Jason Stellman, author of Dual Citizens, and prosecutor of Peter Leithart in his trial in the Northwest Presbytery of the PCA, has tendered his resignation from the ministry of the PCA. You can read his letter here. The two cited reasons are his loss of faith in sola Scriptura, along with his abandonment of sola fide.
First, as is so common with such things, he fails to state accurately the position is supposed to be abandoning. He says, “I have begun to doubt whether the Bible alone can be said to be our only infallible authority for faith and practice.” But of course, that is not the formulation of sola Scriptura at all. Protestants hold that Scripture is the only “ultimate and infallible” authority for faith and practice. There are true spiritual authorities in this world that do not occupy the highest place, and the Northwest Presbytery of the PCA is one of them. But Stellman is showing by this action that he values his own personal thought processes over true ecclesiastical authority, rightly embraced.
With regard to sola fide, he is quite right to see the very narrow position he was nurtured in as contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to sinners, and the instrument of a God-given faith is what receives that gracious gift. But the gift received is that of living faith, breathing faith, loving faith, the only kind of faith the living God bestows. It is sola fide, not nuda fide. Stellman was wrong to identify his previous narrow view of sola fide as the doctrine of sola fide itself.
But he is correct about one thing. Given the errors he has embraced, the action that follows makes perfect sense.
“Due to the fact that these disagreements strike at the very core of the system of doctrine set forth in our Standards, I feel that I have no other choice than to tender my resignation from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America.”
But there is a bigger issue. At the end of his letter, he also says this.
“My sincere hope is that the fathers, brothers, and friends I have gotten to know here will keep me in their prayers, and forgive me for any offense I may have caused during my involvement in the case against TE Leithart, as well as for any offense I may be presently causing by breaking my ordination vows.”
If he has sought the forgiveness of Peter Leithart personally, then of course the forgiveness he seeks generally should be extended by others (Luke 17:3-4). But a shift like this does not happen overnight, and if he was afflicted with these doubts while he was engaged in prosecuting Leithart (as it seems he had to have been), he would have done far better to have sought Leithart’s counsel instead of seeking his head.
People do this kind of thing, of course. They are strident opponents of the very thing they are most afraid of falling into. This is telegraphed beforehand when the opposition is moralistic, tight-shoed, and brittle. But the fact that people do this doesn’t make it right.
In this case, Stellman was unable to squeeze as much church authority as he personally wanted to have over him out of a godly ministerium, and so it looks as though he is hunting down a magisterium to suit him. He will, of course, do this as an individual, thinking his own thoughts about the Bible in his own head. The genius of the Roman system is its pragmatic syncretism, which allows folks to bring all kinds of things in with them, from South American animism to North American protestant individualism. This is why a lot of the Protestant converts to Rome didn’t really convert — they are as individualistic as ever, only now they get to play dress-ups.
In the meantime, I wish Jason Stellman well, and consequently I earnestly pray that — before he does one thing or another Tiber-wise — he seeks out godly counsel from more expansive and robust Protestants than he has been accustomed to, including men he once thought of as adversaries. The Protestant faith is a great city, not a tiny village.
He doesn’t want to be the guy in New York who didn’t have a sandwich shop in his neighborhood, and so he moves to New Orleans because he couldn’t get a decent sandwich in New York.