Jason Stellman Resigns from the Presbyterian Church in America

The news of Stellman’s departure is one that adds a great fuel to the current debacle occurring in the PCA. The PCA is having an identity crisis. This event adds to an already fragmented denomination.

Stellman, a staunch opponent of the Federal Vision and prosecutor of Peter Leithart in his trial in the Northwest Presbytery of the PCA, has resigned from his post as a PCA minister. Stellman argues that his views on Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide no longer comport with the Westminster Confession of Faith. According to Stellman, Sola Scriptura does not do justice to the process of how the canon came to be. In Stellman’s view, Sola Scriptura–as defended by the Reformed Church–fails by denying any role for ecclesiastical authority. Hence, Sola Scriptura is ultimately Scriptures read through the eyes of autonomous man.

Further, he says that Sola Fide fails the New Testament test. Stellman writes:

 I have become convinced that the teaching that sinners are justified by a once-for-all declaration of acquittal on God’s part, based upon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness received by faith alone, is not reflective of the teaching of the New Testament as a whole. I have come to believe that a much more biblical paradigm for understanding the gospel—and one that has much greater explanatory value for understanding Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John—is one that sets forth the New Covenant work of the Spirit, procured through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, as internally inscribing God’s law and enabling believers to exhibit love of God and neighbor, thereby fulfilling the law in order to gain their eternal inheritance (Rom. 8:1-4).

This is in many ways a sad account of someone who never considered the broader Reformational claims. Stellman lived in a world where the Church and interpretation suffered from subjectivity overdose. Further, he embraced a soteriology that lacked any intention to harmonize Paul and James in a coherent fashion, or that placed union with Christ in a more preeminent role. He further  defended a Christianity that prided itself in non-cultural engagement. These theologies offer nothing more than the crumbs, and they fall far short of the feast of the Reformation’s table.

In my estimation, Stellman’s conversion to Roman Catholicism is the result of finding an authority (WCF) unsatisfying and seeking refuge in another authority (Rome). The TR movement (strict confessionalists) suffers from a dis-placed authority problem. They cherish the confessions to such an extent that the Scriptures are interpretively strangled. For many of them, the Westminster Standards are elevated to such a status that psychologically it is not difficult to see such a transition occurring (one wonders how the Divines would have treated such exaltation of a document). When one authority fails you seek another authority to take its place. This is a sad state of affairs.

The Bible is the final authority. “Solo Scriptura” (to use Keith Matthison’s language) is the antithesis of Sola Scriptura. Solo Scriptura isolates the Bible from the community. “Me and my Bible” arrive at a conclusion divorced from the Church context and any form of accountability (cults are formed through this means). Sola Scriptura acknowledges the supremacy of the Bible, but it dares not separate or isolate itself from the Ecclesia. Responsible Sola Scriptura knows the limitations of autonomous man. Stellman’s failure to consider the aiding function of tradition led him to conclude that Sola Scriptura is fallacious, and that we need an infallible tradition from whence the source of our interpretation comes.

These conclusions are saddening. Jason Stellman–though guilty of accepting the presuppositions of a fallacious system as the Roman Church–is in many ways a product of  Protestantism light; a Protestantism that lacks the strength and vitality of the 16th century Reformers. As Peter Leithart observed: “Biblicist, liturgical, sacramental, ecumenical Protestantism is the antidote to Roman fever, not the cause.”

Let this compel us Protestants to love the Church more. To serve one another more. To encourage one another to good works. To submit to those in authority over us (Heb. 13). To engage the Scriptures with a sure sense of its interpretive history. To refuse the interpretive isolationist temptation, and to commit ourselves to the Berean call.

As for Mr. Stellman, I pray for his return to Protestantism. I pray for his re-assessment of his newly found narrative. I pray that he will re-consider his decision and embrace a more thorough Reformed catholicism that does not exalt confessionalism, but places confessions always–both academically and psychologically–at the feet of the revealed Word of God in Sacred Scriptures.

———

Additional Notes and Quotes:

Doug Wilson has added a few thoughts: “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.”

Peter Leithart wrote in a twitter post: “Biblicist, liturgical, sacramental, ecumenical Protestantism is the antidote to Roman fever, not the cause.”

