The PCA and Peter Leithart

My good friend James Grant summarizes the situation well:

In 2007, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) approved a study report that concluded the movement known as the “Federal Vision” was outside the boundaries of the Westminster Standards. This basically means that a minister holding to some of the doctrines and beliefs that are found in the FV movement could be brought up on charges in the PCA.

Since he was known as being part of this movement, Peter Leithart provided his Presbyterian (the Pacific Northwest Presbytery) with an explanation of his views in light of the recently adopted report. This started a process of investigating Leithart’s views. At first, the committee of that Presbytery responded by saying that Leithart’s views were not out of bounds. Appeals were made, and eventually the case landed with the PCAs highest court: The Standing Judicial Commission.

Jason Stellman, who blogs here, was one of the elders who filed the complaint against the Pacific Northwest Presbytery and brought this to the Standing Judicial Commission. He posted a link to the SJCs decision regarding this case. You can read that decision here.

The decision basically explains that the complaint was upheld. In other words, the SJC explains that the presbytery erred by not finding a strong presumption of guilt on regarding the views of Leithart. The concluding paragraph of the report states this:

In conclusion, since what amounts to a thorough BCO 31-2 investigation has been conducted by PNW, the results of which PNW should have recognized raised a strong presumption of guilt that Leithart holds views that place him out of accord with our Standards (the Constitution of the PCA), PNW erred in not so doing. In determining what is the appropriate remedy, the SJC remands and sends this case back to PNW with instructions to institute process, based on this finding of a strong presumption of guilt, and appoint a prosecutor to prepare an Indictment of Leithart and to conduct the case.

You can download the whole report here. I count Peter Leithart as a friend, and I was thankful to see Rob Rayburn and the PNW Presbytery handle this in the way they did. As one who is outside of the PCA and does not know a lot about their particular Presbyterian polity, although I did have L. Roy Taylor as a professor at RTS, I find it rather frustrating that a small committee like the SJC has such power. I have friends who left the PCA and went into the OPC for precisely this reason. Nevertheless, it is their polity, and the SJC has told the PNW Presbytery to prepare an indictment against Leithart and conduct a case against him. As Stellman said on his blog, it is a sad day for the church no matter what side you stand on, or at least it should be.

About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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5 Responses to The PCA and Peter Leithart

  1. Jim Bordwine says:

    I’d like to offer a bit of information regarding how the PCA handles judicial cases. I joined in the Complaint (mentioned above) against Presbytery’s conclusion following the investigation of Leithart’s views. The Standing Judicial Commission received the Complaint only after the Presbytery had an opportunity to reconsider the original decision. Once Presbytery reaffirmed the original decision, the matter was submitted to the SJC. This panel, however, was only a sub-commission of the entire SJC. It is common practice for sub-commissions to hold hearings. Our hearing was held in Atlanta mid-November. And, as you report, the panel issued a decision ordering the Presbytery to institute process against Leithart. This judgment against the Presbytery of the Pacific Northwest does not become mandatory, however, until it is approved by the whole SJC. That will not happen until their annual meeting in March. Until the judgment is approved, Presbytery can delay action without violating any rules or procedure. Unless something changes, Presbytery will have to take action in April, which will be our first regularly scheduled meeting following the action of the entire SJC in March.

  2. Uri Brito says:

    Thanks Jim for adding the information. May God grant you wisdom.

  3. evergreen says:

    There is enough hair-splitting going on here to put Aquinas to shame.

  4. evergreen says:

