Bear with me for just a few moments. This will get livelier, and a lot more interesting, in just short while.
I am not seeking to qualify my point, as should become apparent shortly, but I do need to state my qualifications to make the point. Those qualifications, as I hope you will acknowledge shortly, are sterling, and a central part of my argument. We are struggling with different definitions of the word qualification here. In speaking to this issue of the coming demise of the PCA, I have the qualifications to make no qualifications.
I am not a member of a PCA church, nor have I ever been a member of a PCA church. I grew up in Southern Baptist circles, and after my hitch in the Navy, found myself pastoring a Jesus-people-like baptistic fellowship. That church started to grow, and so I couldn’t really get away to seminary. I finished my formal schooling in philosophy, and then turned to an OJT reading program in theology. As a result of books—a series of dangerous books—I began to careen through some of my paradigm shifts, like I was a exegetical pinball or something. I started out a conservative evangelical of baptistic mien, and in the mid-eighties I became postmill. Then in 1988 I became a Calvinist. One thing led to another, and by 1993, I was a paedobaptist.
Me becoming a paedobaptist caused no little consternation on the session of our church, and so the elders began the process of removing me from the pulpit. We then had a heads of household meeting in which the congregation (still mostly baptists or agno-baptists) told the elders in no uncertain terms that they did not want to divide over this issue, and that they wanted the elders to work it out. After that crisis, the church did eventually come to a “baptismal cooperation agreement,” which enabled our baptists, paedobaptists, and agno-baptists to work together.
The reason this is relevant is that it essentially cut off any real prospect of us joining a confessionally Reformed body like the OPC or PCA. We did send one delegation to a meeting of the Northwest Presbytery of the PCA, but nothing came of that. I did not want to join a historically Reformed body if the price of that admission was me double-crossing the baptists who had stood by me in our baptismal crisis/controversy. And so that brought in the Groucho Marx rule as applied to presbyteries—I didn’t want to join one that would have us. I didn’t want anyone to water down their standards on baptism (heh), and I also didn’t want to desert the men who had stood with me.
So there we were, and that set the stage for the formation of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC), which also accommodates differing views on baptism.
Yes But . . .
Now I know that some of you may be looking at your watches. This seems like it should be filed under that’s-all-very-interesting-but. Are you not simply tracing for us the very shadowy outlines of your fairly oblique connections with the PCA? And thus establishing for us the uncouthness of your rudeness in pronouncing a funeral oration—as it is apparent from the title of this post—over a body you never had anything to do with? How am I not taking a passing dog by the ears?
But here is the point, and it’s a hummer. The PCA was formed in 1973, and I think it is safe to say that from that time down to the present,one of the biggest controversies that that denomination has ever gone through was the Federal Vision controversy. That controversy spanned many years, many presbyteries, and included pronouncements of the General Assembly. Numerous PCA men were charged with doctrinal heterodoxy in PCA courts (Leithart, Wilkins,Meyers, et al)—with varying results but with no one convicted of heresy. Conferences were held, books were published, phone calls were not returned, invitations to speak were withdrawn, anathemas were hurled, and so on. A Niagara of words poured over the lip of the falls. As said above, this was one of the biggest controversies, if not the biggest,the PCA has ever had.
And I was one of the central combatants in that fray. I was smack in the middle of it. That position gave me a peculiar vantage.
Most of my contributions to the polemical back and forth were published here on Mablog. I recently pulled all those posts together in one book, see just below, and the word count for that book came in northwards of 300,000 words. I had a great deal to say, and almost all of it was in response to what others were saying, usually pretty loudly. And those incoming accusations, many of them, most of them, were from the PCA.
And so here is my foundation premise, the one I want to argue from. Lick your pencil, and write this down.
I believe that no one in North America has a better grasp than I do on what it means to have the PCA deal with something or someone they consider a threat. I honestly think that I am the world’s leading expert on this topic. No one knows better than I do what it looks like when the PCA swings into action to deal with a problem. On this one, I know my onions first hand.
The Mills of the Gods:
Now I have heard from some good people in the PCA that the Revoice business is being attended to. The mills of the gods . . . exceeding fine . . . slow, painstaking . . . Presbyterians are all about process . . . patience, patience, patience.
Excuse me, and please see above. I know how the PCA is capable of responding to a perceived threat, and I know (in addition) the comparative threat levels they have assigned to the various positions in all this. Consider this carefully.
As some know, I have discontinued identifying myself as an advocate of the Federal Vision. I explain all of that here.
But prior to making that disclaimer, I used to describe the Federal Vision advocates in terms of different kinds of beer. I was an FV amber ale, and Jim Jordan was an oatmeal stout. I considered my amber ale to be a version of classic Westminsterian theology, and the other end of the FV spectrum was an amalgam, as critics saw it, of Reformed theology, Biblical Horizons, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and some deep weird. I am not saying this in a pejorative way—my point is elsewhere. So the most outré enemy for the PCA during that tumultuous time was, taking their take, an odd form of Lutheranism, and the denomination went absolutely bonkers over it. I mean, the place looked like the floor of the orangutan cages after a bout of diarrhea swept through the zoo.
There were no mills of the gods grinding away, exceedingly fine. No, there was yelling, and shouting, and pushing, and blogging, and books, and yelling, and resolutioning, and charges brought, and anathematizing, and more blogging, and names called and names named.