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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38 Responses to Jason Stellman Resigns from the Presbyterian Church in America

  1. Pingback: Jason Stellman Abandons the Reformation! « The Federal Vision

  2. Joel S says:

    Do we know yet that he has converted to Catholicism? While certainly it sounds like some of his views are heading in that direction, he hasn’t said that and he would have other issues with Rome, I imagine.

  3. It’s going to be hard to blame the Federal Vision on this one…

  4. Nick says:

    I think such moves should always be based on whether the person is convinced by a good or reasonable argument. It seems his arguments were sufficient enough in his mind as he pondered them for a few years.

  5. Reblogged this on Unapologetics | aint nothing sacred and commented:
    Who wins when the way you “feel” goes head to head with Biblical Authority?

  6. toddandleah says:

    Just taking the last (positive) half of Stellman’s justification quote, how would you see his conclusion as distinct from some FV (Lusk) or NPP (Wright) versions of “future justification according to works”? It’s just a snippet quote, so there may be more I’m not aware of that Stellman would argue for as regards “initial justification” (by works?)

    • Uri Brito says:

      Greetings, Stellman will have to say a lot more on the issue of justification to know where he really stands on the issue. His observations are no different than many quotes I have seen in Calvin and Bucer, and many contemporary Reformed thinkers (even John Piper). Stellman produces a strawman as representative of the Reformed tradition.

  7. Uri, I’m curious to get your perspective on the perceived “identity crisis in the PCA” that you referenced. Just to put my cards on the table, I’m a PCA pastor and admittedly have not followed very closely all the different little squabbles in our denomination. My perspective has been that the reality of family squabbles within our denomination is not evidence of a crisis in our denomination, but precisely the outworking of some of the foundational principles of the PCA that have enabled us to hold firm to long-standing truths while showing a willingness to wrestle and dialogue as a community where our doctrinal standards allow for some wiggle room. Jason Stellman’s move from our denomination seems to indicate that there is a clear identity in our denomination, and he realizes that it does not jive with him. Not sure if you ever read Tim Keller’s article on the presence of 3 basic groups within our denomination (pietists, culturalists, doctrinalists), but his point is that our identity is one in which all 3 types can live together in community and yet still be committed to our doctrinal standards. All this to say, you may have a different perspective or bring issues that I am unaware of in my own denomination, so I would love to hear your perspective.

  8. Uri Brito says:

    Lindsey, grace and peace be with you. Blessings on your labors.
    My experience comes from seven years in the PCA. I was part of two different presbyteries in that time and pursued ordination in the PCA until I received a call to the CREC. Keller’s 3 basic groups is an accurate one in many ways, but at the same time the reality is that these groups are not seeking catholicity at its main goal–though Keller has set some good examples and then bad ones (Biologos, female deacons, etc.). It is true that some are seeking unity–like yourself I assume–but my experience is that culturalists like Keller will never find any unity with doctrinalists like Lane Keister. Another issue is that many of these men take exceptions to the Confession. Keller is rabidly anti-6 day creation, whereas the Confession seems to plainly advocate what Luther and Calvin believed to be “six literal days.” So, the issue is not confessional identity for I believe that is no longer possible in the PCA, the issue is living within the Creedal confines while affirming biblical supremacy over any tradition (even the tradition of the Westminster Divines).
    I am going to assume that finding an identity in the PCA is impossible, because strict confessionalists are seeking to exalt their strictness over those that are not so strict–like Keller. So, if finding identity means priding over someone else’s identity, there is indeed an identity crisis occurring. Those “long-standing truth” are up for debate.
    The central crisis I see is a crisis of theologically lording it over others. The pietists, culturalists, and doctrinalists are working out those truths in different ways. If those different perspectives are allowed to flourish for the sake of catholicity, then the crisis is solved, but if these different perspectives are put at odds with one another, then the crisis will continue for the foreseeable future.
    I have been following these debates closely since my RTS days with John Frame and others, and the desire for face-to-face reconciliation is disheartening. While the blog war carries on, catholicity fades in the background.