    What on earth are people trying to do here? There is way too much defining going on. What would you have done with C. S. Lewis who wrote Mere Christianity? Would you have placed him on a rack? Those Westminster documents amount to trouble. People are caught up in so many details now that they can no longer see the bigger picture. When Peter (the apostle) was asked who Jesus was, he responded that he was the Christ. Well said, was Jesus response. The world became cursed through our sin and Christ came to conquer that sin and its effects–to put the world to rights. All of creation finds restoration in him. He is the light and life and if we are in him or united to him we are at peace with God. This understanding is what the Biblical narrative teaches. Now if you want to define how that all works in its particulars, you can devise documents, reign people in, and then bring them to trial when they deviate. You can do that. But I’m telling you right now, it looks rediculous. This poor man is being questioned and people are calling him names because he doesn’t share a particular formulation—that of the Westminster tradition. That doesn’t make one heretical. It just means he differs. It seems like that’s very hard for people to come to terms with. I think this poor fellow needs to be left alone. I’m amazed at his ability to write and teach. Why aren’t people appreciating him for his gifts and abilities instead of picking on him and bullying him? And that silly picture–it has no business being up there. That’s not what it was meant for. It’s taken out of context. The goofiness I notice isn’t in his costume, but in the absurdity and carnival-like climate in which this whole debate is taking place. What would you do with people altogether outside the PCA and OPC? You can’t even get along with the ones inside it. There is a certain stereotype now surrounding Presbyterianism–that it’s something very uncharitable and fussy. I know you know the type I’m referring to. It looks like it may be time to put an end to the Westminster project in general. Maybe we need to settle for what Lewis termed pure Christianity. This Westminster thing is not working out. It’s a horrible thing for people to see. I am embarrassed that something like this is happening in the Christian community. Really, how precise do you want to get about doctrine? How far do you want to go? Everyone’s a theologian now and no one can be pleased. Elizabeth I saw this in her day. That’s why she didn’t want too many Puritan preachers in the pulpit, besides the fact that they said in many words what could more easily have been said in a few, and had a tendency to divide people instead of uniting them. What we need to do now is to step outside our Westminster box and yes, even our Presbyterian box, and dare I say it–our reformed box (at least for a while), until all of this monomaniacal theologizing passes. It looks really silly. I’m reading these people’s comments and they sound like they’re each stuck inside a different box. To use another analogy, they sound like they’re all inhabiting separate planets that keep colliding. The attention to detail is phenomenal–was Abelard or Anselm that bad? The Westminster folks don’t even sound like Protestants or Christians. They sound like medieval monks in the scholastic tradition. I think we’d do better to simply flagellate ourselves. Really. It’s just too too much.

  5. starlight says:

    evergreen :What on earth are people trying to do here? There is way too much defining going on. What would you have done with C. S. Lewis who wrote Mere Christianity? Would you have placed him on a rack? Those Westminster documents amount to trouble. People are caught up in so many details now that they can no longer see the bigger picture. When Peter (the apostle) was asked who Jesus was, he responded that he was the Christ. Well said, was Jesus response. The world became cursed through our sin and Christ came to conquer that sin and its effects–to put the world to rights. All of creation finds restoration in him. He is the light and life and if we are in him or united to him we are at peace with God. This understanding is what the Biblical narrative teaches. Now if you want to define how that all works in its particulars, you can devise documents, reign people in, and then bring them to trial when they deviate. You can do that. But I’m telling you right now, it looks rediculous. This poor man is being questioned and people are calling him names because he doesn’t share a particular formulation—that of the Westminster tradition. That doesn’t make one heretical. It just means he differs. It seems like that’s very hard for people to come to terms with. I think this poor fellow needs to be left alone. I’m amazed at his ability to write and teach. Why aren’t people appreciating him for his gifts and abilities instead of picking on him and bullying him? And that silly picture–it has no business being up there. That’s not what it was meant for. It’s taken out of context. The goofiness I notice isn’t in his costume, but in the absurdity and carnival-like climate in which this whole debate is taking place. What would you do with people altogether outside the PCA and OPC? You can’t even get along with the ones inside it. There is a certain stereotype now surrounding Presbyterianism–that it’s something very uncharitable and fussy. I know you know the type I’m referring to. It looks like it may be time to put an end to the Westminster project in general. Maybe we need to settle for what Lewis termed pure Christianity. This Westminster thing is not working out. It’s a horrible thing for people to see. I am embarrassed that something like this is happening in the Christian community. Really, how precise do you want to get about doctrine? How far do you want to go? Everyone’s a theologian now and no one can be pleased. Elizabeth I saw this in her day. That’s why she didn’t want too many Puritan preachers in the pulpit, besides the fact that they said in many words what could more easily have been said in a few, and had a tendency to divide people instead of uniting them. What we need to do now is to step outside our Westminster box and yes, even our Presbyterian box, and dare I say it–our reformed box (at least for a while), until all of this monomaniacal theologizing passes. It looks really silly. I’m reading these people’s comments and they sound like they’re each stuck inside a different box. To use another analogy, they sound like they’re all inhabiting separate planets that keep colliding. The attention to detail is phenomenal–was Abelard or Anselm that bad? The Westminster folks don’t even sound like Protestants or Christians. They sound like medieval monks in the scholastic tradition. I think we’d do better to simply flagellate ourselves. Really. It’s just too too much.

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