In this series, which may take many posts, I shall attempt to offer some insights into this report. The report of the study committee is not an official statement of the PCA since it has not been adopted by the general assembly. As it stands, the report reflect only the opinion of the committee. Nevertheless, I have no doubt it will be approved by the General Assembly.
Though I have not read every piece of literature put out on in favor or against the Federal Vision, (I will focus on the Federal Vision and leave other bloggers to contribute to the comments related to the New Perspective) I am compelled to comment since I am a member in the PCA and since this report will bear significance for those of us seeking ordination in the PCA.
Though my thoughts on these issues are generally favorable towards the Federal Vision, I am by no means convinced that my position will remain the same or that it may become more nuanced as the years go by. I must say that I love the Presbyterian Church in America. If my comments seem too harsh at times, I apologize; but make no mistake, my goal is not to perpetuate tumult, but to bring to light ideas that seek to destroy any fair attempt of engagement.
The 34th PCA General Assembly appointed an ad interim committee,
to study the soteriology of the Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies which are causing confusion among our churches. Further, to determine whether these viewpoints and formulations are in conformity with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, whether they are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion, and to present a declaration or statement regarding the issues raised by these viewpoints in light of our Confessional Standards (MGA 34:229-30).
I am already intrigued by the preface. Nothing in the mission of this report seems to seek catholicity. It is pugnacious from the start and it does not hide its intention. The report states that these doctrines are causing confusion among our churches. Certainly, if it is causing confusion, then in no way can the conclusion of this document be positive towards the groups mentioned. One needs to wonder, what is the source of all this confusion? Is it historical naivete or is it the ever present baptistic tendencies in Presbyterianism today? Or is there perhaps some unknown presupposition towards Federal Visionists and others? I raise these questions because in my estimation there is more to this confusion than meets the eye. Federal Visionists have long assumed a strong and robust view of covenant theology. Douglas Wilson has done more for classical Christian education than anyone in the presbyterian church. Peter Leithart and Jim Jordan have done more in the area of developing a high view of worship than any other. My point is we should not be amazed to find out that what drives reports such as these go far beyond the sacramental issues or covenantal nuances; in my estimation there is more involved.
This report serves three purposes:
a) The first one is to determine if these theologies are in conformity to the Westminster Standards.
Comment: What does conformity mean? Is this conformity to the Southern Presbyterian version of the Standards? Is this conformity with the honorable John Murray (with his exceptions)? Is this conformity with the original intention of the divines or how it was interpreted in 1973? This is a difficult assertion to make. Though I do not wish to be subjective about this question, on what basis is a movement compatible or in conformity to the Standards? For instance, I do not take exception with the Confession on the Sabbath, but I do take exception with the idea that young children are not allowed at the table as expressed in the Larger Catechism question 177. So am I in conformity to the Confession here? If I am not, why are those who take exception with the Sabbath section any more in conformity than I? My point is simple: who defines conformity? Has the Reformed church at large, or better yet, has the PCA established how many exceptions are accepted before they can establish someone as not being in conformity with the system of doctrine in the Westminster Standards?
b) The second purpose of this report is to examine if these groups are hostile to or strike at the vitals of religion.
Comment: What are the vitals of religion? Reformed religion? Creedal religion? Orthodox religion? Perhaps they will define what they mean as the document unfolds, but in the very least one may say that this is ambiguous. The problem with posing such language is that if this is a reference to Christian/Catholic religion, then it is absurd to even raise the question.The advocates of Federal Vision are unashamedly Trinitarian. In fact, for some of them (Peter Leithart, James Jordan and John Barach) trinitarian theology is the starting point to biblical theology. It is probably a more worthy pursuit to spy on various PCA churches in the country, and I assure the reader, it is more plausible to find vestiges of Modalism in these churches, than if you were to examine 100 FV advocates. The reason these men can be such thoughtful thinkers is because their starting point is the Trinitarian God and the apostolic creeds. At the early point of this analysis, it is safe to assume that the second purpose of the report has more to do with James Dunn or E.P. Sanders, than it does Douglas Wilson or Rich Lusk. I am giving them the benefit of the doubt.
c) The third purpose is to present a declaration or statement regarding these theologies in light of the Confessional Standards.
Comment: This goes back to the first purpose. What constitutes a truly Confessional standard? Further, what is the purpose of this declaration? Is it to begin the deportation of the 85 Federal Vision churches in the PCA? Is it to tell Joseph Morecraft (I have great respect for Pastor Morecraft; I am simply pointing to the fact that he was the first to condemn these men as heretics; this I thought was very unfortunate) and others that the PCA means business? Or is it succumbing to the pressures of certain elite members in our gloriously young denomination?
I will be posting at a slow pace since I am approaching my final week of exam at seminary…