  9. So my perspective is a little different on the whole confessional ethos of the PCA. In my opinion the real identity crisis came 5 or 6 years ago when we debated on the GA level whether we were goodl faith or strict subscriptionists. We determined that we were a good faith denomination. What we are seeing now is the out working of that decision to see exactly where those lines are drawn. I’m pretty confident that Keller would take issue to any insinuation that he is not “confessional”. Bottom line is we are a confessional denomination, just not the strict subscriptionists that some wanted. I don’t know anything about Lane Keister’s position, but our identity allows for doctinialists and culturalists to stay together, even if they don’t see eye to eye on some issues. I completely agree with your assessment of the danger that is still present for these differing perspectives to unnecessarily “lord it over others”, and it could becomes crisis down the road, but I find much of the blog wars over-hyped and sometimes reflective of a vocal minority that are trying to stir spot that most PCA elders are not bothering with. What we are working through is the implications of being a good faith subscription denomination. I just know that all the blog wars are things I as a PCA elder in NC was completely clueless about until an Anglican friend posted an article on the Jason Stellman stuff on Facebook. Granted Im not interacting with a lot of different presbyteries, but if there is an identity crisis, somehow NC has been in a bubble and completely blind to it (which I’m definitely open to the possibility of)

  10. Pingback: Too catholic to be Catholic – Peter Leithart | Grateful to the dead

  11. Pingback: The Difference Between Blogs and The Lord’s Day « Way Station

  12. Uri Brito says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Lindsey.

  13. (From Andrew Lohr, Wendy’s husband): Trademark Catholic, the Pope’s denomination; adjective catholic, all Christians (“mere Christian”).. Or Big-C and small-c. I’m an adjective catholic–could even say “protestant catholic”–and consider that pride in being Protestant (or Catholic) is, ah, pride. (As is pride in being above all that.) And some of the above sounds, I suspect inadvertently, like Protestant pride (I’ve read better from some of these men.) I trust by “Protestant” y’all mean mostly awareness and avoidance of the Pope’s system’s errors?

  14. Pingback: “God helps those who help themselves” « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  15. Pingback: The Yellow Brick Road To Urbs Sacra « Way Station

  16. Pastor Robert Laskey says:

    I think Pastor Stellman has made a conscientious choice through study just like any Pastor would. To deride him in his Journey of Faith is to deride yourselves of that same journey, though different.

    • Chuck says:

      Amen brother,

      Mark 9:40-41
      “for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward”

  17. Chuck says:

    The saddest thing about this article is not Jason’s leaving Geneva and going to Rome but the fact that you don’t seem to realize that all of your analysis and mental gyrations are simply that, your analysis and mental gyrations. Jesus built ONE CHURCH and PROMISED that the Holy Spirit would guide HER (not you) into all TRUTH and that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against HER (not you) and the SHE (not you, not scripture) is the Pillar and Bulwark of TRUTH. All of the analysis in the world will not change these objective truths. Ideas like “we have a fallible list of infallible books” are nothing more than mental gyrations to avoid the truth. I have also read many of the Posts on Jason’s Blog and the vitriol and anger is not Christ Like at all. The only things that the man made doctrines of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide have produced over the past 500 years are confusion, division and anger. It’s no wonder that Jason is leaving.

    John 5:39 “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me”

    In your desperate search to find truth (Jesus) you have failed to see the forest for the trees, you are blinded by your sinful pride and the belief that YOU are the pillar and bulwark of truth and that the Holy Spirit is guiding YOU into all truth and YOU have the keys to the kingdom of Heaven but you can’t even agree on the mode of Baptism or what the “essentials are” Ironically the only thing that Protestants seem to agree on is that the Catholic church is in error. The same Catholic Church that from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place in every nation brings incense and a pure offering in Gods name. (Malachi 1:10-11) The Catholic Mass is being offered in every place in every nation exactly the same way 365-24/7 and the source and summit of the Mass is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist (not the Pastor, not the Preaching, not the music, not the huge flat screen tv’s and thumping rock videos) JESUS Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity is the source and summit of Catholic worship and always has been, that is unity, that is the Holy Spirit . In response to the Catholic Mass Protestants profane the Lord’s table saying it is defiled and its food is contemptible and a burden and they sniff at it contemptuously. (Malachi 1:12-13)

    “they abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his goodness, raised up again” – St Ignatius 110 AD

    • John Z says:

      Such harsh words, Chuck. The words I am referring to are all the ones in capitals accusing us of arrogance and self-centeredness because we don’t believe Rome is the only true Church. You are welcome to disagree with us vigorously and defend the claims of Rome, but at least have the courtesy to describe our motivations accurately, which you have not.

