to hell. The Bible says that sin is precisely what sends people to hell. The only reason why Christians DON’T go to hell is because Christ has delivered us from our sin, because we too are sinners, seen most clearly in our eagerness to judge others whom we deem more sinful than ourselves.

    I’m preaching on Rom 1:18-32 this Sunday, as it turns out. Paul’s point there is not that homosexuals are super-sinners that God has given over to their lusts. Rather, his point is that God handed all mankind over to their lustful desires, and rampant homosexuality (more rampant in his day than in ours if you can believe it) was simply a piece of undeniable evidence for his argument. “Here, look at gays. What more proof do you need that God has enslaved mankind to dishonorable passions in response to their rejection of him?” But too many have missed the point and thought that gays are super sinners who have been given over to sin. Unlike other people, they think, God has given up on gays, so we’re right to look down on them and berate them, because they are obviously reprobate.

    Given that many, many people in the church are precisely that ignorant, while I don’t agree with what Keller said there about gays, I think his heart is more or less in the right place. He’s trying to correct the thinking of almost all Christians toward gays, and trying to help gays understand that what most Christians believe (and say) is NOT what the Bible teaches. I can appreciate the problem he’s trying to solve, even if I think his solution kind of sucks. It’s almost like he thinks everyone on earth is no longer under the covenant of works, but we’re all under the covenant of grace, with a condition of faith and repentance, so that those who go to hell don’t go to hell for violating the law of the covenant of works, but for rejecting Jesus. But that’s of course moronic.

    “For how can they call on him of whom they have never heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” So if they’ve never heard of Jesus, how can they be rejecting him? This is also made problematic by Rom 1. Paul says that unbelievers know God because he has revealed himself in the creation, so that all mankind is without excuse. Gays included.

    Keller’s got another thing coming if he thinks there’s any such thing as a gay person who thinks that what they’re doing is perfectly natural and righteous. They don’t. I have a very good friend who is gay. They struggle, big time. Why else do you think they’re always making so much noise? They want US to accept them, the church. Why? Because if we accept their sin, it’ll be easier for them to silence their consciences. But our very existence is a testimony against them, so they constantly cry out against us. Why? Because our testimony is convicting to them as it is to everyone else.

    Are all gays going to hell? I doubt it. I’m sure some of them are saved and are struggling to repent of it, and perhaps they will repent of it before they die and turn from it, or perhaps not. Unless of course we confess that Christians can be perfect in this life, which we don’t. So it actually IS wrong to say, “All gays are going to hell.” That’s a sinful, self righteous statement. Heaven is populated exclusively with God and sinners. Sinners go to heaven thanks to Jesus Christ.

    I must have had too much coffee…

  9. RubeRad says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I think ordaining women to the office of elder or minister is a super serious sin involving throwing out some of the clearest teachings in all Scripture.

    I didn’t think you necessarily thought women’s ordination was OK; I get your strict position too, and I would say that your position and mine are both more self-consistent than a half-measure that lets unordained men read scripture in worship but not women. I think we would agree, a woman can do what an unordained man can do — we only disagree on what unordained men can do!

    So I just watched the Keller video you pointed me to. Had a heck of a hard time hearing it by the way, so I’m not sure I caught everything he said.

    Not surprising, because Keller was trying really hard to say as little as possible!

    To put a most charitable spin on what I think Keller was trying to say, homosexuality is a sin, but it does not guarantee you’re going to hell (any more than hetereosexuality sends you to heaven — I thought that was a great point, actually). No sin guarantees that you go to hell, which is the point of Christianity. Because of his waffling, he missed a MAJOR opportunity to declare the gospel. Homosexuality is a sin, and like any sin (such as greed), it can send you to hell. And like any sin, you can repent of it and trust in Christ’s righteousness, and end up in Heaven (even if repenting of it involves struggling with it life-long).

    My guess is that, if he were in the “safety” of a private room full of Presbyterian pastors, he would be a lot clearer. But in a public forum, he doesn’t have the cajones to say things hard things that should be said, but which would bring heat down on his church. It seems as if he would rather bait & switch gays into his church than offend them with the truth.

  10. Echo_ohcE says:

    Maybe. But walk a mile in his shoes before attributing motives. He might just be fuzzy on some covenant theology issues. Not that he has any right to be fuzzy on those things, mind you, but I guess it’s just best to try to be as charitable as possible. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the perspective from the other side of the pulpit is vastly different than we often assume it is.

  11. RubeRad says:

    Another thing to remember, Bayly is only using Keller (and Wilson) as “Federal Heads” of wide movements. Just as there is a wide variety of problems among all the various pastors/churches of FV, there will be a wide variety of problems when you consider not just Tim Keller, but the big group “Keller/Redeemer/hipster/missional/…Covenant Seminary”

  12. Pingback: Presbyterian Sociology, Part II | The Confessional Outhouse

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