The courts of the PCA were certainly involved—but they were involved because of the larger controversy. The ministers of the PCA cared about the issue, and acted like they cared about the issue, and acted in public like they cared about the issue.
I am not here addressing whether they got all the issues right or wrong. I am simply observing—as someone who knows first-hand—that the PCA knows how to react if they think someone is trying to bring some funny business from outside, from Canterbury or Wittenberg say, to their Geneva. Assuming a perceived threat, they know how to do it.
So, how do you think they responded when someone proposed bringing queer treasure into the New Jerusalem? How do you think they responded when a PCA church sponsored a conference using all the LGBTQ+ jargon? Don’t you love that plus? What’s under that, I wonder? Actually, nobody wonders. We all know what’s under there. And how do you think they responded when Covenant Seminary cozied up to the event, keeping just the right distance, thus demonstrating their expertise in plausible deniability?
Stop. You’re making me yawn.
Where Did All the Valiant-for-Truths Go?
The last time I came through these parts, there were thousands of men, Tarzan-like, beating their chests and crying out, solasolasolafeeeeedei. Where’d they all go? I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow.
I am going to put this as bluntly as I can. The threat facing the PCA over the sexual revolution, and all its attendant issues, is many times greater than the threat posed by the Federal Vision. This would even be the case even if everything that all the critics said about the Federal Vision were true, and were true clean through.
Ponder this. The threat of the sexual revolution, the sexual tsunami that is about to hit the PCA beaches, is a gargantuan threat, and there has been virtually no response to speak of. The wake caused by the FV speedboat sloshed over their feet, and carried somebody’s flip flop out into the river, and the whole denomination came unstuck.
Why No Response?
The Revoice conference was a vanguard move. It was an incursion into the world of the PCA to find out how hard—or soft as the case may be—the defenses were. Behind those initial forays by technically-celibate Christiany speakers are the massed armies of the secular world
Why no fight? Why no valor? I am reminded of the definition of valor in Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary.
VALOR, n. A soldierly compound of vanity, duty and the gambler’s hope.
“Why have you halted?” roared the commander of a division at Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge; “move forward, sir, at once.”
“General,” said the commander of the delinquent brigade, “I am persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring them into collision with the enemy.”
Declaring war on the Federal Vision got you some inside-baseball orthodoxy points, and was a good career move within the denomination. But declaring war on the sexual revolution might get you in some real trouble. It might cost you something substantial, out in the real world. You see, that handful of Revoice presenters represented what most think will be the future of the country, and therefore the PCA, and what not a few want to be the future of the PCA, and the country.
Cowards on the ramparts. Cowards in the citadels. Cowards in the corridors. Cowards in the seminaries. Cowards in the publishing houses. Cowards at the conferences. Cowards on the sessions. Cowards in the presbyteries. Cowards in the pulpit. A sea of frothing pink cowardice.
I know basic ecclesiastical physics. I know where your rock is, and I know where they have placed the fulcrum. I know how long and how sturdy their lever is. I can see what they are doing, and it doesn’t really matter how many individual people you might know who “disagree” with it. When the mainline Presbyterians lost their denomination, about eighty percent of their ministers were still orthodox and evangelical. They also didn’t know where the fulcrum was, and where the lever was.
“Doctor, how is it possible for him to have died? I can’t believe it. Most of his body didn’t have cancer . . .”
To all this, the technically and ostensibly orthodox will want to wail:
“But the situation is so complicated, and seems so hopeless.We don’t know what to doooooo . . .”
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you pretend that, instead of saying that we should ‘bring queer treasure into the New Jerusalem,’ the presenters at Revoice had said something really bad, something that sounded like Norman Shepherd, something like ‘justifying faith working through love.’ Take it from there. Start throwing things.”
So here it is. If you are in the PCA, barring a miracle from heaven, your denomination is finished. You demonstrated first in the FV brawl that you knew how to fight, and are demonstrating now, when the threat is orders of magnitude greater, that you can’t be bothered. There is therefore no excuse.
In Conclusion, Let Me Make Myself a Litmus Test
Unless and until your leaders stop caring what all the respectable people think about Wilson, and start caring, a whole lot more, about what Wilson thinks about all the respectable people, your church is deceased. Departed. Toast. Finis. Caput. Bought the farm. Done. Handed in its lunch bucket.
“Yeah, well, we would have been willing to listen to some of your insights if you had not gone off on that southern slavery jag. You’re the one who wrecked it.”
“The fight about southern slavery was not an apologetic for slavery at all. It was an apologetic for the plain teaching of the Bible. And we were fighting that fight, decades ago, back in the nineties, because we saw where they were placing the fulcrum, and what lever they were going to use. We saw what sexual direction the rock was going to flip. And everything is unfolding just as we predicted. You should have listened then also.”
Either believe the Bible, all of it, or just cut to the chase and call yourself a liberal. And once you are a liberal, there will be absolutely no remaining principle of resistance when the LGBTQ plussers are speaking as confidently as all dammit at the microphones of your General Assemblies.
So whatever you say, apart from massive repentance, your beloved denomination is going to assume room temperature shortly. Count on it.
There is a good bit more to say about all of this, but I think this is sufficient for now. I am quite done.
I Was Told There Would be Free Books . . .
The free Kindle book that goes with today’s post is Same Sex Mirage, which is my treatment of the illusion that two bolts or two nuts can cinch just as tight as any tradition bolt/nut combo. Your free copy can be obtained here.