      You have repeated a list of Catholic apologist talking points, most of which do not describe Protestants accurately and paper over the real differences even within the Roman church.

      I welcome you to dialogue, brother, but please make your arguments and defend your positions with a more humble spirit.

      • Chuck says:

        John,

        I have searched my post and cannot find the words “arrogance” or “self-centeredness” You seem a little defense. I apologize if my points struck a nerve or upset your sensibilities but we are talking about peoples salvation here John Jesus Christ hates divorce and Protestants have chosen to reject the promises that Jesus made and divorce themselves from the Church that He established instead placing their trust in Luther or Calvin or Zwingli or one of the other thousands of Protestants who believe that they have discovered the true Gospel. This has resulted in much division and confusion. An invisible church with thousands of opposing doctrines and voices cannot possibly be a light shining on the hill. All of these different voices simply serve as a distraction and confuse those who might otherwise consider Jesus words. So yes I am passionate about this. This is mortal combat, we are fighting a battle and having served twice in combat I know that we need to be united in our defense of the truth. My comments are intense but please don’t mistake them for an attack, they are not intended in that spirit. Lets get down to the nuts and bolts here. You’ve rejected Jesus promises and instead choose to adhere to a belief (Sola-Scriptura) that Jesus and the Apostles never taught. You cannot find one place in scripture where someone asked Jesus or the Apostles what they must do to have eternal life and Jesus told them to consult scripture or to read the scriptures. Never once, not one single time did Jesus ever tell anyone that in order to be led to all truth they should read the scriptures and if He did you and I both know that He would have been referring to the Septuagint (which had he Apocrypha) and yet Sola Scriptura is the main pillar of your faith. No where in scripture does it say that “Scripture Alone” is the sole authority for all believers and yet you adhere to this belief and teach it to others. It’s mind boggling to me that “Scripture Alone” is not found anywhere in scripture and yet you are teaching people that it is the sole rule of faith. The only verse in scripture that comes anywhere close to implying something like Sola Scriptura is 2 Tim 3:15-16 and the word ALONE (sorry I had to) is not there and the verse just prior to that 2 Tim 3:14 clearly says “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it”. 2 Tim 3:15-16 simply says that “all” scripture is “useful” for training in righteousness and “able” to thoroughly equip the “man of God” to do good works. Paul does not use the words “only” or “alone” or “salvation” or “justification” yet somehow we are supposed to believe that Paul was telling Timothy to teach people to pick up scripture and go start their own churches based on their understanding of scripture. On top of this, the passage is subordinate to Paul’s previous statement instructing Timothy to “continue in what he has learned”. I have several issues with using this verse to suggest that Paul was teaching Christians to rely on scripture “alone” …… and to start their own churches. The First and most obvious is that now where do we see the words “scripture alone” or “scripture only” or “only authority” or “sole authority” or “salvation” or “justification”. Secondly when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy the “scriptures” were the Septuagint (which included the Apocrypha) the NT canon did not exist yet. Thirdly, Paul was writing to Timothy who was a Bishop. During that time period a “man of God” was a term used to refer to a religious leader (which Timothy was). Paul doesn’t even come close to instructing Timothy to hand out scripture to everyone and tell them to decide for themselves what the rule of faith is…..and go start other churches if they so desire. Lastly how providential is it that 1 Tim 3:15 says “f I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” Paul is very clear here that the Church that Jesus Christ established is the pillar and foundation of truth. It’s just as mind boggling to me that the only (no caps) place in scripture where the words Faith and Alone are found is in the Epistle of James where James tells us we are “not” (no caps) saved by faith alone. Does this upset me? absolutely, we are talking about eternity John we are talking about peoples salvation. Since you have not addressed any of my previous comments. I will pose 4 simple questions. 1. Where in scripture did Jesus or any of the Apostles ever leave instructions to compile a second canon (New Testament) ? 2. Where in scripture did Jesus or any of the Apostles ever teach that scriptures should be collected into a book that would be the sole guide for all believers? 3. Where in scripture is there a list of which books belong in the Bible? 4. Where in scripture did Jesus or the Apostles ever teach that anyone who reads scripture will interpret it without any error? All caps removed ; ) Peace in Christ.

  18. Pingback: On Ministerial Integrity and the Church of Rome | Southern Reformation

  19. Russ says:

    Where in the first thousand years of the church did the Bishop of Rome call or preside over any of the 7 ecumenical counsels ? Please go study the canons of those counsels. If you are going to use Rome’s criteria of church, than the Eastern Orthodox Church is a better fit. However, there are many blessings to be had in the Roman Catholic Church. My favorite authors ( Raymond Brown ) are still found in Rome. The error that some protestants make is that they take take a crass a view point of Roman Catholic Doctrine. Do a little more objective study. Rome is not all wet in there theology.

    • Uri Brito says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Russ. And thanks for visiting the blog.

    • Chuck says:

      Sorry but what does your question have to do with any of the issues I have raised? You and I both know that Sola Fide, Sola Sciptura and Once Saved Always Saved are not found anywhere in scripture, were never taught by Jesus or the Apostles and cannot be found anywhere in historical church documents prior to Martin Luther, Calvin an Zwingli and even they disagreed on “essential” issues. Give me a break. Show me one clear/explicit teaching of Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide or Once Saved Always Saved prior to Luther, Calvin or Zwingli and you’ll have my attention. Let me remind you and all who post here we are talking about peoples eternal salvation here, it’s easy to get sidetracked with wanting to be right but there is more at stake here than our personal pride. Peace in Christ……

      • Russ says:

        Hello Chuck. Thanks for the response. You are right on when you state Scripture alone and Faith alone were not taught in he first 15 centuries of the church. Protestants are on thin ice when they attempt to hammer home these two doctrines. Given my prior comments about Papal supremacy, I side with the late Father Raymond Brown who explained that there is enough nuance on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant side of the fence that you can elucidate both points of view in an intelligent manner.
        Therefore I’m mildley surprised when people with a background in Church History are shocked when someone like Mr. Stellman leaves there side to join Rome. If they look at the issues objectivley, they may not agree with someone leaving Protestantism, but they should have enough knowlege to realize that this person has some valid points both Biblically and historically. So my blog was intended to be directed towards there anger, not your or anyones point of view. Thanks for the response. Keep em comming. In CHRIST Russ+.

      • Chuck says:

        Thanks Russ. Peace in Christ

  20. Julie says:

    Praise God! I am very happy for Jason Stellman.

  21. Interesting comparison between converting to Catholicism and porn, John Bugley. Since Triablogue is also known for their staunch defense of the moral neutrality of ‘shaking hands with the General of Love’ (wink wink) I bet you can go into that parallel with even more detail. Not that I would like to ear it, btw.

  22. Ben says:

    In reality, Jason was deeply into the lordship salvation false gospel, which calvinism also teaches, and its root is catholicism. He only went to the originator of the lordship salvation false gospel. Why be surprised?

  23. toddandleah says:

    Ah, Hodges/Wilkin-ism pops out its silly head once again! Haven’t seen you boys in years! Where else can one find a novel theology that makes personal, progressive sanctification a matter of legalistic, merit-mongering, meanwhile destroying all Christian assurance of ever pleasing God at the Bema-seat of Christ (for who can ever know just how many good works are truly enough to inherit eternal rewards?!) Come on, Ben, you know better than to play around with that garbage anymore. I left it. So can you!

  24. It could also be that Jason converted because Catholicism is true? I am very happy for Jason and pray for him and his family. I converted as well to the church in October 2012 – and found home and a much fuller, richer theology than that which comes from the reformation. God bless your journey Jason!

  25. Russell says:

    Both road lead to faith in JESUS CHRIST. Amen

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